I Miss My Sister

Nora has become obsessed with her sister lately. It has taken me completely off guard. I don’t really know how to parent her in this situation since it’s all new to me. Nora wasn’t around when I was pregnant with Lucy and she wasn’t here when Lucy died or afterwards when I was paralyzed by my grief. I don’t think she has ever seen me cry over Lucy since I have more control over my tears now and when I lose control I can still hide it from her. Ever since Nora was born I’ve carried this terrible ache inside for her to know her sister Lucy. I have grieved for Nora’s loss many times, but I have been very intentional about not projecting that grief onto Nora. It’s not Nora’s grief, it’s mine. So I don’t ever say things like, “You would have a six year old sister now if Lucy were alive.” Or, “I wish your sister was here so you could play with her.” If anything I have tried to lessen the loss for Nora by avoiding the topic altogether and never showing her my grief over the loss of her relationship with her sister.

Something incredible has been happening though. As Nora grows and understands more about the world around her, she is becoming aware of her sister’s absence all on her own. I don’t know how or why but her grief over the loss of Lucy has been growing and intensifying. There’s something beautiful about the fact that a four year old can understand the magnitude of the loss of her sister who was stillborn before she even existed. It’s like she knows what she is missing. She often cries in bed at night for her sister Lucy. Sometimes she cries in the middle of the day and nothing I say can soothe her. Often, if she plays with an older girl around Lucy’s age she will come home and cry saying, “I miss my sista Lucy. When can I go play with her?” Nora sometimes asks what kind of toys Lucy has and she asks if she can play with her toys too.

I have tried telling her how happy Lucy is in heaven and that we can see her one day but that often leads to more anxiety because Nora knows she has to die in order to be with Lucy. I’ve tried telling her how fun Callum and her big brothers are and even though she does enjoy her brothers so much, it doesn’t make her loss any less painful. She says she just misses Lucy, not them. I’ve even tried asking her if she maybe wants a baby sister and she says, “No, I want my big sister Lucy.” The other day as I was trying to soothe Nora while she cried, I suddenly realized that I was using all of the typical “encouragements” that others used on me when I was in deep mourning, even though I know they don’t work. “Be thankful you have two healthy kids.” Yes, but they aren’t Lucy. “She is safe and happy in heaven.” Yes but I want my baby with me HERE. “Maybe you can have more kids.” Yes, but they won’t replace the one who is missing. No one can. Why do I think these weak reassurances will work on my daughter when they never work on anyone missing a person they love? I use these phrases because I don’t know what else to do and I want to fix it. I want to lessen Nora’s pain somehow. And this is exactly why other people have used these phrases on me in the past. They just wanted to comfort and lessen my pain.

Yesterday as we were driving Nora asked, “Where was I when you were a little girl?” and I said, “You weren’t alive yet. That was long before you were born.” “Oh, so I was stillborn?” she asks innocently. I catch my breath. How does she know that word? I have never told her what that word means. “No, you weren’t stillborn.” She furrows her brow, “But you said I wasn’t alive so that means I was stillborn.” Wow. She is incredible and I have no idea how to be her mother sometimes. I don’t know how to lessen her pain or fill the gap that her big sister left behind. No one can besides God. But I trust that He can redeem Nora’s losses just like He promises to redeem mine.

I am reminded of the many ripples of destruction that continue to crash through our lives and our family since Lucy died. How many other families are experiencing ripples from their own tragedies that I can’t see? Nora’s grief has humbled me and reminded me to be kind and loving to those around me. Just because their loss or their trauma was a long time ago it doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering from the ripples created by that event. Just because I can’t see the suffering on the surface it does’t mean they aren’t struggling. My heart has been softened towards those on the outside of grief too, who don’t know what to say but desperately want to lessen the pain of others. Maybe their phrases are empty words that don’t heal, but they are just trying their best like I am when Nora is crying for her sister and all I want is to take away her suffering.

So, my daughters have humbled me and challenged me to love others better and to forgive when the words aren’t perfect, to give others the benefit of the doubt and to remember that God alone can redeem our deepest losses.

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2,191 Days

It has been six years since Lucy’s heart stopped. I have lived 2,191 days without my daughter. 2,191 times my eyelids flickered opened and I awoke to a world without Lucy in it. And I got up out of bed and I made it through the day. Over two thousand times. In all of those days I have missed small and intimate moments with her, mundane moments that we parents often take for granted, and important milestones. All the baby snuggles, reaching for her hand in a parking lot, painting tiny toenails and washing her hair in the bath. The first words and the Halloween costumes and teaching her how to read. Birthdays and Christmases and bedtime stories. I even miss potty training and disciplining her and taking her to the pediatrician for her vaccinations. The overwhelming weight of all the things we have missed while living our lives without Lucy seems like it’s too much to bear sometimes. At the moment my grief is so fresh and raw, it seems impossible that it has been six whole years since she died. The persistence of my grief is a testament to the depth of my love for her. Oh how I ache for my little girl. But the grief should not come as a surprise. Just as it is good and right to enjoy and celebrate the children we have with us, it is good and right to miss and mourn the children that wait for us in heaven. Liam just turned ten years old yesterday and we celebrated his life. We gave him presents and made his favorite breakfast and told him we loved him. We didn’t say, “Oh, that was ten years ago. I already celebrated him back then and I’ve moved on by now.” We acknowledge the joy of his life and the gift of having him here with us. Conversely, we grieve the absence of our precious daughter, Lucy, and we acknowledge the depth of our pain and how much we miss her.

In a sermon preached only days after the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Timothy Keller said that there are two mistakes people can make in the face of tragedy, suffering and death and they are warned against in 1 Thessalonians. The first mistake is to try to avoid grief and weeping. The second mistake is to grieve as those who have no hope. He says:

 “The Bible indicates that the love and hope of God and the love and hope that comes from one another has to be rubbed into our grief, the way you have to rub salt into meat in warm climates where it will go bad. Your grief is either going to make you bleaker and weaker or it could make you far more wise and good and tender, depending on what you rub into it, what you put in. And that’s what we’re here to do. We’re here not just to weep but to rub into our weeping, hope and love.”

So today I acknowledge my profound grief for my daughter, Lucy Dair. Her name means light, and when her heart stopped, a light went out inside me that will not be lit again until I am in heaven. I feel her absence every minute of every day. We all love you so much Lucy.

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Original photo by Wright Media, edited with permission by Siobhan Fisher Photography ❤

But I do not grieve as one who has no hope. I know that, just as He promised, God will redeem every one of the 2,191 days we have missed with Lucy, and He will redeem all of the missed days to come. Today, as always, I will continue to rub hope and love deep into my wounds. Lucy left me with many gifts that I have slowly been unwrapping over these past six years since she left. The way I look forward to heaven now is a gift. My ability to appreciate life in a way I never have before is a gift. The way my heart has been softened towards others who are hurting is a gift. Even the suffering itself can be viewed as a gift because it teaches us things no one else can teach us.

Sheryl Sandberg wrote a book called Option B after her husband died unexpectedly and she was left to raise her two young children on her own. In one section of her book she writes about Joe Kasper, a man who lost his son but then found healing when he realized that his actions could be a part of his son’s legacy.

“While studying for his Master’s degree, Joe created a therapeutic process called ‘co-destiny,’ which encourages bereaved parents to view their child’s life in a larger framework so that death does not become the end of the story. Parents who seek purpose and meaning from their tragedies can go on to do good, which then becomes part of their child’s impact on the world. As Joe explained, ‘I realized that my destiny was to live my life in a way that would make my son proud. The awareness that I could add goodness to my son’s life by doing good in his name motivates me to this day.’ It’s not surprising that so many trauma survivors end up helping others overcome the adversity that they have faced themselves. ‘There is nothing more gratifying than helping someone else escape this quagmire of despair,’ Joe told us. ‘I know this passion of mine is an area of personal growth related to my trauma. Helping others grow from their trauma reflects back to my son’s life.’ After undergoing a hardship, people have new knowledge to offer those who go through similar experiences. It is a unique source of meaning because it does not just give our lives purpose- it gives our suffering purpose. People help where they’ve been hurt so that their wounds are not in vain.”

I can attest to the healing power of adding goodness to Lucy’s life by doing good in her name. This is part of the rubbing in of love and hope. Very few things in my life are as gratifying as helping other women who are dealing with a high risk pregnancy or the loss of a baby. My trauma has given me unique experiences and insights that I can share with others. I’ve been able to learn the ins and outs of this high risk pregnancy disorder and I now have the tools to help other women advocate for the right medical care during their pregnancies.

I have also been on the receiving end of this hope sharing. When Lucy was stillborn I was in the hospital for two days and two nights. While I was there I encountered many doctors and nurses who were kind but I only remember one woman who was able to comfort me with her words. A nurse told me she had suffered a miscarriage in the past and was devastated by it. She told me about her rainbow baby who had brought her so much healing. “You just have to try again, honey. You just have to get back up on that horse and try again.” Obviously, her words weren’t perfect because I couldn’t just “get back up on that horse and try again” like she had said since my next baby would also face anti-Kell antibodies like Lucy. But her act of sharing even just that tiny glimpse into her own pain, and her acknowledgement of my desperate desire for a living baby gave me hope. It encouraged me to hear about someone else losing a baby and then finding hope and trying again afterwards. Since then many, many people have reached out and shared their own stories of suffering with me and those are the people who have made a huge impact on my life. Our ISO Moms group on Facebook is full of women who have been through traumatic losses and high risk pregnancies and they use their suffering to lift other women up. We share what we have learned from our own pregnancies and we help others protect their babies. In fact, if I had not found the women in the ISO Moms group I don’t think my own children, Nora and Callum, would be alive today. I was not a part of the group when I was pregnant with Lucy so I had to figure out that pregnancy on my own. What a difference these women made in my life by sharing what they gained from their trauma.

My friend, Melanie DeSimone, lost her son, Dominic, several years ago and since then she has started a blog, The Life I Didn’t Choose, and a Facebook group for bereaved parents, Heartache and Hope: Life After Losing a Child. She has used her suffering to encourage and support other families going through similar losses. The wisdom and empathy that Melanie shares with thousands of people daily is only available to her because of Dominic, and because Melanie has chosen to rub love and hope into her grief.

For those of you who have suffered a loss or gone through a traumatic event or faced discrimination, what do you know now that you didn’t know before your crisis? How has your perspective changed? These are your gifts to share with the world, to bring purpose to your suffering and to help others who are facing a similar tragedy. And I can tell you from personal experience that when you reach out and use these gifts to help others, it will end up benefiting you more than you can imagine.

Lucy’s life and legacy live on through the families who have been changed by her story.  Here are some of the gorgeous babies from the past year or two who have been helped because of Lucy’s story. Their parents are some of the bravest people I know. I cannot describe how much joy and fulfillment these babies bring to my life and I feel honored to be a part of their stories. Happy birthday, Lucy. Some of these babies would not be here if it weren’t for you. I hope you can see what a difference your life has made in the world. I am so proud to be your Mommy.

Maggie

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Bay

 Oliver

Jake

Hayes

Cameron

Alex Ray

Francesca and Vincenza aka Frankie and Vinnie

Mila

Cole

Nolan

 Harris

Paxon, Madon and baby sibling on the way

Brianna Anne

Kolt

Eliza

Rainbow baby girl Stevens on the way

Piper

Evangeline

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Nusayba

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Uwais

Rainbow baby girl Stacey

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Baby Allen

Meadow Mae

Ezra (baby sibling on the way)

Mattea

Crosby

Anysia

Grace

Emmi

Zylas

Baby Rusch #3

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Cameela

Laney Maree

And beautiful Liliana, who, like Lucy, would probably be alive today if she had received the right care.

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Liliana

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Liliana

Hard Conversations

Our little rainbow baby, Nora, is now almost three and a half years old. She is in that shifty space between baby and kid where one minute she is using words like “consequence” and “incredible” in complex sentences and the next minute she is shouting for Mommy to come wipe her butt after a good poo. It’s amazing to watch her grow and transform into the person she will be. She is so different from her brothers; another species entirely. At her age they were reading independently and constantly trying to run over the edges of tall things. The boys would spend hours every day constructing train tracks and creating deadly train crashes along the way. Nora doesn’t care about reading because she can just make up the story herself if there isn’t an adult around to read it to her. She spends most of her day thinking about princesses, making up dances and songs, and caring for her baby dolls. She loves being in charge, taking care of people’s needs and feeling romantic.

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Parenting a three year old is both fun and exhausting because your child can now verbalize her thoughts about the world which means there is an endless stream of words and questions flowing out of her mouth. We laugh every day at something hilarious and ridiculous that Nora has said and we die from the cuteness too. She recently started telling us that she loves us and she uses it to her advantage when she doesn’t like our decision about something. “Nora, I have to go to work now.” says her Daddy. “But Daddy, you can’t go to work because I love you.” “Nora, it’s time to take a nap.” “But, I love you so much. I can’t take a nap.”

Nora is also very aware that she has a sister named Lucy who isn’t here with us but is still a very important part of our family. For Liam and Asher it comes naturally to include Lucy in most things, which still amazes me and feels like balm to my heart. When counting how many girls vs. boys in the family, Lucy is always counted. For projects at school they include Lucy in their family description most of the time. At Christmas we always hang Lucy’s golden stocking right there where it should be between Asher and Nora’s stockings. And our family ornaments always include Lucy’s name. But this Christmas Nora asked a lot of new questions that were painful and difficult to answer. “But how is Lucy going to open her stocking on Christmas if it is here? Will she be here in our house on Christmas? I want her to have her stocking. Can we give it to her?” And none of my explanations felt adequate. Recently, Nora noticed a little drawing taped on the wall in her room. It has been there ever since she was a newborn. Soon after we brought her home from Houston, Asher drew a special family picture for Nora and insisted we tape it on her wall for her to look at.

It includes Daddy, Mommy, Liam and Asher holding his baby Nora. Up in the sky, is Lucy, looking out of the window of her mansion in heaven, smiling. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking. Lucy is included as a natural part of our family but the separation is clearly illustrated. All of us down here together. Lucy up there in heaven. So Nora asked about the picture on the wall and I pointed everyone out and explained it to her and she loved it. But of course, she had lots of hard questions.

Nora notices more and more how the big brothers play together so effortlessly without her in the scenario. I mean, it only makes sense that she would not want to be part of their conversations about Fortnite or the imaginary Civil War battle they are meticulously planning out, casualties and all. But she can’t understand why they don’t want to play Barbie princesses with her or act out the Cinderella ball scene over and over again. In those moments I ache so deeply for Nora to have her five year old sister here with her. I can see the hours of fun they would have playing together every day, an easy friendship built into the family. My whole childhood was a never ending play date with my sister Kristin, who is 22 months younger than me. We didn’t even call each other by name. We called each other “friend” because we somehow knew that being friends was extra special. A person doesn’t have a choice about who her sister is, but she does get to choose who her friends are. And Kristin and I wanted everyone to know that we had chosen to be friends. We weren’t just sisters. Nora would LOVE to have a five year old sister friend, even for just one day. How many days of joy and friendship are missed? Years of friendship gone. A lifetime with her sister gone. And it’s hard for me not to let the bitterness take over as I think about the doctors at UAB with their careless mistakes and I want to ask them, “Do you know how many years of friendship have been lost because of your pride? Nora’s only sister, dead, because you couldn’t take ten minutes out of your busy day to check Lucy for anemia when I begged you to.” I forgive the doctors at UAB multiple times a week, sometimes multiple times a day, and I ask God to give me compassion for them. Thank God for the power He gives me to forgive and to love the people who are hardest to love. Without Him I would be drowning in my bitterness.

This past week Nora randomly said to me, “Mommy, I really miss Lucy and I really want her to come here.” It stopped me in my tracks. “I know, I miss her too and I really wish she could be here too.” I said. “But I want her to be here in my house and play with me. And I miss Lucy and you miss Lucy but Callum doesn’t miss her and Asher doesn’t miss her and Liam doesn’t miss her and Daddy doesn’t miss her like we do.” she said. I knew what she was trying to express, that the boys don’t miss Lucy like we do because they have each other. I told her that the boys do miss Lucy as much as we do, except for maybe Callum because he doesn’t know about her yet. “Why doesn’t Callum know about her?” she asked. “Well, he’s too little to understand and it’s hard to explain it to him, but when he gets older he will know who Lucy is.” “Will she come here tomorrow? To our house? Or maybe the next day?” Nora asks hopefully, and my heart sinks. This is the worst. “No, she’s not coming here.” “But maybe she can come later? To our house? And she can stay at our house.” Nora pushes. “I’m sorry baby, but she can’t come to our house because she is in heaven. But we can see her when we go to heaven.” I say, trying to steady my voice. “Oh!” she says, “so how do we go there? Where do we go through? Where’s the door?” “Well, we can’t go there until after we die.” I say slowly. Nora instantly looks horrified. “I don’t want to die!” Oh, now we are spiraling into uncharted territory. I don’t know what to say to my sweet little three year about the horrors of this world we live in. But I have to tell the truth so I say, “Everyone is going to die one day, but if you love God, after you die you can live in heaven forever. And it is going to be so wonderful.” “But I don’t want to die.” she repeats, looking up at me with her giant worried eyes. “I know, and you don’t have to worry about that at all right now.” I say, not exactly sure how to reassure her. “Will Lucy show me her toys when I get to heaven?” she asks and I feel relieved that we are now onto toys as opposed to inescapable death. Finally she lets me change the subject but I am shaken, and the rest of the day I feel desperately sad.

A couple days later as I was getting Nora ready for preschool she nonchalantly asked me, “When am I going to die?” and here we go again. Even though Nora’s questions are heartbreaking for me and difficult to answer, they remind me of how thankful I am that I do have the answers, even if they might be too complex for Nora to understand at the moment.

People die and kids grow up and everything changes but God remains the same. He never changes. He is constant and trustworthy and His love for us never changes. He is our anchor. He even conquered death so really, for those who know God, death is only moving from this place to our real home. Lucy is home and I wonder if she asks God, “Can Nora come to our house and stay? Will she come here tomorrow? To our house? Or maybe the next day?” And He says that the wait will feel like the blink of an eye and before Lucy knows it her family will be home forever. Together. And the most beautiful, comforting thing is that God does not leave us here to flounder in grief while we wait. He is here with us, filling in the gaps where we ache, where dreams are unfulfilled and people are missing. God can be our fulfillment, our strength, our peace, our joy. So maybe Nora has to wait until heaven to have a sister, but she can have other meaningful relationships here and she can have peace, joy and fulfillment through the God who never leaves or changes.

Zephaniah 3:17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.

Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

FIVE

It is hard to believe that my daughter would be turning five this year if she had been born alive. How did I survive five whole years with this ache inside my chest? I wonder who she would be today. Would she be reading super early like her brothers or would she show no interest in letters like her sister? Would she be doing gymnastics like I was at five? Would she have curly hair like Nora? Would Lucy be stubborn and independent like I was as a kid? Or would she be a rule follower like her Daddy? Would she be a tomboy or would she prefer Barbies? I wonder what her voice sounds like. I wonder who her little friends would be. Oh I miss my baby so much.

I’ve been telling Nora about her big sister lately and she accepts it all as completely normal, like everyone has a sister in heaven. The other day I got my Lucy box down and let Nora look through it. She loved seeing her sister’s pillow, dress, hat, blanket, pictures and even the many cards we have saved from our friends and family.

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I know that right now Nora doesn’t really understand what it means to lose a sister, but one day when she is older she will grieve the loss of that special relationship. There is still so much heartache to come.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading back in my journal from the days leading up to Lucy’s death. I can tell from the buoyancy of my writing that I was a different person then. Cheerful and optimistic. Sure that God would save her if I had enough faith. Then at the end of my 17th week of pregnancy (or possibly 18th week since they changed her due date a couple times) I wrote:

My baby might die tomorrow. She has to have an intrauterine blood transfusion at 17 weeks 6 days. I sobbed in the shower tonight crying out to God for her life. “I want to keep her! I want to keep her!” I cried over and over again. God said, “Whatever happens, you have her for eternity. You have her for eternity. Trust me.” And these thoughts have calmed my spirit and given me peace:

*I have her for eternity.

*I will give her life for God’s glory if He asks.

*She is HIS anyway.

*Abraham gave his son to God. God gave His Son for us. I will hold my daughter’s life with an open hand.

*My life’s purpose is to glorify God, not to keep my daughter.

*He will sustain me.

*I will be strong and courageous.

I remember how desperately I cried out to God that night, begging Him to let me keep Lucy. I think I knew then that God was not going to save her. Even though she survived the IUT the following day, she died eight days later while we watched on ultrasound. But that night when I begged for her life I sensed God asking me to place her in his arms. I look at those truths I wrote down five years ago and they give me courage to continue trusting God with this great loss. They give me courage to face the future without her. All of the days to come, without my sweet girl. I can do this, no matter how much I hate it. If I could be brave enough then to give my girl back to God, I can be brave today too. Because the truth is, it still takes an incredible amount of might to live each day without my child. It takes courage and grit and forgiveness and a whole lot of energy.

Three days before Lucy died I wrote this quote down by Charles Spurgeon:

Don’t you know that day dawns after night, showers displace drought, and spring and summer follow winter? Then, have hope! Hope forever, for God will not fail you.

Hope forever. As the days and the weeks and the years pass, more and more light slowly emerges. The dawn after our night. Today I can feel joy and contentment and I can sing again and I laugh freely most of the time. I go days and sometimes weeks without crying. None of these things seemed possible five years ago when I watched my baby’s heart stop and my world splintered. But God has been true to His word. When He promised me five years ago on that rainy, dreary day in that horrible hospital room, “I WILL REDEEM IT” He was telling the truth. He has been persistent in His quest to redeem the many things that died on February 8th, 2013 along with Lucy. And one day when I arrive in heaven, He will redeem the loss of my daughter and all of the missed moments with her here on earth. Yes, I will hope forever, for God will not fail me.

Three days after Lucy died when I was at one of the lowest points of my life I wrote this simple journal entry:

I TRUST HIM.

I trust you, Lord. Show me your goodness. Show me your hope. Show me what you are going to do with this sacrifice of pain and loss. Make her little life worth something….something so beautiful.

I TRUST YOU.

And now I get to show you the goodness and the hope, the beautiful thing God is doing with Lucy’s life. Because of my experience with her and because of this blog, I get to connect with parents from all over the world who are dealing with a sensitized pregnancy and help them advocate for the right care. You know, I invest in each one of my children’s lives daily; Liam, Asher, Nora and Callum. I don’t get to invest in Lucy’s life, so instead, I invest the time I would be spending with Lucy in these babies and their parents. My Facebook feed is full of pregnant bellies and ultrasound updates and newborn babies and pregnancy announcements…all the things that used to trigger my PTSD and send me spiraling. Now they are some of my greatest joys in life. Here are some of the beautiful babies who were impacted by Lucy and me over the past year. (There were so many babies that I couldn’t include each one’s story so I just included a couple and then the names and pictures of the rest of them.)

 “My Kell baby Nancy, nearly 6 months old. She wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for your blog and the invaluable help of the ISO moms group. The knowledge I gained from you helped me to ensure she had the best care, if I hadn’t fought so hard for more regular MCA scans she would have been so anaemic we would’ve lost her. I’m eternally grateful. Thinking of you and your precious Lucy xxx ❤️”

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“After a shocking loss of our daughter in 2016 I was told I should never get pregnant again because my antibodies would cause another loss. Long story short, I found Bethany’s blog and the ISO group which gave me hope again for future children. My rainbow baby Cameron was born this past summer and words can not describe how grateful I am for Bethany sharing Lucy’s story. If it wasn’t for her my son would not be here today. ❤️”
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Isaiah

Gabriella Grace

Sloan

Alexander

Cole

Emmett

Maxwell Raymond “Bay”

Halle Ann 

Nate

Timothy James

Baby M

Olivia

Crosby

Sawyer

Freddy and Max (and baby on the way)

Grace

Sylvie

Baby G

Ava Irene

Benjamin

Baby P

Baby H

Bennett

Oliver

Baby T

Sadie-Mae

Boone

Max

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Callum Joseph Thomasimg_9053

And for the babies who are not pictured here, but who are just as important as the ones who survived, you are greatly missed and deeply loved. The ones who don’t come home from the hospital in their mamas’ arms, like Nancy Stella and Freya Louise and Connor James and all of the precious babies who were lost, these babies often have a greater impact on my life than the ones who lived. I feel great comfort knowing Lucy has such amazing little friends in heaven with her.

Happy birthday in heaven, Lucy Dair. I ache for you every day. I see all the empty spaces where you should be. Five years closer to having you forever. I love you and I’m so proud to be your mommy.

 

UAB MFMs and Isoimmunization

I have had this blog post mostly written and sitting in my draft folder for months now, waiting to be published. It weighs on me and I think about it often, rewriting certain sentences in my mind, adding and editing mentally while I go about my tasks during the day. Mostly, I want the whole post to be saturated with forgiveness and grace, but also truth. The doctors I write about are real people, and I don’t want to attack their character or publicly shame them for mistakes they made. What if blog posts were written about me every time I made a mistake? What if I had a job where my actions had life or death consequences? That would be so difficult. And these doctors have done some truly wonderful things for me, like the amniocentesis and pushing the insurance company to cover treatments during my pregnancy with Nora (before transferring to Dr. Moise.) But truth is incredibly important and I feel deep in my heart that lives could be at risk if I don’t share the truth. I feel a heavy responsibility to protect families from experiencing what our family has experienced. I have forgiven the doctors at UAB for their mistakes. I forgive them over and over again when my heart breaks yet again for my girl and I forgive them again when I run through the events leading up to her death for the hundredth time. The one person I struggle to forgive the most is myself. As a mother it is my job to protect my children and I feel like I failed Lucy in the worst way, even though I really did try my best at the time to save her. I just didn’t understand the disorder enough back then. I was confused and scared and scrambling around grasping for information about anti-Kell antibodies (which was very hard to find.) I didn’t know the treatment options available or the proper monitoring protocols. I thought I could trust my MFM specialists to know all of these things and I placed my daughter’s life in their hands. There was so much I didn’t know when I was pregnant with Lucy in 2013. But I know now, and I cannot quietly sit by and leave other babies to Lucy’s fate. Hopefully I can spread the word and get the right information out there to protect families in Alabama dealing with isoimmunization/alloimmunization.

A couple of weeks before I gave birth to Callum I finally had my follow up appointment with the MFMs at UAB hospital to discuss what happened with Lucy. After Lucy was stillborn, I scheduled a preconception appointment at UAB to discuss everything that happened during the pregnancy and her autopsy results, placenta analysis and blood work results. One of the head MFMs called me a few weeks after Lucy died and said he thought I had had a fetal maternal hemorrhage and that was the reason we lost Lucy, not just the anti-Kell antibodies. He said there was no reason for me to have the follow up appointment and he encouraged me to cancel it. I was ecstatic that my antibodies weren’t necessarily to blame for Lucy’s death (supposedly) and I canceled the appointment like he suggested. This meant that I never got to discuss what happened during my pregnancy with Lucy or go over the decisions that the MFMs made. No one was held accountable. I had no idea if they learned anything from my experience. It haunted me over the years and the questions I had for the doctors just bounced around in my brain that whole time, unanswered.

UAB is good at many things, and even the MFMs at UAB might be great at treating common pregnancy complications. But when it comes to isoimmunization their protocols are out of date, possibly putting unborn babies at risk. They start MCA scans (the special ultrasound that checks baby for anemia) at around 22-24 weeks even when the woman has a critical titer. This was their plan for Lucy, even though my Kell titer was 1,024 (critical titer is 8.) I asked them many times during my pregnancy to do an MCA scan to make sure Lucy wasn’t anemic. They refused over and over again. It is a non-invasive, quick ultrasound and it is the only way (besides doing an amniocentesis) to check the baby for anemia. Even while they were doing a level II ultrasound at 16 weeks, spending an hour with the ultrasound wand on my belly, when I asked them to please do the MCA scan to see if she was anemic they wouldn’t do it and they missed the anemia that day because of it. The day after I gave birth to my lifeless daughter, I asked Dr. O if they would change their protocols and start scanning women with critical titers sooner now because they saw what happened to Lucy. He said, “We don’t change protocols just because of one baby.” Naively, I still thought that surely they would have learned to be more cautious when treating other isoimmunized women because of what happened with Lucy. That was one of the only thoughts that gave me comfort after Lucy died. Maybe other babies would be saved because of Lucy. But about a year or two ago I was contacted by another Kell mama in Alabama, and I encouraged and helped her through her pregnancy. To my horror, even though her titer was well over critical, the MFMs at UAB told her she would have her first MCA scan sometime between 20-24 weeks. It was apparent from her experiences with them that they had changed nothing after losing Lucy. After realizing that, I knew I had to meet with them to discuss everything that happened with Lucy and urge them to treat this disorder more seriously. If they had updated their protocols and treatment options after Lucy died, I would not have felt compelled to have this meeting with them. By the way, women with critical titers are supposed to have their first MCA scan between 16-18 weeks to make sure the fetal anemia is caught in time to treat.

So, I met with the head of the MFM department, Dr. D and one of the main MFMs who handled my pregnancy with Lucy (Dr. O) a couple weeks before giving birth to Callum. I really appreciated them agreeing to this appointment since it had been over four years since Lucy died. I can only imagine how many patients they had treated in the previous four years, so I’m actually surprised that they remembered anything from my pregnancy (and maybe they couldn’t remember everything which is why some responses were so vague?)

I know it must have seemed strange to them that I would want to come in four and a half years after losing my baby to discuss what happened. They were polite and respectful and I know it was probably hard to do that during this conversation. The one thing I appreciate most is that Dr. O referred to my daughter as Lucy. He didn’t call her “the baby” or “fetus” he called her Lucy and that meant the world to me. I wish other people in my life would just call her Lucy and say her name like they say my other children’s names. It was unexpectedly refreshing and I appreciate him doing that for me.

Unfortunately, I left the appointment feeling discouraged, disappointed and depressed, but also more determined than ever to keep fighting for babies like Lucy, Nora and Callum. Where do I even start? The doctors did not take any responsibility for what happened to Lucy. Many of my questions were not answered in the way I hoped they would be; some weren’t answered at all. I was hoping that the doctors had actual medical reasons for the choices they made regarding my treatment. I think that would have given me some peace. For example, when I asked, “Why did you wait a whole week to scan Lucy after the IUT, especially since her hematocrit was 6?” Pause….”Well, that’s just what we do.” Another example, “When I didn’t feel Lucy move again after the IUT and I came into labor and delivery a few days later, why wouldn’t you do an MCA scan to check her for anemia even though I asked over and over again for one? Why was I sent home? She was dying.” They said something about MCA scans possibly being inaccurate after an IUT, but they didn’t know why I was sent home. They just didn’t have an answer. If they had listened when I insisted something wasn’t right and she wasn’t moving, and checked her anemia levels then they possibly could have saved her.

When I asked, “In the past four years since Lucy died, what has UAB done to ensure that this doesn’t happen to another baby?” they couldn’t tell me. I was given a vague response about how what happened to Lucy was very rare and most women don’t have a titer as high as mine. I talked about how when I came back with my second Kell pregnancy, the MFM told me I should just hope that the baby was Kell negative and to come back at 16 weeks for an amniocentesis. I showed them a picture of Nora and said that if I had trusted their expertise and gone with their treatment plan, she would be dead today. They had nothing to say, except, “Well, maybe she would have survived without the plasmapheresis and IVIG? We don’t know for sure.” “But you were willing to take that risk with my daughter’s life, even after seeing what happened with Lucy?” Silence.

Both doctors remained determined to stick with their MCA start time of about 22 weeks for women with critical titers. I tried explaining that a lot of babies would not be alive by 22 weeks if they waited that long before being checked for anemia, but they disagreed. They said there are no specific guidelines set by the ACOG saying when doctors HAVE to start MCA scans so they usually go case by case and decide when to scan based on each specific woman and her history. I explained that this is exactly what terrifies me since with my specific case, they saw that I had a Kell titer of 1,024 and decided that the best course of action would be to start scans around 22 weeks. One doctor spoke up, “Well we have learned since treating you that sometimes even in first sensitized pregnancies, babies can be affected earlier than 22 weeks if the titer is very high and the woman has anti-Kell.” So I asked him if a woman came in today with my exact situation, (first sensitized pregnancy, anti-Kell titer of 1:1,024) what would the treatment plan look like? The doctor said they would not suggest plasmapheresis and IVIG (the treatments that saved Nora and Callum’s lives) but “now, we would suggest starting MCA scans as early as 18-20 weeks.” This is the most ridiculous thing since Lucy died because they caught the anemia too late, even with a scan (that I forced them to do) at 18 weeks.

I won’t go through all of  my specific questions and their answers. I think the most unsettling thing about the whole appointment was how nonchalant they seemed about it all. I tried to convey, somehow, with my inadequate words how important Lucy was to us, and how their choices had impacted our family forever. I told them I would have rather died than have to live without her. I would have gladly taken her place if I had been given the chance. How could I explain how precious my baby girl is to me? I just sobbed. My mom told them that people trust UAB, we trusted UAB with our baby, and they need to take that responsibility seriously. I told them they had so many chances to save Lucy and they let her down over and over again. They said nothing. No apology, no promise to protect other babies, no real change. I’m guessing they decided beforehand not to admit to any wrongdoing during our conversation and they clung to that fiercely.

When I said it seems like UAB tries to do the least amount of monitoring possible, instead of being extra cautious with these little lives, they did not deny it. When I said, “Many women ask me for MFM recommendations in Alabama. Some ask specifically if I could recommend UAB. I always wish that I could recommend UAB but as far as I know, I can’t because I don’t think their babies would be safe here. When they ask me if they should go to UAB for treatment, what should I tell them?” Silence…and a shrug of the shoulders. Right at the end of the appointment when we were getting up to leave, Dr. O did say that Lucy was important to them and she had affected them in some ways. He just couldn’t tell me how they have improved and I haven’t seen any evidence of that. One thing he did agreed to do was scan a woman with a critical titer before 22 weeks if she specifically asked for and insisted on the MCA scan. But how is a woman supposed to know she has to request this type of scan in order for her baby to receive the right monitoring? The MFMs are the ones who should be providing the right care even if a mother doesn’t insist on the specific tests by name. I told them that many hospitals all over the world start MCA scans by 18 weeks for women with critical titers. Dr. O asked which ones but I didn’t have the names of the actual hospitals on hand. He said if I gave him a list of other hospitals and practices that start MCA scans by 18 weeks then he would consider changing their policy. I promised him that I would.

I went in to this appointment giving these MFMs the benefit of the doubt. I was hopeful that maybe I had just projected my grief of losing my daughter onto them and that is why I thought they had given us such inadequate care, but they only confirmed what I had thought. They do treat isoimmunization with nonchalance and they are resistant to change, even if it means babies might die.

Here is my warning: If you are pregnant and you live in Alabama and you found out that you have tested positive for anti-Kell antibodies, or anti-D antibodies, anti-c, anti-E, anti-jka, etc. do not trust UAB to protect your baby’s life. From my experience and my observations, I can only conclude that they will not provide adequate monitoring or treatment and your child will be in danger under their care.

You will need to find another MFM out of state to give you the proper care (since there are no other MFMs in the entire state of Alabama.) Dr. Trevett in Atlanta is amazing and so is Dr. Moise in Houston. Those are my two recommendations if you want phenomenal care for you and your child. My OB here in Tuscaloosa will now be referring any of his “ISO moms” who come up with a positive antibody screen to Dr. Trevett in Atlanta, bypassing UAB altogether. It is so worth the drive. I’m sure there are also other MFMs out of state who know how to properly treat isoimmunization/alloimmunization.

It sounds ridiculously dramatic, but as I left that appointment at UAB, I had the very real sense that I was walking out of a dangerous place, and I wanted to run to get away. I placed my hands on my swollen belly with my healthy kicking baby boy inside and thanked God that my son was safe. I left that appointment in awe of Dr. Trevett and Dr. Moise, wishing I could hug them and express my deep gratitude for them. I think that was the moment that I knew Callum’s middle names would be Joseph, after Dr. Moise and Thomas, after Dr. Trevett. They respect the trust that we put in them to protect our children. They take every step possible to provide the best monitoring and treatment for their patients. They truly care about our babies. I am so glad I left Alabama for Nora and Callum, and I am devastated all over again that I stayed at UAB with my precious Lucy. I just had no idea. What I would give to reverse time and leave the state for better care during my pregnancy with Lucy.

A couple of months after my appointment at UAB, I sent Dr. D and Dr. O a list of 57 different hospitals and medical practices around the world that start MCA scans by 18 weeks, including a real life example of a woman treated at each hospital. I included the patient’s initials, her antibody, her titer and when they performed her first MCA scan. Dr. D replied,

“Thank you for your continued interest and info. We are in the process of rewriting our guidelines and plan to evaluate MCA doppler in the second trimester (16 -18 weeks) in appropriate patients. I’ll let you know our final pathway.”

This felt very promising! I still have not heard back from them, but if they decide to update their protocols I will definitely come back and update this blog post with their improvements. Until then, I strongly urge you to skip UAB hospital if you are dealing with isoimmunization during pregnancy and find an MFM who will treat your pregnancy with caution and expertise.

One last thought: When I left my appointment I felt so incredibly defeated. My grief over my daughter’s death just swamped me like a big wave. It felt like she meant nothing to them, like her life was worthless. It gutted me all over again to think that her death was preventable if only I had known then what I know now. And the fact that the people who should have saved her but didn’t, had just denied their role in her death made it hurt even worse. But that morning before my appointment my mom had shared this verse with me-

Lamentations 3:57-59 You came near when I called on you; you said, “Do not fear!” You have taken up my cause, O Lord, you have redeemed my life. You have seen the wrong done to me, O Lord; judge my cause.

And that verse came to mind as I drove away from UAB hospital. None of this was out of God’s control. UAB might have failed my daughter but God did not. Even though I can’t trust UAB, I can absolutely trust God. And even if my daughter’s worth was lost on those doctors, she was intricately woven together by the Creator of the universe and He treasures her. God desperately loves Lucy even more than I love her and that gives me peace. And the injustice done to Lucy and me? God sees the wrong done to us and He will judge our cause. I cannot force them to see Lucy’s worth or to be accountable for their actions but I can hopefully protect other babies in Alabama from experiencing what I went through.

All Clear

Well, we went in for Callum’s seventh blood transfusion on the Friday before Thanksgiving and ended up leaving the hospital without one! When we arrived that morning for the transfusion they inserted his IV and had his blood drawn to check his levels and we were happy to find out that his levels had gone up just a little bit on their own! His hematocrit and hemoglobin the Monday before had been 25.7 and 9.1 and on Friday they were 26.6 and 9.3. It was the first time in his life that he had brought his counts up without a blood transfusion so we were elated.

His hematologist checked his blood for my antibodies and it came back completely negative! I was surprised by how emotional I felt when he told me Callum’s antibody screen was negative. My baby was finally free from my dangerous antibodies for the first time in his life. He can now make his own blood and it won’t ever be destroyed by my antibodies again. It has been a long hard road to get my boy to safety. We did it! They removed his IV and sent us home without a transfusion.

We came back a few days later to check his counts one more time right before Thanksgiving and his numbers had BARELY gone up. His hemoglobin was the same (9.3) but his hematocrit had gone up from 26.6 to 27 so we were cleared to leave the state and visit family in South Carolina for Thanksgiving. We had such a great Thanksgiving with everybody. Callum’s Grandparents got to hold him for the first time and his SC aunts and uncles got to hold him for the first time without monitors and wires attached to him.

Yesterday I drove the hour to Children’s of Alabama for the last time to have Callum’s blood checked by the hematologist. His levels had gone up again on their own! His hematocrit was up from 27 to 28.4 and his hemoglobin was up from 9.3 to 9.6. We were officially released from hematology and we never have to check his counts again!! Thank you God, for this amazing gift.

Driving home from the hospital for the last time with my healthy boy in his car seat was redemptive and beautiful but bittersweet. This is how Lucy’s story should have ended. If she had been given the right monitoring and treatment like Nora and Callum, then I would have driven home one day in 2013 with my healthy baby girl in her car seat and our lives would have been completely different. Our family would be intact, our hearts would not be irreparably broken. Nora would grow up with a sister. Liam and Asher’s childhoods would not be marred by this tragedy. So many shoulds and woulds, and though I rejoiced that we were done, my grief noose tightened just a bit as I drove home with my healthy rainbow boy. But I also think about the other babies who might not be alive if it weren’t for Lucy and this blog. How many other lives would be devastated by tragedy if Lucy had lived? I’m reminded of a song I heard one day while driving to Atlanta for an ultrasound. It’s by Judah and the Lion and the lyrics bring me to tears every time I hear it.

And I’d take it all back, take it all back, take it all back just to have you.

Just typing the words makes me tear up. The words surge all the way down into this deep part of my soul, the part that still desperately wants to save my daughter. I think about the question, “Would I take it all back just to have my baby Lucy?” My mother heart would do anything to have my daughter back, to keep her alive. I would take it all back just to have her. But I also know that I couldn’t possibly make that choice knowing now what her life and her death have meant for other families. I am comforted knowing that God is in control of every little detail of my life and Lucy’s life and I don’t have to make these impossible, hypothetical decisions. But I still feel a deep ache knowing that Lucy’s story could have ended like Callum’s and the treatment that could have saved her was out there all along. Even with such angst in my heart about what happened to Lucy, I am flooded with relief and joy and gratitude knowing that Callum’s story will end differently.

Up Next Week: 3rd IUT and a Big Appointment

I had my 36th ultrasound yesterday to check on baby one last time before the IUT on Monday and to check his weight. The weight estimate is very important because the doctors use it to decide how much sedative/paralytic to give the baby before the procedure, and how much donor blood to give him during the transfusion. As usual, he’s measuring ahead (which we love!) and weighed 4lbs 10 oz at 31 weeks 6 days. I think that is about the average weight of a 34 week baby. The bigger he is, the easier the transfusion is for Dr. Trevett and the better off baby will be when he is delivered early. There were no signs of hydrops or distress during the ultrasound but baby was definitely the stillest he’s ever been and his MoMs ranged from 1.5-1.72 so that made me anxious. They drew my blood for the normal pre-IUT blood work and then I was on my way home to Alabama, just barely missing Atlanta rush hour traffic. About and hour later I got a call from the hospital. They told me I needed to turn around and come back because they had just received my blood results and there was a problem. It looked like I had developed another antibody, possibly the Le(a) antibody, which I know absolutely nothing about. They needed to draw more blood and do more tests to clarify what was going on. So, I turned back around, drove back to the hospital and had my blood drawn again. I won’t know more about this until Monday but I’m hoping that I didn’t really develop another antibody. The reason they do blood work before every IUT is because they have to check to make sure I haven’t developed any new antibodies. They have to carefully match the donor blood to my blood before every IUT because if they accidentally gave the baby blood that doesn’t match my antibodies, my body could destroy the baby’s blood right after they give it to him. Anyway, it was a long day and I’m thankful to be home with a day to relax with my family. Well, you know, do dishes, cook meals, do four loads of laundry, pack for Atlanta, clean the house, diffuse one thousand toddler melt downs and all of the other things a “relaxing” day with three young children entails. Tomorrow, my mom, Nora and I will drive back to Atlanta and stay through Tuesday for the IUT. Please pray that the baby is safe until then and that the procedure goes well. It’s stressful to feel his kicks slow down as he gets more anemic every day leading up to the IUT. Here’s our sweet boy during yesterday’s ultrasound-

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I also would love for you to pray for a very important appointment I have coming up next week. The appointment actually doesn’t involve my current pregnancy. It is about Lucy. I’ve been wanting to make this appointment for about four years now and I finally worked up the courage a few weeks ago to schedule it. The date has crept up on me and now it’s just a few days away, August 30th. Even though I’ve been wanting and needing to have this appointment since Lucy died, I’ve also been dreading it.

The appointment is at UAB Hospital (in Birmingham) with the head of the MFM department to discuss everything that happened with Lucy. We will also go over all of the test results that I never saw like her autopsy, my placenta analysis, amnio results, etc. I have a lot of questions that I’ve never been able to ask since I never had this appointment after Lucy died. Usually, after a baby is stillborn the doctors set up a “preconception appointment” for several weeks later to discuss what happened with the baby and to go over any test results and questions the parents might have. They also discuss future pregnancies and what the treatment or monitoring would look like if the parents did want to try for another baby (thankfully we won’t be discussing that.) I had scheduled my preconception appointment at UAB after Lucy died, but one of the main MFMs called me about a month after we lost her and told me I could cancel the appointment. He said he had seen my placenta analysis report and decided that I had had a fetal maternal hemorrhage which caused Lucy’s death (other doctors disagree.) He thought we could go on to have another baby naturally so he decided there was no need to have my preconception appointment. I was so overjoyed by this news that I cancelled my preconception appointment, which I now know was a really bad decision. I never got to ask the MFMs about the treatment and lack of monitoring I received during my pregnancy with Lucy (that contributed to her death.) I never saw her autopsy results, or any of the test results or anything. As far as I know, no one was held accountable for what happened or was even notified that a baby had slipped through the cracks left gaping by their hospital’s outdated protocols. I never got to ask them why they “don’t change protocol just because of one baby.” I am curious to know how many babies need to die before they decide that their protocols might need to be updated. Now I just sound bitter, which is not what I want. I hope to get some answers, to better understand the decisions the doctors made, to forgive the mistakes that were made and to make sure that this doesn’t happen to any other babies in Alabama.

Preparing for this appointment and writing down my questions has been emotionally difficult to say the least, but I feel like I have to have this appointment to get a little bit of closure regarding my experience at UAB. I am dreading the thought of going over her autopsy, thinking about my precious baby being cut open. How can a mother bear those thoughts? But the weight and responsibility of protecting other babies whose mothers go to UAB for treatment weighs heavily on me. Nora and this baby boy on the way are my daily reminders of how Lucy’s story could have played out if only she had received the right treatment and monitoring. Please pray that God gives me the strength to get through this appointment and find some peace afterwards. Also pray that the MFM department is humble enough to learn from Lucy and that they change their protocols regarding management of isoimmunized pregnancies.