Fourteen years ago, on November 1o, 1998, Adrian and I went to my doctor's office in Ft.Wayne, Indiana for a routine 30 week ultrasound with our first child. My pregnancy was progressing smoothly and we had already assembled the crib and purchased a few baby items. Adrian's Aunt Connie was planning a baby shower. The ladies at work were filling my ears with stories of their own labor and deliveries. I was anxious and nervous and excited about what the last trimester of pregnancy had in store for me. But, more than that, Adrian and I were both looking forward to welcoming the new life into this world. What happened next was something that neither one of could have ever imagined or rightfully prepared ourselves for. Our daughter, tiny and precious, had died.
Some people may try to tell you, when you lose a child, that there is a reason for it happening. That it's "part of God's grand plan." And, truthfully, I believe it is. However, these words are not entirely the most comforting to hear right after death, mostly because it's hard to believe that anything good could come from a child's death.
Others may try to remind you of your youth, saying, "You're still young. There will be plenty of opportunity to have other kids," as if that will ever dampen the pain you feel from the death of your child now.
And still, my personal favorite, "It was only a fetus," meaning that the death of this child growing inside of you doesn't really matter much because, although you were given a death certificate to bury the body, you were never issued a birth certificate. Your child was never born. We couldn't rightly proclaim that a life was ever there, although death was evident.
There is nothing, I suppose, that is perfect to say to someone who has lost a child - other than Christ loves them, that he loved their baby, and that because of His resurrection we have eternal life in heaven with our loved ones that have gone before us. And then give them a big hug. Because, even though these are words of truth and gladness, they are still hard to bear.
When we entered into the dark ultrasound room on that rainy fall day, there was no reason for us to believe that something horrible had happened. I laid down on the table, the technician squirted a tube of cold goop on my belly, and an image of our baby appeared. It wasn't long before she left the room and came back with a doctor who, very quietly, took the wand and looked at the image on the screen. After what seemed like an eternity, Adrian asked, "Is everything okay?" The doctor only had sorrowful words to share with us. "I'm sorry, but your baby has died." It was very matter-of-fact, it was very cold, and it was totally surreal. We were ushered back out of the room and told to go straight to the hospital for admittance. We would be having a baby soon.
Thankfully, when we arrived at the hospital, the nurses were tremendously kind-hearted and caring. They gave me a room at the very end of the hall, they stayed next to us and did everything we asked of them and, more importantly, they grieved with us in the loss of a life. It was because of those nurses that we have prints of Hannah's feet and hands, clippings of her hair and a few pictures of us holding her. I am forever thankful for those few artifacts that we have tucked away in a scrapbook. Without them, I would never be able to remember just how tiny, yet perfectly created, she had been.
After a hefty dose of pitocin I went into labor. I don't really remember much of this time, as I was incredibly doped up on drugs, but I do remember Adrian standing next to me, squeezing my hand, telling me that it was going to be okay. It was just as painful for him to watch me go through the labor as it was for me to lie there and wait out the contractions, knowing that each one brought us closer to the inevitable.
We weren't sure in what condition Hannah would be in or if we would be able to hold her. The doctors were preparing us for the very worst scenario, as if it wasn't already bad enough.
When Hannah was born on November 11th at 5:18am, she weighed in at 2lbs 4oz and was 14 1/2 inches long. She was approximately the size of a doll with dark brown hair and chubby cheeks. She had ten fingers and ten toes and a tiny mouth that reminds me of each of our other children. She was, as most of our members declare each time that we have a child, a "Sherrill baby." She was precious and real and, even though she didn't have a heartbeat, she was our baby. She was a child of God who was born into heaven before we even met her.
You would think that the hardest part would have been holding her, seeing her body in a lifeless state, but it wasn't. That was, in my opinion, the best moment for us. But it was fleeting. Soon enough she was taken away and we were left with nothing to hold, nothing to show but our broken hearts.
Leaving the hospital later that afternoon, that was hard. It took everything I had to walk through those hospital doors, knowing that we were leaving our baby behind in the morgue, and not bringing her home in a car seat. Then came time to make funeral preparations. That was difficult. We'd never written an obituary before. We'd never had to pick out a casket before. And then we had to bury her. That was . . . beyond words. It's still hard for me to talk about.
Our family and friends were very gracious to us, as was the whole seminary community at CTS. Flowers, cards, food, prayers . . . they were all important in aiding us during that dark time. I go back and re-read all the cards and letters every year on Hannah's birthday. It's incredibly humbling, the personal stories that people shared with us and the uplifting words of faith. Our children have taken to reading through the scrapbook we made to remember Hannah as well. Maybe one day they will be able to help someone in their grief as so many people had so graciously helped us.
And, now that fourteen years have passed, it's amazing to look back and see how Hannah's death has shaped our lives. For starters, we have a bunch of kids now mostly because we became acutely aware of how fragile and precious life is. Secondly, we've been able to help others who have grieved over the death of child. It's an unspoken bond that people have regarding the death of child. A tremendously emotional bond. And, finally, it's strengthened our faith and our family life. Although I'm pretty sure I'd have the same views on the sanctity of life that I do now, it's solidified the issue for me. A life is a life, no matter how small.
The tears I shed today were fewer than the ones I shed last year. As time goes by, the heartache begins to mellow -but it truly never goes away. And I don't want it to. The heartache reminds me that Hannah was a part of our life, even though our time with her was short. I thank God for placing Hannah into our lives, I thank Him for calling the angels to carry her home, and I bravely look forward to the day when we will be reunited again.