Big Gifts, Tiny Packages: The Year of Loss That Changed My Life

Life Can Change in an Instant

A knock at the door woke me out of a deep sleep.  I glanced at the clock, 4:30 AM.  The shadow of a lady in the doorway said, “Your daughter is very sick, you should come right away.” The rest is a bit foggy but the next thing I remember is standing next to a mob of nurses and doctors as they tried to keep her breathing, praying for God to heal her.  They switched ventilators and her lungs started to respond. As her oxygen levels started to rise I heard one of the nurses say “this is going to be another miracle baby.”

What Makes a Family?

I have always believed that a family is a family no matter what form it takes. My family is not a traditional family as my life-partner and I are both female. Normally I wouldn’t even mention it but the fact that we are a same-sex couple is a big part of my story.

Heartache is heartache no matter whose heart is broken and faith is faith no matter what you believe. If my family picture looks different from yours, I hope those differences won’t keep you from hearing the message of hope and healing in my story.

Cindy, my partner, and I had been in a stable relationship for eight years when we decided to start a family.  Cindy often joked about my sperm count being low, so we obviously weren’t going to be able to do it the old fashioned way.  We gave it a great deal of thought and did a lot of research.  I will spare you the details but suffice to say we had a difficult time of it and had to turn to a fertility specialist, an intense and expensive endeavor.  So when we finally got the call that Cindy was pregnant, we were beside ourselves.

The six-week ultrasound was an absolutely amazing experience had by so many other parents. All we could see was a little flashing light which was the heart.  We could hardly wait to tell people.

When told the news, most of our family members celebrated with us, but there were a few that were less than enthusiastic. They loved us both but the idea of two women raising a child, well let’s just say, they didn’t approve.

Family Dynamics

Before I go any deeper into this story, I need to explain who’s who in my family. I have 2 brothers and a sister. My brother Stefan and I have the same mother but different fathers and my sister, my other brother and myself share a father but all have different mothers. People think our child will be confused having two moms, try having a mom, a dad, two step-dads and a step-mom!  Talk about confusing.

For a number of reasons, religion being one of them, my sister, vehemently disapproved of us having a child and didn’t hesitate to verbalize it when we told her we were expecting. We tried not to let hurtful comments get to us. This was our dream and we were so happy nothing was going to bring us down.

When we went back for the second ultrasound, as the doctor moved the ultrasound wand around, I saw no flashing. I could tell by his face that he was concerned and then he said those dreaded words, “I’m sorry.” Our hearts sank.

Keeping Hope Alive After Loss

After months of grieving, we tried again. We had lost that giddy innocence so when we heard that Cindy was indeed pregnant again, we didn’t want to tell anyone and tried to hold off our own excitement until we passed the twelve-week mark. The first ultrasound showed twins. That’s two, two babies! We couldn’t help feeling a little psyched and scared.

My brother, Stefan, who had been in the hospital because of a long-term illness, was so sick when we lost our first baby. He could barely take care of himself let alone be there for us, but he picked up prescriptions and did everything he could for us. His health was going down hill and so were his spirits. I wanted to give him something to be excited about, something to look forward to, to live for, so I told him about the twins. At first he busted out laughing but then started to cry at the news. He was so happy and he told me that we would be great parents. It meant so much to me to be able to share it with him because he was so supportive.

At eight weeks, Cindy started spotting; we were terrified.  The Doctor had us come in for another ultrasound. One of the twins didn’t make it, but the other one was growing and looked great. At first we were sad but we knew we would be perfectly happy with “at least one good kid,” as Cindy would say.

Because of the resolving twin, the pregnancy was complicated. Cindy continued spotting, but we made it through the first trimester and the doctor officially declared us “out of the woods.” We were free to tell the world.

Telling People You are Pregnant Again After Miscarriage

Although my sister knew that we were pregnant again, she never once asked how Cindy was doing or how the pregnancy was going. Nothing. Not one word.

Then my brother died. I was devastated. A few weeks later, my sister and I were at a family dinner when she asked how I was doing after losing Stefan. I told her I was having a hard time and that I really missed him. “Well, we are your family and we’re just going to have to make an effort to be closer,” she said. I told her I didn’t know how we could do that when she doesn’t accept the family I was creating with Cindy. “We’ll just have to work on that”, she declared.

To her credit, she really did work on it. She prayed about it and decided that I didn’t need her judgment I just needed her love and we left it at that. I don’t think she will ever know how much that meant to me.

Premature Rupture Of Membrane (PROM)

Nineteen weeks into this pregnancy, we decided to have an amniocentesis. We didn’t really know what we would do if something was wrong with our baby but we knew if there was something wrong, we wanted to be prepared. Plus we wanted to know if it was a boy or a girl. It was a girl and the name we chose for her was Hallie Kathryn. After the test, Cindy began to leak a lot of fluid.

To make a very long story longer, Cindy was put on strict bed rest until twenty-four weeks. Once the doctors considered the baby viable, they brought Cindy to the hospital where she would stay six and a half more weeks until delivery.

The Relationship With Our Baby Grows Closer

During that time Cindy and Hallie were monitored closely. We could hear Hallie’s heart beat twenty-four hours a day. We actually got to know her that way. She loved food because when Cindy ate, Hallie appeared to get very excited as her heart rate danced around. Her heartbeat told us when she was sleeping, hungry or excited.

We saw her on ultrasound several times a week.  Doctors and nurses remarked on how well she was developing in utero while I remarked on how big her feet were. Cindy’s feet are size tens and I have always teased her about them. Like mother like daughter.

The Non-Carrying Parent

I had a very real relationship with my daughter while she was in my partner Cindy’s belly. A relationship that started the moment we discovered that Cindy was pregnant. I read to her, I sang to her, we even bought a Doppler to listen to her heartbeat every night. Yes, we had become a little neurotic. Later in the pregnancy, when Cindy was on bed rest, we had weekly sonograms through which I witnessed every stage of her growth. Later still, we lived in the hospital for the final six weeks of the pregnancy where Cindy was hooked up to every monitor you could imagine, twenty-four hours a day. During that time, we literally heard every beat of her heart, every movement – we could tell by the accelerations and decelerations of her heartbeat whether she was hungry, sleeping, uncomfortable or happy. Her kicking told us a lot, too! Mostly she would kick to either applaud my singing or to shut me up… I never quite figured out which kick was a good review and which kick indicated a thumb’s down. Everyone’s a critic.

Occasionally, during and ultrasound, we would catch Hallie grabbing and squeezing the umbilical cord, which would coincide with a rapid deceleration in the heart rate, so even when we weren’t watching her we knew when she was grabbing that cord.

At 30 1/2 weeks Cindy started having contractions. The doctors decided that they could do more for Hallie on the outside and now that she was more than thirty weeks, her viability was really good.

On December 22nd 2004 Hallie Kathryn Michel-Eaton was born, 3 lbs. 7ozs., 19 inches long. We were so relieved to hear her cry. I cut the umbilical cord and went with Hallie to the NICU. Like all parents, I snapped photos but was warned not to take too many because the flash could hurt her eyes. She was so beautiful and she clearly had Cindy’s chin. I had to laugh because she also had Cindy’s feet.

Complications of Premature Birth

After the doctor had examined Hallie, he came to give us the update. With a smile, he said everything looked good. Her lungs had developed enough and were only under inflated. She had had her first dose of Serfactin, a medication given to premature babies to help the lungs continue to develop, and was responding well.  The doctor expected she would have some of the typical issues of a preemie, but he didn’t expect anything that they couldn’t handle.

Celebrating the Birth of Our Baby Girl

I called everyone with the news. Family and friends came and celebrated with us and at the end of the day, we were wiped out. What a rollercoaster ride the last few months had been and now she was here. It was the best day of my life. We slept.

Then came the knock on the door, racing to the NICU, the chaos around our baby girl and those words, “this is going to be another miracle baby.” We were sent back to our room. Within an hour her oxygen levels crashed again. At this point the doctor said that Hallie’s vitals had crashed too many times and that there was probably organ and brain damage. They would continue working to bring her back if we wanted them to, but we had to think about what we were bringing back. Cindy and I both said, “No more.”

I watched them unhook the machines and place her in Cindy’s arms.  They put us in a private room so we could say goodbye to our beautiful baby girl. A darkness fell upon us like no other darkness I have ever felt before. How could this have happened? I lost all faith. What purpose could this possibly have?

Every Baby Brings a Gift – The Shorter the Visit, the Bigger the Gift

When my sister heard the news she called me. Watching how much we loved and cared for our baby before she was even born, proved to my sister that Cindy and I would indeed make wonderful parents. Later, at Hallie’s memorial she told me that Hallie had changed people’s hearts.

It took a lot of work and time on my part, but I now see that Hallie changed and opened many hearts and minds. The healing came out of a deep understanding that my connection with Hallie was real and it was deep. The story of her birth and death only covers nineteen and a half hours of our relationship. It is only when I look at the totality of our relationship I can see the gift she brought us. Because of Hallie, old beliefs about what makes a true family a family have been redefined in the hearts of many people in our families and in my church. I will always love Hallie and am so grateful that I not only got to meet her, but that our experience and her existence made unconventional families more acceptable.

The same people that opposed us having children then, have celebrated in the joy of our son, Wiley Jordan, born June 5th 2006, 7lbs, 9ozs, 21 inches long.  He is so beautiful and even has Cindy’s chin and I have to laugh, he has Cindy’s feet too!


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