In the summer of 2017 at about 11 weeks pregnant, I was on an airplane headed home from a work trip when I felt sharp pain in my abdomen. Brushing it off as growing pains, I learned at the next week’s ultrasound that the baby had stopped growing and there was no heartbeat.
I was told that it was probably because of a genetic defect; inferring that my body was taking care of a baby that didn’t need to be born. Later that week my husband, Ben, and I went to the outpatient surgery center to remove the remains of a pregnancy that my body rejected.
We stopped at a restaurant and split an order of cheese fries on the way home, both of us a little emotional and raw. Neither of us sure how we were supposed to navigate this. A few weeks later, while we were in Italy, Ben lit a votive candle in every one of the many cathedrals we passed.
Four years later, we are celebrating the third birthday of our baby who was born with a genetic defect.
It is impossible for me to think about where we were four years ago without thinking about the baby we lost. That time of grief turned into joy when we found out we were going to have a little girl, and then like an emotional whiplash, that joy snapped into fear and grief, bigger than any I had ever experienced.
Four years ago, the baby with the probable genetic defect we don’t have taught me about fragility that prepared me for the baby with a genetic defect that we do have who teaches me about strength and resilience.
I don’t remember this day four years ago, the day before my daughter Ellie was born and our last day as a healthy family of three. I don’t remember getting our things ready to go to the hospital. I don’t remember getting prepped to go to the operating room. I don’t remember what my husband was doing or the things he said to try to keep the mood light.
What I do remember is hearing the moment she took her very first breath. I remember how the entire room full of specialists and nurses collectively let out cheer when my baby girl, who we were told might not be breathing, started to cry like any typical newborn might.
I remember how the air seemed to rush back into the room with relief. I remember how my OB-GYN cheerfully described her head full of dark hair and chubby arms and legs, like she might do when she delivered any other typical newborn.
It is interesting because Ellie still has that same command of a room. Her presence creates a little pause and brings some uneasiness at first, but after just one beat her enthusiasm and optimism become infectious and the tone changes. Just like after her very first breath, she continues to lead the cheer.
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