Finding the right words to even begin this post is daunting. The hours we had with Anna were so full and so sacred to us that sharing her with others through writing just seems to be an insurmountable task. I will not do the story justice, which makes telling it all the more difficult for me. The memories of her day feel rather delicate to me–fragile, perhaps. And I fear I will somehow damage them. As wrenching as it will most certainly be, I will try to be as honest about my feelings and emotions as possible. Although I have struggled with the outcome of that precious day, I do not doubt that we were given an extraordinary gift in our daughter Anna Grace. We were overwhelmed by her beauty. We fell completely and totally in love with her. Our family will never be the same.
Anna was and is quite treasured. Present for her arrival were her siblings, her grandparents, her aunts and uncles (minus two who were driving from Alaska in our direction as fast and furiously as they could), a great aunt, three pastors, several cousins and close friends, and two photographers. And more came throughout the day. In the actual labor and delivery room, however, it was just Mommy and Daddy (and one photographer). My mother had been present for Abby’s and Josiah’s birth, but at the last minute, I decided I wanted it to be me and Joey. If we only had a minute with her, I wanted it to just be us. And if something went wrong with the delivery, I didn’t want Mama to have to see it. It was a split second decision I made after Dr. A came in, checked me, and said it was time.
Abby’s princess boombox was set up in the corner of the L&D room. We had been listening to the same CD all morning. Quietly, songs from Twyla Paris’ Bedtime Prayers: Lullabies and Peaceful Worship played, soothing my spirit. The room was still and quiet, except for coaching encouragement from the nurse and doctor. Joey and I knew this was it. It was time to meet our daughter. We said silent prayers. After just a few minutes, Dr. A told us one leg was out. And just a moment later, Joey was cutting the umbilical cord and Anna Grace was on my belly.
Joey and I were both in tears. She had a head full of dark hair–that was the first thing I noticed. That and she was blue. Joey thought that she wasn’t alive. But then we saw her chest rise and fall. We did not think we had long, but there was no panic. We were both crying, but there was a sense of peace. Throughout labor, I had the shakes. I had them during the labor and for hours afterwards with Abby and Josiah. But with Anna, the shakes stopped during the last phase of labor. I did not even think about that until the next day. Thank you, God, for steadying my hands so I could cuddle with her and study every detail of her wonderfully and fearfully made body.
Dr. A finished up his job, shook Joey’s hand, and walked out reverently. He may have said “I’m sorry,” but everything outside of the triangle enclosing me, Joey, and Anna was kind of blurry. Dr. A walked into the hallway, where my mother and Joey’s mother waited. The doctor shook his head and said he was sorry. Mama asked about Anna, and the doctor told our mothers that she might have taken one breath and then her body would go into cardiac arrest.
Mama texted to those in the waiting room, “She’s been born. Dr. A said she might have tried to take one breath.”
But that’s not what happened.
As Joey and I held Anna, we watched her chest continue to rise and fall intermittently. Joey leaned over us both, hovering there and telling Anna how much he loved her. I remember him choking on his words as he told her it was okay to just rest “and then open your eyes and run.” He was giving his daughter permission to run to Jesus. I really don’t know what I said to her. I was just so overwhelmed with this incredible love and sense of awe for this child. She was so beautiful. I remember just touching her face with my fingertips, tracing each line, trying to memorize them. And I kept giving gentle little mama kisses. She smelled so good. Not baby bath good, of course. Just Anna good.
I held her skin to skin for a few minutes against my chest. What a wonderful feeling. That was what I missed most in the days afterwards. You hear people talk about empty arms, and while I understand that, it is my chest that would hurt. It would–and does still at times–physically ache longing for that pressure of my baby.
As I held her–with Joey’s face and hands right there, too–I began to sense that she was breathing a little more regularly. While her hands and feet were still blue, her face did not look as blue to me. Her color seemed to be improving. Joey held her and took her to the adjoining room to clean her up and dress her. Then he brought our beautiful girl to me, dressed in an heirloom gown and bonnet her MeMe made and wrapped in a soft batiste blanket her Dee Dee made. She was breathtaking.
Joey went to the door to ask for Abby. We didn’t know it yet, but our mothers still assumed Anna was not alive.
Abby’s excitement was contagious. She walked in quickly with a grin on her face. Her sister! Anna! Finally! Abby’s expressions were so precious as she quietly leaned over Anna and said, “Hey, Anna. I want you to live.” And with that, little Anna opened up an eye. Our baby girl–the answer to Abby’s prayer for a sister–opened up her eye. And then we heard one of the sweetest sounds I have ever heard. It was a sound we had not expected to hear. Anna Grace began to cry–very softly, very quietly. Thank you, God. I saw the window to her soul and I heard her voice. Two unexpected blessings.
Next, big brother came in. Josiah immediately slipped into his role as the doting, protective big brother. His smile was precious. But it was the nurturing look in his eyes that melted this mama’s heart. He spoke so gently to her. He waved his hand back and forth and said, “Hey, Anna,” in this soft, sweet voice, a voice I don’t think I had ever heard from my just-turned-four-years-old little man. “I lub you, Anna,” he said. Then he reached out and touched her. So precious. Josiah wanted to know why she was crying, and we explained that all babies cry. Crying is a good thing.
A neonatologist, whom we later learned from our nurse was considered the best at the hospital, had been present for Anna’s birth. While I held her, he had listened to her. He did not seem surprised by her appearance at birth or by what he heard. But her improvement of color without intervention was unexpected. And when she started to cry . . . well, that was downright surprising. I remember hearing him talking to the nurse and asking us a couple of questions about what the high-risk doctor had said. Then he said he was going to review Anna’s file.
At some point, the grandparents came in and all the others, too. I’m not sure about who came in when because, honestly, it felt like it was just the five of us. Abby and Josiah came and went from the bed. They both got to hold their sister. My focus was on them,on Anna, and on Joey. It felt so good for our family to be whole. I just wanted to stay in that moment forever.
When the neonatologist came back in, he sat down and told us that the high risk doctor’s notes from Anna’s previous ultrasounds and what he was observing Anna do did not synch. No one expected Anna to be crying. She obviously had more lung capacity than expected. He asked our permission to give Anna oxygen. There would be nothing invasive, but Anna would be out of my arms for a few minutes as they administered the oxygen. He also wanted to bring an ultrasound machine into our room to see if Anna had a bladder. A bladder? This was the first we had heard about the presence or absence of a bladder. The doctor went on to say that if she had a bladder, there were things they could do. He told us that he did not want to give us false hope–she still had polycystic kidneys. The best case scenario would be for Anna to have surgery and a kidney transplant further down the road. But if she had a bladder, there were things they could do to help her. If she did not, we would need to just let nature take its course.
I remember seeing Abby’s face. She had been perched on the edge of my bed, drinking in every word. Hope. I saw hope in her face. In that moment, I didn’t even know how to feel. I did not know what to ask God for. I was holding this precious child, and my heart was just breaking with the desire for her to live. But she was so sick. I knew that we would experience tremendous pain in losing her, but would she experience even greater pain if she survived? Would she hurt every day? Would it be agonizing? How would this affect Abby and Josiah? It was the first time on this entire journey that I truly realized that I didn’t know what was best for my daughter. Only He knew.
I have fought the whole “God’s will” thing from the beginning. When people have said they are praying for God’s will to be done, I have nodded my head and thought to myself, Yeah, that’s not what I’m doing. I want her healed. Period. But in that moment, I knew I did not have the advantage of being omniscient. My will was at a disadvantage, and I had to trust Him. Joey and I agreed to let the doctor examine her. I looked at my sweet Anna and gave her a kiss, feeling emotion that started in my chest, rose to my throat, and came out as tears. I knew when I let her go and handed her over to Joey, I might not hold her again alive. I also knew that the answers that came from the ultrasound could change everything. And I just surrendered. Lord, I don’t know what’s best for her. I don’t know what I even want. I am not God. Your will be done, Lord. Your will be done.
While the nurse gave Anna oxygen, the family gathered around her, oohing and aahing over how beautiful she was. She lay in a little baby bed in the adjoining room to mine, and I sat in my bed, resting and waiting. I would like to say I was praying, but I really wasn’t. My prayers are only flowery in the written form. I had asked for His will to be done. That was all I could do.
During the ultrasound, Jeremy, Joey’s brother, showed me video of Anna opening both eyes while she was being given oxygen. I was so happy to hear that but felt disappointed I had not gotten to see it–that she hadn’t opened both eyes for me. After the oxygen and ultrasound, she never opened both eyes again. Many days later, when we looked at a picture of me kissing Anna just before I handed her to Joey, we noticed that Anna had both of her eyes open, looking at my face. Thank you, God, for little moments like that, sweet surprises that were slowly revealed over the weeks to follow.
The oxygen and ultrasound together took less than 10 minutes. I held Anna between the two procedures. When Joey brought Anna back to me after the ultrasound, the doctor came, too. He told us he was sorry. There was no bladder.
We did not fall apart. We did not wail. That would come later. We hugged our Anna and enjoyed her. We studied her fingers, so dainty and kissable. Her tiny toes on one foot were “curled,” as Abby said. This was a result of the lack of cushion and her positioning in my womb. We talked about how she looked like a smaller version of Abby in some ways. I actually thought she looked a little like my newborn pictures–except that at 4 pounds, 11 ounces, she weighed just over half what I weighed. We talked to her, sang to her, let her hear the voices of those who would have watched her grow up. People came and went; I noticed some of it, took part in a few conversations, but much of the time I was oblivious. It was a joyful time. A time of thankfulness and fellowship with those who loved us and our baby girl most. Some people cried from time to time; it’s only natural. But for the most part, it was a time of joy. Somber joy. But joy nonetheless.
At lunch time, everyone left and let Joey and I enjoy our daughter by ourselves. That’s when I sang “You Are My Sunshine.” I told her that if I could go to the nursery and pick out any perfectly healthy, pink baby in there, I would not. I would choose her. She was my favorite little baby in the whole wide world. Joey told me to tell her everything I wanted to tell her, but I really couldn’t think of much more to tell her. I just kept saying I love you. I felt that she understood everything else. I just wanted to hold her and feel her there against me. At one point, Anna began to suck. We were so excited to see her little lips pursed! Every detail we noticed and treasured. What a perfect little child.
For five hours we doted on our daughter. Friends came and went. Doctors and nurses checked in. Our nurse told us this could go on for days and that it was possible that we would take her home. I was surprised to hear this, but honestly, I didn’t really ponder it too much. I didn’t have time to think about what I thought would happen. Time was too important to think about tomorrow. Today–this moment–was all that mattered.
We finally convinced the grandparents to hold Anna. They had graciously not wanted to steal away any of our minutes with her. They each held her and then gave her back to Joey and then me. I think God wanted Anna’s Dee Dee and Paw Paw and her MeMe and Pop Pop to hold her. I held Anna for a few more minutes, hoping this would just go on and on. But it did not. I noticed that Anna’s skin around her mouth looked like it had a blueish hue. We could tell she was having a harder time breathing. Joey called the nurse. The doctor came in and checked her heart rate and told us it was slowing. All of those wonderful, kind people left the room and allowed our family to say goodbye to our Anna Grace.
It was awful. I just pulled her up to my face and breathed her in. I just wanted to inhale her somehow. I can’t even put it into words. I don’t think I will try. Joey and I held her and each other and just cried. All that love and joy and grief just swirled together into something terrible and beautiful at the same time. The doctor came in, listened, and told us she was gone and that he was sorry. He walked out into the hallway and told our family that Anna was in a better place.
We, however, were still here. Heaven had always been a place that sounded great but I was in no hurry to get there–until that moment. I wanted to leap into Jesus’ arms right then, arriving just after Anna. I wanted to catch her from behind, twirl her around and be with her. But I have a husband and two other babies whom I love just as intensely. And Joey needed his wife and my children sure needed their Mama. So I cried. And I cuddled my little girl. I kissed her and looked at every part of her again. I didn’t want to forget anything. And I treasured these things in my heart.
I have told many people that we did not get the miracle that we specifically prayed for on Anna’s day, but we got miracles. I could go into great detail about all the medical issues that surprised our doctors, but I will focus on the greatest miracle. The greatest miracle of that day was life. It was clear to everyone there that Anna Grace was loved for who she was. Her life mattered to us. We were excited about having her. Yes, there were times before she was born that we grieved her loss. And there were times early on in the journey when I actually prayed God would be merciful and take her sooner. But on March 27, 2012, Anna’s day, we celebrated her life–the one here on earth and the promise of the one she now lives. Her brother and sister joyfully met her. We cradled her and gave her all the love we could in the time we had. And when we said goodbye, it was heartbreaking because we loved her so, but it was not without hope. We have been sad, angry, frustrated, and even bitter. But we have never been hopeless. Thank you, God, for giving us Anna. And thank you for giving us the hope of spending eternity with her through Jesus Christ, your son.
“And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died, so you will not grieve like those who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13, NLT).
Anna’s Day: A Gallery of Memories
Below are photos from Anna’s day. Click on any image and it will be enlarged. Then you can click the arrows to see the others. We are so thankful for DeAnna Lambeth (www.distinctivelyde.com) and Diana Bondurant (www.dianabondurant.com), who helped preserve our memories of Anna’s day. We are also so grateful to Lacey McMath and Shawn Baecker (www.shawnfarand.com), who took our maternity photos. We made small photo books for our children with pictures from Anna’s day–only happy pictures, of course. Just the other day, we were driving down the road, and Josiah said, “It makes me happy to look at the pictures in my picture book. It looks like Anna is still alive.” How can you say thank you enough for the gift of beautiful photography? You can’t. But we will say thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you, anyway.