How to Survive the Hardest Day of Your Life

Ultrasound scan. Provided as-is. Please feel f...

On September 5, 1997, I delivered a stillborn daughter in the thirty-seventh week of my first pregnancy. We named our daughter Marissa Rose, and she was a heartbreakingly beautiful baby.

The pregnancy, which coincided with my final year of law school, had been far from textbook. I’d been afflicted with gestational diabetes, hyperemesis (uncontrolled vomiting), and polyhydramnios (the presence of excess amniotic fluid). To most, I appeared to be carrying triplets or quadruplets.

Though forced to withdraw from what ought to have been my final semester of study, I signed up for the summer session – determined to graduate by the end of 1997. I showered, dressed and ate before departing for school each morning. I stood on the bus when others declined to offer their seats, and I trudged across the campus to arrive exhausted, ill and late for class.

At the end of month eight, the unimaginable happened. A specialist informed us that he’d detected a “double bubble” on ultrasound. He said Marissa had a condition called duodenal atresia. The first part of her small bowel, or duodenum, had failed to develop properly. The perinatologist assured us the condition could be repaired after birth.

Then he shared more devastating news. The doctor said that, in light of the presence of the defect, Marissa stood at an increased risk of being born with Down’s Syndrome. One in four odds. He encouraged us to consider amniocentesis, and the subsequent procedure confirmed the worst.

Shortly thereafter, I began to have contractions. I didn’t feel anything, but the doctors admitted me to the hospital and watched for signs of impending birth. None developed, so they sent me home after a week.

When I perceived an absence of fetal movement the following day, I made an appointment. My obstetrician examined me and assured me there was no cause for concern. He said the fetal heartbeat was strong and dismissed me with a promise to induce labor three days later if I hadn’t given birth prior to that time.

That night, I developed a high fever and chills. My husband and aunt rushed me to the hospital. A nurse connected me to the fetal heartbeat monitor and ran into a problem – no sign of a heartbeat. I wasn’t immediately concerned. Others had encountered the same issue because of the excess amniotic fluid. She left the room to get help.

My husband stepped out for some reason. While he was away, the obstetrician appeared – personally pushing an ultrasound machine into the room. My heart began to race, and I sat upright. My doctor quickly applied a warm gel to my distended abdomen and grabbed the scope. He swiped slowly and deliberately. Within moments, I knew my daughter was gone. No evidence of life remained.

The rest of that day is a blur. I informed my incredulous husband. The doctor told me he’d deliver the baby on Friday as scheduled. The nurse administered a sedative. My head swam. And, sometime during the night, a faithful contingency of church sisters stopped by to pamper me.

Early Friday morning, I delivered a lovely, quiet baby weighing just under five pounds. The pastor visited. The church members prayed. And that afternoon, the pathologist shared the most difficult news of all. Marissa’s duodenum was intact, and she showed no signs of Down’s Syndrome. She had very likely died, he said, because of the stressful, unhealthy environment inside the womb.

Michael and I had been married sixteen months.

We might have completely succumbed to the paralyzing grief that engulfed us in those early days. Instead, Jesus – in his infinite wisdom, grace and mercy – sustained us. He used the most difficult moment of our lives to prepare us for a life of compassionate ministry. He made it a teaching moment. So, how do you survive the hardest day of your life?

1) You surround yourself with those who love you.

2) You remember the good times.

3) You listen to uplifting, Christ-centered music.

4) You go to church – even if you can’t muster the will to worship.

5) You meditate upon the scriptures.

6) You pray for strength.

Has the Lord ever succored you through an event you thought you’d never survive? Please share your story.

Blessings –



16 thoughts on “How to Survive the Hardest Day of Your Life

  1. Thanks for sharing this very personal story. I am still feeling a bit teary-eyed. Thank God for you! I cannot even imagine the pain of losing a baby. I am just totally blessed by your testimony. I shared it on my twitter page because I know that it will be a blessing to others.

    God is the strength of our lives. When we cannot see His hand we must trust His heart. Stay victorious. Have a great day!

    1. Thank you, Ann Marie. I appreciate your comment and your willingness to pass on the link to my story. I sincerely hope that God will touch someone’s life in a helpful way through the testimony He gave me. God bless you!

    1. Trust me, Lorna. I, too, sometimes forget what it was like to live through such an experience. But, it certainly changed me in ways that I’ll never be able to fully express. Those days were both painful and powerful in a way. Thank you for visiting and for commenting. God bless you.

  2. Oh Sybil, thanks for sharing. There are tears running down my face as I remember the day in vivid detail. Marissa was certainly a beautiful little girl and I’ll always cherish the sweet memory of you and Michael tenderly cuddling her. Despite the grief and loss, I thank God for the grace that he extended to you both. Your lives are such beautiful testimonies of His love and care.

    1. How are you, Brenda-Lee? I can’t believe you found your way here. You will never know what it meant to me that you held our stillborn baby and cuddled her as if she’d been born alive. That day was surreal in so many ways. I still cherish the fact that Winston sang at the funeral as well. You two were so supportive. I thank you both from the bottom of my heart. God bless you!

  3. Dearest Sybil, thank you for sharing so transparently. I was deeply moved. Your story will bless and encourage many others, as it has already. I’ve shared your story on facebook. I hope that draws more people to your blog, which is always uplifting. God bless you, dear sister.

  4. Thanks for sharing your story. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to lose a child.

    My husband died five years ago from colon cancer and that twelve weeks, from the time they told us he was dying to the time he died was, in some ways, the longest twelve weeks of my life. It was a surreal time. I wanted him to live, of course, but I also knew the children and I couldn’t begin to heal and move on, until he died. It was so odd.

    And it was hard to sit with him as he deteriorated. He was a good man and made it easy on us by trusting that God was doing the right thing and by not complaining or weeping over his fate. He was a courageous man who had lived for twenty-two years as a quadriplegic. So he’d had a lot of practice at being cheerful in the face of tough times.

    And the whole ordeal turned out to be a great blessing for the children and for me because we saw how faithfully God carried us and took care of every need. We had a great church and lots of prayer support and God held us so gently.

  5. That date, September 5, 1997, stopped me. My son was born six days later. He was due Sept 4th, and my sister’s baby was due Sept. 5th. The eleventh was a joyous day for us, but I’m sure brought pain to my sister, who lost her baby many months before. We were going to be pregnant together, but that was not the journey God planned for us. He planned for my sister to be the mother of an adopted daughter. Their full story is way too long to write here because God used that experience to bless them in so many ways. I’ll blog about it one day. My story is different. Within a year we discovered my son had many delays, and though it took a few years (not one day) to get the full picture, you can read about one of the hardest on my blog. The story is unfolding still, but God has blessed us richly despite my son’s diagnosis of having autism. I trust He has a plan.
    Praying for Ditas above! God Bless, and thanks for sharing your story, Sybil.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Connie. I never cease to be amazed at God’s ability to encourage others through what often prove our greatest spiritual, emotional, mental and physical challenges. I am reminded of the scripture at 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 which says:

      3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;

      4 Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.

      5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

      God bless you and your dear sister.

  6. Thank you for sharing. Right now we have a sister in church who two years ago lost her son Johnathon at the age of 10 because of a car accident. On Saturday she lost her 7 year old to a tragic accident. On Saturday we will lay TyKieth to rest. Her fist baby was also born stillborn. I cannot even imagine the pain of losing a baby after giving birth let alone two of my children. Please keep LaTascha Smith and family in prayer. Thank you again for sharing
    Sis Jo

  7. Thank you Sybil for sharing. I’m not ready to share my story yet as I’m still in the midst of my grief and comforting our 9 year old daughter. Ditas

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