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.