On October 24, 2006 we found out we were expecting baby #5. When the morning sickness did not kick in and I contracted a horrible case of the old fashioned flu, I became convinced I would miscarry. I was actually surprised to see a little bitty beating heart on the ultrasound screen a few weeks later.
The morning sickness did finally kick in and with it came all sorts of neurological issues for me. Things like itching and restless legs kept me up at night. I was miserable and summer was dragging on. Emily’s due date of July 2 came and went.
In the wee hours of July 4th, contractions began and it looked as if Daddy would get his wish for an Independence Day baby. However, something didn’t feel right. I could barely move even after a contraction was over. My sides ached and I felt like something was wrong. Once in labor and delivery, it became quite clear that our baby had turned transverse breech and that was why my sides hurt so badly.
I was taken to the operating room in order to have the doctor try a manual version (turning of the baby from the outside). I had an epidural in place just in case my 9 year old c-section scar decided to rupture. Prior to the version, my husband asked if we could pray. The entire OR came to a halt as my husband prayed over my belly. As soon as he finished, the doctor took one look at my belly and said, “Something is different.” She asked for a sonogram to confirm her suspicion…sure enough, baby had turned head down! With that, she broke my water, monitored me a bit longer and we headed back to labor and delivery.
That afternoon, Emily Sofia was born into my husband’s arms. She was beautiful and BIG! 10 pounds 2 ounces, with a mop of brown hair…more hair than any of my other children have had. That night, we watched fireworks from the hospital window. We were in love and this was bliss.
The next few months were a whirlwind of moving and vacationing. Little Emily saw 6 states in 4 months! We had finally begun settling into a new city and a new home when I took a trip to visit a friend while my husband was away on business. It was right after Thanksgiving and Emily was just shy of 5 months old.
During that visit, Emily exhibited signs of a cold. Yet, something was different about it. Sometimes she seemed stuffy, but then it would go away. Other times she had a bit of a cough, but it would go away. She had a slight fever, but it too would wax and wane. There was nothing concrete, but something about it concerned me. I headed home with the hopes that a good dose of her own surroundings would heal Emily right up. It did not.
That following Sunday, Emily’s condition took a downward spiral. She began throwing up and it was yellow…bright yellow. That evening her diaper had blood in it. We headed to the ER, leaving our 4 children in the care of my mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law who happened to be there trimming the Chritmas tree with us.
They quickly got Emily to a room and did all sorts of testing. The doctor put his hand on my shoulder and said, “We don’t know what this is, but your daughter is very sick.” Pneumonia was tossed around, but I remember thinking that sounded like a strange diagnosis. Sure enough, up in pediatrics, where we were sent for the night, the nurses had masks on and we were not to leave the room. I felt stranded and helpless. No one came and no one seemed to know what was wrong. Emily continued to throw up and I continued to clean her and the floor with hospital towels. Finally, that morning the pediatrician showed up and had a more concrete diagnosis for us. He believed she had intussusception, which is a telescoping of the bowel. She was taken to radiology to confirm the diagnosis and hopefully correct the telescoping without surgery. However, that was not to be and that afternoon she underwent surgery.
Ty’s boss came up with a little pink and white stuffed doggy for Emily and sat with us through much of the surgery. I don’t remember being particularly scared because I didn’t think it would be a big deal…go in, straighten out the bowel, the end. I still remember the look on the surgeon’s face as she came to tell us things were not so easy. Emily’s small intestine was black. It was dead and twisted. She had a congenital defect called malrotation. They would have to go back in in a couple of days and see what of the bowel had survived, ressect what had not, and then restring her bowel. Until then, we would live in Pediatric Intensive Care (PICU).
She was drugged and on a ventilator. There were tubes and alarms and IV’s everywhere. Two days later, Emily went back to surgery and had 1/3 of her small intestines ressected.
During the 10 days we spent in PICU, Emily became seriously ill with a systemic yeast infection. Her central line was pulled and a broviac put in. She was treated by so many doctors, I kept track of everything in a notebook lest I forget who was who. My husband and I slept tightly on a small pull-out couch in a corner of her room. We rarely left her side.
Still battling the yeast, but off the ventilator and stable, we moved to Pediatrics. It took 3 weeks total to get the green light to leave. On Christmas Eve 2007, we came home to spend Emily’s first Christmas with our entire family.
Emily was a quiet child. She was always happy, always serene. But, the two weeks following her dismissal were spent trying to comfort her as she cried and began to throw up again. She lost weight and we told the surgeon we had to bring her. She went back in for surgery to ressect scar tissue and a bit more bowel that had died following the original surgery. Six days later, we were back home and all was well. We talked about what an amazing story this little girl would grow up with. We rejoiced in her healing and began to think to our new and normal future.
But, Emily did not gain weight. She looked healthy, but she was very tiny. At 7 months she weighed what she had weighed at 7 weeks. And she had become very somber. The doctors believed it would just take time for her to heal. We watched and waited.
On February 9, 2008, we drove back down to the same friend’s house we had been at when Emily had originally become sick. This time Daddy was with us and we left the four older children in the care of our friends while we went with Emily to a business dinner.
Emily was the belle of the ball. She was her usual serene self, charming everyone there.
That night, my friend, Sarah, and I sat up scrabooking when Emily awoke with a fever. I had brought some fever reducer and I gave that to her and nursed her. I remember remarking about deja vu…how this reminded me of her getting sick the last time we were there. I said it jokingly.
Emily’s fever went back down and she settled in. We went to bed.
Again, I was awakened by her cries and a fever. It was time that I could give her more medicine, so I did and took her to the couch to nurse. My oldest son awoke and as I sat there nursing her, I told him that she was sick and needed his prayers. He said, “That must be why God woke me up.”
She settled, her fever went down, and I laid her on a palette we had fixed on the floor beside our bed. I laid myself down. It was 6:30 am.
Less than 2 hours later, I awoke to the older children clamoring to find their friends and begin a day of playing. I rolled over to glance at Emmy. “Oh, good, she’s awake and looks happy,” I said to myself. I rolled back toward my husband when something struck me. She did not look quite right to me. I rolled back over and took a long hard look at her. I jumped up and grabbed her off the palette and laid her on the bed where I had been sleeping.
Her eyes were not tracking…she was looking off over my shoulder. Her sides were heaving and she had a faint smile on her lips. I said her name over and over and then hollered at Ty.
We raced to the ER with Emily wrapped in a blanket and me screaming her name over and over begging her to keep breathing. I ran through the doors of the ER as my husband parked the van. I remember telling them my baby was sick and quickly being ushered to a small room. When they removed her shirt, I could see a purple handprint on her side where my hand had been.
From there, it all became a blur. There were oxygen masks, intubation tubes, NG tubes, a warmer, and doctors and nurses all over the place. And then, there was a chaplain.
We prayed and cried and talked 90 miles an hour as questions were asked between the ER doctor and Emily’s surgeon on the phone. The LifeFlight crew finally got there from our home city, but Emily was not stable.
I remember watching the nurse do chest compressions, stop, and watch the monitor and then shake her head.
I remember seeing Emily’s little hand go limp and looking at her face and realizing her eyes were closed.
I remember thinking, “she’s gone.”
And finally, I could take it no longer.
“Give me my baby!” I yelled.
The chaplain immediately flew into action. He stopped the nurses, he got them to unhook everything. He asked for a blanket to wrap her in and she was handed to me.
It was then, the ache welled up within me and I began to wail; a primal, painful moan.
Prior to them handing me my little girl, my husband had hit the floor on his knees praying in agony. At some point, I felt him beside me as I sat there staring at her face and chest and begging her little body to come back to life. I kissed her toes and tucked stray pieces of her hair behind her ears and moaned my death cry.
My memories from there are in snippets. Sarah coming in with a look of horror on her face and asking what had happened. A call to the Krafts and Lynnette’s scream when I said, “Emmy’s dead.” A room full of friends from our old church. The chaplain asking me to let my husband hold Emmy. And finally, the children.
I did not want the children’s last memory of their baby sister to be us whisking her out the door. I did not want to come home without her. I wanted them to know what had happened. I wanted them to hold her one last time and grieve.
The hospital staff shuffled us across the hall to a private room and for the first time in 2 hours, I was able to stop crying. We told them their sister was with Jesus. We had them hold her and we took pictures.
And then, it was time to go.
The children were taken outside we were asked to give Emmy’s body to the nurse.
I wanted to die. I wanted to do anything but hand my daughter over to someone I did not know. I wanted to stay there and hold her forever. I stood there in front of that nurse in the middle of the ER hallway with other patients peeking out from their rooms trying to will myself to do the hardest thing I have ever done…walk away from my child.
I can still hear my friend Michaele’s voice in my right ear, “You can do this, Amy. It will be okay. She’s with Jesus now.” I don’t know how long I stood there. It felt like an eternity, yet not nearly long enough. And finally, I lifted Emily’s body toward the nurse. She held her arms under mine until I had the strength to place my precious child’s lifeless frame into this stranger’s arms. I let go and fell against my husband and bawled as we exited the ER.
The cold sunshine hit my face and I went numb. The next few hours were spent crying off and on as I laid on the same couch I had nursed Emily on just hours before. Kyle and Lynnette came to drive us home from there, life became a blur of visitors and funeral plans.
On February 14, 2008, we buried our fifth child, Emily Sofia.
And I will never be the same.
I encourage you to visit The Grieving Mother section of this blog if you or a loved one is grieving the loss of a child.