Isabella's Story, Part IV

Quick refresh - our daughter was born via emergency C-section after a normal, healthy pregnancy. At this point we knew she was sick and were told she may be in the NICU another 3-4 weeks. Part IPart IIPart III

By Saturday afternoon, my husband had taken all of our family members in town to the NICU to see Isabella. He and his sister, a physician, were trying to coordinate with the neonatologist to get some additional questions answered and we were waiting on his availability. My parents decided to drive the 15 minutes back to their house and his parents were in a different area of the hospital. 

Around 1:45 p.m. two of our good friends, whose wedding we were in a couple years ago, were visiting us in my room. I was pumping for a while using a swaddling blanket I had brought from home. Shortly after I finished pumping, a NICU nurse came into our room and said the doctor wanted to see us both downstairs. I told our friends we should not be too long. 

I sat in the wheelchair and we went downstairs. I assumed the doctor was now available to chat and was looking forward to getting some answers. My husband had remembered from the previous day that the only reason both parents are called to the NICU is when their child was dying. 

We ran into my sister-in-law outside the NICU. When we neared the doors and we were not asked to scrub in, I started to realize this was not just a meeting with Isabella's doctor and my stomach started to clench. 

I remember being wheeled through the doors and seeing a dozen nurses hovering in the space outside Isabella's area. We went past the other incubators until we came to her. Several nurses were standing over our daughter, one doing chest compressions. There was an outline on her chest of the nurse's thumb. I got out of my wheelchair and came closer, watching her little chest flex under the force of the movements, terrified and barely processing what this meant.

My husband was to my left and the doctor was telling him they had been trying for a while and it was not looking good. They had ordered several more tests, but we may have some difficult decisions to make. 

My husband turned and relayed this to me. I immediately said, "Stop. Just stop."

The nurses looked for visual confirmation from us and quickly moved into action. 

"Unhook her and give her to Mom." 

Someone brought a chair over for me. I grabbed my husband and sat on his lap (we needed each other and “Mom” is not the only important person in this situation). The nurses disconnected her from the various machines, wrapped her in the ubiquitous newborn swaddling blanket, and handed her to us. 

We finally held our daughter. She took three gasping breaths. She never opened her eyes. She never cried. And we held her while our world shattered.

In that instant, our hearts fully broke and our story forever changed. The hope that we would take her home and this would all be part of a horrible birth story that we told her years later, vanished. 

The staff quietly drew the curtains around us, cocooning us from the other NICU babies and their families. My in-laws were there and had called my parents. I missed my parents dreadfully and remember looking up every time I heard someone come in until finally my mom was there. My dad had gone up to my hospital room. 

My husband cradled me and we both cradled our daughter as we cried, looking at our child unbelieving that she was truly gone. Since she had been on a cooling blanket, her skin was already cool to the touch. Her nose was dripping and I used a tissue to dab it. Part of being a mom is wiping your child's nose, but this was not how I pictured it. 

Eventually we held Isabella out to her grandparents who took turns holding her. My in-laws sang her a lullaby. My parents held her and cried. She was the first granddaughter on both sides. I never pictured her grandparents holding her body with her spirit absent. 


On our way downstairs, my husband had texted our pastor, “Come right now.” He had been only a few blocks away so he was with us shortly after she died. He held her and prayed over her. We had always pictured him holding her as she was baptized, but again, not we did not envision his prayers over her like this. I remember thinking that watching other infants in our church get baptized was going to hurt like crazy.

At some point my OB came in and held Isabella too. I don't know how long we all sat there numbly. Staff brought in snacks and water bottles for us. 

A nurse asked if we wanted to bathe her. We said no because we did not have the emotional energy at the time. We were asked if we wanted pictures taken. What?! Why would we want photos of our dead daughter? We were told that we never needed to look at the photos, but parents never regret taking this one chance to have pictures of their child. I'm so grateful we did. We decided to go back to my hospital room while we waited for the photographer to come.

We walked out of the NICU with empty arms, broken hearts, holding each other, and leaving our daughter behind. 

When we got back upstairs, we laid down on the bed, arms awkwardly around each other since I could not twist due to the C-section the day before, and stared dazedly at the curtain. We read aloud Romans 8 and listened to the song, "Even If." We talked about all our dreams that just died. And cried. 

About an hour later, we were told the photographer had arrived. My dad had helped give Isabella her first and only bath. The nurses had taken her hand prints, footprints, and had made an imprint of her hands in plaster. We were led to a nearby room, introduced to our photographer, and held our daughter again. We wrapped her in the swaddling blanket I'd used while pumping. It felt so good to hold her. Looking at her face was hard. Holding her felt so right. 

After the photos, we stayed in the room and just held her, talking with the nurses, and asking them terrifying questions. Mainly, "What did I do to cause this?"

My husband holding Isabella as she is wrapped in a swaddling blanket


Susan said…
Dear, dear Elizabeth,
You write with such clarity and insight and deep heart. My own heart breaks for you and Arlen and Isabella all over again as I read these words. Such a loss. You and Arlen are so dear to me, and I am grateful that you are so dear to each other.

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