My Dear Emma,
I have never been a brave person. In my entire life, I can probably count on one hand the number of actual risks I’ve ever taken. Anything I’ve done that people might say seemed brave or required some courage is probably just a matter of perspective- it likely didn’t seem hard or scary to me, or I wouldn’t have done it.
But all that changed the day I met you. You, my beautiful, amazing second daughter, were only with me for 36 weeks. And saying I met you is something of a misnomer; your precious little heart had stopped beating probably 16 hours before I delivered you. But your presence in my life, for those wonderful 36 weeks and the ways that you still impact me on a daily basis, changed me in profound, surprisingly wonderful ways. You made me be brave; I had to find courage in the worst moments of my life to do all the things required of me after losing you. And I’ve had to be brave to keep living, keep loving, keep moving forward since you left. Someday I will be able to thank you face-to-face for making me a better person (and I cannot wait for that day!) but for now, this letter will have to do.
My pregnancy with you was a surprise to your father and I- your sister was only 16 months old and we hadn’t yet even started talking about when we would try for another baby. But God had other plans; He wanted us to have you. So once I recovered from the slight panic attack of finding myself pregnant unexpectedly, I began preparing for your arrival into our family. I was in school still, finishing my doctorate in history, and knowing you were coming gave me the final motivation I needed to get that dissertation written and defended. You and I went to countless coffee houses- and anywhere else I could find free WiFi- while I furiously wrote my dissertation. I dedicated it to you and your sister, and quoted your grandfather’s dedication to me in his dissertation: “To Allie and her soon-to-arrive sibling, whose presence and eminent arrival made it clear I needed to finish this.” I defended my dissertation when I was 34 weeks pregnant. I was huge and very uncomfortable, and you kicked throughout my entire presentation and started turning somersaults when my committee announced that I’d passed without revisions and was officially now Dr. Kara.
I spent the next two weeks finally getting ready for you to come. We didn’t know your gender yet so the nursery wasn’t fully decorated, but I pulled out all your sister’s old baby things, washed clothes, attended my baby shower. I was so ready to meet you, introduce you to your sister, start this next phase of our family’s growth.
It didn’t turn out the way I thought it would.
When I was exactly 36 weeks pregnant with you, I taught one of my last classes of the semester and was driving home to pick up your sister from her babysitter’s house when I started to feel very sick. My doctor’s office thought it was early labor, but I’d been through labor before and I knew that something was wrong, so instead of getting your sister and going home, I found another sitter for the kids and had my friend drive me to the hospital. Everything went horribly, horribly wrong during that drive and I don’t remember much about the next ten hours or so. The horrible pain I felt and the dizziness from all the blood loss put me in a weird mental state, but I remember very clearly hearing my doctor say, as she looked at an ultrasound, “You’ve had a placental abruption, and its really bad. This is the baby’s heart, and it’s not beating.” I don’t remember anything else people said after that (although your dad remembers that the next thing the doctor said was something about how I was losing too much blood and might not make it either.) My world stopped spinning in that moment: how could you be gone? What did I do? How could this have happened?
A lot of things happened in the next sixteen hours: I was put on a helicopter and flown to a different hospital, one with an adequate blood supply to try to save my life once I delivered you. Your grandparents flew in to be with us and meet you, our good friends came to support your dad and stayed with us through the entire ordeal. I felt like the world was moving around me and I didn’t have any choice in what was happening. I didn’t want to be experiencing everything I was, I wanted to rewind a day and have you still kicking inside of me. I wanted to go back to the life I was living, the one where I’d never had to be brave or do things I really wasn’t sure I could handle. I really, really did not want to have to deliver you and face a life as the mother who’d lost her child. At first I thought that maybe if I just didn’t do anything the doctors asked of me, they would just knock me out and I could be unconscious for all the horrible parts that were coming up. But I watched your dad’s face as they explained how dangerous it would be to have to do surgery in the condition I was, and I knew I had to try. I thought of you watching me from heaven, and suddenly I didn’t want to just fall apart, I wanted you to see me being brave, see me doing the hardest things I’ve ever faced- I wanted you to be proud of your mom. So I went through labor and pushed until your body came into the world, knowing that the process couldn’t be called giving birth, as it had the first time I’d done this.
I recognized you right away. The doctors let me hold you for a few minutes before about a million people descended on me and started doing all the horrible procedures that came after your delivery to save my life. You looked so much like your older sister, and my heart broke again as I realized she would never get to meet you. I kept you with me for twenty-four hours, and you were pretty much never set down that whole time. Your dad, our dear friends Scott and Nicole, and your grandparents took turns holding you, memorizing your every feature, committing everything about you to memory. We had pictures taken by a wonderful lady from Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, and those photos rank among my most valued possessions. When I knew it was time to send your beautiful body to the morgue, I held you tight while your grandfather and I prayed. I prayed that God would give me strength enough to survive this: to survive seeing you wheeled out of my hospital room, to survive planning your memorial, to survive living the rest of my life without you, missing you every second.
As always, God answered my prayers. Somehow I survived that week, survived your memorial, survived each day after your death. It didn’t get any easier though, and it didn’t hurt any less as the days passed, and I realized I was going to have to be brave again. In fact, I was going to have to be brave every day of my life because I was going to have to do something I didn’t want to do every single day: live my life without you. I decided that in honor of you, my sweet Emma Margaret, I would be brave. I would live my life as fully as possible, I would be happy, I would laugh, I would love, I would be the best mother possible to your sister, the best wife I could be to your father. A life well lived would be my legacy to you.
On days when I feel overwhelmed (and there are still a lot of them!) I remind myself, “I can do this, I’m Emma’s mom.” I can be brave, I can do hard things. After seeing every doctor and specialist in Arizona and New Mexico, all trying to figure out why I suffered this massive placental abruption, one worse than any of the doctors had ever had to deal with, the entire situation was declared a mystery and I was declared, miraculously, completely physically healed. Your father and I decided that we still wanted to try to expand our family, we still wanted a sibling for your sister and to have a baby in our house again. It didn’t take long and we were expecting your younger sister three and a half months after losing you. People expressed surprise over our decision to try again so soon, but this time I knew I could be brave. I knew full well what risks I was taking, I knew there could be a horrible ending awaiting me in this pregnancy too. But I also knew that you were worth it; I wouldn’t trade one single second I had with you, even knowing the ending, and the same was true of my third child. You two were worth the risk, and I knew I could be brave- I am your mother, after all.
It turned out I needed to be brave for your sister’s arrival as well- when labor took a scary turn and her heart rate dropped, I needed an emergency c-section. As they were wheeling me in, I was sitting on my hands and knees and maneuvering on my own despite the epidural I’d gotten. I asked my doctor what we were going to do for anesthesia and she said they were upping the epidural, but if it didn’t work they’d put me under for the surgery. I refused to be knocked out, knowing I needed to hear my baby cry, and although it absolutely terrified the anesthesiologist, she agreed. I certainly wouldn’t want to do another c-section without proper anesthesia, but I knew I could do it- I’m Emma’s mom, I can do hard things.
My recovery with your youngest sister was horrible, since after the c-section I started bleeding inexplicably. Which ended in more transfusions and an emergency hysterectomy. The doctors and nurses were handling me so delicately after the operation, expecting me to be devastated. But my OB, who’d been with me during my pregnancy with you, understood why I was instead so happy: she knew I’d been through much, much worse. If I could survive losing you, I could survive anything.
So many things in my life are different because of you. In your memory, I turned an amateur interest in photography into a small business, donating portions of my proceeds to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and applying to be one of their photographers for the new hospital that opened near our house. I’ve changed from being the grieving mother who needed to be carried to seeking out opportunities to be that woman for others in my position. I am a better person in nearly every way because of you, Emma, and I know I am a much better mother to your sisters because of my experiences being your mom. Of course, I would still rather be that lesser person I was before and actually have you in my life, but since I wasn’t given that choice I will instead take these lessons in bravery and live my life in a way that would make you proud to be my daughter. I so hope you are.
All my love,
From Kara Carroll. Image via Design Crush.
P.S. — Amy of Progressive Pioneer share her uplifting homebirth story here.
Note from Design Mom: throughout my pregnancy, I posted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family on Wednesdays. My baby has now arrived — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.