Empty Arms, Losing a Child

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In Memory of Sierra RayLeen

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Sierra RayLeen, October 27, 1987

As we approach Mother’s Day, I thought I would share my story of losing a child.  I hear so many stories from other women and it breaks my heart every time.  It brings me back to nearly twenty-nine years ago when I lost my first child, a daughter, Sierra RayLeen.  She came nearly three months early, and only survived for approximately five hours.  It was my first pregnancy, so I didn’t really know what to expect.  I was 20-years-old and was excited to be pregnant with our first child.  We wanted the gender to be a surprise, so we had no idea whether we were having a precious baby boy or girl.  I had been having a lot of problems throughout the pregnancy, especially with bleeding off and on.  I, myself had been born two months early, weighing in at 3 pounds 15 ounces, so it had been a concern throughout my own pregnancy; however after nearly six months of problems, and much of that time on bed-rest, it seemed that the pregnancy was finally going well, filling us with much excitement and anticipation.  I can still remember the first belly-flutters, the ultimate sign that that there is a little being growing inside.  It was amazing, and we couldn’t wait to meet him or her.  I knew early-on that I wanted to be a mother.  My own childhood had been pretty rough, and I couldn’t wait to have a child of my own to love and watch grow up.  It was a dream come true.

That dream came to a screeching halt on October 27, 1987 when I was 6-months pregnant.  I was finally to a point where I wasn’t having issues, and no longer required bed-rest (after nearly three months on bed-rest).  Because of the issues I had experienced, I hadn’t bought anything for the nursery; however on October 26th, I finally went shopping with a friend, and bought several baby “things”.  It felt good to finally start getting ready for his or her arrival.  That night, I woke up around 2:00 am with severe cramping and hemorrhaging.  I called my husband and he immediately rushed home and we made our way to the emergency room.  It was there that it was determined that the “cramping” was actually full-blown labor.  An ultrasound was performed and they were able to determine that I was 7cm dilated, and that the baby’s lungs were not fully developed.  It was not likely that he/she would survive, and certainly not without intervention.  My doctor shared that he could send me to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU) where they were performing a procedure where they would put the mother on a bed that actually tipped upside-down, using gravity as a means to hopefully keep the cervix from further dilating and prevent the baby from being born.  We were told that it was our only hope in the baby surviving, because the lungs weren’t developed.  We mentally prepared ourselves for the ambulance ride up to OHSU in efforts to save our baby; however nearly fifteen minutes later, our doctor came back with news we didn’t want to hear; OHSU was no longer performing this procedure because the survival rate was so low.  We were devastated.   We no longer had an option, so began the wait for the arrival of our sweet baby.

The nurses later came in with a steel tub and towels, placing these items at our bedside.  I was not sure what the purpose of these items were, and in the back of my mind, I feared that the staff would put my baby in this tub and whisk him/her away.  I was young and it was my first pregnancy.  I did not know what to expect and was utterly terrified.  I couldn’t even bring myself to question the nurses as to what the purpose of these items were.  I thought perhaps they would take the baby away (I had no idea what the baby would look like or if he/she would even look like a normal baby).  With each contraction, I grew increasingly worried about the steel tub and its purpose.  I tried to relax as much as possible and focus on getting through each contraction….and, so we waited…

A few hours later, our baby girl, Sierra RayLeen, entered this world.  She was just over 15 ounces and just under 12 inches long.  She was tiny, but she was otherwise perfect!!  Ten fingers, ten toes, perfect little hands and feet.  She was breathing, although labored because her tiny lungs were not mature.  They immediately cleaned her, wrapped her in a blanket, and handed her to us to hold and admire.  I quickly forgot about the steel tub.  I only focused on this beautiful little baby girl and how perfect she was.  The doctor let us have a few minutes with her and then came back in to visit with us.  He reiterated that she was not going to survive; however if we wished, we could have her immediately taken to the nearest neonatal center (several miles away); however because of my blood loss (and my body had gone into shock just prior to delivery), I could not go with her.  He assured me that she would be poked and prodded with needles and tubes, and that none of those things could save her.  We would lose all time with her. It was, to this day, one of the most agonizing decisions I have ever had to make in my life, and something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  We ultimately decided that we wanted to spend time with our precious baby girl.  We didn’t want to waste one minute away from her.

For over five hours, we held her, cuddled her, and kissed her.  She wrapped her tiny hand around our fingers and would occasionally take a deep sigh.  She never opened her eyes.  We were told this was because I had been sedated while in labor (when my body went into shock); therefore she was also sedated.  We had the most amazing doctor and nurses.  We didn’t know what to expect, but the nurses were so attentive to our little one.  They wrapped her up in blankets and kept her warm.  They took Polaroid pictures of her (this was in 1987, long before digital cameras and since we had no idea we would be having a baby that night, we didn’t come prepared with a camera), and provided us with a “Special Babies” baby book, along with her foot and hand prints.  They are the only physical mementos we have of her, and we are so very thankful that they provided these things to us during that very difficult time.  We reveled in each breath that she took and each squeeze of her hand on our fingers.  Even after she took her last breath, we continued to hold her, knowing how precious this time was.  Letting her go was more difficult than I can express in words.  When do you finally let go of your tiny daughter, knowing that these are the last moments that you will ever have with her?  When we did carefully hand her to the nurses, they treated her like any other baby.  They held onto her like the most precious of cargo.  I don’t think the nurses will ever know how much this meant to us, and I don’t think I could ever truly put it in words.

Going home was unbearable.  Empty arms that only had the chance to cradle that precious “little” for a few moments in time, would never rock her to sleep, or calm her cries in the middle of the night.  It’s a time that I’ll never forget, as it was such a time of darkness and despair.  But, we hold onto those beautiful brief moments with our daughter.  We had a gorgeous baby girl less than a year later, and a beautiful son almost two years after that.  We truly recognize how blessed we were, as many that lose a child, never have the opportunity with another.

My mother, who passed away just a few years later, wrote the following poem for our precious little one:  “Sierra RayLeen, child of my child, you only stayed a little while.  Bands of love wrap around my heart, knowing we would have to part.  Time stands still, there’s no tomorrow, wishing mine, was yours to borrow.  Time goes on, and hearts will heal, but the love of Sierra, we’ll always feel.”  -Grandma Lois

Sierra’s headstone where she lies was perfect in our eyes and we knew it the moment we found it: “She gave so much to be so little, but angels always do”.   Our beautiful angel is gone, but never forgotten.

 

 

 

Wrapped in Love

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Wrapped in Love

 

By now, many of you have noticed that I paint a lot of pictures about mothers and children, primarily babies.  I don’t think there is anything more beautiful, amazing, precious, delicious-smelling, soft, and snuggly than a little baby.  I will expand that to say that I also love baby animals; kittens, puppies, ferrets, you name it, I love it, especially in baby-form.  Baby toes are like little sausages…you just want to eat them up!!!  Not literally of course, but seriously, I want to kiss those little precious nuglets of goodness.  You can’t really do this once babies start crawling/walking, as then they no longer remain clean, and, well being a germaphobe, it just ain’t happening.  For some reason, this brings me back to when my kids were very little, probably 4 & 5 years-old.  It was Father’s Day and they had brought my husband and I breakfast in bed.  It was simply a bowl of cereal for each of us (I love cereal…hello!!!…who doesn’t love a good bowl of Cap’n Crunch?!), they brought up two bowls of cereal and two spoons…it was a precious moment.  The look on their precious, cherubic little faces was priceless.  They were so proud that they had done this all on their own…yes they did.  I’m not going to lie…being a germaphobe, I am always concerned about whether someone has washed their hands before handling something that I am eating, or after shaking hands, etc.  I wanted to enjoy my bowl of cereal that my precious littles had prepared for us…but I let my husband take the first bite, since it was Father’s Day.  He did so, and of course, raved about how delicious it was, and how he especially loved it because it came from them.  I went to take my first bite, when I saw that my husband had a puzzled look on his face and hear him utter, “where did you get these bowls?”….I slowly put my spoon back in the bowl, as they answered “the dishwasher”…which, of course we were both realizing contained dirty dishes, hence the film of grit that he had scraped upon while gathering a spoonful of cereal.  There was also remnants of something on the spoons, the likes of which, I didn’t want to even guess what it could be.  We laughed and “ate” our cereal (and when I say “ate our cereal”, I mean, we pretended to eat our cereal and then dumped it out when the kids weren’t looking).  It is one of those funny moments that you laugh about with your kids when they are older and can find the humor in it all.  It was such a precious moment.  It wasn’t about the cereal, or dirty bowls & spoons…it was about the love that was demonstrated when our precious babies thought  about us on that special day.  There are many other precious days like this, but this is one is one of my favorites, as it was when we were still a strong family unit.  There is nothing more precious than that.  While my husband and I divorced, we each still experienced many other loving moments with our kids.  I watch my son with his kids and see the love that he has for them.  I know he will have many memories of dirty cereal bowls filled with love, and that makes my heart full and realize the many blessings I have in my life.