Lessons from my Daughter

<<<TRIGGER WARNING>>> This story talks in depth about infant loss, and may not be suitable for all readers.)

 
1. Everyone has a deep rooted story. 

When welcomed, take the time to pour in, prune, or unearth.

When I found out I was pregnant with Audrianna, I was terrified, angry, and in utter despair. My husband and I had only been married 6 months. We were renting a finished basement, and barely had enough to cover our bills. I was so afraid of everything. So many thoughts filled my mind in an instant. They circled on repeat at a deafening volume.  

Could our marriage survive a child right now? 

How will we afford to feed and clothe a baby? 

How will we pay the hospital bills? 

Where will we live? 

Will we be in debt for the rest of our lives? 

What about my dreams?

You see, I didn’t fear motherhood, pregnancy, or childbirth much. I felt well equipped and pretty relaxed about the whole thing. I’d always been excited about parenthood and spent many years parenting others children, like they were my own.

I feared not having the means and resources to be the kind of parent that I had always dreamed of being.

I wanted to be fully present and engaged in my child’s life. I desired to set aside my world and become fully immersed in theirs. I wanted to parent with my whole being in my own time. 

I wanted to be able to offer the benefit of my life’s experiences. To be able to say, “I went out. I worked hard. I pursued my dreams. Look what I’ve accomplished… You can too!”

My life, as I glared at the pile of positive pregnancy tests, was not one to be modeled after.

I had nothing to offer.

I wasn’t “enough” yet.

We decided not to tell anyone until we had everything figured out. We found a place to live. I found health insurance. The thoughts began to quiet.

I thought, “What if it’s a boy.” My heart began to soar. I loved the idea of being mommy to a little boy. (Honestly, I hated the idea of having a girl. I was really afraid of parenting a preteen girl, if she turned out to be anything like I was.)

We had to know. So, at 15 weeks, we went and had a 3-D ultrasound done. I cried, loudly. I begged for the tech to recheck. I was heartbroken. Not only was my life over, but now I had to raise a girl. It sounds so harsh now, and ungrateful. But in that moment, it all seemed so unfair.

This loss of self, and clarity; this certain uncertainty, was the deepest pain I’d felt in my life up to that point. This was my deep rooted story that I was hiding from the world. I became consumed with worry and bitterness in those weeks.

I felt so powerless, so conflicted.

She was stealing my body from me. She was stealing my dreams.

At the same time……

I desired to give her the kind of life I longed for, but I knew I couldn’t. I knew I couldn’t be the kind of mother I wanted to be.

I was alone on this island, and I needed help. I found a center for women that provided resources, baby supplies, classes, and counseling.

2. You Already Are “Enough”

Things got better. I began to slowly feel more comfortable. We could figure this out. We will work together, and everything will be okay. A shift occurred within me, a determination to be “enough.” I was going to do the absolute best I could with what we had. I promised to focus in on the good, work on what I could control, and let go of the rest.

 

We decorated the nursery, bought baby clothes, and dreamed of what she would look like. Thanksgiving was coming up, and so was the anatomical scan. I needed to know she was healthy. The results came back perfectly. The weekend before Thanksgiving, we decided to invite our friends and family over for a pre-holiday party. We were ready to tell the world. My parents drove up the afternoon of our get together, from Florida. 

My husband answered the door, while I hid in the nursery. As the door opened, my mom cried tears of joy, my dad awkwardly asked what we’d been doing.

Our friends arrived; we cooked, laughed, and enjoyed amazing food and each other’s company. I was happy. Nervous, but supported, finding contentment. We made a Facebook announcement. 


The whole world knew. A weight had been lifted.

We felt her kick. So strong.

On Wednesday morning 11/26/14 (the day before Thanksgiving) at 3am, at 20 weeks and 6 days gestation, I woke up to use the restroom. As my feet hit the floor I felt a gush. I drove myself to Vanderbilt University Medical Center not realizing what was happening. I thought maybe I had just lost bladder control. When they confirmed it was amniotic fluid, my water had broken (a condition called Pprom), and there was none left in my uterus, they suggested termination or home bed rest until 24 weeks gestation. Then hospital bed rest until delivery. 

Babies need to swallow amniotic fluid in the womb for proper lung development. It was possible that pockets of fluid could accumulate. If she was miraculously positioned near them, there was more hope.  

On Friday 11/28/14 I began light bleeding and headed back to the hospital. They kept me overnight. The blood work came back good and the bleeding subsided. I went home on bedrest. The goal was to keep her in for as long as possible, avoid infection that would lead to labor, and pray for her lungs.


Guilt said, “It’s your fault this is happening. You didn’t want her or love her enough. You are causing her to suffer. It’s your job to keep her safe.”

Fear said, “What if the worst happens…”

 
3. You Are Powerful

Determination said, “We must do everything we can. She is still here. Where there is life there is hope.”

I took all kinds of supplements, followed a personal-care protocol, and stayed hydrated, clean and in bed. We listened to her heartbeat every night. We talked to her. She was there, alive and well within me.  

The odds were against us, but we kept beating the odds. The majority of Pprom moms deliver within the first 48 hrs. Those who don’t, typically give birth in the first week. I was on home bedrest for almost 3 weeks fighting for her life. We tried our best and fought hard.

Labor was terrifying and excruciating. I hadn’t had the opportunity to attend a birthing class and knew very little of what to expect. I hoped the doctors would give me medicine to stop the contractions, so that she could have more time. I spent the majority of it trying to hold her in, knowing the odds. 

I labored without medication, and just before she was crowning was persuaded into getting an epidural. I was told, it was likely the placenta would have to be manually extracted (more like forcibly removed).

Audrianna Hickerson was born on Saturday, December 13, 2014 at 4:27am at 1 pound 2 1/2 ounces measuring 12inches.
At almost 24 weeks gestation, her lungs were just not developed enough to support her. 

She wasn’t responding well to the NICU team’s interventions. They gave us the option to hold her, or send her back with the NICU team. It was made clear that this was the opportunity to hold her alive, and that continued interventions would cause her immense pain.

So I held, my sweet baby. I sang to her, the only song that came to mind… “Hush little baby, don’t you cry”… but what I would have given to hear her cry.

4. You Belong

I was adopted when I was 9 months old, by two incredible parents.

  I had an open adoption and was close to my blonde haired, blue-eyed, birth mother. I knew her children from other relationships, my younger siblings.  

I’d seen a picture of my dark skinned, Nigerian, biological father. 

I didn’t look like anyone. I searched a lot in my adolescence, for something that I couldn’t quite put into words, but somehow knew I was lacking. As I gazed at my beautiful daughter, my mini me, I finally felt it. I “fit” here. I found in her, a deep sense of belonging and oneness.

My husband held her, as the doctors asked me to sign documents about what would happen after her death.I tried to hold her again, but the epidural caused my hands to shake violently.

She left our arms peacefully at 6:20am.

5. You Are Loved

The outpouring of love, generosity, kindness, and support we received was astounding. 

A friend set up a go fund me account for us. I had been out of work for so long, and my husband had taken time off to take care of me. We were running desperately low on funds. 

People we didn’t even know brought us meals and sent us money that covered our basic necessities. It saved us. I don’t think we would have eaten, or paid rent without the kindness of strangers, friends, and family. 

In the midst of the deepest pain I have ever known, I experienced the greatest love and compassion.

6. It’s Okay to Be Broken

One of the things donated by a stranger was an open door to continued counseling. Amy, the counselor, provided a safe supportive space for me to grieve and process life after loss. 

She also inspired me to use my expertise, gifts, and abilities to come alongside other women who have walked this path. 

Supporting women, who have gone through pregnancy, or infant loss, has been the most rewarding work I have ever done.

7. Move, Breathe, Live. Search for that soft quiet beauty.

In those first few days, weeks, and months really living again seemed impossible. How could I? A part of me had died. The innocent, hopeful part of me, that believed everything would work out and be okay.

My world had been turned upside down, and I was searching for the ground again.

There is a soft quiet beauty to be found when you open your heart to love. The depth of my pain mirrored the depth of my love for her. Once I was able to be still and know that this love is the through line connecting all that is, my purpose was redefined.

I found empathy and compassion for those experiencing this kind of sadness. 

I also gained an ability to identify with others that I never had before.  You never know what someone else is going through, their burdens or pain. 

Everyone has a story, that is as real to them as yours is to you. 

When welcomed, take the time to pour in, prune, and unearth the quiet beauty around you.

Audrianna’s story continues in my love. I move and breathe because she cannot. I will use this gift of life to give all the love I have within me, as I support others on their journey to wellness.

~In Memory of Audrianna