I had heard Wendi’s story before, but when I read it here on the blog, I was shaking. Shuddering. I knew it would be my turn next to share, and I didn’t know if I could be as strong as she was. But I did it, and it’s here for other mothers to read… And truth be told, you may NOT want to read this. It’s horrible. Really horrible. But it’s part of my life, it’s part of our family’s story…
On January 31st of 2008 the weather channel forecasted that we’d be snowed in the next morning. It was a Thursday and Josh and I were pretty certain he’d be off work the next day because the roads were supposed to be completely lost in the massive amounts of snow. We’d just gotten back from the Urgent Care with our kids, Maddie- our oldest was sick, and we’d taken her to see the doctor. Lila was extremely quiet all evening, we took her to bed at about 10pm and hoped we’d all be home enjoying ourselves in the snow the next day. Somewhere during the night I awoke and decided it was time to change and feed Lila. She wasn’t stirring, so I don’t really know why I woke up, but I changed her diaper and tried to feed her. She didn’t want to eat, instead she acted super sleepy and barely noticed the diaper change so I put her back to bed and fell asleep shortly after that.
I didn’t wake up until sometime after five am when I heard my husband up - getting ready to try to get to work. That’s when I heard his voice in our dark bedroom. Something’s wrong with Lila, she’s not breathing! I dove out of bed, flipped on the light and there she was. Purple and Blue. There was no life in her, she was bloated, COLD, lifeless… it was horrific. I heard my husband saying he was calling 911, but we both knew it was too late. We did what we could, tried to do CPR, over and over and over… Josh took over and I was screaming my baby! and pounding my fists on the floor. He called our neighbor and babysitter because she was trained in CPR and she could get there before the ambulance. And she did. She got there in less than 10 minutes, she worked on her while her husband checked for a pulse. They looked up at us now and then with so much sadness in their faces because they knew she was gone, they were doing CPR for us. They knew it was the only way to stay sane, to think we could help- to stop it, to back it up.. But we knew it couldn’t really be stopped. It was reality. She had died while we were sleeping. Stopped breathing, right there in her bed. She floated up toward Heaven, her soul floating right past mommy and daddy while they slept, unaware.
The ambulance took 40 minutes to get to our house.
Forty minutes of terror, panic, screaming.. We thought Maddie was still in her bedroom, but our little 2 ½ year old had climbed over her baby gate to see what was going on. She saw the paramedics when they arrived, she watched from behind us as they worked on her. To this day she still brings up things she witnessed.. We never meant for her to see that… but we were so caught up in the pain we couldn’t think straight.
We got in the car to follow the ambulance, and I called my father on the phone. They live just a handful of miles away, I wanted them to be aware, to follow us to the hospital, but when my dad answered the phone I was screaming/crying/bawling gibberish… words would not form… He kept asking me to calm down and start over so he could help me, so he could understand.
The ambulance made it 8 miles and stopped in town to take on another paramedic who could shock Lila’s heart. We sat at a snowy intersection waiting for them to pull away and head to the hospital. My husband got out, went to the ambulance to find out what was going on. My parents stood by the door of my car asking me what was going on, would she be okay? I told them I didn’t know. I couldn’t say she was dead. I wouldn’t say it even though I knew it was true.
The rest of the ride to the hospital was painful. The snow was so deep, it took over 30 minutes to drive what should have only taken 15, I sat in the passenger seat screaming, God bring her back, I’ll do anything if you bring her back.
At the hospital I saw them bring her in on the stretcher, they’d cut her clothes down the front and she was in just a diaper, cords attached, needles inserted. I can’t even explain what I felt. It was complete insanity- I had just birthed this baby three months ago and she was gone.
The hospital hallway started to fill up with people who came to be with us, my husbands parents, close personal friends, the pastors from our church, our neighbors, they all held me quietly, rocking me back and forth, their tears dripping off their faces onto mine. I hadn’t thought to put in my contacts, everything was blurry, I was there in my pajamas in a hospital before sunrise mourning the death of my daughter. It all didn’t make sense, it was a night mirror, I thought if only God would wake me up… this isn’t real.
I went into the hospital bathroom, leaned against the wall and slid all the way to the floor. I wanted to die in there. I didn’t ever want to walk out. I was silently begging God to undo the day, to start it over again.
Josh and his mom were both in the bathroom with me, they lifted me under the arms and helped me walk to the room where I was told I could say my goodbyes. My mom stayed by my side holding my arm, it was like we were clinging to each other on the side of a mountain.. There was Lila, dark purple, wrapped in a tiny pink blanket she’d been sleeping with, some sort of clip on her tongue, lifeless and gone. I cradled her in my arms, and held her to my cheek. At that very moment I felt warm, she was being held by Jesus, no doubt in my mind. I remember telling her you’re safe with Jesus, I love you so much, You’re safe with Jesus. It’s gonna be ok.
I knew then my life WOULD NEVER BE THE SAME. I was not going to be a typical person, with a typical life, I would never be normal.
While I was saying goodbye there was another family on the other side of the curtain at first. Their baby had be found unresponsive that morning too, but it was saved. I looked them in the eye one time and thought to myself that I hoped they knew how lucky they were that theirs was spared. They looked at Lila with panic and pain and knew it could have been them. The tables could have been turned..
Before we left we stood in a circle, there were many of us, we prayed, we cried… then it was time to go. To go home without my baby. The snow was deep outside, everything was covered in perfect white snow that hadn’t yet been plowed. Lila had had a short stay in the ICU when she was born for cleft palate and Josh had kept telling me, “I know you want her out of the ICU, she’ll probably get to come home when it snows, she'll get to see the snow.” That was around Thanksgiving, she got to come home after 13 days, but it hadn’t snowed. That morning as we were driving away from the hospital I cried and told Josh, “You were right, she went home when it snowed.” She went to her heavenly home.
Now if you are still with me, imagine the pain I was feeling and add to this the fact that the CPS decided they were going to come to our house that day and interview us. Within four hours of us leaving the hospital. They didn’t wait for an autopsy, they decided to see if we were unfit, which we are the farthest thing from unfit… they came - toured our home, asked to show them where she slept, wanted to see our other child. It was awful. To have strangers in your house checking to see if it was your fault. And if that seems rough add to that the fact that three days later our local coroner came and did the same thing. He came to our home, made us put a baby doll in her bed just the way she was when we found her and then he took pictures for his files. Can you imagine the anger/grief/hatred I felt that day. I couldn’t believe that we were being put through this- it was enough that our baby had died. He told us he was working on the autopsy, that he didn’t want to say sids, that she had tiny spots of pneumonia in her lungs, but it didn’t look like enough to have killed her… He went back and forth and eventually I guess he ruled with viral pneumonia, but our doctor scoffed at that. When I questioned the deputy coroner she made me feel like a moron. She informed me how “important” the coroner is and how “respected” he was in our community. I was angry, I didn’t care how respected he was, he had made my heartache so much worse. Our pediatrician thought for sure it was a sids death. Lila had just been at the doctors office two days before to be seen for a cold. They had listened to her lungs and checked her for everything including rsv and found nothing, just a sniffle. Listening to the professionals go back and forth about her death did not make it any easier. It did, however, make me realize that only God knew the answer.
I wish things had been different from beginning to end, I wish I didn’t have to give up my baby girl- but things wouldn’t have been so horrid if the CPS and coroner had kept their distance like they do in some places. My second cousin’s baby died from SIDS the same weekend that Lila did, and oddly enough the baby was born the exact same day as Lila… She had no autopsy, no cps, no coroner to deal with… just the grief. I wished more than anything I had known my rights then… That I could have been strong enough to stand up for myself and tell them that just because we live in some small town in the middle of nowhere doesn’t give them the right to prance in there and make a bigger mess out of a tragedy. I hope and pray that never happens to another mother. That they never know the pain of wrapping up a fake baby and placing it in the bed so some man they’ve never met can photograph a “reenacted death scene” right there in the privacy of their bedroom.
Until God takes me home, I’m going to keep on reaching out to other momma’s because that is the best way I know how to deal with all of this… to be there for someone else who’s hurting. And to all of those reading who don’t believe in God, He is real, and he does love you. He gives, and he takes away, but he’s in charge. I don’t understand why He allows things to happen to us, and I don’t need to.. All I need to know is that faith in his son and his work on that cross is my saving grace. I honestly don’t know where I’d be right now without it. Call me a preacher, a volunteer, a bible beater, whatever you want- but I can tell you, when you've held your own lifeless child in your arms and have been sent a feeling from God that strong - that she IS safe- you can't help but want to tell the world about Him.
baby girl- there is not one single day that goes by that I don't long to hold you in my arms again. I wish more than anything to see you now at two years old... running and playing with your brother and sister. I wonder what you'd be like, if you'd love all the things your big sissy loves- if you'd be quiet like daddy or sassy like momma. I will never forget the last time I saw your beautiful dark eyes gazing at my face, nor the first time I saw your smile. You came into this world and shook it up, you moved mountains in our lives- and you moved them with tiny little hands. I love you more than words can say, and when I see you in Heaven I hope you're able to run to me and call me Momma. Until then, know that I love you with all my heart. Forever.
Hugs, kisses and soo much love.... Momma.