I remember it like it was yesterday.

A cold, wintry day in January in the dead of a Canadian winter. Sitting in the pews alongside my husband in church service. All of a sudden, I woke up startled as though I were in a dream. My husband turned slowly and gave me an are you seriously dozing off in church? look. I shrugged him off. But I knew it.

I knew that sleep from a mile away. The 2-minute nap that is so deep you literally forget where you are. A nap you can only describe if you have been pregnant. You see, my womb had been pregnant with a child three times before. I yawned and continued listening to the sermon warily. I forgot about the incident though it lingered at the back of my head.

Fast forward two weeks later: I am one of those women whose period is as consistent as the sun rising tomorrow—it must happen and happen on time. This time, my period was three days late. Cue in the dozing episode back to my mind. I immediately knew. Like the three pregnancies I’d had in the past, even before I saw the double pink line on the pregnancy kit, I knew there was a bun in the oven. My husband and I knew we wanted a third child—we just had no idea he or she would be coming so soon.

Did I mention the year is 2020? While that bun was baking in my oven, COVID was baking in the atmospheric oven. She just felt like that visitor who had overstayed her welcome, and in your head, you are like OK, it’s time to leave. Nope. COVID had other plans for humanity. Enter March 2020. The buns are ready and little Covidlets begin to show up everywhere. Schools, restaurants, movie theaters, and bars are all shut down. Heck, even the Olympics were canceled.

By then I was about 12-weeks pregnant. First trimester blues, nausea, and cat naps were finally beginning to give me a break.

I stayed home with the kids as my husband was full time “essential worker.” I went for the first ultrasound about this time and the ultrasound tech said all looked well, the heartbeat was strong, baby was sitting well. Nothing to raise alarm.

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As the days turned to weeks in lockdown, I started having a nagging feeling in my belly. I just felt nothing. I was pregnant but felt nothing. My belly was growing in size, but I felt nothing. There is a way you feel when you are pregnant–you feel life growing inside of you. You know there is a stirring within. I was about 16 weeks at this point.

I waited to hit 18 weeks pregnant, at which point I thought I should start feeling those kicking, popcorn-like feelings of Baby doing happy dances and cartwheels in my belly. Yet there it was. That nothingness again. The big 20-week ultrasound was coming up so I thought, OK let’s go find out the gender and figure out with the doctor why this baby is so chilled out.

I remember checking into the ultrasound room. The night before I had told my hubby to pray as that nagging feeling continued to linger. I had to take the first, early morning appointment of the day since hubby had to leave for work right after because I stayed home with the kids–the COVID daycare situation.

I went to the appointment alone, again Auntie COVID did not permit visitors.

The ultrasound technician was cordial but not friendly or warm. The first thing she asked was if I wanted to know the gender, to which I replied, “Write it on a paper, I will give it to my husband—he wants to know the gender; I don’t.” So the scanning began. The first thing she turned on was the sound to pick up a heartbeat. And there it was. There is nothing as glorious as the sound of a beating heart in utero.

In the background, I could hear news from around the world on COVID—again that visitor who would not just pick up their bag and leave. I will never forget the date, May 4, a day after we celebrated my husband’s birthday.

The silence from the ultrasound technician was deafening. I tried small talk like saying, “Mmm . . . these COVID cases are rising,” she responded with an “mmhm.” I thought, OK I guess she wants to do a thorough exam as it is the big scan during pregnancy. They call it the biophysical profile where they look at everything from the top of their head to the littlest toe. But that nagging feeling was now tugging at my shirt.

The ultrasound tech then tilted her head as she moved the scanner around my belly, all the while still quiet. I felt as though I were on the set of a cameo, low-budget movie. In a whisper, the only question I could think of was, “Is the baby measuring at 20 weeks?” To which she replied, “I will share the information with the doctor who does the interpretation.”

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At this point, I was borderline starting to move from worry to dismay. There was that silence again. The scan went for 45 minutes. I will never forget how she kept placing the probe at one point on the belly–like pressing it in and shaking it. Usually, this is done to get the baby to move. After this ordeal, because it was an ordeal, she came to her human senses, turned the screen to me, and said, “See here . . . 10 fingers, 10 toes.” I looked at the screen. I did see fingers and toes and all looked normal.

Though to be honest, I work in the medical field. I know those scripted lines you give patients when you want to give the basics without divulging too much that could send them into a full-blown heart attack. However this was what sold it for me . . . when she said, “I was not sure about the gender, and I did not want to guess.” Pause.

Again I am in the medical field, at 20-weeks gestation even the most inexperienced ultrasound tech can determine the gender–things pop out at you if you know what you are looking at. There was definitely something wrong.

“You will hear back from your doctor in case of anything by end of the day today or tomorrow.”

When I got home, I told my husband things did not sound the same as the previous normal ultrasounds. Later in the evening, I picked up my phone and saw three missed calls and two voice mails from my midwife who was handling my pregnancy. Again I am in the medical field, usually if there is no problem with any test results you would never receive a call from your doctor.

I listened to the voicemail, all I remember hearing was, “Call me back . . . Level 3 facility . . . confirm ultrasound.” I handed my husband the phone to listen. It was too late in the day to call anyone back, so we waited and the first thing in the morning, we called back. We finally spoke to the midwife who told us they had detected “abnormalities” during the ultrasound and that she was referring us to Mt. Sinai hospital which handles specialized pregnancies and has more “advanced equipment.” She kept saying “usually community ultrasounds could be faulty,” but I had already checked out.

A week later I found myself in the high-risk pregnancy department of Mt. Sinai hospital in the middle of a global pandemic sitting with other pregnant women wearing masks.

Alone again because hubby was with the kids and the pandemic would only allow patients to be seen. I was seen by the head of the fetal ultrasound team, a gracious French doctor did the ultrasound. As soon as he placed the ultrasound probe on my belly, he turned on the sound–and there it was that heartbeat in utero.

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At this point, I had resolved to find out the gender because I thought I might as well. He was so kind and warm during the procedure. In between, he mentioned softly, “It is a girl.” All the while, I watched the baby on the screen, but then I noticed it. No movement. I remembered both my previous pregnancies at this 20-week ultrasound with the babies looking like they were doing cartwheels.

When he was done he asked, “Is your husband close by?”

“No, he had to be home with the kids.”

He was very soft-spoken and with a gentle voice told me our baby had developed AMC, Athrogryposis Multiplex Congenital. He said he had seen this condition many times before; however, never this lethal to the fetus. Basically what had happened was that the baby’s joints had not developed well and the arms and feet were in a bent position. The head was flexed all the way backward, imagine walking with your head facing the sky. The nagging feeling I had finally made sense.

He said because of the severe contractures, the baby could barely move, let alone give the lungs room to develop. He said chances of the baby making it past 24 -26 weeks were slim and even if the baby did make it, she would have a limited chance of survival outside the womb.

I remember the drive home. I had the windows down as I watched the sun set. Spring had arrived. I got home and immediately collapsed into my husband’s arms. We looked at the ultrasound picture together, and there she was. There was our baby girl. Looking up. Heart beating like a horse, and yet I did not feel her move in my womb.

I don’t think there is a worse feeling in the world like carrying a child who is there but not really there.

Walking into a grocery store and hearing congratulations, and all you can do is mutter between teeth, thanks. If only they knew how I was battling questions such as have I failed my body or has my body failed me? Looking for the God who has never failed you in the past.

Two weeks later at about 23 weeks, I went into early labor. I remember going into the hospital and seeing a couple walk into the delivery unit. The wife was obviously pregnant and at term and the husband was carrying the car seat, nursing pillow, and overnight suitcase. My heart just felt a heaviness. I had been there. I had done that. I knew the joy of going in to deliver a child. I knew the excitement of the hours leading up to the delivery. The anticipation. The delivery. The discharge from the hospital with a newborn in a car seat.

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The labor and delivery unit I was placed in was for high-risk deliveries. It was so quiet–I think women were holding off on delivering until the COVID cloud lifted. My husband was with me throughout the whole process. I would have it no other way. He has been my “push coach” through my previous two deliveries. The nurses and staff were spectacular. I began to have contractions around 2:30 p.m. I was given a fentanyl drip, which I held off on until the contractions became regular, consistent, and forceful which was around 4:30 p.m. At this time, I felt like I needed to have a bowel movement—it was my water breaking. The doctor came and assessed and said the delivery would happen anytime.

After about an hour and a half of contractions that were so strong, I knew the baby was coming. 

The nurse I had been with the whole day was about to end her shift, but around 6:30, she said, “Let us try to push and see if Baby will come.” And push I did. After 20 minutes of pushing, at exactly 6:51 p.m., our little Angelique was born at 330 grams, asleep and peaceful. The nurse immediately said, “There is no heartbeat.”

I heard my husband’s wail. I think all the emotions of the past few days and weeks rushed in. The nurse was gracious enough to give us a few minutes. She had already walked us through what would be done. She cleaned the baby swaddled her in the tiniest blanket and placed a hat on her head and brought her to us to hold and spend time with.

For me, that moment is forever etched on my heart. Gazing down at her, I literally felt like I had tasted a piece of Heaven. There was such peace that overwhelmed me. My husband had previously been ambiguous about holding the baby; however, at that moment, he scooped her in his arms and he felt a total release.

She was warm. She was little. She was beautiful. We named her Angelique as it was the closest name to Angel.

We spent a while with her and after a while, they took her to a separate room still on the same floor in case we wanted to spend time with her again through the night. No nursery, no hearing tests, no midnight waking for feeds as was the case with our two previous deliveries. We slept so deep that night–well me more than my husband. I think the adrenaline rush and all the euphoria of emotions were finally wearing off.

Through the night I began to feel my breasts fill up with milk. The body knew a baby was delivered so guess what it was doing? Providing nourishment for the baby even if she was born sleeping. That restored my hope and answered my question—I knew my body had not failed me. My body knew what it was doing long before I had any idea, and in due time, my womb would nourish life again.

The next morning, we had a brief service with the chaplain, our little girl was brought in again. She was cold this time. Ice cold. But she was still so beautiful. I held her again as I knew this would be the last time I would see or hold her. After the service, we held her a bit more and then said our farewells. I kissed her cheek and whispered, “Rest in His arms, darling.”

We had made plans to do a cremation later after the autopsy report was completed in about a week. We were later discharged after being handed plenty of resources on support groups, follow-up appointments, etc. I am forever grateful to the amazing staff at Mt. Sinai, their professionalism is unmatched. They made the process so seamless and treated us with the utmost respect in what was for me the lowest point of my life.

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There are so many nuggets I gained through the process. Just to share a few with anyone who has experienced or is experiencing pregnancy loss through miscarriage, infant death, or stillbirth:

Your body has not failed you. It will nourish life again.

Allow your spouse to grieve differently from you. They say most couples divorce after the loss of a child. The truth is there is a level of disregard or judgment about how we think our spouse should grieve. This clouds the process as the other person is left to feel they are overdoing it or not grieving enough. Grief looks different for different people, your spouse no different. Don’t judge. Just sit with them in their pain.

If you can, surround yourself with people who will lift you up during those moments you have no energy, physically or emotionally, to do it yourself.

You may feel broken, physically and emotionally, but it is in the brokenness that light shines through. You will FOREVER be changed.

Hold on to your faith. Believe in something greater than yourself. For me, my Lord and Savior and the hope I have in Him helped me see beyond my limited human eye.

I thank you and may you be encouraged.

Penny Marenge

Penny Marenge is a wife to the most selfless husband, mum to two busy kids and general lover of human beings. During her free time, she loves journaling, listening to podcasts that tell the human story and reading books about anything and everything. You can find her on Instagram @screensnkids.