Today my daughter would have been one month old.
I have been through more at 22 than most people go through in their entire lives, but I will never let the challenges life brings take my hope and my joy.
I have been called irritatingly optimistic.
I had my first child when I was 16, and he was conceived in rape. I loved my son from the moment I knew I was carrying him. I wasn’t really religious, but I did believe in God. The day I found out I was pregnant God spoke to me, or maybe whispered, I don’t know how to describe it, but I knew in my heart, in my spirit, I was going to raise this baby and all would be well. And it was.
My son is greatly loved by so many people. It baffles my mind the way God turned something dreadful into something so very beautiful.
That is not to say that my decision hasn’t come with extreme challenges and at times, anguish and an unfathomable amount of emotions. But that is a story for a different day.
Anyone who knows me, knows I have a passion for family. I absolutely love being a stay-at-home mom and wife. It might drive some crazy being home, but I truly enjoy caring for children, my home, and my husband all day every day. I also go so far as to occasionally care for other people’s children.
I was born to be a mother.
Last year my husband and I decided to have another child. We hit most of the checkmarks of when it’s a good time to have a baby. We excitedly told literally all of our friends and family, and to our surprise, that next month I was expecting our daughter.
On December 12th when I saw that positive on the pregnancy test, I was at first in disbelief, and then when it sank in, I literally fell to my knees and started crying. I was overwhelmed with joy. I prayed and praised through tears of thanks for giving us this little life inside me.
We told everyone right away. I didn’t worry for a second that anything would happen to this baby. I believed arrogantly that God wouldn’t allow me to go through another traumatic pregnancy experience.
Everything was perfect. I went to Walmart the day I found out and bought “I love daddy” pacifiers and a cute little bacon teether I thought my husband would like. That Friday, I went and bought maternity clothes.
I had everything in the house organized perfectly weeks before she was due. I couponed and had diapers and wipes stocked up for probably about a year. I had everything labeled so that when we came home with our baby girl my husband or anyone at the house would be able to find everything. I had our bedroom set up and ready for her for months.
I was so incredibly excited.
The pregnancy went perfectly. I worked out up until the day before I delivered. Even in my third trimester, people would assume I was so miserable, but, most of the time, I answered with a smile and said no I wasn’t. My husband and all of our families were excited, ready for this new addition to the family. I was happily, joyfully, gratefully pregnant.
August 19th 2017, started out like any other day. I got up, made some coffee, hung out with my mom who was in from out of town for the baby, and ate breakfast. When I sat down I noticed the contractions, I wasn’t sure if it was real labor or not, so I kept on as usual.
I remember as I was writing laundry instructions on the washing machine for my husband, having to stop and breathe through a contraction. My mother’s eyes glistened with excitement at the possibility that I was finally in labor (I was three days past my estimated due date). I wasn’t getting my hopes up, but after a few hours and a call to my obstetrician’s office, I knew it was time to go.
I was calm. Ready. In control.
I breathed and counted through each painful contraction on the way to the hospital. After triage, I laid on the uncomfortable hospital bed surrounded by loved ones and excitedly waited for them to check my baby’s heartbeat and put on the monitors to check the contractions.
The first nurse couldn’t find the heartbeat, and another nurse came in to check. I prayed to God to please, please let my baby be OK. I locked eyes with my mom, terrified. When the doctor came in to do an ultrasound my prayers changed. The verse came to me ,“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me . . . ” (Psalm 23:4).
The doctor put the cold gel on my belly and began looking for her heartbeat. She looked up at me, and my heart dropped. Her eyes were full of sorrow, “I’m so sorry, but there is no heartbeat.”
No words can adequately describe the sorrow and despair felt when you are told your child has died.
But there is always a light, and from that moment on I have never witnessed or felt so much love in my entire life.
My heart stopped. My world stopped. My baby? I was taken aback in disbelief. Thursday we had had an ultrasound, and she was perfectly healthy. The doctor turned the screen and I saw my baby’s perfectly healthy body and spine curved around a heart that was still.
I honestly can’t remember exactly what happened. All I know is that anguish, despair, and heartbreak barely break the surface of what wretched feelings I felt. I screamed. I cried. I watched the hearts break of the loved ones around me.
How could this be? This happened to other people, not me. How could we be in the tiny minority who have stillborn babies? It should be a perfect delivery . . . we should be calling everyone telling them the long-awaited baby girl was on her way.
The family around me loved and comforted me when I couldn’t even think straight, let alone truly wrap my head around this devastation.
After four more hours of painful labor and delivery, I gave birth to a baby I knew was already gone. How could I find the strength when I knew I wouldn’t get to hear her cry—to give birth to death? It took all the little strength left in me and through tears to do it.
At 5:35 my daughter Savannah Rose Duncan was born. She was the most beautiful perfect little girl I have ever seen. I sobbed. I was in love. She was a perfect mix between me and my husband. I held her tightly. I knew this time was the only time I would get with my long-anticipated baby. Most of our immediate family was there by then and were able to hold her—for the first and last time.
After hours spent with her, it was time to say goodbye. I kissed her in her little cot and told her how much I loved her and how sorry I was.
Gut-wrenching. Impossible. Horrifying.
My husband and I watched our baby girl be wheeled off to the morgue.
I wanted to rip my hair out, I felt like I was about to explode. How could life possibly go on without my baby girl? The thought of having a stillborn baby who was healthy and fully developed the day before seemed like an incomprehensible far away concept. But there I was. Barely surviving, without my daughter in this world.
The grief and depression settled on me, weighing heavily all over my body, mind, and spirit. I would look around, angry and confused that the world was still turning while mine had stopped. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t breathe, and it was so hard to see past this pain. I didn’t want to live in a world my daughter wasn’t in.
I got help with what was postpartum depression and was able to see the light. Be the me I was before.
To say it has been a difficult journey for me and my family would be a grave understatement.
But God has had us in his arms.
We have had more love and support from our community and family, and even strangers, than I even knew was possible. My marriage has been strengthened. All of my relationships have strengthened through this tragedy, and many broken ones restored.
I have seen just a glimpse of God’s beautiful, wonderful, mysterious plan.
God is good all the time.
I say all of this to say that truly, no matter where you are in life, there is hope. Even when you look around you and only see death and darkness. When you want to die. Feeling as if the pain or circumstance is too much to bear, there is always a light.
Choose joy. Choose love. Choose God.
My daughter has made me a better person. While my heart aches deeply, and I desperately long for her to be in my arms, she is not.
But I do believe she is perfectly at peace, in the arms of Jesus in Heaven.
Many have told me I am so very strong. I am not. God gave us free will though, and I will always choose joy.
I will always choose to see the positive in any situation as I always have. Without God, my heart may have hardened, turned cold because this world is cruel and unfair.
But I choose love. I will fight every day to get through a world where my child isn’t with me. A world where another day isn’t promised and is full of sin and sadness everywhere. I will fight to always see the good.
I am unbreakable.
But that comes from a great trust in God. I choose to seek Him and see the beauty in all things—even when I don’t understand.
So now, you, if you have read this, know wherever you are the IS hope.
Even in your darkest, most desperate place, there is hope.
I have been told I have an irritatingly upbeat attitude and optimism.
That’s because I have been through hell on earth, but I have seen that any storm can end with sunshine and beauty.
I urge you, love life. Live it. The good, the bad. One day it won’t matter, and we will be with the Father.
Wherever you are now, fight. Fight. Fight like hell and get through it. If I can, you can. Come out better and stronger. No circumstance is hopeless as long as you choose hope, choose love.
I know I will, through all I have been through and having lost a child, I will smile.
Previously published on the author’s blog