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A Story of Love

Dad holding Julie's hand

“As long as it’s healthy, right?”
Said with a smile, almost like it’s a joke or so absurdly obvious that it doesn’t even need to be said. This is usually the second question, right after, “So, are you hoping for a boy this time?” when people find out that we already have four girls.
I used to be offended by the assumptions in the first question, and just smiled and nodded in agreement with the second, hoping to end the conversation with this person who so obviously didn’t understand.
To clarify: yes, I would like to have a son. But getting pregnant specifically to try for a boy would mean that a girl would be a mistake. And my girls are not mistakes. To try for a specific gender is illusory; one may as well try for a baby who would grow up to be 5’4” with brown hair and a talent for playing hockey.
We also don’t search for balance between genders. My girls are alike in many ways, but they are unique individuals. Adding a boy to our family would mean something different than adding a girl, but it’s more like puzzle pieces fitting together than justice’s scales lining up.
We want another child. Our family is not yet complete. That’s why I’m pregnant.
“As long as it’s healthy, right?”
That question now makes me smile in a different way. My smile has sadness in it, and a growing wisdom. The good health of my child is not a requirement for me to be glad to be a mother, glad to have new life within me, glad for another thread to add to our family tapestry.
Here’s why:

At my three month appointment, my obstetrician asked me to consider a blood draw for the quad screen, an optional test usually done at the four month checkup. I was rather blasé about it. I am young and healthy, and even though I’ve had three miscarriages, I just knew that my baby was fine. Didn’t I have four beautiful children at home? So I agreed to the test for no reason other than the fact that I assumed there would be nothing wrong. A routine blood draw.
At my four month checkup the last week of September, I smiled at the student physician’s assistant who did my exam. I wondered if I was more familiar with pregnancy checkups than he was. He certainly didn’t do or say anything that was new to me. I answered his questions about my general health before he could read them from the sheet of paper on his clipboard. “No nausea. No headaches. No cramping, spotting, dizziness, or swelling.” Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
I lifted Celeste, our 18 month old, up to the table as I leaned back on the headrest, exposing my still smallish lump of a tummy to be measured. I sat her on my chest as he measured, and then held the hand of Natalie, our 3 year old, as we listened together to the new baby’s heartbeat. This was a breeze.
Afterwards, Dr. Welch came in and smiled, assured me that everything was great and told me that the nurse would be in soon to draw my blood. I turned my head away as she inserted the needle. I smiled at my girls, to show them that it didn’t hurt.
That was Wednesday morning. Thursday at 4:55 pm, I got a phone call from Dr. Welch. He told me that the results from my blood test were already back, and some of the numbers were elevated, indicating that one of the baby’s organs was possibly open to the amniotic fluid. I didn’t really process that, but I listened as he continued to talk.
He was concerned, and wanted to schedule an ultrasound for the next day. I wasn’t sure that was necessary. We already had an ultrasound scheduled for my 20 week appointment at the end of October. Wouldn’t that be soon enough? Besides, if something was wrong, it wasn’t like we would abort the baby. This was our baby, after all. We could love a child with physical limitations.
Besides, the test was an indicator, not rock solid proof. It could even have been a false positive. So I told my doctor that I’d talk to my husband, David, and call him back. Dr. Welch gave me his cell number, since his office phone was already offline.
I had trouble contacting David. He is rarely at his desk. I tried for about 15 minutes, attempting to read a magazine in between dialing, all the time thinking about the concern in my doctor’s voice. He had called at 5 o’clock on Thursday because he knew that if he waited until Friday, we’d have to wait through the whole weekend to find anything out.
I finally just called him back and set up the ultrasound anyway. He offered an appointment the next morning at 11 am. He said they usually don’t have regular appointments on Fridays as he reserves that day for surgeries, but he and the nurse would be there for us then. I started to realize that something big was happening.
After hanging up, I sat there a little glassy-eyed. David was at work. My mom and dad were actually en route for a short visit. For some reason, I shied away from calling them first. Instead, I called my older sister, Sara. Fortunately, she was not busy with work, only with chasing after her 3 year old daughter, Tatum.
I let her lead the conversation for a few minutes. She talked about her own pregnancy a little bit; her due date was within days of mine. Then I asked, “Have you had that blood draw they do about now?”
She returned, wryly, “Why? Did you get some results with my name on it?” We live 3 states apart. I couldn’t laugh much, though.
“No. But I just talked to my doctor, and mine came back abnormal. We have an ultrasound scheduled for tomorrow morning, and we might need to see a specialist after that.”
I explained what I knew, and we talked about it for awhile. She expressed confidence in me, and in the plan God has for our family. Then she told me about several friends who’d had various tests come back telling them their babies would be handicapped in some way or wouldn’t survive, and the doctors were all proven wrong in the delivery room.
One of her friends’ doctors was not proven wrong, though, and I’ll never forget what my sister quoted that father as saying to his wife: “If Heavenly Father wants this baby to be born healthy, it will be.”
It was exactly what I needed to hear. That father had confidence in Heavenly Father, just like the three men in the Bible faced with the fiery furnace. Their answer to the predicament they faced was complete faith: “God will save us, if it is part of His plan. But if not, our faith rests in Him still.”
Peace filled my heart, even in the absence of understanding or answers.
At about 8:30 the next morning, I called my mom on her cell phone. I was sure they’d be up and on the road by then. She was cheerful and a little surprised to hear from me, since they planned to call me later that morning to let me know when they’d be arriving. I said, “Well, I wanted to call you first because I’ll be in and out this morning. I’m going up to Alyssa’s classroom for an hour, and after that I have a doctor’s appointment.” She was surprised; she knew my last appointment had been just a few days ago. I explained about the blood test. She expressed their concern, and their love for me, and said they’d be praying for us.
My husband and I met at the clinic at the appointed time. We were somber, but hopeful. The nurse led us back to the ultrasound room, took my blood pressure and pulse, and said the doctor would be in soon. My husband and I talked quietly as we waited, our hearts and minds overwhelmed with anticipation for the answer soon to come.
Dr. Welch came in and sat down. Did we have any questions? My husband leaned forward and asked for more information about what the quad screen measured, and what my test results were indicating exactly. The doctor answered patiently and thoroughly. He explained about neural tube defects, as well as some other possibilities.
Now it was time for the ultrasound. I got up onto the table and lifted my shirt. My lips were tight and we were all quiet as my doctor started to run the transducer across my belly. He checked the baby’s spine, talking us through what he was looking for and what he was seeing; all clear. He checked the abdomen; again, all clear. All the baby’s limbs checked out.
Then he focused in on the baby’s head. He was quiet for a moment; I think now that he knew what to look for all along, but was hoping to find an easier answer. “I’m not sure what I’m seeing. I don’t see as much skull here as I’d like to.”
David sat down on a nearby chair, almost without looking to confirm it’s location first, completely overwhelmed. I lay on the table with my heart pounding, just trying to understand what the doctor was saying.
“I’d like for you to go to a specialist in Omaha. They’ll be able to tell you better what we’re looking at. The nurse can set that up for you right away.” There was an off chance the appointment could be set up for later that afternoon. We hoped so, because David was scheduled to leave on an international business trip Sunday morning, and would be gone all week. I didn’t want to wait a whole week, and there was no question in my mind about going to the appointment in Omaha alone.
We shook hands with the doctor. My husband returned to work, hugging and kissing me tenderly before he left. I waited for the nurse to set up the appointment. About fifteen minutes later, she came out and handed me some papers. The appointment was scheduled for the following Friday afternoon.
I picked up my kids from my friend Danni’s house. I didn’t say much about the appointment, other than saying that it was kind of serious and that we were worried. “Let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you.” I would let her know. She was a good friend, and I knew she meant the offer.
My parents arrived on schedule later that day. I told them we weren’t sure yet, we had an appointment with a specialist, and then said the word, “Anencephaly.” My dad is a physical therapist, and both my parents are familiar with medical terminology, so they knew immediately what that meant: the doctor suspected that our baby’s brain had not formed, that her skull was open and empty.
I think we were all hopeful still, but the reality was beginning to creep in.
When David came home, I told him about the appointment for Friday. Somehow, I had been picturing the appointment on Saturday, the day after he returned from his trip. But no, the appointment was set up for two hours before his plane touched ground. We would have to change it.
I didn’t sleep well that night.

The next morning, we took Alyssa and Haley to their AYSO soccer games. Somehow, even though the ground had shifted beneath our feet, life kept moving. So we took them to the field to play. This was Alyssa’s third year, but Haley was just beginning: three on three, no scorekeeping or goalies, just run in a herd and kick the ball. Those were fun games to watch, especially with my parents there.
One of my friends, a pediatrician, happened to be nearby. I pictured myself telling her about my doctor’s suspicions; saw myself saying the word, “Anencephaly,” to her, and watching her eyes widen. But I didn’t tell her about our baby. Saying it out loud to someone outside of my own family might make it feel too real.
After the games, we listened to some Church broadcasts over the internet. During one of the broadcasts, I caught up on the sleep I’d missed the night before, my head on my husband’s lap as he sat on the floor. He didn’t complain or try to move, even though he later admitted that the floor began to get pretty hard after the first hour.
My mom and I went to town to pick up a few things. Later that evening we had girls’ night, and my mom and I painted my daughters’ toenails.
It was almost a normal Saturday. Almost, but not really. I talked with a few of my siblings on the phone; my twin sister cried. The word “anencephaly” haunted me. It echoed in my head whenever I wasn’t thinking specifically about something else. It was the first word I thought of when I woke each morning.
My parents and David all had to leave the next day. I was dreading being left alone. Before he left, David gave me a blessing. Our Church has a lay ministry, and he and my dad are both worthy to hold the priesthood and thus to administer blessings to the sick or afflicted, and to those who otherwise need guidance or comfort. They put their hands on my head, and my husband gave me words of strength and comfort straight from Heavenly Father. My face was flushed and tears pricked my eyes as I listened. Afterwards I hugged him, and then I stood up straight.
It was only then that I realized I had been physically leaning on him all weekend, getting as close to him as possible in bed at night, sitting with shoulders and hips touching on the couch, leaning my head on his shoulder. I had been borrowing his strength for several days; this blessing had given me enough strength to stand on my own.
That strength lasted all week long, especially as family members prayed for us. David called from Mexico City every day; my sisters and mom checked in with me frequently. I called my mother-in-law, and then passed the word to the rest of the family through email. Sara called to let me know that she was arranging for our family to fast together during the weekend on our behalf; several of my husband’s family members joined in.
And I waited.
David arrived home right on schedule on Friday evening. Our appointment in Omaha had been rescheduled for the following Tuesday. So we waited together for three more days, praying and searching the scriptures for peace.
“As long as it’s healthy, right?”
We had a special lesson with our four daughters on Monday night. We talked with them about God and heaven and love and family and eternity. We talked about how special each of them is. We told them how glad we felt to have a new baby coming. And then we explained in simple terms what concerns we had for her. We all kept saying “her” even though we didn’t yet know the baby’s gender.
Our oldest daughter, Alyssa, cried into her father’s lap. Haley, who was 5, was more prosaic. “I’m not sad, because there are two good things: we can see the baby now, and we’ll see her in heaven, too.” Natalie didn’t quite understand, but made sad faces when we did and said, “Me, too. I’m sad, too.” Celeste just wanted to play with the dolls I had used as part of the lesson.
The morning of the ultrasound finally arrived. I slept poorly the night before, waking to look at the clock about every hour. I was aware that David was awake whenever I was. Alyssa came to our door at 6 o’clock as we quietly dressed, having woken up without an alarm.
She and Haley dressed quickly, and we combed their hair. We woke the two little ones, piled into the car, and drove them around the block to our neighbors, Heather and Nathan, who had four little girls of their own. Heather assured us she was willing to keep our girls for as long as we needed that day.
I don’t remember exactly what we said to each other in the car during the two hour drive to Omaha. We were sure by now that our little baby was affected by anencephaly; we knew that meant that the baby would die shortly after birth. Our hearts and minds were so full of those thoughts, so full of grief. But at the same time, we had a blanket of peace wrapped around us. Even when we cried, we felt the love of God cushioning us.
In all of our prayers, we had not prayed for a miracle. We knew that our baby already was one, and we were allowed to be a part of it.
Our first appointment was with a genetic counselor. She talked to us about neural tube defects, and answered our questions. She took a detailed medical history of both David and me, as well as our children, siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, and grandparents. She talked with us about folic acid, and about possible genetic causes for neural tube defects. When the counselor was done, we waited in her office for the ultrasound specialist.
The specialist came a few minutes later and escorted us to the ultrasound room. It was small and dark with one dim, refracted light in the middle of the ceiling. A monitor was mounted in one corner where we could easily see it.
She began right away. She checked the baby’s feet and legs and hips. She asked, “Have they talked to you about the sex of the baby? Do you want to know?”
David and I looked at each other. I suddenly felt unsure. Did we want to know the gender before we knew the rest of it? “Uh, yes,” he said. “Yes, we do.”
The ultrasound specialist turned back to her monitor. “It’s a girl.”
My heart felt warm, and David’s face reflected my joy. We smiled at each other. Four daughters at home, and now a fifth beautiful girl. Our girls had been right the night before to refer to the new baby as “her.”
“Are you hoping for a boy this time?” No. Not really. “As long as it’s healthy, right?”
The ultrasound specialist didn’t talk much; she wasn’t curt or rude, but she was concentrating on her job, and she was not the one to offer a diagnosis. She examined every part of our little girl’s body, pointing out a few things as she went or as we asked. We saw our baby’s back and her belly, her arms and hands and legs and feet. We saw her face, and we saw her head.
When the specialist left to let the doctor know we were ready for her, David turned to me and said, “The head was too small, wasn’t it.” I nodded. I hadn’t really been paying attention to that, though. We had come to confirm a suspicion, but we already knew. So I was too busy watching her hands clasp together and her ankles cross to worry about her small, misshapen head. I studied the shadows where her face was and watched her heartbeat, and felt the tide of motherlove swell up higher in my heart.
Alone for a few moments in the quiet, dark room, we talked about God and his plan for us and this little baby girl. We felt so reverent. We were interrupted when the specialist and the doctor came in, followed by the genetic counselor and a student doctor.
I was glad to note the respectful and compassionate demeanor of each medical professional. This was just their job, but they had a sense for what it meant to us. The doctor came and sat in the tech’s chair, and the specialist stood nearby to discuss the scan with her. The genetic counselor and the student stood on the far side of the room, giving us space and the illusion of privacy.
The doctor ran through the same examination process as the specialist, although more briefly. She focused on our daughter’s head and face. At one point she switched over to 3D rendering; David and I were glad to see the contours of our baby, and not just shadows and glowing white lines.
Then, quietly and with a compassion for which I will always be grateful, the doctor confirmed the diagnosis of anencephaly. She showed us in 3D where the skull bones stopped just above our little girl’s ears and eyebrows. She pointed at the exposed brain matter, already deteriorating. She also pointed out the one surprise we had that morning: our daughter had a bilateral cleft lip, which the doctor said was not uncommon in anencephalic babies. She couldn’t be sure of a cleft palate, but we could probably assume it was so.
We tried to get a good look at her face. She was turned in the wrong direction for a clear view, but her chin was shaped just like her sisters’. I recognized her little profile.
The doctor then began to tell us our options, and about the realities of pregnancy and labor with an anencephalic baby. There really weren’t any dangers to me, but there was a 50% chance that our baby would be stillborn. Also, many anencephalic babies lack the impulse to swallow and thus process the amniotic fluid in which they float, and so the fluid just keeps building up. This is called polyhydramnios, and it can be extremely uncomfortable for the mother. Plus, the pressure of the excess fluid can cause labor to begin prematurely.
The doctor talked about induction. “That’s never an option for me,” I said, thinking she was referring to termination. Again with compassion, the doctor explained that she meant induction at any stage, even close to full term, because it was possible I would not start labor naturally. She then scheduled us for another ultrasound in six weeks. “They don’t even want to se me at the regular one month intervals,” I thought.
We left Omaha with a handful of ultrasound pictures, a packet of information and a reassurance that Heavenly Father loves us. Even with all the technical information, the waiting, the options, the discussions, we felt peace.
We even knew what our baby girl’s name was to be. David had been thinking during the ultrasound, wondering and praying about who our baby was. We believe that as spirit children of God, we lived with Him before we were born. So our daughter’s spirit was alive, right at that moment, before she came to earth. Who was she? Had we known each other, there at God’s feet? Who was this special child?
At least part of the answer had come to him. He had a distinct impression of her loving personality, and a knowledge that we already knew and loved her, and she told him what she would like her name to be.
As we drove away from the hospital he asked me, “So, do you know what our baby’s name should be?”
I had decided to wait until after the ultrasound to think about that again. You see, I have a List, kept up even when I’m not pregnant and faithfully updated with new favorites from the Top 1000 from the Social Security Index every year. Finding the “right” name for each baby had been a major task, and a happy one, with each pregnancy. I had already pared down the List to a few favorites before we found out that there was a problem. I couldn’t bring myself to go back to it before we knew for sure.
I kept looking at the paperwork in my hands. “No. Why, do you?” To my surprise, he answered with a thunderbolt. “Yes. Her name is ...” And he told me her name. I felt like the air was struck from my lungs. An overwhelming feeling of rightness filled my heart. I caught my breath and started to cry, again. She had chosen it herself, and told her Dad in a moment when he was listening.
Slowly, we are letting our friends know about our baby girl (although we keep her name private, a sacred answer to prayer and a special way for us and her sisters to love her until she is born … the girls call her “our little Sleeping Beauty” for now). We have received a lot of love and support from our family, friends and church members. After we listened to a message on our answering machine one day from a faraway friend who was trying hard to reach us, my husband quietly affirmed: “We have good friends.”
There are still a lot of difficult hurdles before us. I called a funeral home and a monument company this week, trying to plan for the spring. I broke down in tears, completely overwhelmed with the idea that these plans were for my baby. This is for real.
Nothing can make it easy, but I think that I don’t want the pain taken away. It’s tied too closely to the experience of loving our baby. And the crying and desperate praying are always so closely followed by reassurance, peace and love. We know that Heavenly Father is caring for our family. Somehow, everything is going to turn out all right.
“As long as it’s healthy, right?”
No, not really. That isn’t the point at all.

On Wednesday morning, December 27, I woke up anxious. I realized as I drifted into consciousness that it had been a long time since the baby had moved. Had she moved the night before as we were watching a movie? I couldn’t remember. I only remembered that I had definitely felt her moving the previous afternoon, when she seemed to be doing a gymnastics routine as I was coming home from shopping. I poked at my belly, nudging her and trying to get her to respond.
Our 7 year old daughter, Alyssa, crawled into bed with me, watching me curiously. “What’re you doing, Mom?” Alyssa loves to be wherever the action is, and she somehow manages to accomplish her desire. Here she was, right beside me, in the middle of my growing anxiety.
I kept my voice light as I answered, “Oh, just trying to make the new baby move.” She felt like a rock, completely immobile.
I tried not to be panicky. I wondered if I even would have noticed or worried about this, with a normal pregnancy. I scooted Alyssa out of my bed, and headed for the kitchen. I said a prayer in my mind as I went.
I helped the girls get bowls and cereal, spoons and milk. I tried to read my morning scriptures as I ate my own breakfast, but my mind was racing beneath the calm. “I’m not ready to lose her yet, Father,” I prayed, and I caught a sob in my throat as the anxiety thrummed across my nerves.
We already knew that our baby’s life on earth would be short. She was affected by a neural tube disorder called anencephaly, but this was almost 3 months short of the due date. I hadn’t developed polyhydramnios, the only major complication associated with anencephaly. I was only 29 weeks along. Couldn’t we have her at least until the due date?
After breakfast, I walked back to my bedroom with the phone book in my hand. First I would call the doctor’s office to see if 16 hours was a normal span of time to not feel the baby move and still not worry. Then I would call my husband if he needed to come home.
My outer shell of calm cracked and I started to cry as I talked with the receptionist. Her voice became very soothing and she put me on hold to talk with my doctor. When she came back she asked if we could come in right away for an ultrasound. I told her we’d be there.
I could barely get the phone into its cradle before I collapsed onto my knees, praying and crying and shaking. “Not yet, Father. I’m not ready for this yet. Please bless us so that she can stay a while longer.” I knew my prayer was selfish, but I didn’t care.
Finally I stood up to call David, and then to arrange for a babysitter. Did I feel her move? I put my hand to my belly and waited. Maybe, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I called my husband, and then called a friend to watch our kids.
David arrived home, his face resolute. We got the kids into their coats, artfully dodging their questions without actually lying to them. We dropped them at the Hydes’ house and headed to the clinic. We didn’t say much to each other on the way. I kept my hands in my lap and not on my belly.
And then – there. Did she move? “I think she just moved.” I peeked at the clock on the dashboard. It was about half an hour after breakfast, a time when babies are apt to start wiggling.
David looked at me from the corner of his eyes, his shoulders tensed up with hope. “Did she?”
“I’m not sure, but I think so.” Neither of us could stand the thought that our baby might already be gone.
We arrived at the clinic and went into the waiting room. As we sat waiting to go back, the baby moved again. “She moved. I’m sure she just moved. She’s okay!” The relief was like a flood.
The nurse opened the door and gestured us to come back. I let her know that I had just felt the baby move. She took my blood pressure and pulse anyway, and asked some questions. How long had the baby been still? When does she usually move? I explained how I could usually feel the baby soon after eating and when I was lying still in bed, and how long it had been since the last time I had felt her.
The nurse said she’d check with the doctor to see if he still wanted to do an ultrasound. She smiled at us. She knew about our baby’s anencephaly, and seemed glad that there was yet some time for us. I hoped I’d get the ultrasound anyway.
Dr. Welch came in a minute later with a Doppler in his hand. He wanted to listen for the baby’s heartbeat, and if it sounded normal we’d skip the ultrasound. David got his handheld ready to record the sound of her heart as I lifted my shirt to expose my round belly. I thought I had already relaxed, but the sense of relief I felt when her heartbeat sounded loud and clear and steady was overwhelming. The beautiful swoosh of her heartbeat eased all the tension away.
We went home happy and relieved. Our baby was fine. We would make it through. We talked about how much more love we felt for her now, after the scare. God designs our lives in such a way as to lead us to cling to each other, and to Him. We felt bonded by our love for our baby, our family and each other. We valued this time with her during the pregnancy all the more now.
That evening after the girls had been put to bed, David suggested we not delay something we had earlier planned. We wanted him to give our baby girl a blessing. We knew there might not be a chance to do it after she was born. Because our church has a lay ministry, all worthy men can hold the priesthood. Blessings are commonly given to the sick or otherwise afflicted, or to give comfort, peace or guidance.
We went down to David’s office in the basement. Dressed in a white shirt and tie, he gently placed his hands on my belly to give her a father’s blessing – words of love for our baby from God, voiced by David and felt by me, a beautiful thing to share.
He began by calling her by name. When he did so, she kicked his hands hard. She had been still until he spoke, and she was still again after that. His voice caught for just a moment, and we opened our eyes to share the moment with each other. She was listening. She wanted this blessing and was waiting upon her father’s words. We could even feel her waiting, close to us.
When he continued, his voice was filled with emotion. I could feel the Spirit in David’s voice, radiating from his heart, as he sought for the words that a loving Heavenly Father would have him give to our baby. When he was through, we were so grateful for the strong feelings of love from God that we had felt, as well as for the increased peace and feelings of direction we had gained. We felt more strongly bonded to our daughter, yet to be born but a part of us already.
God was watching over our family, and all was right in our world.

We had talked about preparing for the birth and death of our baby, but we had not yet done anything concrete about it. We knew that, instead of transitioning our toddler into a big girl bed and getting out the layette clothes and receiving blankets, we would need to plan a funeral and choose a burial site. We had thought to take some time between Christmas and New Year’s, while David was off from work and the girls were still out of school. We decided to go out on Thursday, the very next day.
We went first to the local monument company. We took several pictures of headstone designs that we liked. Next we went to the funeral home to choose a casket. There were only two for infants. We chose the one that was all white. The funeral home gave us a map of the cemetery, along with a few notes of some possible plots.
We felt that choosing a plot was one of the biggest decisions we could make for our baby. We wanted to choose prayerfully, and to include our daughters in the process. So we talked with them about the importance of finding the right place, and they walked around with us as we looked.
Months earlier, before I was pregnant, the girls had wanted to go to a cemetery. We finally made a trip on Memorial Day to a cemetery just a few blocks away from our house. The girls were interested to read the names and dates on the headstones, to see family members together. They were surprised to see graves for babies, and to find a place where several siblings rested side by side. They loved all the flowers, flags and other decorations family members had placed on the headstones. The girls gathered up windblown plastic flowers and distributed them to empty vases. It was an uplifting afternoon, which the girls enjoyed very much.
Now we went back to the cemetery we had earlier visited. We first knelt as a family to pray for guidance in this important decision. Then we walked through and considered the empty plots suggested by the funeral home. We looked at the nearby headstones, studied the views, considered the nearby landscaping, and discussed whether or not we were in a low spot. Most of all, we tried to feel which place was right.
After a while, we walked over to the section reserved for babies. “This is where she should be,” Alyssa said. She had taken her role to help find the right place very seriously. Her Dad asked her why she liked this particular area. “I just like it,” she replied, a soft look in her eyes and a decided tilt to her chin.
David and I looked at each other. We recognized the peaceful, reverent feeling that clung to that spot. It was the same feeling we felt at church; the same feeling we felt in the temple; the same feeling we felt in the observation room in the Mormon Trail Center at Winter Quarters, where one could stand and look out through floor-to-ceiling windows across the hillside to the pioneer cemetery, where so many young children and babies were buried. It was a feeling of reverence and love and peace.
Alyssa was right. We had found the right place for our baby.

The next morning, just after breakfast, I was walking into my room to get dressed when I felt a particularly strong cramp. It ached across my abdomen and echoed in the tendons at the top of my left leg. I had been having Braxton-Hicks contractions off and on for months, but this felt different. This felt like labor. “Oh, no. Not today. Please no.”
My hand on my baby, I sat on the edge of my bed and waited to see what would happen. Another cramp, harder and longer. This was labor. My heart was pounding. My hands began to shake and tingle; my legs and feet began to feel numb. My body was starting to go into shock as the contractions quickly built in strength.
Suddenly the contractions were so strong I could hardly move; they felt like one long contraction. It felt like transition. I was sure my water would break any second, and the baby would be here within the hour. I got down onto my knees for a moment, rocking back and forth to try to ease the pain. But I knew I couldn’t stay there long. All four girls were home with me and David had gone in to work for awhile. We were alone, and I was in hard labor.
My mind quickly focused; all thoughts extraneous to the immediate crisis disappeared. Alyssa came in while I was still on the floor, her penchant for being where the action was displaying itself again. “Mom, what’s wrong?” She didn’t sound particularly scared, but she knew this wasn’t normal behavior.
It took me a second to answer her. “I think I’m in labor, Alyssa, and I need your help. Go to the kitchen and get the red magnet on the fridge. Quick.” She didn’t argue. She hurried to the kitchen and got the magnet I had asked for; it had the phone number for the doctors’ answering service at the hospital. It wasn’t yet 8 o’clock, so Dr. Welch’s office phones wouldn’t be on. I thanked Alyssa, and told her, “Go on.” She scooted out of the room as I dialed the number.
“Doctor’s answering service. How can I help you?”
“My name is Bridget Bishop. I’m in preterm labor. I need you to get Dr. Welch.” I was gasping and trembling, but I tried to be intelligible.
“Just a minute. Slow down. What’s your first name?”
“Bridget… Bishop…”
“And you think you’re in labor?”
Think? I could tell she was going to ask more questions and take a lot more time than I had, so I cut her off. “This is my fifth baby. Tell Dr. Welch we’re on our way.”
But it didn’t happen quite that simply. I almost wish it had. Hurry in to the hospital, have the baby, hold her and love her. But that easy scenario was not to be.
I called David to come home. It was shutdown at the plant, so he had gone in for awhile to try to get some things done without interruption. Of course, all thoughts of work evaporated and he packed up and came home right away.
Now I needed a babysitter for the girls. Many of my friends were out of town for the holidays, including my backyard neighbor, Heather. She had been a particular strength to me throughout the last three months; we shared so much from the common ground of the Gospel, and she has four daughters, too.
I couldn’t remember anyone else’s phone number just then, so I needed to get the phone book from the kitchen. At this point, the contractions were very painful and my legs were numb. I called to Alyssa, but she didn’t hear me. So, trying to walk normally so the girls wouldn’t notice me and get scared, I managed to get up and walk slowly across the house to the kitchen. Phone book in hand, I went right back to my bedroom where the girls couldn’t see me shaking and sweating, or hear the stress in my voice.
I called my friend Melissa Hyde to ask if we could drop the girls off. Melissa knew something was wrong right away; my voice sounded harsh and strained even to myself. I put the phone back in its cradle and lay down on my bed, waiting for David to come home.
Alyssa and Haley had been in and out of the room as I made the phone calls. Now they clustered around me. “Mom, you don’t look so good. Your face is all red. Why are you sweaty?” they asked. I told them I was in labor. Alyssa knew it was too early, and told Haley and Natalie so. Haley said, “Hooray! The baby’s coming!” Natalie echoed her excitement. Celeste just wanted to go play, and she didn’t see anything interesting in me lying on the bed, so she left the room. I was glad for that.
Alyssa, Haley and Natalie meet Julie I told Alyssa to take her sisters down to the basement, and to stay there. She protested a little bit, wanting to be in the middle of whatever happened, but I firmly insisted. I didn’t tell her that I wanted them out so that I didn’t have to worry about them seeing me in the grip of the intense and uncontrollable pain of labor. I didn’t want them to be frightened. I especially didn’t want them to see any blood, or their new sister’s head without a cap on.
Just then, David came in. He had left the car running in the garage, but I couldn’t move off the bed. I was curled up in a ball with my eyes closed tight, trying to breathe normally. My hands and feet were buzzing, cold and numb; the pain of the contractions prevented me from standing up to walk. He scooted the girls downstairs and hurried back to our bedroom. He placed a hand on my hip. “I can’t get up,” I explained as calmly as I could manage. “Call 911.”
He called for an ambulance, then called Melissa again and asked her to come over right away. While he was on the phone with her in the other room, someone burst through the front door, yelling, “Hey! I’m a nurse, and I live across the street. Where are you?” I called out from the bedroom, and she came in. “The ambulance is on its way. How are you doing?” Eyes still closed, I told her I was in labor and couldn’t get up, and that our kids were in the basement. David came back in just as the EMTs came through the front door; the nurse from across the street hurried downstairs to be with the girls until Melissa arrived.
I was bundled onto a stretcher and maneuvered into the back of an ambulance, while they peppered me with questions about my pregnancy and how I was feeling. “Where’s my husband?” I was still trying to sound calm, even though I knew the situation was bad. They told me he was following right behind the ambulance. I wondered how close behind he really was, but I didn’t question them. They kept me talking, asking me questions I’m sure they didn’t needed to know – my name, my age, how many kids we have. My lips were dry and sticky, and I could barely manage to talk out loud. They also asked me to let them know how close the contractions were coming. So every time one hit, I would say, “Contraction,” as the siren screamed and we sped to the hospital. They were about a minute apart, but the ache stayed even between the actual contractions.
I imagined my neighbors’ curiosity and the cars stopped at green lights or pulled over to allow my ambulance to pass them. I wondered if David would be able to run through the red lights right behind the ambulance, and if he was as close behind me as the EMTs claimed. I wondered if Melissa had gotten to our house yet. I wondered if my daughters were afraid or crying. I feared for my baby, and I shook with pain. I didn’t want anything to happen without David beside me, and I hoped he was close.
We arrived at the hospital, and I was whisked from the back of the ambulance into the freezing air and then under the bright lights of the ER. Dr. Welch met us there, and David was close behind him. I put my hand out when I heard his voice, my eyes still shut, and he grabbed it. I squeezed him, so relieved that he was with me again.
“Is there any blood?” someone asked. I shook my head. But even as I did, I could feel the first gush. “Yes, just now,” I told them. They covered me with a blanket and took me up to OB.
I was shaking and in shock, and the contractions were fast and hard. The room was full of activity and voices. David kept holding my hand. One of the nurses covered me with two or three heated blankets. The blankets had come up from the ER, and they were hot. The heat soaked down through my body, calming the frantic contractions and easing my tension away. Slowly, the shaking and tingling subsided and I could open my eyes again. After several minutes, I was able to answer questions, to think clearly. As my body settled down to normal, the room also quieted. We were left alone with just one nurse and my doctor.
Dr. Welch determined that I was dilated to 1 cm, and that my water had broken. (I knew it had broken before the lab result came back, but I didn’t try to argue when he needed a sample for the lab. I let him do his job, and I started to focus in on mine.) We couldn’t stop labor now. He did an ultrasound scan to check the placenta, the amniotic fluid level and the position of the baby.
He suspected placental abruption as the cause of our trouble that morning, but couldn’t confirm it with the scan. It would explain the abrupt beginning, the painful cramping, and the amount of blood present in the amniotic fluid. The fluid level was fine, but higher than expected from the last scan a few weeks prior. If the pregnancy had continued, I may have developed polyhydramnios.
The baby had flipped around into a breach position. The gymnastics session on the way home from the store Tuesday night was explained. “Little rascal,” I chided her as I rubbed my belly.
Pat was the nurse on duty that morning. She lived across the street from our church building, and her girls were on the swim team with the Lindquist boys, friends of ours from church. Her daughters used to ride their bikes in the parking lot when they were little, and had picnics in the field.
She helped me take my own clothes off and substituted a green hospital gown; it had snaps on the shoulders to facilitate nursing during a new mom’s postpartum stay. I remembered being in the hospital with my other daughters, nursing them and having them sleep on my chest or in the crook of my arm for an hour or two in the night. We were in the old hospital for the first two, but the younger two had been born just down the hall from the room we were in now. I did not dwell long on those hazy, warm memories.
I talked to Pat about my other labors, how quickly they had gone and some of their peculiarities and similarities. Pat gently contradicted my assumptions. “This baby gets her own story,” she said. She was right. I needed to focus on this baby and her story, and find the joy intrinsic to her life without comparing her to her sisters. I did not want to feel regret.
As they strapped a monitor to my belly to track the contractions, I asked for a fetal heart monitor. Pat paused to look at me for just a moment before she agreed. She then carefully explained that there would likely be a time when the heartbeat stopped (everyone who tended me during my hospital stay reiterated the warning).
I smiled, pushing aside any thought of the baby’s heart stopping in utero. “I want to be aware of her,” I explained. I needed that connection. I needed to know that she was still with me. The contractions masked her movements, for the most part. Hearing her heart beating was like a balm.
Strangely enough, at this point we didn’t feel any panic or fear. Now that we knew that this was the day of our new daughter’s birth, we were calm. It wasn’t that we didn’t feel stressed. But I also felt resolute and calm; I was prepared to do anything necessary to bring my baby safely into the world, and David stood ready beside me. Our hearts were heavy, but our spirits were upheld by the grace of God. It is a difficult thing to describe. Peace coexisted with grief; patience sat side by side with urgent need. But the feelings of panic I had felt on Wednesday were gone.
During the morning, as my contractions slowed to a less urgent level, we called David’s parents in Grand Island. They left right away to make the one hour drive to our home to be with our daughters. They also spread the word to the rest of David’s siblings that I was in labor.
My parents had always planned to come when the baby was born. Now, they organized a carpool with three of my sisters. They packed to leave as soon as Dad was through with work that day. They would drive as far as they could that night, and the rest of the way on Saturday. One of my younger sisters, Lauren, wasn’t sure if she should ride with Mom and Dad, or wait and come later in another carpool; she debated until midafternoon, then abruptly told her boss that she was leaving and wouldn’t be back for several days. Everyone took an indefinite leave from work and school to come and be with us.
By the middle of the afternoon, the contractions had mostly stopped. We couldn’t stop labor, and we couldn’t allow it to stall indefinitely, so a pitocin drip was ordered. I requested a low dose at first, hoping that my body would pick up the cue and run with it, with the understanding that the dosage would be adjusted if nothing was happening.
The rest of the day was spent alternately resting, listening to the swoosh of the baby’s heart on the monitor, and walking the hallway trying to speed labor along. Once, we shared the hallway with another mom in labor. This was also her fifth child, and her 8 year old was in the same class as Alyssa. We talked about labor and pregnancy woes, and laughed about the things kids do. They were excited to find out the gender of their baby; we told them we knew that ours would be another girl. We did not mention that we also knew she was going to die. I didn’t want to intrude on their happiness, and I didn’t want to edit out or otherwise disrupt the sacred feelings in my heart by reducing them to casual words.
The nurses were in and out to check on me regularly. And, because of a potassium drip ordered by my doctor, I was up to the bathroom about once an hour, which required much maneuvering of monitors and poles. I did not want that drip, and I silently wished that I could be disconnected from it, at least when I needed to get up out of bed.
It was an interesting day, with curious juxtapositions. I was very aware of my physical body and its demands. I was sometimes bored, or anxious. But above and around it all, I could feel the sacredness of the event.
I tried not to focus on questions – when would she be born, and how long would we get to keep her? – because I found that it disrupted my calm to no good end. The only answers I could feel were, “Wait. Be patient. Notice the worth of this moment and this life.”
I occasionally switched on the television and flipped through the channels, but there was nothing of interest to see. Plus, it felt like an intrusion of noise and nonsense into a holy place, like a marching band parading across temple grounds. The Nintendo DS kept my hands busy for a few minutes, but it, too, was distracting.
We waited.
David wrote in his journal. He completed the entry begun that morning and interrupted by my urgent phone call: the details of the blessing he had given our baby just a few days before. We read scriptures, and discussed what we read. David went home to pack a bag and check on the girls. They were happy in the care of their grandparents, and excited to meet their new sister. My mom and sisters called a few times. I rested.
And we waited.
The nurses were compassionate and easy to talk to. We could sense that our situation was not just a blip on their radar. We talked about family and God. We talked about children, and the things that our own were doing. We talked about faith and peace and love. We shared laughs and good feelings as we all prepared for the impending birth.
And we waited.
Finally, as evening wore into night, the contractions began to get stronger. The pitocin drip had been increased twice, but it seemed that my body was reluctant to give up its hold on the baby; I hadn’t dilated past 1 cm all day. With the increased pitocin and stronger contractions, effacement also finally increased. But the contractions were harsh. My abdomen ached, and I was fatigued. I had been in labor for more than 12 hours, longer even than with my first baby and with no apparent end in sight.
Around 9 o’clock I decided that I would ask the nurse to check me. If I had progressed a few centimeters, then maybe I could make it through to the end without an epidural, despite the harshness of these contractions. But if there was no progression I would ask for an epidural. I needed to rest, in body and mind.
I was hesitant to request one because I think that labor with Alyssa was stalled by an epidural. At that time, I was assured that the pain of the contractions would be reduced until they were comparable to menstrual cramps, and that I would be able to push when the time came. Instead, I was a solid block of wood from my armpits to my toes, and the doctor ended up having to use forceps after two and a half hours of exhausting yet fruitless pushing.
I did not want that this time, especially not this time. But I knew that I lacked the mental or physical reserves to make it through the night if I was still at 1 cm dilation, and the pain continued to increase the way it was doing. When the nurse checked me, I was further effaced but hadn’t dilated at all. It didn’t occur to me that a tiny, preterm baby might not need a full 10 cm dilation to be born. I requested an epidural.
I hoped to be able to sleep through what remained of the night, and maybe by morning I would have progressed far enough for delivery. I needed a few hours of rest.
Somehow, I had forgotten a piece of information I had correlated from an informal, online survey of moms whose babies also had anencephaly: the longer labor lasted, the less chance there was that the baby would be born alive. The moms who reported that labor lasted less than four hours gave birth to babies who were still living, even if they only lived a few minutes. When labor lasted longer than 10 or 12 hours, all of the babies were stillborn. I had been in labor for 14 hours.
But I didn’t remember that just then, and consequently felt no sense of urgency that evening; only a sense of anticipation and of trying to do all I could to help our baby to be born.
The anesthetist came some time close to 10:30 p.m. By then, the contractions were hard enough that I kept my eyes closed when they hit, and I couldn’t speak loudly to answer his questions and assure him that I understood what he was telling me. I leaned across the table, my back exposed, and gripped David’s hand and arm. When a contraction would hit, I would squeeze his hand and try to send all my tension there, to relax my lower body and allow it to do what it needed to do. A difficult task, requiring just a little bit more than I had left to give. I was starting to sweat and tremble again, and I could feel all of my mental and physical resources focusing in on those contractions.
The epidural was placed. He gave me a concentrated dose at first to help me get on top of the pain, and then the drip was diluted. Around 11 o’clock I was finally able to relax. The nurses turned the lights out, and I closed my eyes. David stretched out on a bed which the nurses had wheeled in from an empty room. I don’t know what I dreamed, but I was peaceful and content for awhile.
And then Angela came hurrying back in. She was the nurse on night duty. She sat on the edge of my bed and spoke in a low voice. “We’ve lost the baby’s heartbeat. Let’s just see if we can find it again.” I could hear in her voice that she didn’t think we would. There were tears in her eyes.
I had noticed that as the contractions became stronger the baby’s heartbeat would slow down when each one hit. It would get very slow, and then gradually it would come up again. By the time the epidural was being placed, though, I wasn’t able to pay attention; I was too distracted by the harsh pain across my abdomen. But I remember listening to the soft rushing of her heart as I drifted into sleep. Suddenly I realized that it had been slower than before.
And now it was silent. I looked at the clock. It was not quite midnight; I had been asleep for less than an hour. I turned to my husband, still lying on the other bed. “David, they can’t find the heartbeat.” Immediately, he was up and by my side. He took my hand and we watched and listened as Angela moved the monitor across my belly, searching.
But it was vain. Our baby’s heart had truly stopped. I felt my face flushing, and my eyes were hot with tears. David’s face reflected mine.
There were other nurses in the room, but I just remember Angela. I said, “I feel some pressure.” Someone checked me and found that our baby girl was almost crowning. She was breech, so her bottom was presenting. As we were busily trying to find her heart, she had decided that it was time to enter the world.
Dr. Welch was on his way as the pressure increased a few moments later. I looked up at David. “She’s almost here.” I tried to smile, but I was crying, too. I was so grateful for the epidural, which had taken away the distraction of pain. I focused on feeling my baby’s spirit close as I pushed, only gently, and she was born.
“Do you want us to put a hat on her?” one of the nurses asked me, compassion in her voice. I shook my head, my eyes on my baby girl. At that moment, it didn’t matter what physical problems she had. She was my baby, and I needed to hold her. “No, just give her to me.” And then I was holding her, our little Julie.
She was so tiny; my arms were too big to hold her. She was almost lost in the receiving blanket. So delicate. So beautiful. The small weight of her body in my hands felt perfect. I drank her in, all her features and all the feelings in my heart. I was so full of love and peace, and grief. I handed Julie to her dad. His face was red with emotion, and his eyes never left her. We talked to her, and called her by her name. We kissed her, cuddling her small body as close to our faces and hearts as we could. Her body was in our hands, and her spirit caressed us.
The room felt like a chapel. When anyone spoke, it was softly. Movement was purposeful, but calm and respectful. Everyone said she was beautiful, and she was. Her skin was delicate and parchment-thin, so it was difficult to clean her without causing damage, but we did the best we could. We dressed her in a pink onesie and wrapped her in a blanket, a yellow crocheted preemie hat on her head; it was far too big, and looked like a turn-of-the-century rainslicker worn by a grizzled old sailor. I could laugh at that, even around the tears in my eyes. It was endearing.

Julie asleep on Mom

We were left alone again. We held Julie and talked to her, and to each other. We took pictures. We got out the molds for her handprints and footprints. We discovered that the clay was too firm for her delicate feet to make an impression, and her little fingers didn’t want to uncurl. Instead, we requested a pink inkpad. We carefully inked the soles of Julie’s feet and pressed them onto the surface of the clay. I used the stylus from David’s handheld to scratch Julie’s name and the date in a curve above and below the prints.
We took turns loving and holding Julie. I don’t think we put her down. Once, as David held her, he began to sway and then to dance gently. One daddy-daughter dance. I think we were both crying. We missed her already, and sorrowed for all the things we would never do with her.
Later, David settled onto his bed and I settled onto mine, holding Julie against my heart all night. When the potassium drip bag finally emptied and Angela came in to disconnect it some hours later, I asked her to take a picture of Julie as she lay snuggled on my chest. The angle was from over my shoulder, to mimic what I was seeing as I looked down at her. Her perfect little hands, her knees drawn up, her feet crisscrossed. I’ll never forget that feeling of seeing her sleeping against my heart, the shape of her precious little body beneath my hands, the delicate weight of her against my chest.
We took many pictures of Julie the next morning when her sisters came to meet her. The girls were full of quiet wonder, and love for their baby. “She’s beautiful! She’s so tiny! Look at her feet! Feel how soft her skin is! What color are her eyes? She’s a little princess!” They said all the things every big sister says about a new baby. They loved her.
Each girl had a turn to hold her. They were gentle, and they smiled at her. Their faces were glowing as they looked up at us with Julie in their arms. This was their sister. But we could see sadness, too. Now they understood death. They knew that Julie really wasn’t coming home. It was easy to see their feelings on their faces: love, happiness, sadness, confusion, and understanding. Mostly love.
Celeste, who was not quite two years old, didn’t understand much. But she could feel the emotion in the air. She was not exclusively focused on Julie, but she did know that everyone else was. She would explore for a minute, then come back and look at Julie and say, “Baby sleeping.” For several days after that she would ask where the baby was, and then answer herself by saying, “Baby Julie sleeping.”
Later, we called the funeral home. Gary came up as we were ready to check out, to take Julie’s body with him. I suddenly found my equilibrium slipping off-center. How could I leave the room, leave Julie’s body to the care of another person? How could I go home and leave her behind? How could I walk out and not bring her with me? I held her again, pressed between my heart and David’s, and let my tears fall. “Okay, it’s okay. Okay. I can do this now. Okay.”
And then I did leave. I did walk out and leave her body to the care of another. I went downstairs and had lunch with my family and David’s parents. And then I went home, in the cold and the rain, without my baby girl. In body and soul, I was fatigued and aching. But I also felt somewhat apart from it, wrapped in a cushioning layer of peace and love, the lingering feel of the weight of my baby Julie in my hands.

Julie’s funeral was the following Wednesday, exactly one week after I woke up in a panic from not feeling her move. All of my family who could come had arrived over the weekend. Some of David’s family were still on their way, and would stay with his parents in Grand Island.
My Mom and Dad, my sisters and baby Summer were all camped in our basement. It was so good to have them there with us, to talk and to laugh together. They took care of all the practical things that needed to be done, like grocery shopping and cleaning up. I didn’t feel guilty at all, having other people do my housework. I felt buoyed up by their service. It was love in action, and I needed that balm.
David took the opportunity to talk with each person privately in his basement office. He shared the special feelings we had about Julie, talked about God and the blessings He has given us. Everyone felt the sacred nature of Julie’s life, and the beauty of her spirit. No one came away unchanged.
Mom and I went shopping to find fabric for a burial dress. We chose a lovely white eyelet fabric, and sheer pink ribbons for accents. We needed a doll pattern to get the proper measurements, as Julie was only 11.5 inches long and weighed less than 2 pounds.
I felt a little defensive when the fabric lady came to ask if we needed help finding a pattern. I didn’t want to talk about Julie with a stranger in Wal-Mart, or even just tell her we were not making a christening gown, but a burial gown. At the same time, it was all I could think about; I didn’t know what else to talk about. Thank goodness Mom was there. She did all the talking, very calm, even though I know she was as affected as I was.
As Mom sewed the dress and booties, David’s mom, RosaLee, made the bonnet Julie would wear. It was embroidered with tiny pink flowers. Originally, I had asked RosaLee to be in charge of making or buying both the dress and the bonnet. She had purchased a beautiful white blessing dress while in Utah, and was in the process of sewing another dress and bonnet in a smaller size (“Just in case”) when Julie was born.
She called me one evening between Julie’s birth and funeral, in tears. The bonnet was almost complete, but she could not bring herself to take apart the seams of the handmade dress and cut it down smaller. The emotions associated with it were overwhelming.

Julie with mom

The Spirit welled up in my heart as I listened to her. I suddenly recalled the feelings I had had when I first asked RosaLee to sew the dress. I felt prompted to ask her to make the bonnet herself; I didn’t care if she made or bought the dress. At the time, I simply asked her to buy or make them both.
Now I knew what those initial feelings were based on: a loving God, who knew all, was preparing me for this moment. I shared with RosaLee what I had felt when I first asked her to make the dress, how my strongest feelings were for her to make the bonnet. We felt so blessed for the tender mercy of our Heavenly Father.
And I was so grateful that Julie would get to wear an outfit made with such loving care by both her grandmothers. Each of my girls now has a dress handmade by Grandma.
Meanwhile, Alyssa, Haley and Natalie got busy making gifts for Julie. They each made a necklace from tiny pale beads and pewter charms to give to her, as well as one to keep. They were so happy as they worked, and talked about Julie in loving words. Each wanted to do her best for her baby sister. Haley also drew and colored a picture of a butterfly, her own favorite animal, which she hoped Julie would like. Natalie drew two pictures: one of Julie as a princess, and one of Julie as a big girl. Each girl in her own way was anxious to express as much love for Julie as she could. They loved her.
David and I looked through the digital pictures we had taken at the hospital. We wanted to find one for display at the services. The one taken by Angela, as Julie slept on my heart, was perfect. We changed it to black and white and took the memory card to Wal-Mart to print the picture.
When we went back to pick up the print and buy a mat and frame, I saw a friend in the parking lot. Since it was the middle of winter, I was wearing my fluffy winter coat; I knew she couldn’t tell by looking that I was no longer pregnant. Had she seen the notice in the paper? Did she know that I had given birth to our daughter, and that we had already lost her?
“Hi! How are you?” she called out as we walked past. What should I answer? “Fine,” I finally replied. It felt like a half-truth.
On Tuesday evening, David and I went up to the funeral home to clothe Julie in the white dress my Mom had made; the bonnet would be brought in the morning when RosaLee came. The funeral home had set aside a large room for us. One table had flowers on it and another held Julie’s casket.
When I saw her again, my heart was again overwhelmed with emotion. My mind was focused on her, and tears pricked my eyes. I couldn’t wait to hold her again, and I picked her up immediately. I found myself talking in whispers. David and I stood close together, holding her and savoring her.
After a few moments, we dressed her. First a little white onesie; it was far too big, but we didn’t mind. Then the dress. It was perfect on her. Lacking a cap, we wrapped a soft white cloth around her head, securing it with a little piece of tape. With tears in our eyes and smiles on our lips, we held our baby daughter. Our Julie.
When we were ready, we went home again. We planned to bring small groups of family up to the funeral home to meet and hold Julie that evening. The girls would get to hold her again, and give her their gifts. What a sacred evening that was. We were all so full of love, for her and for each other. Our family was bonded more strongly together.
David drove most of the groups, but I took my parents. When we entered the room, Mom went straight to the casket. She said later that she was drawn there like a magnet; she had to go. She picked Julie up immediately, and tears filled her eyes. My Dad stood close and cupped his hands around my Mom’s, as they held her and talked softly together. I had brought my camera, wanting to preserve this moment in a photograph. But I didn’t. It felt like an intrusion on the moment to do something as crude as take a picture. Mom later said, “Some things you never forget.”
She was right. No pictures were necessary.

In the morning, we were ready for the funeral. David went a little early, taking our daughter Natalie and my sister Lauren with him. Somehow, those two had not made it up to the funeral home the night before. They would unlock the Church doors and meet Gary with the casket. David’s parents and siblings would also meet him at the Church. RosaLee brought the bonnet, and put it on Julie’s head. Natalie gave Julie the necklace she had made, and Lauren got to meet her, too.
As I dressed that morning, anxiety began to build inside me. I felt somewhat distanced from myself, almost like I was observing what was happening from outside. My hands were cold and trembling slightly as I placed pearl earrings into my ears. I wore a black velvet maternity dress (maternity!) and twisted my hair up into a clip. I felt pale.
We gathered the girls into the Tahoe and caravanned up to the Church building, about an hour before the services were to begin. As I pulled into the parking lot, I glanced across at Pat’s house on the corner, and wondered if she would come.
We walked quietly into the chapel. We all stood and looked again at Julie’s beautiful face. The foot of her casket was filled with the pictures and necklaces from her sisters, as well as a teddy bear from the funeral home. She was wrapped in the white and pink blanket made by my sister and mom, dressed in the gifts from her grandmothers. We had a prayer together as a family.
And then the casket was closed. Alyssa turned her face into my side and cried. I did, too. I knew it was the last time I would see Julie in this life. “Why is Alyssa crying?” one of her sisters asked. I tried to explain, but I’m not sure I did a good job of it.
The chapel slowly filled with friends, many from David’s work. David’s instinct is to be a guardian for his family. That instinct ran high for Julie. He wanted to protect her from those who wouldn’t understand about the special nature of her life and spirit.
But he felt so strongly prompted to share this sacred event with others. So, the day before the funeral, he sent an email to the secretary at work telling about Julie and the time of the service the next day. About 30 people from his office came.
The service began with a solo sung by my sister Lauren. She sang, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” accompanied by my mom on the piano. The words echoed in my heart:

Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me…
I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free.
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me …

Natalie began having a bit of a hard time just then, so I stood and carried her to the back of the room. I swayed with her and spoke softly to her. It had been an overwhelming week for all of us. My twin sister, Delaina, came to the back and asked if she could help. I smiled and thanked her, but I knew that if I handed Natalie to anyone else just then she would melt down again.
The congregation began to sing, “I Am a Child of God,” and I walked back to my seat with Natty in my arms, singing softly to her and encouraging her to sing along.

I am a child of God, and He has sent me here,
Has given me an earthly home, with parents kind and dear.
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me. Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do to live with Him someday.

She stayed in my lap as my Dad stood up to offer the invocation. Ron, David’s father, spoke after that. He talked about eternity and family and God.
Then all the women in Julie’s family stood to sing a song from the children’s hymnal, “I Wonder When He Comes Again.” I was so glad to sing together; music has a way of binding hearts together, and conveys the things we feel in a beautiful way.

…I wonder, when He comes again, will I be ready there
To look upon his loving face and join with him in prayer?
Each day I’ll try to do his will, and let my light so shine
That others seeing me may seek for greater light divine.
Then, when that blessed day is here, he’ll love me and he’ll say,
“You’ve served me well, my little child; come unto my arms to stay.”

The music for the service was carefully chosen. I wasn’t going to stand at the podium, but the songs expressed the feelings of my heart. I wanted children’s songs, and I wanted songs that talked about the way I felt about the blessings God had given us. I am so grateful that I was able to find just what I wanted.
Natalie got down from my lap, content to be beside me – until Celeste wanted in my lap. It was a bit of a struggle to keep both little girls happy and relatively quiet, but we managed without causing any scenes. I was glad to have my sisters and mom nearby to help occupy little hands, and to comfort them, too.
David spoke last. I could feel Heavenly Father’s love for our family so strongly as he spoke. He shared his thoughts and feelings about Julie, and about God’s plan for families. He helped everyone present understand, at least a little bit, about the sacred nature of her life and the worth of her soul. He helped us to feel God’s love for His children.
We ended the service with another children’s hymn, “Families Can Be Together Forever.” This song expressed my testimony of God’s plan for us. The words are a promise, tucked into my heart.

I have a family here on earth. They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them through all eternity.
Families can be together forever through Heavenly Father’s plan.
I always want to be with my own family, and the Lord has shown me how I can.
The Lord has shown me how I can.

Delaina offered the benediction when the song was through. Those who wanted to go were invited to the graveside.
David and I stood to leave. I could hardly believe that this part was already over. I reached out and touched Julie’s coffin in goodbye.
We stood in the foyer to put the girls’ coats on, and people began to come out past us. The first people stopped to offer condolences, and then a line formed behind them. It hadn’t been our plan to greet everyone on the way out, but it turned out to be a good thing. We were able to connect to each person who had come, and that was a blessing.
We formed up a procession to drive across town to the cemetery. The funeral home arranged for us to use their hearse, even though I think they didn’t have to, since they were offering their services free of charge. We had police escort for the intersections. I was grateful for the care and respect offered to us. This was just part of their job, but it meant the world to me.
It was cold and windy at the cemetery. When we arrived, Julie’s casket was set up on a little stand, covered by a spray of pink rosebuds arranged for by my Aunt Patti, far away in Hawaii.
We stood together and sang one more song, “I Feel My Savior’s Love.”

I feel my Savior’s love, in all the world around me…
I offer him my heart; my shepherd he will be.
He knows I will follow him, give all my life to him.
I feel my Savior’s love, the love he freely gives me.

After the song, David dedicated Julie’s grave in a special prayer. He blessed it to be a sacred resting place for her body until the time of the Resurrection. He also thanked Heavenly Father for her life, and asked that her influence could continue to be a uniting strength for our family.
We mingled with family and friends at the graveside for a while. I felt that our hearts were knit together, bound up by Julie and our love for our Savior. We made sure to take a picture of our family of seven, including Julie’s casket and the beautiful rosebud spray.
When we were the only ones left at the graveside, we returned to the Church for a luncheon. Four Relief Society sisters, women from our Church, had set up a lovely buffet for us. We had thought at first to have everyone back to our house, but we soon realized there would not be enough room. At the last minute, my sister Sara called Marlyn Walker, the Relief Society president, and asked if a few people could help us by setting up some tables in a side room and keeping the food warm in the Church’s kitchen.
We didn’t expect what they prepared: beautiful tablecloths, place settings, pitchers full of water with lemon wedges, and a lovely display on the buffet table. All was lovingly arranged in the chapel, which doubled as the cultural hall in our small building. “When you’re through, just go home. The youth are in charge of cleanup for their Mutual activity tonight.” What a beautiful and loving gift from our Church family.
Now that the services were over, I could feel the tension easing out of my body. It was over, and we could move forward now. I leaned into David for awhile after the meal, allowing the vestiges of anxiety to melt away. I felt that I could finally take a deep breath; my mind was clear and my heart was easy again.
It wasn’t that I was “putting it behind me.” I could never do that, even if I wanted to. Julie was a part of me, integral to my own soul. She would never be gone from my thoughts. But the responsibility I felt towards others was now over; the tension of holding up in front of the crowd was gone.
I had wanted so much for the people who came to feel the Spirit of the Lord at Julie’s service, to have a sense of the blessings we felt. I wanted the funeral to be a time full of love and peace, and I keenly felt the weight of that responsibility. Now that the services were over, the tension also was eased.
Our family members all left the next day, except for my Mom. She stayed another week. I couldn’t have made it through without her there. Just the cleanup from having houseguests would have been overwhelming. Mom handled all the practical needs, and David and I were able to start thank-you cards. She and I even completed a home improvement project: we stripped the old border in the kitchen and hung a new one. She also helped strip the border from the living room, in preparation for painting.
As we worked on that project, I reflected that I had found a home improvement project after each of my three miscarriages. Something to keep my hands and mind busy for awhile as my heart began to heal. I was glad that my mom was there to help me this time, as well as catching us up on all the laundry and other cleaning that needed to be done. We accomplished in one week with joy and easy companionship what would’ve taken me at least a month and a lot of frustration to do on my own.

Celeste points at Julie's picture

Our daughters talk about Julie every once in a while. They each remember and love their sister. Alyssa and Haley talk about what they remember, and ask questions about God and family and eternity. Alyssa has mentioned Julie at school once or twice. She wants to share her experience, wants her teacher and her friends to feel what she feels. Haley is more private, like her daddy. She doesn’t want others to examine her personal, special feelings. Natalie sometimes imagines what Julie is doing now, or what she would be doing if she was here with us. She always remembers that we’ll see Julie in Heaven. When Celeste sees Julie’s picture on the mantle, she says, “There baby Julie! I hold Julie. Daddy hold Julie. Mommy hold Julie.”
Several weeks after the funeral, Celeste climbed into my lap at the computer and asked to see Julie. “Where is Julie?” She sounded puzzled, as though she was just then realizing that there was a gap. We looked at the digital pictures, particularly the one showing Celeste holding the baby. “I hold Julie now,” she said and put her hands out, waiting for me to deposit Julie in them.
I hugged her close, knowing she didn’t really understand. “Julie died, sweetheart. But, see, there she is in the picture.” Celeste turned and looked. “We love Julie, don’t we?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said. “Baby Julie. Look! There her feet! They peeking!” Maybe she understands more than she can express.
We go to visit Julie’s grave at least once a week. We feel close to her when we are there. I don’t often visit without crying. We take the girls up with us as opportunity allows. For Valentine’s Day, we bought a pink, heart-shaped, beaded candle. We took it up to the cemetery and placed it in the snow near her temporary marker. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Julie,” they said. “Good night! We love you!” They are already talking about arranging an Easter basket for her.
We just ordered a permanent headstone. Beside Julie’s name, birth date, and parents’ names, it will have a picture of the Savior holding a baby, and a heart with an inscription that says, “Families Are Forever.”
We also feel close to Julie when we are in the temple, a special place of worship for members of our Church. The first time I was in the temple after Julie’s birth, I sat in the chapel near the baptistry for an hour and cried and prayed. I missed her so much, and I needed to know that she was happy where she was.
The veil between this life and the next is thin in the temple, and I could feel Julie’s response. I felt her love for me, and the closeness of her spirit. I could feel her love for her family radiating around me, and her love for God filled my heart and soul. I had the sense that she is busy where she is, doing God’s work. I felt her joy in my desire to follow her example.

I will never hold Julie in my arms again. I will never laugh with her at a silly face or a silly song. I will not rock her to sleep in the rocking chair. I will never give her medicine to bring down her fever, buy her a swimming suit or comb her hair. She will never have a bath with her big sisters, fight over toys, color a picture, or play in the sandbox.
When Julie was born, her eyes were kitten-blue, just like her sisters’ were when they were born. Would her eyes have turned grey like Alyssa’s, or green like David’s and Natalie’s, or blue like Haley’s and Celeste’s and mine? Would her hair have been curly and as blonde as her big sisters’?
Would Julie have been as rambunctious and loving as Natalie? Would she enjoy reading like Alyssa, or learn to be a helper the way her big sister is? Would she have been a peacemaker like Celeste, or quite as silly? Would she be intuitive and gentle, or have an artistic streak, like Haley?
Julie’s life is not the one I would have chosen, with my limited understanding of family and love, time and eternity. I don’t know who she would have become through a long life on earth.
But I have glimpsed who she has always been (she was valiant, loving and cheerful before she was born). I have an idea of how she was affected by her brief stay in mortality (she has a greater understanding of love, family and covenants). And I know at least a part of the work she is doing now (she is joyfully helping her family to be together forever).

Julie will never be far from us. Each time we think of her or look at our pictures of her, our love grows stronger. Each time we worship God, she is there beside us. Her sisters remember her and love her. Our family is changed. We are stronger than we were, and more full of love. We will never again be as we were before Julie was born, and for that we are glad.

by Bridget Bishop

 

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Update:
April 9 2008, Bridget gave birth to a healthy daughter, Stephanie Jewel

 

 

Last updated November 7, 2008