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Vincent Ambrose


Vincent Ambrose, baby with anencephaly

It has been nearly four years since the birth and passing of my son Vincent Ambrose. I would like to share my experience of carrying him, delivering him, mourning him, and of being his mother.

Vincent Ambrose was to be born into a big lively Catholic family. He has a big sister and three big brothers. They do not know him and never got a chance to meet him. They saw my stomach grow to an unbelievable size, thanks to a severe case of polyhydramnios. After finding out little Vincent had anencephaly and would never come home with us, they saw me rip down the nursery area we had set up. When they asked, "Mommy, what are you doing!?", I responded calmly and matter of fact that baby Vincent would not be coming home to live with us, but instead would be living in Heaven. They accepted that answer with the perfect faith of a child and never asked anything more of it.

My husband and I had gone back and forth about having another baby for a while. At the time we had a 10-year-old girl, 7-year-old boy, 5-year-old boy, and a 2-year-old boy. Our 5-year-old boy was diagnosed with autism one year prior and we were in the depths of getting used to our new normal with all his therapy hours. This diagnosis was the main reason we went back and forth, as a child with special needs requires a much greater level of care. We love our big family and despite the work of caring for children our children bring us tremendous joy. The joy of our children is hands down unmatched by anything else this world has to offer.

In our going back and forth one afternoon I prayed, "Dear Lord, I keep longing for another child, but want to do your will. I will go ask my husband, please let my husband's answer be your will for us so I will know." I fully expected my husband to say, "Are you crazy! We have our hands full!", as he had said in the past. However directly after this prayer in which I felt the Lord so near to me I went to my husband and asked him what he thought about the idea of having another baby. To my surprise, with an uncharacteristic joy and peace, he answered, "I think it would be great if we had another baby."

I will never forget that moment. I had peace and confidence that the Lord called us to have this child.

A couple months after this conversation we were joyfully expecting. Both of our grandmothers had had five children so we thought maybe this baby would be our cherry on top because our hands were full with four young children, one with autism.

Our daughter was hoping for a sister because she already had three brothers.

Because I was thirty-five, I qualified for a new blood test that tested the baby's DNA. I took this test only because I could find out the sex of the baby at only ten weeks! The birth center called with the results. All the baby's chromosomes were normal and it was a boy! I was laughing hysterically at the humor of our Lord to give us ANOTHER BOY!

I went to tell my daughter it was a boy and she went as white as a ghost and said her legs felt like jelly. It was hilarious!

Despite getting the news that all of his chromosomes were normal, there was something in the recess of my soul that knew something was not right with him. I refrained from doing any big announcement of the pregnancy. I told myself after the twenty-week ultrasound, if all was well, then I would announce.

I had had my first three children naturally in a hospital setting. My daughter was delivered while I was on my back, being told when to push, and I had a third-degree tear and hospital acquired infection. Some of the bacteria was antibiotic resistant so it was a full five months after her birth, lots of different antibiotics, after Lent of course, and a blessing of a priest, that the infection was finally cleared! Although I already preferred a natural birth, this experience made me dive deeper so that I could avoid this scenario again. The office that delivered my daughter said the tear was because my body could only handle a 6-pound baby based on my shoe size, and my 7-pound 13 ounces daughter was just too big. However, I went on to deliver my boys in a squatting position with no problem. They weighed 9 pounds, 6 ounces, 8 pounds 7 ounces, and 10 pounds even. My 10-pound boy was the last before Vincent and was my first and amazing birth center birth.

When I showed up at the birth center for my twenty-week ultrasound with Vincent they all remembered me well. The nurse told me they tell women coming on tours all the time about the five-foot lady that came in without her husband, put on her headphones, and squatted out a 10-pound baby. I laughed and hoped in that moment I would have another experience like that, but my soul was very sober. My daughter was with me for the ultrasound and my husband at home with the boys and my one son having therapy. The ultrasound started as usual, happy feelings in the room, then the technician got quiet and said the head was very low. She inspected further and ended abruptly. She said that I should go back to the waiting area and would speak to the midwife.

I knew this was odd because the nurse earlier had told me I would leave right after the ultrasound and not need to go back to the office that day. We waited what felt like an eternity.

Finally, the midwife called me in and asked my daughter to stay in the waiting area. This midwife was the owner of the center, she has a stern and decisive reputation of sending women to the hospital without question if there's any chance they need to be there. Yet in this moment when she called me in to sit down, she was emotional and nearly crying. She explained to me that my baby had anencephaly.

She wrote it on a piece of paper as I had never heard of it. She explained what it was and I had never heard of anything so horrible in my life. She explained that many women would have an abortion, but never suggested I should, and she knew I never would.

She told me she would set me up for an ultrasound with a great maternal fetal medicine doctor. She explained that I could still deliver at the birth center and told me about a nurse who had a baby with anencephaly and had a beautiful delivery there at the birth center, the baby was baptized and lived a few days. However, that still small voice inside me was telling me I needed to deliver in a hospital this time. She offered to call my husband and explain it to him as I didn't want to, but wanted him to know before I got home. She asked if she should have him come and get me worried maybe I shouldn't drive.

I was numb, I knew something wasn't right for a long time, now everything had come to a head, the hazy vision was clearer.

What was the Lord asking of me?

I wasn't crying, I was quiet and numb. Before leaving I asked for the pictures of my son from the ultrasound. Despite the diagnosis I still wanted the pictures of my son. I needed to hear Danielle Rose's song, "Abraham's Offering", and I listened to it as I drove my daughter and I home.

When I got home my husband looked as if he were lost and had been crying. We are quiet people. All he said was that he wanted us to keep the baby. This was all I needed to hear for peace, because although I knew him, this is a pretty horrific diagnosis, and had he said anything different I would have had to fight him on it. Thankfully, we hugged each other and knew we were in agreement that we were continuing this pregnancy with our baby.

The next week we met with the maternal fetal care doctor who explained more about what anencephaly was. He explained that many times it is linked with a lack of folic acid, but being that I was taking prenatal vitamins before pregnancy, living a healthy lifestyle, and had had four healthy children this was unlikely in my case. He explained if all anencephaly was always just from lack of folic acid then we wouldn't have cases since they started fortifying foods with folic acid decades ago, but we still did. He thought mine was a fluke case which can and does happen. I later learned that the same defect has occurred in many animal populations too.

I started my 10-pound son's pregnancy at an OBGYN office before switching to the birth center, knowing based on experience I would likely go into labor on the weekend and wouldn't have my brilliant doctor deliver anyway. I had my confirmation of pregnancy ultrasound at this office with another OBGYN as the other had retired. So naturally this was the office I called knowing I wanted to switch back for a hospital birth with Vincent. Once I told them my baby had anencephaly, they wouldn't accept me back as a patient. I called a couple other places and was told the same. I told my doula about it and she gave me the name of another doctor to try she thought I would like and their office was wonderful and they accepted me immediately.

When I met this doctor, I loved him. He had been in practice about 35 years and had pictures of African animals he had taken pictures of on his trips all over his walls. His office was comfortably messy, smelled like coffee, and bookshelves stocked with tons of old medical books. His father had been a doctor as well. He was calm, kind, peaceful, present and keenly observant. I thought if I had to have my first surgery, I would trust this man to do it.

At some point I must have opened up about the situation on social media, although I don't remember what I said or how I said it. Although I didn't feel like I had any close friends, so many enveloped me with love and support in this sad time. People got me in contact with people they knew that had been in similar circumstances to talk to. One insisted I set up a page in his honor and keep people updated and they could pray with me along the way. I found a group of other moms that carried their babies with anencephaly. So, through this journey I not only had the Saints in Heaven as my "cloud of witnesses", I also had a "cloud of witnesses" of saints on earth praying for us too.

I talked to one priest that seemed to think I might not need to keep the baby, which was never my question in the first place. This revelation of what seemed as uncertainty about Vincent's life made me not want to seek his counsel any longer for the pregnancy. There are in fact Catholic countries where abortion is illegal except in the case of anencephaly. There are some that believe that a baby with anencephaly is not really a life because they are without a brain. I'm not sure what he thought, but I sought support from another monsignor priest instead. He was who I called and even cried to over the phone. He was clearly and undoubtedly supportive of our keeping our baby. He was so helpful and comforting and told me about his sister that had lost a newborn and how important the child was despite their short life. When I asked about godparents for Vincent, he explained that he wouldn't need them, as he would be amongst the angels. He told us how to baptize our son.

I began simultaneously attending prenatal doctor visits and planning a funeral for my son. I knew that the awaited day of his birth would likely also be the day of his death. I visited cemeteries, "is this a place I would like to visit?". I called for prices; the prices of a birth and a funeral at once is an expensive and unexpected cost.

We couldn't afford the Catholic cemetery. I thought it would be sweet to have my son buried in the same cemetery as generations of priests and bishops. It was near a large St. Vincent de Paul donation center as well. I thought it would be perfect to donate there then drive down the street to my Vincent's grave to visit regularly. Unfortunately, today many Catholic schools and other Catholic things are clearly only for the very rich and very poor, we middle class folks do not qualify. Besides it was far away anyway.

I decided on a sweet old county cemetery with a baby section out in the country, but convenient to home, where I knew I would like to visit often, a refuge.

We remembered a radio commercial about Trappist Caskets, a group of Trappist monks that made simple and beautiful wooden caskets. The Trappist monks actually provided blessed newborn caskets free of charge. They also have a mass said, and a new tree planted in the baby's honor as well. Vincent's casket was beautiful. I hope we can go to the Trappist Monks Abbey in Iowa in the future.

The funeral home and my husband agreed not to embalm Vincent based on his size, but I later regretted agreeing to this decision.

We made a trip to Houston to visit family. In my heart it was a way for Vincent to be in the presence of extended family members while he was still alive inside me. My grandfather, who had Parkinson's and was in assisted living, smiled proudly and patted my pregnant stomach. It was a good visit around parents, grandparents, siblings, nieces, and cousins.

When I was younger, I used to enjoy coloring my hair, but when I began having children, I got very scrupulous about what I exposed myself to and stopped for a decade plus. With one pregnancy I even worried about eating sandwich meat or chewing sugar free gum and anxiously consulted my doctor. After I found out about Vincent's defect despite my trying to provide perfect health for him, I was angry. I didn't start drinking or smoking or anything truly detrimental, but I did decide to dye my hair in rebellion and get a 4D ultrasound of Vincent, something I never did with my other pregnancies.

Right when I got to the third trimester of the pregnancy things began getting crazy. I developed a severe case of polyhydramnios. This commonly happens, although not always, in pregnancies with anencephaly. If it does happen it doesn't normally happen to the severity that I was experiencing. Babies with anencephaly many times cannot swallow. Normally in the womb babies will urinate and it will mix with the amniotic fluid and they will practice swallowing and the fluid levels will remain balanced. Well Vincent not only had anencephaly, but he also had severe spina bifida, a related but less severe defect. Basically, Vincent couldn't swallow, but was urinating plus spilling spinal fluid from his open back, and the fluid levels were increasing drastically and more and more quickly.

I was beginning to have trouble breathing and my heartrate, that was normally around 70 bpm, was now always around 120 bpm resting. My OBGYN sent me over to the hospital to get my oxygen levels checked. I was hooked up for nearly 3 hours. We were told we might be induced that night. The nurse explained that "the writing was on the wall", and if we induced then we could likely avoid bigger problems. She compared our inducing, knowing our son would die after birth, to that of having a miscarriage. She meant well, but after she left, we talked about how different it was than a miscarriage, having had two. With a miscarriage the baby has already passed away. In our situation with Vincent, he was alive and happy kicking and swimming, but we knew when he was born, he would either die in delivery or shortly after. I think I was around 31 weeks at this point when the doctor wanted to induce initially as he saw my health beginning to deteriorate.

The alarm on the oxygen test sounded several times, but would go up and down. It dipped into the 80's and low 90s several times. I asked my doctor later what my oxygen would need to have been to induce for medical purposes, he said anything under 95%. However, he had only received an average percentage of the 3 hours so he didn't see all the low dips. My doctor still thought it was best for my health to induce at this point, but couldn't. We live in a pro-life state, which I support, so there has to be very strict criteria met to induce in the 3rd trimester. It must be an immediate danger to the health of the mother. He offered me abortion papers to sign so that he could induce in the 3rd trimester, but I refused to sign them and he didn't blame me for not wanting to. Mothers with terminal babies and medical complications should not be put in this situation.

We made it home that evening, a little relieved we didn't induce. I would get to spend Mother's Day with Vincent and his other siblings, Mother's Day with all 5.

Right after we arrived home that evening, we found out that the Monsignor that had been counseling me through the pregnancy and was going to do the funeral had suddenly died. We were so crushed; the entire community was. He was such a kind and humble man with a great sense of humor. I'm grateful for the phone conversations I had with him through Vincent's pregnancy, he helped me very much.

We contacted another priest we loved and asked him if he could do the graveside service. We decided not to have a mass. We wanted something very sweet and simple.

By the next week my body had adjusted to the load and my oxygen was no longer dipping. They didn't worry about my heartrate. However, after another week, between 33 and 34 weeks, a new symptom began. I was having severe pain under my rib cage on one side. It was so distinct I even circled the area with a pen for my doctor. It felt like something was very wrong. It was like fire and I was crying in pain most of the time. I had delivered very large babies without medication; I had a high pain tolerance. This pain wasn't normal, something was wrong.

My doctor said that the extreme amounts of extra fluids with the polyhydramnios was squishing my liver. The pain was excruciating. He now had a clear medical purpose to induce and I wouldn't need to sign those awful papers.

We were sent over to the maternal fetal health doctor. He and his nurse were actually very rude and unprofessional with us this day. I couldn't help but wonder if there was a power struggle concerning my case. He did sign off on my induction thankfully as I was becoming afraid my other children were going to lose their mother.

My husband's parents came in town to stay with our children and my husband and I met my doula at the hospital. I was dilated very little upon arrival. We started Cytotec, which I had always avoided before but here it was necessary to use the evil drugs. The Cytotec did little to nothing overnight. I had contemplated an elective c-section, despite my history of loving natural births, because I thought it might help me to meet Vincent alive. Everyone thought an elective surgery would be a bad idea.

We started the Foley Bulb. The placement of the Foley Bulb without medication was pretty rough. I walked a lot with my doula as I had in previous labors and the sweet lady at the desk cheered us on.

I got to the point where my water could be broken. With severe polyhydramnios this has to be carefully done, a slow release. My doctor did the slow release perfectly. There was so much fluid and it started slowly running out and my stomach was shrinking drastically. There was so much fluid that as it was draining into a bucket under the bed it sounded like it was raining. Suddenly I felt something warm and wondered if the cord had fallen out or something. I asked my doula to look and she did and immediately pushed the emergency button on the wall. It was a ton of warm blood.

The doctor rushed in immediately, he called for an ultrasound machine, he weighed the blood that was lost, he called an anesthesiologist, the best they had luckily, and nurses were there doing as he asked. I was immediately hooked up to IVs. The anesthesiologist told me if I wasn't still to get the epidural the first try then I would need to be put under for the delivery and miss it. Of course, I didn't want this knowing Vincent, if born alive, wouldn't live long. I had suffered a placental abruption due to the massive amounts of extra fluid despite the doctor's perfect slow release of waters.

I was completely calm, my husband confirmed it had been a very uncharacteristic calmness. In prayer I had made peace with death in those moments. I had no idea how the Lord would use the situation to His Glory, but was confident whatever happened He could.

My son Vincent Ambrose was born by emergency c-section. He was alive. He peed on the nurse right after birth that was measuring him. My husband baptized him right after birth as the Monsignor had told him to do.

I was alive.

We went back to the room after the surgery. Now it was time to get me stable. I was freezing, itching, my vision was really blurry, my blood pressure was dangerously low, and I was trying to soak in the moments I had with Vincent while he was alive.

My doctor told me I really needed a blood transfusion and if I were his daughter, wife or mother he would definitely make sure they got one. I had planned to donate my milk to the milk bank, and had been cleared to do so previously, but I knew I would no longer be able to donate my milk after having a blood transfusion. Being healthy and alive was more important and I immediately began feeling better after the transfusion.

Vincent's heartbeat began slowing and the color from his body started leaving him beginning from his limbs and lips. He was calm, quiet and peaceful his entire life. He only felt love his entire life.

He had a little button nose, blonde eyelashes, dark blue eyes, rose petal soft kissable cheeks, long piano playing fingers like his sister, a strong broad chest and shoulders like his Daddy and brothers, and perfectly shaped little lips.

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep arrived to take pictures of him for us. My doula also took some amazing pictures as well as giving me the love and support I needed through the pregnancy and beyond.

Vincent lived for one and a half hours. He stayed in our room through the night. The nurse came the next morning to alert me that another mother would be coming to share a room with me as the Labor and Delivery rooms were now full. I sternly refused to share a room with someone having a normal birth when I had just lost my child. The nurse mercifully made special arrangements for me to recover in a new section of the hospital for women after hysterectomy and cancer surgeries.

My husband thought it would be healthier for me to allow them to take Vincent to the morgue and not take him to the next room and I agreed. However, at the time I thought I'd be able to see him again. I had hoped I'd get to dress him and "anoint him with oil" before his burial. I was moved to the new room without Vincent, it was a quiet, spacious and beautiful room to recover in away from all the joyous new mothers and their healthy and alive newborns.

I had never recovered from c-section or surgery, let alone and emergency surgery, and it was very difficult. My blood pressure, which had been dangerously low before the transfusion was getting better. My husband spent the first day with me and then came each evening. My father and brother visited the second day. My face and limbs looked puffier afterwards than before with the polyhydramnios because they pumped me full of so many fluids. The last bag I actually called my doctor myself and asked him to tell them to disconnect the fluids which he did and they did, PRAISE THE LORD! I felt like I would POP!

I was sad that I didn't have a mother, sister or close friend to help me. But I had a kind nurse that helped me shower, dress, and blow dry my hair. If my daughter ever goes through a situation anywhere similar, I vowed to myself in these moments to be with her and help her in those very hard and very intimate times.

They said it was important to walk as soon as I could which I did although it was very painful no doubt. I remember getting up in the middle of the night walking laps in the quiet hallways looking out the windows at the night sky and listening to "Beautiful Lord" by Leeland. I was so happy to be alive. I hoped that I had been "a good and faithful servant" through it all.

My husband came to get me on the third day and it was a beautiful sunny day in May. I felt empty literally and figuratively though having come in fully pregnant days before and being wheeled out in a wheel chair to the car with my arms empty. The nurse who had wheeled me out gave me a copy from the hospital of Vincent's hand and feet prints which I accepted as a true act of love from this sweet nurse.

We drove home and my children were so happy to see me and had made welcome home signs and treats. I was very happy to be home with everyone, while at the same time very sad that we should have another little boy with us.

My husband put the mattress on the floor because I was unable to climb into our bed. He became a loving nurse bringing me food and drinks while I was recovering. I opened the gifts I had received.

The next day we went to the funeral home to give them clothes for Vincent to be buried in. It was then I found out I wouldn't be able to dress him or see him as he hadn't been embalmed. I cried deeply, sadly, and very angrily. I had been pretty out of it after his birth due to my blood loss, so I had been hoping to really get to look at him more when I felt better, but alas I wouldn't be able to and I was very upset.

We picked out his beautiful gravestone. We drove to the flower shop to pick out flowers for him. We picked a bright arrangement in the shape of a cross.

We had our sweet and simple graveside service the next morning. It was just my husband and I, our four children, his parents, my doula, two ladies I knew from a mom's group, and the priest. My doula hugged and comforted me like a mother would as I cried, she was so kind. I never made a big to do about Vincent's funeral as I worried if people came, they might only do so out of obligation, or I might feel obligated to be some sort of host, both of which I definitely didn't want. At the same time, I desperately wished more people had come out for our little boy.

Six weeks after the birth my doctor gave me the all clear to exercise. I still didn't feel great after being gutted like a fish, but I had a lot of extra weight from his pregnancy that I couldn't lose through breastfeeding like I had done with my other babies. I started biking every morning at 6am working up to 9 miles a morning. I couldn't bend my torso very well for a long time.

I was still very happy to have survived. I had mourned the loss of Vincent partially during the pregnancy. I was still processing the emotions.

By six months after the birth I felt some depression creeping in. Normally I'm very self-motivated and I'm an introvert and prefer to exercise alone. However, I knew in this time I needed to be around other people. I joined a great local gym. I attended the 5am crazies' class that I knew would be less crowded than the evening classes. There were a handful of amazing ladies that attended class religiously. They were inspiring and I could ride their strong motivated vibes when I knew mine were petering out. I had previously been strong but after the c-section my brain would tell my body to do something and my body would sit there and say "no way". Eventually while attending my 5am classes I was able to do sit ups again, jumping jacks again and burpees again. I attended these class for a little over a year.

Besides exercise for my physical and emotional healing I made sure to cry whenever I needed to. I felt that it would be important to cry as much as I needed to, as hard and long as needed, just to clear it all out whenever it built up. I would usually do this alone in the van after going to the cemetery or in my closet or the shower. I needed to be able to release these deep emotions fully but not worry my children or husband.

I also would and do go to the cemetery whenever I feel I need to. Often when I feel like something is off, I realize it's been a while since I've gone to the cemetery and going does the trick.

We went camping a lot and being out in nature is also very healing! Watching and listening to a lot of comedy is also great, laughing is very therapeutic. Music is very healing as well. The book that helped me most was "When Bad Things Happen to Good People", by Rabbi and Dr. Harold Kushner.

Two years ago, I got a treadmill and quit going to the gym as I emotionally felt better again. I started walking and lifting weights at home. I even got my husband lifting weights and he looks great. Now I've worked up to running three miles a day! It's been a long road. I still visit the cemetery regularly, but a lot less often.

Before Vincent we only allowed our children to watch and read classic stories. However, I grew up loving Rocky movies and had kind of a rough childhood and, as silly as it sounds, I realized tapping into the scrappy little girl I was really helped me handle Vincent's diagnosis, pregnancy, and recovery gracefully. I observed mothers in the same situation turn to unhealthy lifestyles doing themselves and those around them a lot of harm. Two of my children are now black belts in karate and one is getting close. They are now all big fans of the Avengers and Rocky too!

Even in the most ideal circumstances life can throw you a devastating curve ball and having stories and experiences of great battles to ponder in these hard times is helpful I believe. Vincent made our family life better. I believe he prays for us from heaven in the presence of God.

Years ago, I remember reading on a mother's forum many wise women commenting that a mother knows when her family is complete. I still do not feel my family is complete. I really hope the Lord will bless us with another child that is healthy that we can raise at home with our other children. I've also considered adoption through foster care for nine years as well. I would love to do both if it be the Lord's will! Hope!

If you are carrying a child with a fatal birth defect, I hope that you will continue the pregnancy with your baby and enjoy getting to know your little one in the womb. Enjoy their fun little kicks and punches and seeing their sweet face on the ultrasound. Enjoy the time you get to spend with them not matter how short it may be. A short life is still a significant life. Ina May Gaskin said, "We have a secret in our culture and it's not that birth is painful, it's that women are strong." That quote could apply to all of motherhood as well, I think.


Teresa can be contacted through the webmaster.


Last update: 18.02.2020