Amie Hansen PhotographyFebruary 5, 2015, the day after my 31st birthday, is a day I will never forget for the rest of my life. I was at work and hadn’t felt the baby move for a little while. I convinced myself that everything was OK and that I was just being paranoid, as I was just four weeks shy of our much anticipated due date. After all, I was on cruise control and was expecting baby any day now.
After drinking a Sprite, eating a powdered donut and lying on the floor of my office pleading for baby to move, I walked over to my Doctor’s office praying that everything would be alright. I told my husband to stay put and not to worry, I said I’d let him know as soon as I heard from the doctor, and I reassured him that everything was OK. I was just worrying, as usual.
As my angel of a nurse hooked me up to the non-stress test, I could feel my anxiety rising. The cool gel slid across my belly as she placed the pads gently onto my eight-month pregnant belly. I heard nothing except for my own pounding heart, scared to death that my worst nightmare was coming true. My nurse said that sometimes the baby is positioned in a way that’s difficult to pick up the heartbeat. I was praying that was the case for us.
As she entered the room with the ultrasound machine, the on-call doctor that delivered my daughter two-and-a-half years prior accompanied her. I knew that was not a good sign and that they must be concerned. At that point, I really started to cry and said I was so scared. They were calm, held my hand and said that they were there. As I watched the screen, I could see the beautiful profile and body of the child we were ready for. Our bags were packed, we had the diaper bag ready with a sweet baby girl and boy outfit, and the Boppy was washed and ready to go. Everything was ready.
I held my breath and said, “There’s no heartbeat, is there?”
The doctor grabbed my hand and gently said, “I’m so sorry, honey, no.”
I will never forget the sound that came out of me that day. I screamed, held my bulging belly in disbelieve and was sure this was a dream, a nightmare. My husband was calling my phone over and over. I finally answered and said, “Get here! There is no heartbeat.” He sounded so scared and didn’t know what to say. As I sat in the chair, I knew what was ahead. Everything I had planned in my mind would soon be shattered.
I was wheeled down to the Fetal Maternal Medicine Department to confirm that our baby was gone. I told the tech that I wanted to see our baby on the screen but not to tell me if our baby was a boy or girl until my husband arrived.
My husband entered the room and just wailed, “Did this really happen?” At that time, my nurse came back and told us, “He is a little boy.” This mommy knew it all along. Briar Steven Bartel. He was ours. He was a little boy. We made the decision to get admitted directly to the Labor and Delivery Unit. We were met by our family members, all in disbelief that this was happening.
After enduring 12 hours of labor, our beautiful son was brought into the world on February 6, 2015 at 3:03 a.m. We heard no cry. All we could hear was the cries and sniffles of the staff members who helped encourage us to keep pushing and trying. My amazing husband coached me just as much as he did when we brought our daughter into the world. I couldn’t have endured any of the delivery without him.
I asked the doctor if the cord was around his neck, and she said, “No, but he is perfect.” As I laid my eyes on my son for the very first time, my heart broke and was also so happy in a sense to finally see who my second child was. He looked just like his big sister and daddy. He had big hands and feet and the most perfect little nose. He was 6 pounds, 9 ounces and 20 ¾ inches long. He had little rolls on his inner thighs and perfect pouty lips.
My husband and I spent the first two hours alone with him telling him all of the amazing plans we had for him that no longer existed. I had planned to do skin-to-skin with him all along, so I didn’t want to not have that bonding moment with him. I looked down at his precious face and told him how much we loved him and how sorry we were that he wasn’t here with us. We hugged him, kissed him and memorized each feature. This was the only physical time we would have with our child.
We spent around 14 hours with him and knew it would be incredibly hard to leave him behind. No parent should ever have to leave the hospital without their child. We kissed him goodbye and left him in the arms of an amazing nurse who said that she would take care of him for us.
To this day, I honestly cannot believe this happened to us. Life continues to move forward, and some days it hits me harder than others that this really happened. My perfectly healthy baby and perfectly normal pregnancy ended in a way we never imagined. Our son has given us such an amazing gift—an appreciation for life that we never knew before. My husband and I promised each other that we would never leave the other one behind. We promised to always share our feelings no matter how scary or horrible they were, which is sometimes easier said than done. I don’t know what I would do without him.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve. You need to be patient with yourself and allow yourself to feel any way you need to. Our daughter is 3, so we try to find ways for her to connect to her little brother. When we see a line in the sky that a plane has left behind, we tell her, “Briar did that for you!” It has been amazing to see how much she has embraced this.
We found out on our son’s three month anniversary in heaven that we are expecting again. This baby has given us hope but has also brought anxieties and fears as we do not want to lose another child. God has given us peace and strength to know that He will take care of us no matter what and that everything will be OK. As I am progressing in this pregnancy, I am starting to embrace it more and leave my worries to God. We will be expecting another son around Christmas time.
We will never understand “why,” but we do know that his life will always matter. As our pastor said during Briar’s service, “Even if we can make no sense of why this happened, we can know for certain that Briar’s life matters. Because Briar’s life and our lives matter to God, we are able to grieve with hope. That might sound strange to some of us. Grief and hope sound like they should be opposing forces, but we grieve deeply because we love deeply. We hurt deeply as a testimony to how much Briar is loved and how much he is missed.” Grieving with hope is something that we cling to. It’s something that will always stick with us the rest of our lives.
It is often difficult or awkward knowing what to say to someone going through such grief and pain. We told people from the very start what we needed from them. We stood up at our son’s service and said, “If you don’t know what to say, just ask us, ‘What have you done today to make Briar proud?’”
Briar, we hope you are proud of your family. Living each day without you physically here has been so incredibly hard. We miss you, honor you and love you each moment of each day, and you will always be with us.
If you are going through this, I am so incredibly sorry. Lean on each other, rely on your faith. God will carry you, I promise.