Seven years ago, I sat in my hospital bed waiting for the inevitable to happen. Our baby, Sophia, was on the brink of joining us in this world, albeit far too premature to survive. We knew we would lose her anyway; her abnormalities had greatly ravished her tiny body. The doctors could not tell us why our daughter was losing her battle with life, why her joints bent at unnatural angles, her movement from within my belly was so minimal, or why she had a body that was inexplicably incompatible with life. As we sat in the maternity room, my husband and I, we waited to finally get to hold the life we so wanted to have yet would have to let go.
When I was admitted to the hospital, the on-call doctor came in at one in the morning. His hair disshelveled, it stuck up on top like a rooster’s comb. His sweatshirt and blue jeans did little to reveal his identity, yet was appropriate for a doctor called into work during the wee hours. His concerned face and gentle words did little to abate my terror of the impending events. When he offered a tissue, and sat with us until we had no tears left, he had expertly delivered the somber news as he was paid to do: we would not leave the hospital until our daughter was born. A blood clot had lodged behind the placenta, an abruption had started, and both she and I were in no shape to go home.
When we had come in that night, we had no way to know our terribly ill child would be born. Two weeks earlier, we had learned of her ultimate fate–her non-viability–and we had faced the horrendous choice of ending the misery ourselves or waiting it out. Mercifully, before we could settle our shaken, heartbroken hearts on a decision, nature took the reins. Her beautiful soul graced our lives for an hour-and-a-half, until we were forced to usher our angelic Sophia Grace into a peaceful eternal slumber.
Her loss was the storm that shook our worlds. As if the winds of a tornado had ripped through our lives, everything was shattered to bits. When the calm found its way back, we scavenged through the rubble and tried to piece ourselves back together.
Seven years ago, we had no way to know that our grief would beget new life. I could barely imagine facing such an anguish again, yet it fueled my desire to succeed in what we wanted for our lives. Following Sophia’s death, we held that optimistic hope through two more troubled pregnancies, until we finally burst through the storm clouds and recurring twisters and found the rainbow on the other side. Each color arched its glory over the ominously dark sky in the distance. While the obscurity never completely disappeared, its miserable hue only made the red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet shine brighter.
On the eve of Sophia’s birthday, we look back on her presence not as a wrong turn in life’s journey, but as a purposeful detour. We often speak of her to our daughter Evelyn. We tell her of her big sister who watches over her and each day Evelyn blows a kiss to the heart-shaped box that holds what remains of our first baby. She may not understand what it all means just yet, but from the sparkle in her eye, we can tell she knows it is something special.
We go into tomorrow, as we have every one of the past six years, with a joy in our hearts. We will go out for a family dinner, light a candle, and look at the few pictures of Sophia that one kind nurse took that night. We will tell Evelyn how lucky she was to have such a brave sister, and that she is just the same. And while we may shed a few tears–surely composed of mixed emotions–perhaps they will skew just a bit less toward sadness and more toward a fondness we have allowed our souls to cultivate for her.
Sitting in that hospital bed, I had never dreamt of feeling the profound grief that accompanied the loss of our baby. But I also had not fathomed the flood of joy that would come with living a life after loss. With our anguish came a great responsiblity. Sophia gave us a purpose that night: to love deeper, feel greater compassion, and to always hold out hope.