My husband Roy and I drove to the hospital early that July morning for a c-section, eager to meet this baby that had grown inside of me for nine months. We took pictures — Quick! Get one of the bassinet — that’s where they will place her when she’s born! Or, Here we are — 15 minutes before it all begins! And then — Here we go!
And then she was born. Immediately they whisked her away, her tiny cry echoing through the white-washed walls that kept me company as I was deserted by a crowd of whispering doctors and hustling nurses. Wheeled into recovery, Roy zipped in and out, giving me quick updates that lacked detail and left room for concern. “She’s so tiny,” he said.
“But is she okay?” I asked, begging for reassurance. There was no answer.
A doctor came in, his face somber. Her arm is crooked…she only weighs four pounds…she has trouble breathing and needed to be resuscitated… The list continued and my dreams crashed.
As they rolled me to my room, we stopped at the nursery so that I could see my baby — my baby that I had dreamed for and prayed for and longed for. I placed my hand on her chest, touched her, held her in the only way I could — and ached inside.
The next few days crashed together, filled with doctors with long faces and tragic news that seemed to spiral endlessly. We went home, just the two of us with cries of “Why, God?” screaming in our heads. We closed the door to the baby room as it taunted us with the smell of pine and an empty cradle. And we wept.
A few days later I sat in my car at a stop light and looked around me. The girl in the car next to me sang her heart out, unaware of my piercing eyes. The older man in the pickup truck wore a half-smile, his thoughts evidently elsewhere in a place that brimmed with good times and pleasantries. How could it be? My thoughts raged. How could all of these people find happiness while my world caves from despair?
But then I held her. I held this little bundle that was fragile and broken and beautiful and perfect and mine. And I loved her. Instantly, I loved her.
At last we got a diagnosis: Trisomy 18 — an extra 18th chromosome that gave my baby an early death sentence. And so we brought her home and I promised to fill her life, no matter how short, with all good things: birthday parties, Christmas presents, Easter egg hunts, satin shoes, and dresses trimmed in lace. No matter that she would never walk, never hold up her head, never say ‘mommy’: she would know love and compassion and warmth. She would understand security in my arms.
And then we buried her. It was a cold winter day in January that Ciara was laid to rest in the western plains of Oklahoma at the tender age of eighteen months. The wind bitter, I wrapped my coat around me and gazed out into the eastern sky that Ciara’s eyes would greet when Jesus came to take her home.
And now, three healthy kids later, I am so grateful for the gift of Ciara — so thankful for what she taught me in her short life, and the hope her memory brings. What began as the most devastating, tumultuous time of my life became the defining moment that taught me what it really means to live.
My heart bled sadness that day; yet she left me with new words of compassion to share with those who are burdened with a staggering heart; new eyes to see beauty and worth in those whom others deem unfit; renewed hope in a future that shines brighter than the sun. She left me with the memory of her smile, vibrant and alive.
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