Few people in my life know this, but we almost lost Hadley when I was 6 weeks pregnant. It was December 26th and the day before we had announced to my family that we were expecting. Talk about great joy! We were on a plane heading to Oregon to see AJ's family and were ready to give them the big news in person. I felt a bit off that morning (I have learned that anytime I feel "off," I should seek medical care. Lesson learned) and hurried to the bathroom before our flight boarded. My heart sank. There was blood everywhere. I started to shake and panic. I was miscarrying. I just knew it. I rushed out of the bathroom and shook my head as I made eye contact with AJ. I whispered to him, "I'm bleeding. I think I'm miscarrying. What do we do?" We both sort of panicked and got on the plane. Hindsight is 20/20....I have no idea what we were thinking even stepping foot on that plane. I was crying the whole time people were boarding and I crushed my face against the window and mourned the loss I knew was coming. The flight attendants went through the safety talk and then we noticed the blood was flowing even more. "That's it," AJ said, "There is no way we are taking this plane. We need to get you to the hospital." By this point, the plane was backing away from the gate. AJ jumped up and went up to the flight attendants. People were staring at this hysterical man and his crying wife. The pilot came out and we had to sign all this paperwork saying we were choosing to get off the plane by choice. The plane pulled back to the gate and I knew people were feeling both frustrated but also concerned for us. They got me a wheelchair and the flight attendants comforted me on the tarmac while AJ helped the pilot and luggage handlers get our bags. We began to race through the airport to get a cab to take us to the hospital. Suddenly, we saw our Pastor and his family right there in the airport. He asked what was wrong and I wailed "I'm pregnant and bleeeeeeding." He stopped in his tracks and said "Let me pray for you." I will never ever forget his words. He talked about how God is with us, how God is so big and can do anything. They said they'd continue to pray for us and AJ and I continued our run through the airport. We hopped in a cab and I can laugh now thinking of the poor cab driver's face as we told him our destination was the ER and I hysterically gripped my belly. Once we got to the ER, the doctors and nurses looked at us with knowing eyes: it seemed like a pretty typical early miscarriage. We waited around an hour, trying to come to grips with the inevitable. They performed an ultrasound and suddenly....thump thump thump. The sound of her heartbeat filled the room. Tears filled my eyes. The doctor looked stunned. "Baby is about the size of a sesame seed and I'd say the heart probably developed just a few days ago, but yes, your baby is just fine." I carried that memory with me the entire pregnancy. Our girl was a fighter. She liked giving mommy and daddy heart attacks, but she was there.
AJ and I are country music fans. Most often in my car I listen to country music (sometimes the occasional hits station or sometimes Christian music, but it's usually a country jam in my Corolla). One night when I was around 25 weeks pregnant, I heard a Dolly Parton song and baby girl went WILD in my tummy. I called AJ over and sure enough, he could feel her too. We tested it out with Carrie Underwood, Rascal Flatts, and a few others. Baby girl enjoyed those, but it was evident that Dolly was her most fave. We played the song "Jolene" for her all the time. If you aren't familiar, it's a classic number about a woman begging her man's mistress to back off. So totally appropriate for a baby in utero. A day or two after she was born, AJ, my mom, my sister and I all went to visit Hadley. AJ started singing "Jolene" to her and suddenly she began moving and grooving. She lifted her arms up (we had never seen that before!) and we knew she heard her daddy singing and recognized the tune. I will treasure that moment always.
The next miracle was that I managed not to go into labor after my water broke. The doctors told us that each hour I managed to not go into labor following our arrival at the hospital was significant. If I could make it 3 days with no labor, there was a great chance I could keep her inside until 34 weeks. Each morning the nurses would come in and update the white board on the wall: 29.3, 29.4, 29.5. Each morning was a victory! Before my hospital stay, I was in the trenches of an end of year school countdown. I wanted nothing more than to rush through the days and move on. Being in the hospital and waiting patiently for baby to cook gave me some much needed perspective on time. Each day is a gift. I will never ever take it for granted again.
On one of our last nights with Hadley, once we knew the devastation of her prognosis, they allowed us to hold her. It took four people and about ten minutes to get her situated in our arms with all the cords, wires, and medical devices. I began to cry big ugly tears over my daughter. I loved holding her more than anything in the world. I knew I could count on my hands the number of times I could hold her before she passed. Suddenly, Hadley began rubbing my arm. Now, to put this in perspective, I think I saw her move her limbs maybe three times total in her short life. This was one of those times. For about 5 minutes, our sweet girl rubbed my arm and comforted me. It was amazing. It was like she was saying, "It's ok, mom, don't cry. I promise you'll be fine." I know in my heart this was a miracle, a sign of comfort I will treasure forever.
My doctor has been a bright spot in all of this. In fact, I only met her the day I delivered. Being a hospital patient, you simply get the doctor to deliver who happens to be on call that day. Ours was a true angel for us. She was patient, and kind, and compassionate. She would come in each morning and check on me and also call us each evening. She tracked Hadley's charts and vitals from home and even still, she has called us a few times since leaving the hospital just to check in. She was the first person to see and scoop up Hadley and I will always be thankful for her role in our story. But the most special part is that she does research on maternal/fetal infections and told us that she is dedicating her life to learning more about conditions like Hadley's and our sweet baby's information will be beneficial to her in her studies. She told us the information she learns about my body, my pregnancy, and Hadley can potentially have an impact and save countless babies. When I learned that, I experienced a great sense of calm. How many 6 day olds leave a legacy on the medical field?
Another miracle has been the people affected by Hadley's story. There is no doubt I am a proud mom. I practically forced each NICU nurse to admit Hadley was the cutest baby they'd ever seen. Doctors see cases like Hadley's, unfortunately, all the time. Nurses do too. But something about that little girl sparked something in people that was nothing short, of well, a miracle. I would find nurses weeping over her bedside, doctors would tell us they'd go in her room just to see her, even though she wasn't their patient. I forged amazing connections with nurses who shared some of their personal battles and how Hadley has helped them. Since her death, I have received countless cards, emails, and messages of people sharing how she has impacted them. Maybe she makes you hug your kids a little tighter. Maybe she makes you realize heaven is closer than you've imagined. Maybe she makes you appreciate the tiny gifts in life. Maybe she makes you be a little kinder, a little gentler, because you never know what battles people fight. Maybe she makes you want to try harder, give it your all. Maybe she makes you realize the power of the human spirit and the will to live. I pray every day that her story means something to you. Her life is powerful. I know, I'm her mama.
The biggest miracle, for me, happened on Hadley's last day of life. After meeting with doctors, specialists, nurse, neurologists, neonatalogists, looking at charts, information, brain scans, the grim reality of what we were facing was clear: Hadley would not survive. Without going into too many details, her sickness was shutting down her organs, and to me, the most heartbreaking part of all: her brain had shifted due to blood in her head and she was essentially without any brain function. She would never walk, talk, breathe on her own. I asked if there were any babies sicker than her in the NICU and I was told there were not. Most of the specialists believed she would not survive much longer in the NICU. I asked, through breathless tears, "Will she ever be able to come home?" I was told no, there is absolutely no way. We had a decision to make. We could let Hadley "code" and pass through the inevitable medical emergency that could occur at any moment (her breathing tube came out one night when we were there visiting. It was terrifying. 7 people swooped in around her tiny body, monitors beeped and there was chaos in the room. AJ and I stood there, silent, numb, watching them resuscitate our little girl. It was like an out of body experience) OR we could remove her machines and hold her without medical devices and let her pass that way. AJ and I went for a long walk one afternoon when we were still in the hospital (well, me in a wheelchair) and we chose the second option. There was a lot of careful thought and input that went into that decision. That is a choice no one, especially a parent, should ever be faced with. We chose Saturday, June 18th as the day. The night before we went and bought her a new outfit (and I proceeded to have a full on breakdown in Buy Buy Baby) and spent time with her until 2:30 in the morning. I got to do mom things like change her diaper and comb her hair. Each week during pregnancy I wrote her a letter. I got to read every single one to her. AJ read her books and we told her about how we met, our wedding, preparing for her, what her nursery was like. It was magical. Saturday morning arrived and the doctors informed us we would have about 2 minutes with Hadley. 3 minutes if we were very lucky. They told us we'd go into a private room with our family present. I would hold her while all her devices were removed. A minute later, I would pass her to AJ and shortly after, she would pass from this life. I was devastated. The allotted 3 minutes passed and the nurse came in to check her heartrate and declare a time of death. Except....her heart was still beating. I held her again and told her about a million times that "Mommy loves you" then everyone in our family held her. We all said our emotional goodbyes and cooed over how beautiful she was. The nurse returned. Hadley still had a strong heartbeat. AJ and I passed her back and forth and told her stories about her being in my tummy and all our misadventures as parents to be. I told her how I cried in Subway because they ran out of buffalo sauce when I was craving it. AJ told her about all the funny onesies he bought her and how he sang to her every night. An hour passed, still the heartbeat remained. We inquired how long this typically lasted and we were told usually a few minutes, one baby on record survived 4 hours. I winked at my "Hadmuffin," my Princess Baby. We were better than all those other babies, weren't we? Let's beat the record.....and she did. For FIVE HOURS our angel baby clung to life. She opened her eyes for the first time and peered at AJ and I (she had to see for herself who these two nutjobs were). She cooed and breathed and sighed. I held her every way I'd ever wanted to hold her. For five hours we passed her back and forth, being parents. There were no monitors, no cords, no wires. Just us, mom and dad, and our perfect daughter. It was, without a doubt, one of the happiest times of my life. There was sadness, of course, but for a while, the world stopped turning and AJ and I could parent our little baby girl. It was a dream come true. At around 4:00, her breathing slowed and in my arms, I felt her take one last breath. Her heartbeat stopped and I paused... our perfect, remarkable, beautiful Hadley in my arms, no longer of this life. She was free, finally, and could dance with the angels as she became one herself. My angel baby was finally home.
Note: These images are courtesy of the amazing and talented Liza Tomkinson with Pretty Bird Photography. Liza and I had gym class together in high school (and by that I mean, we tried to stay in the back of dodge ball games and just chat) and she reached out to me and offered to take pictures of Hadley when she found out Hadley had been born and was in critical condition in the NICU. Liza, you will never know what these priceless images mean to us. We treasure them and your willingness to reach out will always be a source of thanksgiving for us. You have no idea. Thank you thank you thank you.