In February 2019, we found out we were expecting our rainbow baby after suffering a miscarriage two months prior. Ecstatic would have been an understatement.
The fear of having a second miscarriage never left my mind. I counted down the days until we would reach what they refer to as the “safe zone” and with each week that went by, my anxiety faded. Every appointment our baby’s heart beat was strong and every little bit of our baby was growing right on track.
In June 2019, I went to my 20 week anatomy scan knowing we'd reveal the gender that following weekend at our Gender Reveal Party. I told my husband since we weren’t finding out the gender during the appt, it wasn’t a big deal if he came or not. I would bring photos home for him to see. I brought with one of our family friends to help with my kids. I had done this three times already. I knew the routine. I walked into that room fully expecting to see a wiggly, beautiful healthy baby and wonder if I was going to even the playing field with another girl or outnumber my daughter with another boy.
What I never expected was my world to completely come crashing down in one "routine" appointment. The ultrasound tech seemed irritated which I assumed related to my children there. I later realized that she wasn’t annoyed, but trying to keep it together herself as she knew when she left that room, she’d be coming back destroying our joy and happiness.
Smiles quickly faded to worry as doctors, nurses and specialists all started to crowd the room. They asked if I could have my children and friend step out of the room and I remember in that moment thinking they were going to tell me my child had dwarfism or down syndrome. Something that would make things different, but nothing that we couldn’t handle. I never expected to be told that my baby had something severely wrong with him and without intervention he would die.
I left that clinic having to break the news to my husband and my family. I remember calling my mom in the middle of her work day and the first thing she said when she picked up the phone, “What’s going on? Is everyone okay?” It wasn’t the first time she’s answered the phone like that when I’ve called unexpectedly, but it was the first time I've ever had to answer that question with a no and it was soul crushing.
My doctor explained that I needed to come back the next day to have a procedure done and without it, my son would pass away, no question. So that’s what we did. I came back a week later to find that even though the procedures went as expected, it did nothing to help my baby’s condition. We found out we were expecting a little boy that day. In that moment, I was both congratulated on having another little boy and given his death sentence all in one.
The doctors told me he would pass away in the next one to two weeks and that it was important for me to come in twice a week because my life was at risk of developing life threatening conditions with each day that passed.
I walked into that clinic at the two week mark holding my breath. I fully expected to be told this little boy was no longer with us and I’d be leaving there childless. But instead week after week went by and appointment after appointment, he was still there. Still alive. Defying odds and amazing each doctor that we came into contact with.
We were told each week that he was staying stable for some miraculous reason, but his condition has a 90% fatality rate and there was still a very good chance he would not make it. We prayed, we never let go of hope and because of that, each week was another week we got with our precious boy.
August 9th, 2019, 7.5 weeks after our babies diagnosis, I had a really "off" day. I was extremely tired and just felt "weird". That evening it had dawned on me that I hadn't felt movement. I started to coax him to move with every trick I could think of, but nothing. I convinced myself that it was just an off day and he probably moved around all day, but I was too sleepy to realize, so I went to bed and decided to reassess in the morning.
I woke up early the next morning, and immediately tried to provoke movement but when I couldn’t, I knew. I don’t think that it really hit me in that moment, but subconsciously I knew that he had passed. I'm sure most people would rush to the hospital without thinking twice about it, but instead I took my time getting ready. I showered, ate, got dressed and walked prepared to feel like an idiot for coming in for no reason, other than being a worried mom, but knowing that the news I would actually receive was probably going to be the complete opposite.
And there it was, 30 minutes of trying to find his heartbeat on a doppler, four nurses later and finally a portable ultrasound and the on-call doctor, I was given the news.
“I’m sorry, but it looks as though there is no longer a heartbeat.”
I remember listening to the nurse call my husband and tell him what had happened and how debilitating that was. Knowing a stranger had to tell him, because I physically couldn’t do it. How do you find the words to tell someone their wife can’t call them, because their son died and she can’t muster up the strength to tell you?
My body wasn’t anywhere close to being ready to deliver and this would be my first vaginal birth but I opted to be induced that day anyway. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I knew that it was time. It was the hardest and most exhausting thing I’ve ever gone through in my life, but after 52 hours of excruciating labor and three failed induction attempts, our son was born.
August 12th, 2019 at 3:39pm David Carl Stiles was born silently into this world weighing 1lbs., 2oz. and 11 inches long. I was 27 weeks and 6 days pregnant the day he was born. He was perfect in every way.
I couldn’t believe after enduring such a hard and traumatic labor and rocking out a VBA3C, I wouldn't be taking this little person home. Instead I left with empty arms and a broken heart.
It’s a walk of shame, going into those elevators watching people walk by you with car seats and huge smiles knowing they’re going home with the one thing you wish you could. The immediate drop of smiles when they see you leaving empty handed with a pale, tear-stained face.
That day I knew that this couldn't be for nothing. I promised that I would keep his memory alive and his life wouldn’t be without purpose.
The last 2 years I've spent learning how to live without my son and how to grieve but move forward and heal at the same time. I started speaking very publicly and vocally about pregnancy and infant loss, because the one thing I realized in those first few weeks is that nobody has a clue how to deal with child loss.
Nobody talks about a baby dying and oftentimes bereaved parents are pushed to stay silent and suppress what happened. I can't be okay with that. I knew David’s story needed to be told and through being honest about my grief, I have found that.
In sharing my mourning process, I wanted David’s short time on earth to have meaning, so my husband and I decided that each year on his birthday we would do random acts of kindness.
The shock response of people is what really impacts me the most. They don’t understand why. They question your motives, but when we hand them the little cards that explain why we are doing what we are doing it’s like a whole new person comes over them. They may not know what it feels like to live without someone you love so deeply, but for a second, they get a tiny glimpse of the love we have for him. We can’t express that love directly to him, so we express it in little bits to other people.
We’ve now followed this tradition for 2 years and the day starts out the same. We are all tense, anxious and at each other’s throats, but after each random act of kindness, it’s like our little guy is chipping away at the hardened shell around our hearts and by the end of the day, we’re laughing, smiling and holding hands.
David never took a breath. He never laughed. He never cried. His eyes never opened. His heart never beat outside of my body, but David brought so much love, so much kindness, and so much life to our world. We want the rest of the world to have it too.
IN HONOR AND CELEBRATION OF DAVID, DONATIONS CAN BE MADE HERE. ON BEHALF OF THE STILES FAMILY, THANK YOU FOR YOUR GIFT.