Sara’s Story by Dee Paddock
I recently had an appointment with a new doctor. Taking my medical history, she asked “Have you ever been pregnant?” At my age, I was startled by her question. “Yes, five times,” I said. “How many living children” was the next pregnancy question. “None: two ectopic pregnancies, two early miscarriages and the death of our baby, Sara, when I was 38 weeks pregnant.” I didn’t tell her that Sara was my last pregnancy, our Christmas miracle due on December 21 but who stopped moving on December 5 and was born on December 6. I didn’t say that when Sara died, the earth tipped on its axis and time stopped as our expected future shattered into pieces. But I wanted to. TMI - no box on her checklist for the details.
Sara is my angel baby story, decades old, but forever written on my heart and woven throughout all that I am. She would be 34 years old now. If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you, too, have experienced the trauma of having a baby die, a loss that devastates us and drops us so hard to our knees that even crawling forward seems impossible. I want to share some snapshots from those early days of losing Sara and losing myself. I’ll also share some snapshots of creating a new self after everything changed. (As the Avett Brothers sing, “when the word ‘everything’ doesn’t cover what you lose.”)
The ultrasound on December 5: knowing deep in my mother-body that something was very wrong with my baby, and seeing the terrible truth in the eyes of the ultrasound technician - there was no movement and no heartbeat - it was time to go to the hospital for all the wrong reasons.
Learning there are angels among us: the wise hospital chaplain who sat by my bed, gently telling me a very hard truth: I had brought Sara this far and I now had to help her complete her journey - I needed to deliver her; that the c- section I desperately wanted would only add to and complicate a difficult recovery.
Delivering Sara: numb and in total shock, with my husband on one side and a strong friend on the other, a nurse handing me my baby, carefully wrapped in a newborn blanket, eternally still, with a tiny rosebud mouth and light brown hair. She weighed 7 lbs. 2 oz. and was 20” long.
More angels: the kind pathologist who, after carefully examining Sara, came to my room in the middle of the night to tell me personally that Sara had died of catastrophic complications from Trisomy 21; he described her facial features and the telltale Palmar creases in her hands, gently tracing those creases into my hands to help me understand; the brave new pastor who pulled the rocking chair close to my bed to help us plan our baby’s funeral; who searched the hymnbook for the music I wanted but could only hum to him; who just listened when I said I wanted to die so I could be with her.
Life after death: completely unable to fathom that life had gone on, even as we left the hospital without our baby; attending our first meeting of the infant loss support group; returning again and again to sit in the safety of shared sorrow with others who never said that it was a blessing, that time heals all wounds or that God needed another angel; becoming a leader of that early support group and later, of other groups; finding a counselor who held me steady when I was not (as Katherine May writes in her book Wintering, “during dark times, we need people who acknowledge that we can’t always hang on”); adopting a baby girl - our beloved Cortney - and rejoicing at the opportunity to mother a living child; getting a masters degree in Counseling Psychology and becoming a mental health counselor because of our experiences with Sara; spending the past two decades working with people who have also experienced tragedy, trauma and loss.
Creating a different life after Sara: a rocky and unpredictable process - the ground still shakes from time to time and I still read books about surviving the grief and trauma that life brings. I still listen for songs that speak to and soothe the pain of Sara’s absence. (I recommend listening to Into the West by Annie Lennox for the days when your soul is aching for your angel baby.) What has transformed over these 34 years is my acceptance that time doesn’t heal all wounds but that life does go on. Time won’t heal this sacred wound nor would I want that. Sara’s short life and death changed my compass and charted a different direction for my life, one that has brought much joy, hope and new purpose. I would give anything to have her now, alive and well, but her spirit is with me always. Until we meet again, may she rest in peace.
Dee Paddock, LMHC, is a licensed mental health counselor in private practice in West Des Moines, Iowa.
IN HONOR AND CELEBRATION OF SARA, DONATIONS CAN BE MADE HERE. ON BEHALF OF THE PADDOCK FAMILY, THANK YOU FOR YOUR GIFT.