My husband and I were sitting in the waiting room of the hospital’s labor and delivery wing. Soft nursery colors covered the walls, with beautiful black and white photos of newborns in the arms of their mommies and daddies were scattered throughout. There was a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat at the irony of these seeing these photos in the light of the reason we were there.
The celebration of new life was all round us, but we were there to grieve the loss of one.
Lindsey was 20 weeks along when she and her husband learned that their unborn daughter had an incurable condition during a routine ultrasound. I can still remember them asking my husband and me to come over on the day they found out. We sat in their dimly-lit living room as they broke the news in broken voices that their baby would live a few hours after being born—at best. My body became numb and my mind went blank.
What do you say when nothing you say will fix it?
So I didn’t say anything. I stood up from where I was sitting and sat down next to Lindsey who was bent over, holding her tummy and crying. I put my arm around her, leaned over, and cried alongside her. “I am so, so sorry,” I whispered. The only sound in the room for a few minutes was the sound of weeping, as it felt like the sky just came crashing down on our dear friends. I couldn’t lift it back up again—no one could. All we could do weep under the crushing weight of her baby’s diagnosis.
After the initial shock wore off, Kevin and Lindsey decided to celebrate every moment they were given with their baby girl. For the next 20 weeks, we joined them for cake when they announced that her name was Sophia Kyla, we looked at photos of daddy-daughter dates, we joined them for parties to celebrate each passing week.
I made a mobile of butterflies for Sophie. Butterflies because just as a caterpillar wraps itself in what looks like death, but then emerges in a beautiful new life, so we believed that there was greater hope than the tragedy that gripped us all.
I had never walked alongside a close friend as they prepared to encounter death in such an impending, unapologetic way.
Even on the bright days of seeing Sophie’s root beer party for 21 weeks or looking for the star named in her honor, an underlying weight of grief remained.
I didn’t realize how a dark cloud forms and stays as a permanent fixture over everything.
Or how much I could play a role in the storm—simply by showing up. Simply by saying, “I don’t know what to say.” By acknowledging that it’s not okay—and it won’t be.
One of the most profound moments of my life was walking into the postpartum recovery room to meet Sophie. Lindsey’s face held the expression of a grieving mother juxtaposed with the pride that every new parent has when they present their baby to someone. Sophie had spent 10 hours on this earth before making her way to heaven. Just like that living room 20 week prior, it was a dimly lit room.
And just like in that living room, I didn’t know what to say.
“Do you want to hold her?” asked Lindsey. Oh my gosh—yes. It was one of the biggest honors of my life that I got to gush over her beautiful baby, how cute her lips were, how sweet her expression was.
“Tell me about her,” I asked. And then my husband and I listened to Sophie’s proud parents share about her loud cries as she entered the world, her birthday cake, the letters they read to her, the prayers they prayed with her, the friends and family she got to meet. Her life was short but it was oh so big. Kevin played us a recording of Sophie’s newborn cries as I looked into their daughter’s face. And we wept.
Infant loss—no matter the form in comes in—is astoundingly painful.
The order of life has been upended and parents who have to bury their babies (no matter the age) will never be the same. They are forced to bury a piece of their heart and soul and forced to live in a new normal that will never, ever feel normal.
Because it will never, ever be okay.
Nothing less than a lifetime with their children will be enough for these mommies and daddies.
To walk alongside these grieving parents remains one of the most sincere privileges of my life. It’s full of awkward moments of wondering what questions to ask or if there’s a topic to avoid. But to provide some sort of companionship in the lonely places of tragedy and point to a very distant hope is worth the stumbling over words.
Because nothing I can say will fix it.