by Ruth Hochstetler
“They can’t find the baby’s heartbeat.”
These six words pummel my brain, my gut, like rapidly fired bullets. My knees weaken and my daughter’s distress spreads from the cell phone at my ear and through my chest like flames of fire.
What?! It can’t be!
My daughter is only 11 days away from her due date and has been nothing but a picture of health. For 37 weeks she has been longing to see and hold the delight of baby number four.
My daughter’s voice is tearful, but resolute. “I will be induced and deliver the baby this afternoon.”
I long to go to her, to be another face and hand of support, but she is in Florida and I am in Indiana. I call family and friends, repeating the stinging words, asking for prayer. A friend comes to visit and sit with me.
At bedtime I text for an update: Labor at six centimeters.
I pray again for a miracle, that somehow the doctors are all wrong and the baby will be healthy, living.
Words are inadequate. We say little, but feel strength in being together.
The next call comes at 12:30 a.m. My daughter is holding the baby.
A girl! There are three brothers in the family, and we so wanted this one to be a girl.
My daughter tells me what the newborn looks like, somehow pride of what she has created mixed in with the grief. There is relief in her voice, too, to now know what happened – a tight knot in the umbilical cord, close to the placenta. There was nothing she did to cause – or could have done to prevent – this tragedy.
They text a picture, of their beautiful baby. Paisley Noelle.
The sorrow is too intense. My daughter is holding our granddaughter who will never take a breath of this earth’s air. My heart breaks for her, for us; I cry. It’s almost impossible to finish the night in bed.
Morning comes. I move in a fog of grief and shock. In phone calls recounting the loss, I withstand repeated shock and sympathy.
Flight plans. I am drained, exhausted, but it will be two days before we can arrive to support my daughter and her family. In the meantime, their church group and in-laws are staying with the three brothers, dropping off food and scheduling meals, hugging and holding hands.
More and more flowers arrive at the front door.
When my husband and I finally arrive, words are inadequate. We say little, but feel strength in being together.
I keep busy the first week there keeping the kitchen counter by the sink uncluttered, dressing and diapering the two year old, folding laundry. The work is constant.
Just like any postpartum mother, my daughter needs to rest and lay low, but she is pensive and restless. Her arms hold no nursing baby, and there are no newborn snuggles, smells and sounds.
On the night of Paisley’s memorial service, family and close friends arrive with food and settle into the living room. The friendly banter subsides when the grieving parents stand up, and my son-in-law reads their reflections while all watch through teary eyes, the sadness of the tender words in our bellies.
Would Paisley have been a Daddy’s girl, and would her brothers have spoiled her? He expresses trust in God’s sovereignty, and we carry Chinese lanterns to the backyard and watch them float away.
During the rest of our visit we go to the beach where my Midwest spirit soaks in the wonder of sun, surf and sand, a great balm to my grief.
But in a thrift store a baby cries and we wonder how our schedule would be different if Paisley was with us.
And at the restaurant there are infant twins in the booth beside us. Our eyes turn away; we can’t watch them today.
As time passes, the messiness of grief still lingers even though life continues its normal rhythms.
Forever a silent member of our family will tiptoe through our hearts. We will never hear her voice or feel her hugs. We’ll celebrate her birthdays, wonder what would have been her favorite things, and imagine the color of her eyes. We’ll think about her when the class of 2034 graduates, and when we go to the weddings of others.
Our hearts will flutter when sorrow whispers her memory: Paisley Noelle! How much we need God’s grace and strength for this journey. It’s been eight months at this writing and though the grief isn’t as sharp, our hearts hold a little girl forever, even if our arms can’t hug her now.
Ruth Hochstetler and her family live in Goshen, Indiana. Her father lives at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community in Harrisonburg and he encouraged Ruth to submit this story to Valley Living.