We got to the hospital in record time. The ride was uncomfortable, but simultaneously peaceful. I had always been a littler nervous (or a lot nervous) about how I would react when I knew it was time to meet our baby girl, When I knew it was also time to say goodbye to our baby girl. Would labor freak me out? Would I panic? Was I going to be able to do what was about to be expected of me? Would I have an emotional breakdown? Could I handle it? We parked, and began the long walk from the car to the labor and delivery ward. My sister was already there waiting for us. She had also already called and talked to the charge nurse, explaining our situation so that we would not have to, not even once, explain that our daughter had anencephaly. The walk from the car was very slow, and I told Nathan I absolutely refuse to waddle. I will maintain my dignity to the bitter end, no matter how bad it hurts. Then there were two flights of stairs we had to go down. Seriously? Who thought this through? Obviously not someone in labor.
We began the check in process, which was very quick. They ask you, by the way, if you are having contractions. It’s a mandatory question in the check in process. The poor guy checking us in…when he asked me that I looked at him, mid contraction, and whispered “that would be a yes.” Poor guy, he felt so bad he even had to ask the question, he apologized profusely, I promised not to hate him. They got us back to an exam room, and we found out I was already dilated to 10cm. Dr Calvert asked if Ayden still had good movement, which she did, and she wheeled in an ultrasound machine so we could see her kicking around one last time. They printed out two pictures for us, one of her little heart, and one of her fists, still punching. They didn’t have to do this for us, and it meant the world to us that they did.
There are a few things I need to point out at this point.
1 – That morning, I’d had no signs of labor, I was freaking out, I’d texted Larry, and he and his church began to pray. Miracle 1.
2 – Our doctor was already there at the hospital, waiting for us when we got there. Through our entire pregnancy, Dr Calvert has been amazing. She obviously treasured the life of our child. She never questioned our decision to carry full term. She was overly supportive, overly accommodating, and I’m pretty sure an angel sent straight from God, to us, for our little journey. Miracle 2.
Everything progressed very quickly from there. I’m pretty sure Dr. Calvert hand picked our delivery nurse, Wendy, who was beyond amazing (she had also been the delivery nurse when Dr. Calvert had her children…so that tells you something). Beyond, beyond amazing. She and Dr. Calvert looked over our birth plan, didn’t question a single thing, and then asked if we had any other wishes, or if there was anything else that was important to us that they could do. There were two things – I wanted a printout of Ayden’s heartbeat, and Nathan and I had at the last minute found out we could participate in an anencephaly research study through Duke University, which would require blood samples from Nathan and I, as well as Ayden’s cord blood. I felt horrible springing this on them at the last minute (literally the last minute), but they never questioned us or acted at all like it was an inconvenience. Part of our birth plan was that we did not wish to have Ayden’s heartbeat monitored throughout labor. I knew she only had a 25% chance of being born alive, and I did not want to know if she passed during labor. I just wanted things to progress as naturally as possible. Ayden’s heart would stop beating when she was ready to meet Jesus, and though I was going to do everything within my power (which really isn’t very much) to give her the best chance of being born alive, I knew it was out of my control and she would go out on her own terms. Everything up to this point had been on her own terms anyway, why did I expect that to change? We got to hear her heartbeat one last time while they made the printout for us. It was still beating strong. Our Little Fire was still as tough as could be.
I had done a lot of research and read a lot of stories of babies with anencephaly over the last several months. There were a few things I found out. One, no one really knows anything about anencephaly. Two, there are no ways to guarantee your baby will be born alive. Women commonly elect to have C-sections to give their babies a better chance, but there is no way to guarantee this will actually allow your baby to be born alive – natural birth provides the same likelihood. Three, the more intervention used, the more complications can happen, and the greater the chance of no heartbeat after birth. I’d read about women in the hospital in labor for multiple days, and their anencephalic babies were still born alive, and others who their babies were fine one day, and their heartbeat suddenly stopped the next, even though labor hadn’t even started. There are no guarantees, no simple formulas, no way to predict. But I was going to give my baby ever chance possible, so that I could look back and have absolutely no regrets, not have to question a single decision, and be at peace with however things turned out. There were two big things I felt very strongly about, one being that I wanted to have a natural birth, no drugs whatsoever, and two, I didn’t want my water broken artificially. I’d read that doing this could be very traumatic to the baby, and many babies passed away during that stage of birth. I didn’t want there to be anything I could look back on and wonder if I had done it differently, if she would have been born with a heartbeat. Dr. Calvert and Wendy didn’t question these decisions, for which I am very grateful.
My water broke on its own, and things went very quickly from there. Nathan was amazing, never left my side, and would just calmly whisper things to me like “you’re doing great.” His hand was always on my shoulder, there was never a moment where he wasn’t touching me. My sister was also amazing, making sure we had everything we needed. At some point I muttered something about it being 5,000 degrees in the delivery room, and someone offered me cold wash cloths. I remember saying no, that I was okay, but thankfully they ignored me and gave them to me anyways, for which I was so grateful.
I will spare the majority of the details of birth, but there are a few moments I’ll share, even though they may be too much information. At one point, after I started pushing, I was in between pushes and turned to Nathan and said “dear God, I’m so sorry for some of the sounds coming out of me right now. I swear, they are completely involuntary.” I kind of chuckled after I said that, which actually came out as a snort. Yes. I snorted. With a mortified look on my face I looked down at Dr. Calvert and said “Oh dear lord, did I just snort?” She looked at me very kindly, I could tell she was smiling behind her mask, and she just gently shook her head and said, “no honey, you didn’t snort.” Thank you, Dr. Calvert, for lying to me in that moment. It meant a lot. There isn’t a lot of dignity left during that particular stage of delivery (okay, there is absolutely no dignity left), and I very much appreciated her trying to leave me with some.
I had checked in to the hospital at 4pm, started pushing at 6pm, and Ayden was born at 6:19pm.
I’ve been dragging this post out as long as possible, in order to prolong writing about what I’m about to share with you. The hours to follow were the most precious, most beautiful moments of my and Nathan’s life. We treasure them more than I know how to put to words. I trust these memories with you. Please treasure them as we have.
Ayden was given to me immediately after she was born. They quickly put her on my chest. She was so little. She was so perfect. I was instantly in love, more than I had been before, which I didn’t even think was possible. Nathan and I both knew right away that her little heart was no longer beating. I remember saying “Hi Ayden, hi baby” over and over. Nathan came around to my other side so he could see her better. He held me with one hand, and touched Ayden with the other. We kept telling her hello. We couldn’t believe we were finally meeting our baby girl. Tears were streaming down both of our faces. They were tears that encompassed so many emotions, and so much love. Ultimately, I think they were love tears. The amount of love we had for our baby girl was overwhelming, in such a powerful way. In that moment, and the hours following, we were also in absolute peace. I don’t know how that is possible, during the greatest moment of loss, but we believe in a powerful God that loves beyond comprehension, and bestows peace unexplainable. And in those moments, His presence was undeniable.
We couldn’t stop looking at her. We couldn’t stop talking to her. She had dark brown hair. Perfect little lips. Her hands and feet were the sweetest little things, and her finger nails were perfect. Everything about her was perfect. We saw her as the most beautiful baby we’d ever seen, completely flawless. We did not see what science saw. We saw our beautiful daughter, and she was perfect. Absolutely perfect. And we told her all of those things.
We gave her a bath. We had brought little towels and wash cloths, special soap and lotion. We dressed her in her special outfit, put a tiny little diaper on her. A little yellow lace romper, a red sweater with elephant buttons Nathan’s mom had knit for her, and a grey knit had we had ordered for her months ago. We had her with us for two hours or so, before we brought family in to meet her. Her grand parents met her first, then all of her aunties and uncles. Everyone came in one or two at a time. They all loved her and treasured her, told her she was beautiful, held her, kissed her. Each time someone would come in, they would hug Nathan, and I would say “this is Ayden” and hold her out for them to take her. Everyone always responded with “Hi Ayden.” My brother and his wife Mandy brought their two week old son Cole, so that we could get pictures of Cole and Ayden together. So Cole could know he met Ayden. There were many tears. Many love tears.
Sharing our baby girl with her grandparents and aunties and uncles was so important to us. They had all been there with us for Ayden’s journey, and were tightly intertwined into our story. Every time someone held her and spoke to her, it showed us how loved our baby girl was by everyone around us. We did not feel robbed of our time with her when someone else held her. We felt blessed that we could share these moments with others who loved her as well.
After everyone had met her, said their goodbyes and left, I realized that my sister who had been there with us the entire time had still not yet held her little niece. She had been silently waiting, taking care of us and everyone else, and had not had her moment with Ayden yet. I had brought with us a book that my sister had given to Ayden, The Day Jimmy’s Boa Ate the Wash, so that she could read it to Ayden. I handed Ayden to her, and she sat in a chair next to my bed and read her the book. It was so sweet.
My parents had come back again at this point, not wanting to say a final goodbye to their granddaughter. They stayed there with us, as Nathan held Ayden and read the final pages of The Wind in the Willows. Ayden had heard her daddy read this book to her multiple times while she was still inside me, but I had always fallen asleep and had still never heard the end of the story. So there we sat, the three of us, finally all hearing the end of the story together.
My parents said their final goodbyes, and my sister left to give us some time alone with Ayden. Up until this point, we had not been alone with her. There was never a single moment one of us was not holding her, aside from when the nurse came in and weighed her, and Nathan stood by her little side the entire time.
4lbs, 14.5 ounces, 18 inches long.
The staff was very respectful of our time, and let us simply be, as a little family.
My little brother lives in Idaho, and was able to get off work early and make the long drive back to meet Ayden. He pulled up to the hospital a little after 11pm, and was able to come and meet her. After he left, it was just myself, Nathan and Ayden for the remainder of our time together.
Because of the whole body donation, our time with Ayden was limited. We knew this when we agreed to let her be a part of the research study. We could have her for 9 hours after birth. We spent 9 precious hours with our baby girl, and treasured every single second with her. We read to her, snuggled her, talked to her. We told her everything we wanted to tell her. Nathan crawled into my hospital bed and the three of us snuggled there together during our last hour with her.
At a few minutes before 3am, the nurse came in to take Ayden. With tears streaming down my face, I told Ayden again how beautiful she was, how much I loved her, how proud I was of her, and what she meant to me. I thanked her for everything she had taught me, and given me. I kissed her little face. I didn’t want to stop looking at her. I didn’t want to stop holding her. I didn’t want to hand her over, to face the moment of never seeing her again. I handed my baby girl to Nathan. He snuggled her, said his final words to her, kissed her, and handed her to the nurse. The nurse was very kind. She held Ayden very close, as she carried her out of our room. Handing her over was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. So much harder than the decisions we’d had to make. So much harder than labor and birth. So much harder than everything from the last four months and 18 days we had been through since her diagnosis combined. Only someone who has lost a child can ever know what that feels like. There are no words for it. No way to describe it.
Nathan crawled back into my hospital bed, and held me as we cried. We sat there and talked about her. Remembering her. Loving her.
We tried to sleep eventually. We fell asleep a few times, to literally be woken up by the screams of other women giving birth. We might have slept for an hour. Nathan’s mom and Aunt Anne surprised us in the morning and brought us coffee and breakfast from our favorite coffee shop. This was a blessing greatly welcomed. We hadn’t eaten in so long, and hospital food isn’t really food. They sat their with us as we ate, and let us talk about our precious baby girl. We love to talk about her.
The hospital was very quick to let us leave, and discharging us only took a few minutes. Our room was packed up and loaded into our car by 9am.
We had gotten a new nurse at 7:30 that morning, who was very sweet and kind, so compassionate about our loss. I had spent the last several weeks leading up to Ayden’s arrival, making poppies out of fabric, and attaching them to cards that have a little bit about Ayden’s story on them, and explaining how we had always called Ayden Poppyseed, and how poppies had become a significant symbol for us throughout this journey. We had given these to all of the staff at the hospital who worked with us, and I’d left a few of them in our room when we left the hospital. We had made it part way home when we got a call from the nurse, letting us know we’d forgotten a few things in our room. We turned around and went and got them, and she met us at the hospital entrance so that we didn’t have to go back in to the hospital. As she handed our things through the car window, she said “I found this in the gift shop, and had to get it for you.” She handed me a bright red poppy.
She will never know how much that meant to us. Someone who hadn’t even met Ayden, who knew so little of our story, reaching out with an act of such kindness. It was so honoring to us, that she acknowledged our baby girl in that way. It was obvious that she had read one of the cards that we left in the room. By the look on her face, and by her kind gesture, it was obvious that our little girl had touched her in some way. It was just one more miracle as we drove away, one more little confirmation that our girl was loved beyond comprehension, one more thing to help us remember, to help us treasure and cherish.
We miss our baby girl. We miss her so much. We miss holding her, talking to her, looking at her. We miss the way she smelled, how soft her skin was, how perfect she was. I hate the fact that I’ll never hold her again. That I can’t ever see her again. It hurts, so very badly. It hurts more than any pain I’ve ever felt. But our baby girl is dancing in heaven right now. She is with Jesus. She never felt a moment of pain on this earth. She has only ever known unconditional love.
Ayden Nicole Hutson, you are the most beautiful thing that has ever happened to us. Thank you, for wrecking our hearts the way you did. We are the proudest parents, so humbled to be able to call you our child. We eagerly await the day we see you again in heaven.
We love you, baby. We love you so much.