Zion’s Story, Part 2

Click for Part 1


I’ll never forget the stillness into which he was born.

That moment, which is supposed to be charged with excitement, anticipation, and sheer agony—was utterly silent. I could feel him coming, and then—there he was. Just like all of my other babies—one minute we are waiting and wondering, the next second, they make their appearance in a shocking, unexpected rush.  But all those other times of quick birth were followed by a flurry of frenetic activity.  Nurses and midwives running to and fro, grabbing warm blankets, wrapping up baby, placing him on my chest, Daddy cutting the cord, everyone beaming with pride and relief. Welcoming them into the world with joy, tears, elation.

This time. Silence. Stillness. A quietness that screamed throughout the room that this—this was not how it was supposed to be in this moment. Birth should be the beginning of life, not the beginning of death.

He was stillborn December 1, 2016 at 12:46pm. Nine days after he passed from life into death, he finally passed from my womb and into our arms. I don’t remember much about those nine days of waiting. It passed in a blur, sometimes quickly, other times agonizingly slowly. The nights were the longest. I could keep myself busy during the days taking care of my other four littles, and friends and family often stopped by, bringing meals or just sitting with us to take our mind off what was to come.

But at night, the bitter reality would creep up on me as I lay in the quiet darkness. The utter stillness inside my rounded belly felt almost haunting.  I would rest my hand under where my baby lay quietly beneath my skin, keenly aware that I only had a few more days to hold him close, and then I would finally permit my pillow to absorb my silent, pent-up tears. I have never found it easy to allow my tears to surface. I often envy people who are able to cry, because, when the tears come, they often bring with them some semblance of relief. Like a dam of sorrow breaking and spilling out over parched ground. My dam rarely breaks though, and when it does, it is most often in solitude.

I knew that Stephen would be more than willing to wake up with me in those nights, to hear my heart, to dry my tears. And I am sure I should have allowed him the privilege of caring for me during those nights.  But I just couldn’t let myself bother him. He had been under so much stress himself, the last thing he needed was to lose sleep over me, too.

So each night, as the hours grew unbearably long, I would finally slide out of bed, grab my favorite blanket, and curl up on the couch. I usually turned on Anne of Green Gables or something familiar and soothing, and before long, I would have drifted off, the moonlight spilling in through the window over me as I slept.

As the days and nights came and went, it became increasingly torturous to notice that the baby inside me lay quietly, unmoving, and never would move again. As much as I wanted to hold on to him for as long as I could, it felt as if I was scooping sand through my fingers and watching it pour through the cracks and disappear forever. I couldn’t hold on to him anymore. He was gone, and I had to let him go. It was time to hold my baby in my arms for the first and last time, and then hold him in my heart forever.

And so it was that on the morning of December 1, I woke early after yet another sleepless night. We were to be at the hospital at 7:00 for the induction.  By the time we loaded the car and drove the 30 minutes there, I felt calm. The whole thing felt completely surreal. Almost as if I was watching myself from outside of my own body. Stephen held my hand as we stood and waited by the elevator. We were almost there. Almost to labor and delivery. I dreaded that moment. Stepping through the doors to sign the papers, meet my nurse, walk past all the rooms where other mothers were giving birth to living babies.

Who would I get as my nurse today? I had experienced bad labor nurses before, and I prayed that today would not be one of those days. Oh, why couldn’t it just be my own mama with me today instead of a strange nurse whom I had never met?

Harvene didn’t look up from her clipboard as she walked from behind the nurse’s station to meet me. Her short, black hair was cropped tightly against her head, and her face had an expression of no-nonsense as she studied my file.

Oh, Lord! I prayed. Please let this be a compassionate nurse!

Stephen was holding my right hand, but suddenly, I felt an arm slip around my waist from the other side. I turned to see Harvene standing beside me, smiling gently as she squeezed my middle.

“My name is Harvene, and I am going to just treat you like my own precious daughter today, because I have a daughter the exact same age as you, and she just lost a baby last year. I am so sorry this is what we are doing today, but I am just going to take care of you like I would my own girl.”

I was overwhelmed with gratitude and relief. Thank you, Jesus! If a person has to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, having kind and gentle people to walk alongside them makes all the difference.

There weren’t many people who came and went from our room that day. But both Stephen and I received so many texts, messages, emails, and voicemails, we couldn’t even keep up with them all.  People from all over the world were praying for us that day. And we could feel it.  We could feel the strength enter our weary bones and prop us up to do what had to be done.

Stephen stood beside my bed as Harvene helped me into the hospital gown and then started the IV. There would be no monitors this time. I wouldn’t have to wrestle with the cords of fetal heart monitors or blood pressure cuffs. This time was so different. So strange. So quiet.

My midwife, Audra, had come in and given me the medicine intended to induce me. They told me to be prepared for something fairly similar to a full-term birth and that the contractions should start coming pretty soon. And then we waited. And waited. And waited. I had never been induced before, so none of us knew how my body would respond to the medication, but we all hoped that it would kick in quickly and that I may even go home after supper.  Everyone kept saying I should be feeling some cramping that would grow increasingly uncomfortable, but so far, I felt like it was all just some nasty joke. Sure, I felt a couple of squeezes here and there, but at this rate, I felt like I would be in this hospital bed for weeks before the baby was born.

I watched the clock anxiously. I could take my next dose at noon, and I was hoping maybe that would jumpstart things. As it was, I had felt one or two cramps that were beginning to somewhat resemble contractions, but nothing to write home about. I was growing increasingly discouraged and mentally exhausted.

Around 12:30, Harvene came in to administer the next dose. Finally. There was a knock on the door and someone brought a lunch tray in and slipped quietly back out.  Harvene explained that there was a sign on my door—a heart with a tear drop—to let staff know when they entered to be considerate.  We may be in labor and delivery, but this delivery wouldn’t receive any congratulations or well wishes.  They wanted to be respectful of how difficult it was for parents in this situation, and they did an amazing job.

Audra came back in to check on me. She explained that once the baby was born, we could keep him with us for as long as we wanted.  We had arranged for a photographer—a good friend of ours—to come and take pictures once he was born. And then, once I was cleared to go home, we would say goodbye to our baby, and he would be sent to the funeral home to await burial. I was having a hard time wrapping my mind around the reality that we would be leaving the hospital today without a baby. And I wouldn’t be pregnant anymore.

I shifted uncomfortably on the bed. My back was beginning to ache from half-sitting, half-laying for the last 5 hours. Harvene had just checked my progress to see if anything was happening. Nothing. I hadn’t dilated at all.  I wanted to be like, “Are you serious?? I have been laying here for 5 hours hooked up to stuff and I haven’t made any progress??”

But as soon as she left, I began to feel strange. I couldn’t put my finger on it, though. Something in me signaled that things were about to start happening.

“I think…I feel…” I frowned, confused, at Stephen, and he frowned back—his eyes searching mine for clues as to what my body was doing. Stephen was always the most amazing support as I had birthed our last four children. He always stayed calm, listened to what I needed, and soothed me with encouraging words and a gentle touch.  Now he waited expectantly for me to finish my sentence and help him to know what I needed from him.

I didn’t know exactly what I felt, as I got up and walked to the bathroom, hoping to find relief from the strange, aching sensation around my middle. It felt almost like an intense heaviness deep within my belly, pulling in and downward.  I could feel a building pressure.  I felt I needed to sway back and forth, to rock myself, to—suddenly, I realized what felt so familiar.  “Oh! Stephen call the midwife back. I think the baby’s coming now!”

Stephen poked his head out the hallway and called for the nurse. Harvene hurried back and looked at me oddly.

“You’re feeling…how?”

“Weird. Just…weird,”

“Weird, like…pushy?”

“Yeah, kind of, I think so, I don’t really know,” I fumbled for the right words, instinctively rocking back and forth, hands on my hips, my brow furrowed in concentration.

Harvene said there was absolutely no way I could be ready to push, but up onto the bed I climbed for her to check again.

And suddenly I felt that feeling. That same feeling I have right before all my babies are born. I can’t really find words to describe it though. Pressure? Yes. Squeezing? Yes. Agony? Yes. But this time, not agony of body. Agony of soul.

I distinctly felt him come away from the warm safety of my womb. It was like a breaking of sorts. A breaking of the connection between his body and my body. A physical manifestation of how my heart was feeling.

And in one swift, fluid motion, he was born. Caught in the nurse’s panicked and unexpectant hands—held firmly in place while she quickly paged the front desk for help. I could hear the edge of alarm in her voice as the nurse on the other end calmly asked how she could help.

“I need the midwife now!” The nurse on the other end responded in a chipper voice that she was on her way.

And then we waited. Me half sitting, half laying on the bed, Stephen beside me, his hand protectively on my shoulder, and Harvene at the end of the bed, doing her best to keep that tiny baby in until the midwife arrived.

“I just don’t want you to bleed out,” she somewhat whispered. “We need Audra.”

I don’t really remember Audra walking in. I just know all of a sudden she was there, and he was there. Laying on the hospital bed still tightly cocooned in his sac. We could see his arms and legs through the translucent layer. The sac was so strong Audra had to find a pair of scissors and cut it open and then—finally—we could all see—

“Ohhhhh, it’s a boy!” Audra gasped as she oh, so carefully peeled the sac away from his body, as he lay curled tightly into a ball.

A boy?? Stephen and I looked at each other, shocked. A boy? We had no boy name! We had been absolutely confident that they baby was a girl, and that her name would mean resurrection and new life. The new life we anxiously awaited on the other side of eternity. The new life we believed our baby was already experiencing. We had found the perfect name for a little girl to represent God’s promise of a future hope. But a boy? It was a boy!

And now we were all marveling at his tiny form. Audra picked him up gently. He fit perfectly in her cupped hands as she held him. She wrapped him in a little blanket and Stephen cut the cord.  We all hovered over him—Harvene, Audra, Stephen and me.  No one spoke. We just looked at him in silent wonder.

View More: http://photos.pass.us/zionemmanuel

He was absolutely perfect. His skin was only still mildly translucent and had the appearance of being wet, while not actually feeling wet.  His eyelids hadn’t formed yet, so his tiny eyes stared vacantly up.  But even then we could tell they were blue.  We picked up his hands, his fingers—and counted every single one of them. Ten fingers. Ten toes. We saw his tiny fingernails. His knuckles. His elbows! His ears. Oh, those teeny, tiny, perfect, round ears!

Everything was fully formed, just so very, very small.

View More: http://photos.pass.us/zionemmanuel

And then they handed him to me. A baby to his mama’s waiting arms. I had carried him in my womb for 16 weeks. And now I cupped his precious, lifeless body in my hands. He was so plump! I hadn’t expected the round belly, the filled-out arms and legs. And he was warm. Not because he had life of his own anymore, but because of so recently being entombed within my life. His little body still radiated with the heat of being so close to my own.img_0285

I expected the tears to come then, as I held my baby there in that quiet hospital room. But they didn’t. I felt encompassed in a grief somehow too deep for tears.

Kamie came and took pictures. I had no idea then how much those few photographs would mean to me once he was gone. Kamie wept as she moved his little arms and legs to take each picture.  I felt overwhelmed with gratitude at her willingness to do something so extremely difficult.  The respect and honor with which she treated his miniature body was like a balm to my soul.

We still didn’t have a name for him. We hadn’t told our families that he had been born. Harvene took him and weighed him.

3 ounces. 6 inches long.

So much personhood in such a tiny being. But he was a person.  That much was blatantly obvious just to look at him. “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” But Dr. Seuss, have you ever seen a person this small? Not many people have.  But as we sat in that hospital room that day, each one of us affirmed the beauty and reality of his personhood.

The chaplain came in to pray with us and to explain the next steps of having the baby buried.

And then Stephen said, “Remember when Jubilee was born? We had a boy name picked out that you always wanted to use, and I think it would be perfect for him. Zion Emmanuel.”

Zion Emmanuel. “A memorial to God with us.” Yes, it was absolutely perfect for him.  For God had been with us every step of the way. We could feel his nearness, we trusted in his goodness, we took hope in his faithfulness.

“Zion Emmanuel Willcox,” I whispered the name over my baby’s unmoving form, still cradling him in my hands. “It fits.”

Part 3


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Mary Disterhoft on February 24, 2017 at 2:13 am

    Again, I am so sorry for your loss. Thus was beautifully written.


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