I had a happy childhood. My sister, my parents and my grandmother were my world. I especially loved my mother. They were my first introduction to love.
Two brothers arrived and our family grew. Later, a baby sister joined our family and my teenage years began. My girlfriends, my boyfriends, the friends of my siblings and parents, many levels of love surrounded me. Laughter, smiles and joyful times filled each day.
Then one sunny Friday morning a drunk driver fell asleep and his car crisscrossed the roadway. The driver hit my youngest brother Robert on the sidewalk on his way home from the hardware store. It was Friday, a holy day so there was no school. Robert was riding his bike as he always did with our brother Albert. In a split second my family was robbed of my twelve-year-old brother. I questioned God. What happened to my family? Wait a minute, aren’t Catholic holy days good days? Why did my brother have to go? I thought children weren’t supposed to die. I thought dying was reserved for old people. Instantly my whole life of fourteen years was forever changed. My first introduction to loss came early as I was introduced to another level of love.
My life returned to some semblance of normalcy as high school ended and college began. I became a nurse and with that came new workmates, new friends, and that special someone. His friends and family now became a part of mine.
Newlywed couples were now our friends; babies were on their way. New moms, new dads, new nurses, new doctors and a little baby girl entered my world. I embraced another level of love.
Three more babies arrived, but they all grew up so quickly. Kindergarten was suddenly college. Their degrees evolved into livelihoods. My children fell in love; they got married. Their new lives, new names and extended families were joining ours. Another level of love began.
I awaited my first grandchild. I would be “Grammy” just like my grandmother was to me. My heart swelled. The anticipation was palpable. Showers and gifts abounded, so did pink quilts, pink booties, pink dresses, and first steps, first books, first kittens, first puppies, first dollies. There were so many firsts for me to look forward to.
And then June 28th arrived. My granddaughter was born in silence. It was deafening. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Utter disbelief and shock gripped me. What — How — What Happened? My mind raced and yet was paralyzed at the same time. An ultrasound was done. No heartbeat. Could I endure this new level of love?
I was told it could be genetic, it could be an infection, it could be the cord, and it could be a lot of things. The medical establishment begged me to accept that it was a rare event, like “being struck by lightening.” They called it a cord accident. Would acceptance create another level of love for me?
Stillbirth. I thought that only happened during delivery when there was a problem. A strange mechanical phrase was thrown my way: torsion of the umbilical cord. How could it be that the cord that was supposed to nourish my granddaughter and give her life snatched her from our arms before we ever met her? The doctors confessed that there was absolutely no way they could have known about the cord accident and nothing that they could have done.
I thought my granddaughter would be a Chloe Gabriella or Lillian Bleu, depending on whom she looked like. In utero her daddy lovingly nicknamed her “Roberta” after himself. Surprisingly, the name that she had been listening to, kicking to, swimming to and dancing to for 36 weeks suited her perfectly. We welcomed our precious Roberta Rae with all of the love our hearts could hold as well as all of the sorrow. We embraced another level of love. This one the most difficult, yet tender.
While in Charleston my sister-in-law informed me that there was a website she discovered online that I had to visit. It was called The Pregnancy Institute (www.preginst.com) and the website of an obstetrician and researcher who devoted his life to studying umbilical cord accidents. His name was Dr. Jason Collins, MD MSCR. I spent hours on his site. I read literature and devoured studies on the topic. On his website, I watched compelling videos of parents who had lost babies to umbilical cord accidents. He was monitoring babies in utero from 28 weeks onwards to make sure that these moms would never have to endure another loss.
Dr. Collins followed umbilical cords on ultrasound machines and looked for changes on monitoring strips that alerted him to fetal distress. Was this possible? Umbilical cords can be seen and followed in utero? Why don’t moms know? Why don’t health care professionals know? Brave souls going against the grain of the medical establishment and fighting for our babies safe arrival produced another level of the most compelling love.
From that point on, Dr. Collins became a household name in my world. I learned it only took the delivery of one precious stillborn baby in his practice for him to dedicate his life to the study of umbilical cord accidents. His commitment to the unborn led him back into the classroom for a Masters of Science in Clinical Research. This degree ensured that his work would be exalted to the most rigorous standards and hopefully accepted by the mainstream scientific medical masses. Dr. Collins’s book SILENT RISK, Issues about the Human Umbilical Cord was published this year.
Dr. Collin’s passion and zeal for the stillborn resonated with me. We met in New Orleans just a few months after my granddaughter’s birth to discuss his vision of keeping our babies safe in utero. He recommended that an expectant mom could begin a journal of her baby’s movements at 20 weeks. At around 28 weeks gestation, he wanted both the umbilical cord checked and tracked on ultrasound for any abnormality, and for mom to begin kick counting. His mantra, “You gotta get to the moms” set my course.
Once abstract words to my mind, terms like Umbilical Cord Accident, UCA, torsion, twists, long, short, and nuchal cords now became my everyday lingo. During my own research I learned about Group B Strep, CMV, Toxoplasmosis, and so many other preventable conditions that were stealing our babies under the guise of stillbirth. Through my late nights of study I discovered that there were more researchers than I could ever imagine championing for our babies, and I was touched by their efforts.
But it didn’t end there. I was awestruck as magnificent and compassionate moms, dads, aunties, uncles, brothers, sisters, friends and acquaintances began working together to empower pregnant moms. We were now family, and we were adamant that no mom should ever have to endure our pain. Research was key and a foundation was quietly forming. I realized that generating and instilling knowledge to others demanded another level of love.
Fast forward to today. Our team, brilliant researchers, new moms, dads, babies, siblings, rainbow babies, my rainbow grandbaby, and more grandbabies are now my world. Everyone is impassioned and resilient. Our hearts are set on fire by our convictions. We are sewn together by the delicate steely thread of loss. We are devoted to each other and together we have entered a captivating level of bittersweet love.
My life is full. My days are long and my nights are short. Project Alive & Kicking, A foundation devoted to the expected baby is now a reality. Babies arriving Alive & Kicking is our mantra. Pregnant moms will now become familiar with what a forty-week gestational journey entails. Mom & Baby Tracking Charts, Checklists and a Tracking App will become second nature to these moms. They will request ultrasounds, question what is not understood, voice their concerns, watch movements and count kicks. It’s the new gestational norm. Together we have created a new level of the most undeniable love.
Our foundation is now doing the job it was born to do, and fulfilling many little legacies for the silent yet articulate tiny voices we heard and love. Yes, we have reached another level of love, and yes, it’s the best one yet.