The Lasting Impression of Grace

A Midwife's Perspective of Sharing the Grief of Infant Loss

Written by Amy Allred – Certified Professional Licensed Midwife http://www.blessingsofbirth.com/

As a midwife, it is so difficult to put into words what it’s like to care for a client and her family who are anticipating the birth of a child whose life will be fleeting. Being someone who can’t leave “work” at “work” and knowing that each life is a precious, irreplaceable reflection of the Creator, I grieve each time a client has an early pregnancy loss.

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To be chosen to attend the joyful birth of a child – an event that will forever change a family – is an incredible honor. To be there to witness those moments of seeing this child for the first time, seeing the sheer delight on new parents’ faces, helping dads “catch” their newly-born child as he or she emerges into a new world… these are cherished moments that many times not even extended family are able to witness. I don’t take that for granted. These are moments that keep me going as a midwife… moments I hold dear.

Devastating Blow

I vividly remember receiving the news that various anomalies were found after a sweet friend (The Dauenhauer’s), whose 4 children I delivered, had their routine ultrasound. I was numb and in disbelief. “Lord Jesus! How am I going to tell this precious family?!  How in the world can I soften this devastating blow?!” After doctor’s visits, more ultrasounds and tests, Gracie Jade was diagnosed before birth with Trisomy 13 – a rare condition that is “incompatible with life.”

No medical intervention could be offered to save her life – only comfort care. The wonderful referring physician, knowing Dorothy Anne’s desire to deliver Gracie at home like her other children, released her back into my care.

To be honest, initially I was somewhat reticent in taking on the responsibility of delivering a baby who, statistically, might not survive to term.  Again, I questioned.  Knowing that I feel so deeply for my clients, especially in times of grief, would I really be able to handle this?!  I’ve never done this before!

What I Heard As I Wept

My mind went back to a time earlier in my midwifery career when another precious client was in the hospital after having preterm labor.  For days she was on bed rest as we hoped against hope that she would be able to progress far enough along for the baby to survive outside of her womb…but then the call came.  The baby was coming and nothing more could be done.  As I rushed to the hospital, I wept.  “God! I can’t walk a couple through the death of their first baby girl!  I just can’t!”  Immediately, I felt The Lord gently responded with compassion, “I do it all the time.”  True to His word, He walked them “and me” through that very dark time.

Ultimately, no matter what I thought I could or couldn’t handle, I knew Dustin and Dorothy Anne’s pain would cut profoundly deeper and that the Lord would walk us through this valley of the shadow of death.  He is near to the brokenhearted.  How could I not accept this invitation to accompany them?  Jesus would be there.

Before I felt comfortable with confirming that I could take Dorothy Anne back into my care, I needed to make arrangements for the various scenarios we might encounter.  Dorothy Anne found Allen, a wonderful hospice nurse, who made himself available to be on call when she went into labor.  What a God-send!  I also needed to make connections with the local police department to alert them in case calling emergency services became necessary.  I was met with such kindness and empathy.  They truly cared and wanted to do what they could to make things easier for the family if their services were required.

Routine Tasks Became Extraordinarily Meaningful

In resuming care for Dorothy Anne and Gracie Jade, simple midwifery tasks during visits became extraordinarily meaningful.  As I would determine Gracie’s position by feeling Dorothy’s belly, I would talk to Gracie, telling her I loved her and was looking forward to seeing her.  At times, she would respond to my touch with a kick, which I was more than happy to receive!  Listening to a preborn baby’s heartbeat is something routinely done during prenatals, but taking care of Gracie Jade before she was born was yet another reminder not to take hearing it lightly. The rhythm of her heart beating was music at each visit and again after she was born!  Sweet music!

Knowing that the tempo of this sweet music was slowing after her entrance into the world, the desire to capture and savor each second of her time with us was palpable – I wanted to stop time at each interval and fully enjoy and appreciate each “infinitesimal” event.  Every moment was spent intentionally.

Watching as Dorothy and Dustin cradled and kissed their weakening baby daughter, I felt as if I were treading on sacred ground… and it was. The Comforter was present – He was near to the brokenhearted.  To be an observer of such an intimate moment seemed like a violation and yet, as a midwife, I still had a job to do.  Aside from monitoring Dorothy physically after birth, I wanted to capture as many cherished memories in pictures for them to look back on.  The impossible task – How can you conceivably capture enough memories to last a lifetime within a matter of hours?

Fifty-Six Short Minutes After Gracie’s Entrance, She Was Gone

Gracie’s big brothers and sister excitedly came in to see their new baby sister.  They took turns holding and kissing her. Dorothy Anne’s mother, too, came in to see and hold her granddaughter who would leave us almost as quickly as she came.  Many times my tears and crying made it too difficult to see through the lens of the camera and I would have to stop to gain composure.

Fifty-six short minutes after Gracie’s entrance into her parent’s arms, she was gone.  Grief tore at my heart creating a physical pain in my chest I’d only experienced a few times as with another client’s loss and in hope deferred. Even still, I could sense that a loving God was weeping with us.

As the time came for me to weigh and measure her, I held her tiny body close to me.  I pressed my face against her soft, chubby cheek and sobbed.  Looking at her peaceful face, I wondered what glorious things she was seeing and experiencing in heaven at that moment.  I imagine her body whole – a beautiful smile without a cleft lip, her face beaming as she is laughing and dancing with Jesus… her feet on His feet, as children will do with their daddies.

What an immeasurably sorrowful, but precious event I had the privilege to attend.  It may sound irreverent to some for me to say it was a “privilege” or “honor” to be there at Gracie’s birth and home-going, but let me attempt to explain my heart.  

When a child is born many people are invited to share in the joy. You put balloons in the yard to announce it to your neighbors and passers-by, tell strangers at the store… But when a child dies, the circle of people with whom you share your grief becomes significantly smaller.

As intimate and special as it is to be invited to attend the birth of a child, to be welcomed to witness the bittersweet joys and to journey with a family to the innermost depths of grief is beyond an honor. Most of the time when honor is bestowed it’s a time of celebration and recognition – everyone craves that type of honor. The privilege bestowed on me to attend Gracie’s birth and transition into heaven is an entirely different kind of honor. It’s not an “honor” that anyone dreams of experiencing, but it is a sacred one with which I was blessed. No human words accurately befit.

Undercurrent of Grace

My heart is so heavy with grief for the loss of a dear child her parents, family and friends will never get to know – for the loss of the little sister whose big sister has so looked forward to having. Yet we do not grieve as those who have no hope. In the midst of heartbreak and mourning, there is an undercurrent of grace. A grace that even when waves of grief, disillusionment and anger crash over us and threaten to push us to shore and shipwreck us, is powerful enough to pull us into a deeper place with God – a place where we can “sound His depths” and find no end to His supply. A grace you don’t realize is available until you encounter the need. God, help me allow Your grace to carry me!

I am astounded again and again by clients I’ve walked with through the loss of a child.  Amidst overwhelming sadness, Gracie’s parents continue to hold tightly to the One Who gives peace beyond understanding.  How humbled I was as they praised Him for His goodness through each contraction of labor… thanking Him for the gift of Gracie Jade… Words fail to summarize the intense richness of this event.

It’s so simple to believe that God could get glory out of a miraculous healing, but from the deepness of grief, from a human standpoint, it is nearly impossible to see what possible good can come out of tragedy. As Gracie’s mom shared in a post before she was born,

Pain is a privilege that changes you. It makes you better if you let it… even if baby Gracie doesn’t live long and we don’t get the miracle we’ve been hoping for… Our changed lives will be the miracle. We will have more empathy, more compassion, more understanding, more love for people than ever before. That is the real miracle ~ our changed hearts.”

My Life Has Been Forever Altered

Life without Gracie on this earth will continue, but not without creating an indelible footprint on my heart. My life has been forever altered by her brief life and by God’s grace demonstrated in the lives of her parents. Evidence that every life – regardless of how small or how broken – matters.

Thank you, Dustin and Dorothy Anne for the honor of sounding the depths of God’s love and grace with you. I love you with all my heart!   ~ Amy Allred, LM, CPM

Gracie Jade Dauenhauer                                                                                                                                                                              “Where can I go from Your Spirit? 
 Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
 If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
 If I take the wings of the morning, 
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
 And Your right hand shall hold me.” Psalm 139: 7-10

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

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