Monday, May 16, 2016

Our Rainbow Baby

We found out that we were pregnant on New Year's Day, and the first few seconds after seeing that second pink line felt just like the first few seconds after finding out we were pregnant with Mila. There was overjoyed disbelief, tears, shaky hands, and huge hugs. But mostly shock, even though we were hoping to get pregnant, followed by fear. My guard went up pretty quickly and stayed firmly in place for the next eight weeks. I kept finding myself thinking, Well, here we go again.

The following days were filled with blood work and an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy, along with the desperate feeling of not wanting to get my hopes up. After two early miscarriages before Mila, I knew the fragility of early pregnancy. And after losing Mila, I knew that absolutely nothing is guaranteed. We told our families and closest friends. Not because we were bursting with excitement and couldn't contain our joy, but because we knew we would need their support if we lost this baby, too.

At ten weeks we had genetic testing done and impatiently waited for the results to come back. I didn't sleep much during the nights leading up to our routine twelve week ultrasound, when we were hoping to find out if there were any fatal chromosomal abnormalities. I had nightmares that there would be a problem and was certain that we wouldn't be lucky enough to have a healthy baby. Thankfully, I was wrong. Everything looked perfectly average, and we were told that we were having a little boy. The ultrasound took longer than expected because the baby wouldn't hold still for measurements, which I was completely happy with because we never had that problem with Mila. Anthony squeezed my hand as we watched our baby kick and flip around in my already growing belly, and the tears came.

We still hadn't gotten the results from the genetic testing when we walked back to the waiting room, but the relief of seeing a healthy, moving baby overwhelmed me. I cried to the point that people stared as I looked at the pictures of our baby boy. Our healthy baby boy. And by the time we were called back for the official genetic report, which revealed no chromosomal abnormalities, I was already thinking about names. The guard had started to crumble.

Finding out we were having a boy came with a flood of mixed emotions. I had fallen in love with the idea of having a daughter, and learning that this baby is a boy brought its own sense of loss. I wanted to wrap this baby up in the blankets knit so beautifully for Mila. I wanted to dress her in the sweet clothes I had picked out for her big sister. I wanted this baby to sleep in the room that we designed for Mila to love. But at the same time, being pregnant with a boy feels like we were given a clean slate. The overwhelming anxiety that had taken hold when I got pregnant lost a little of its grip because this pregnancy started to feel like its own, separate thing. And while Mila could never be forgotten, the fear that people would see this baby as a replacement for her has lessened in learning that this time we’re having a boy.

People ask if this pregnancy is different that the last. Physically, it's pretty much the same. I started showing and feeling movement much earlier, but otherwise it has been just as easy as it was with Mila. Emotionally, it's a different story. With Mila, all of my thoughts were about when she came. When we had the baby, we might be spending Thanksgiving in the hospital. When Mila arrived, I would need to take a couple of months off from work. When we had a baby, Christmas and my birthday and Mother’s Day would all take on a new meaning. This time around, everything is stipulated with if. I will be induced at the end of August if we are lucky enough to make it to term. This baby will come home to a room still painted for his big sister if we are lucky enough for him to be healthy. We will cherish this baby more than imaginable if we are lucky enough to leave the hospital with him in our arms.

Even though the stress and fear have decreased significantly since the first day we saw our healthy little boy, I can't seem to give people the reaction they want when they see that I'm pregnant. They tend to expect the innocent, bubbling excitement that most women express, but my innocence is gone. I know too much. Not only do I know that I could lose this baby to a horrible, twisted fluke when I am one month away from being full term, I know that there are so many other terrible things that could happen between now and then. And I know that devastation can occur afterwards, as well. I now know women who have lost their babies at 16 weeks, 23 weeks, 26 weeks, 38 weeks, 41 weeks, and 3 days after giving birth. Before Mila, these stories only happened to people far, far away. Now they are part of me and something I think about throughout every single day.

But even if I can't ignore what I know, I have been surprised at the strength of my instinct to nest. I remember telling my support group for pregnancy and infant loss that I would not buy a single thing or set up the nursery until I was holding a healthy baby in my arms. So it surprised me that as soon as we found out we were having a boy, I couldn't help but start to prepare for him.

To those who still think about Mila, I want to thank you. To those who write and say her name, you have no idea how much I appreciate you. Anthony and I are so lucky to have such a strong support system of family and friends who have helped us navigate the past seven months and continue to do so now. To all of the other families that I’ve gotten to know who have lost babies, you are always in my heart. And to those wondering what they can do now, just keep us in your thoughts. It doesn't matter to me if you believe in God or statistics, karma or a higher power, positive energy or angels. Whatever you believe in, we will gratefully accept any thoughts, prayers, and well wishes that are sent our way. And if we are lucky enough to bring this little boy home with us, he will grow up knowing all about his big sister and how many lives they both have touched.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


A few weeks ago, Anthony asked what I wanted to do for Thanksgiving. I told him that I wanted to do nothing, because I don't have anything to be thankful for this year.

I went to the cemetery yesterday to visit Mila. I brought a planter full of silk flowers and sat on the ground where she is buried. I felt empty. I felt cheated. I felt that sitting on a patch of grass and staring at my daughter's name on a grave marker was so insignificant when I should have been holding her in my arms.

I find myself daydreaming about her. I catch myself imagining my water breaking while I wander the isles of the grocery store. I picture what it would have been like to show up at work, huge and swollen, days before going into labor. I wonder what Thanksgiving would have been like in the hospital.

Today was my due date. I try to remember that today is just a day and that I probably wouldn't have had her today anyway. But I was sad even before I woke up.  

So as I sit and think about how much I miss the baby that I never got to meet, it is easy to feel like there is nothing to be thankful for. But then I remember all that has happened in the last 45 days. I remember Anthony and how strong he has been. I remember him holding our baby girl and knowing, even more than before, how good of a dad he is. I remember all of the times he has held me as I cried, always patient and tender and loving.

I remember my family and how quick they have been to drop everything to be there for us. I remember my sister booking last minute flight after flight to make sure I wasn't alone. I remember my mom putting all of Mila's things in the nursery so that we wouldn't be overwhelmed when we came home from the hospital. I remember my dad driving me to the cemetery and helping me make the arrangements that I never imagined I would even be thinking about.  

I remember Anthony's family. How his parents drove back and forth from Tampa, how they helped with the funeral, and how they visited Mila in the days after to make sure she was taken care of. I remember how sensitive Jackie and Drew were to our feelings while they were counting down to the most important day of their lives.

I remember Little Anthony and how he has forced me to live in the moment. I remember the times he brought me tissues while I was crying and all of the big bear hugs he has given just because he can sense that I am sad. 

I remember my friends. I remember every person who drove or flew or took time off to visit me when Anthony had to go back to school. I remember all of the people who sat on our couch and cried with me. I remember all of the days I was not alone because of someone who loves me. All of the walks, the lunches, even the laughs. I remember the firsts. The first time out of the house, the first trip to the mall, the first glass of wine.

I remember every person who came to the service. Every person who flew from other states, every person who traveled for hours on end, and every person who drove across town to say goodbye to Mila. I remember Anthony's extended family and how they all came together, like they always do, to support us. I remember every person who laid a rose on top of her tiny casket. 

I remember every person who sent a card or flowers or a meal to show that they were thinking of us. I remember every person who reached out with a text or phone call or Facebook message, and those who continue to send their love and support. I remember the people I have never even met who were affected by our story.

As I think back over the last 45 days, I realize that even though I don't have the one thing I want more than anything in this world, I do have so much to be thankful for. Mila has touched so many people and I am thankful for every one of them. I know that she is, too.

And so now, as Anthony prepares to fry his first turkey, I will remember all of the people I am thankful for. And I will pray that he doesn't blow up the house.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Our Heart

            Mila Harper Zambito was due to arrive on November 25, 2015. She was going to come into this world screaming, surrounded by so much love. She was going to come home to her beautiful nursery where we would take weekly pictures of her, just like we did while she was growing in my belly. She was going to be exhausting and demanding, and she was going to challenge us in ways we could only imagine. We would lie on the couch, Anthony’s hand on my belly, and talk about our plans for her. We would laugh as she kicked, and Anthony would lean in close to talk to her. We were so excited to meet her.  
But on the morning of October 11th, I realized I hadn’t felt her moving. I thought back over the last few days, trying to remember the last time I had felt her kick. I woke Anthony and broke down in tears before any words could form. I shook as he drove me to the hospital, the whole time convincing myself that everything was okay.
We checked in and moved in a fog from the waiting area to the Emergency Room. We held each other as we waited to be seen, still telling ourselves that we were just overreacting. That our baby girl was fine.
            A nurse finally brought us to a room. She moved the doppler from one side of my belly to the other, and I showed her where the nurses had been finding Mila’s heartbeat at my appointments. As she called for the doctor and an ultrasound, I continued to hope. I am not a religious person, but I prayed. And as the doctor watched the screen, I begged for my baby to be okay. But as I looked up into Anthony’s face, I knew. And the doctor said the most heartbreaking words I will ever hear. There is no heartbeat.
            The next couple of hours are a blur. I cried like I have never cried before. My doctor arrived and told us what would happen next. I would be admitted, they would give me medicine to induce labor, and I would deliver our baby girl.
            Our families came and we sat, sometimes making small talk, sometimes in the saddest silence. We waited for the medicine to take effect and, several hours later, my water broke. The contractions became more frequent and more uncomfortable and I was given an epidural. At around 9:30 pm, my doctor said it was time.
            Anthony held my hand as I pushed. Every time I looked up his eyes were on mine. And at 10:08 pm, our 3lb 6oz baby girl was born still. My doctor placed her on my chest and I sobbed. I told her through tears how much I loved her and how sorry I was for not keeping her safe. She was absolutely perfect and the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
            We spent the night and the whole next day holding our sweet Mila. We couldn’t let her go. But finally, the next evening, it was time to say goodbye. We kissed her tiny forehead and wrapped her tight in a blanket and watched her as she was taken away. We left the hospital with empty arms and went back home.
            It has been a little over a week and we still don’t know for certain what happened. Everything with my pregnancy had been perfectly normal. If anything, it had been easy. But it looks like there was a placental abruption. The doctors keep telling us that there was nothing we could have done, no way we could have known, and no signs that we missed. And so now, without answers, we are trying to heal.
            I know that no one knows what to say. I wouldn’t know what to say if I was on the other side of this. Just knowing that you are there and thinking of us is enough. It is okay to ask how we’re doing. It is okay to ask about what happened. And it is okay to reach out, even if it’s too hard for us to respond. We don’t want to pretend Mila never existed. We don’t want to bury our love for her along with her tiny body. We want to remember her and honor her and talk about her. We may get upset, and we may cry, but we want to miss her.
            If I could ask one thing of anyone who is reading this, it would be for you to hold your children close. When you are sleep deprived and at your wits end, when they are throwing tantrums in the middle of the grocery store or coloring on the walls with permanent markers, when you feel annoyed or frustrated or angry, hug them as hard as you can. Take a moment to cherish them and know how lucky you are to have them. And kiss them on the forehead and think of our sweet baby girl.