On June 11, 1996, my beautiful baby boy, Cameron, was born. When he was 4 years old, he was diagnosed with autism. In those early years, my husband Russ and I worked hard to take care of him, support him, and accommodate his special needs to ensure he had the best life possible.
This didn’t leave room for much else in our lives. I had always wanted at least two children but was hesitant to try again not knowing if I would be able to handle another child, and especially if I had another child with special needs.
Once Cam was communicating in 2001, we decided that we were ready to be parents again. We got pregnant fairly quickly and very much looked forward to welcoming another baby to our family. Toward the end of my first trimester, I wasn’t feeling well and knew something was off. By the time I woke up the next morning, I was bleeding.
The doctor confirmed I miscarried. I struggled significantly with this loss as we had waited so long to try again. The years passed and Cameron continued to grow and progress. By the time he was twelve, we decided that we didn’t want him to grow up alone, and I still really wanted another child.
Russ and I considered fostering, and even went to classes, with the plan to bring a child into our home close to Cam’s age. Knowing that the older children weren’t usually chosen, we figured we would be able to choose a good companion to be Cam’s sibling.
But the more I thought about it, I knew I really wanted to try and have another child. Our prayers were soon answered. Even though I was considered high-risk, the pregnancy progressed with no issue. As the weeks passed, I began to enjoy the pregnancy. We had our ultrasound and found out the baby’s sex – a sister for Cam!
I returned to my classroom in August after the summer break. I spent the day preparing my classroom for the new school year. That evening, I didn’t feel the baby moving like usual. I shook off my worries, thinking it was due to my first day back at work. There was still no movement the next morning, so I called my doctor. She wasn’t concerned and also attributed to my first day of school activities. Then she advised me to call back if the situation didn’t change.
Waking up in the middle of the next night, I went to the bathroom and immediately started having contractions. I woke up Russ and told him that I needed to go to the hospital. As I was getting dressed in the bathroom, my water broke. When we arrived at the hospital, the doctors unsuccessfully tried to stop my labor. I was whisked away to prep for delivery and everything after that became a blur.
At twenty-eight weeks, on August 27, 2008, at 3:44 am, I gave birth to Jade Cristina McKinney via emergency caesarean. She was 2lb 11oz, 14 inches long, and looked just like her father. She was so quiet. I could see her chest moving slowly up and down so I knew she was alive, but she never opened her eyes nor made a sound. They rushed her out of the room so the medical team could examine her. No one said a word about how she was doing.
I was terrified and cried uncontrollably. I just wanted my beautiful baby girl to live. After getting settled in my room, I was allowed to see Jade in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The next day a specialist was brought in to assess her condition. I was informed she had sepsis and wasn’t going to make it. I had waited so long for another child; how could this be happening?
My mom brought my son to the hospital. Cam questioned why Jade came so early. He accepted all my answers, and we prepared him to meet her in the NICU. He responded, “Mom, there was so much that I wanted to do with her.” I asked him what was on the top of his list. “I want to read to her.” The NICU nurses sprang into action, taking Cameron into the library that was filled with books donated by the Ronald McDonald House. He chose several, and they pulled up the highest chair they had as close as possible to the incubator. And my handsome, brave son read book after book after book to his sister – for at least three or four hours. I smiled and hugged him. But mostly, I cried.
My pastor christened Jade. The next day, on August 30, 2008, she was taken off the machines and lived for about 30 minutes longer. I held her and told her over and over again how much I loved her and would miss her. I never saw my daughter’s eyes. Jade transitioned from this life to the next in my arms, surrounded by her dad and brother, along with our extended family – her great-grandmother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful and love-filled transition.
I went back to my room as I wasn’t being released until the next day. That night in the maternity ward was the longest in my life. I could hear babies crying and had visitors come who were unaware that Jade had passed.
The NICU nurse visited me that night. She gave me the bear and blanket from Jade’s incubator. She also carried a box. Inside were personal keepsake items, including Jade’s footprints, her umbilical cord clip, and wristband. We talked for about an hour. I didn’t leave with my daughter, and the car seat, balloons, flowers, and directions on breastfeeding all remained in that room. In exchange, I left with more pain than I had ever felt in my life.
My downward spiral started. I didn’t speak to anyone or leave my room. I didn’t receive any visitors or take any phone calls. The next several weeks were a blur. I have faint memories of choosing a casket, her burial clothes, and attending the graveside service. Russ was on one side of me, and Cameron on the other. As I stared at that casket in front of me, I heard this dreadful sound. I remember thinking who is that making that loud noise?
It was me. I was the mother at the graveside of her newborn daughter, producing a sound that I had never heard another human being make. After the service, I went straight to bed. I remember the loneliness, the guilt, and the shame of having my daughter die prematurely. I was so angry with God for allowing this to happen. How could He do this to me? To Cameron? Or Russ? I had always done my best to do what was right. I was raised in the church. I committed my life to the Lord at age twelve. This wasn’t supposed to happen to someone like me.
The NICU nurse had suggested that I attend a support group, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking in a large group and I didn’t want to socialize or speak to anyone. After two months of just lying in the bed and taking Ambien around the clock, a good friend advised me to go to therapy. I listened, and it was the best decision I ever made. I was able to share my deepest feelings without fear of judgment. It truly started me on my journey towards healing.
Eventually, I tried to leave the house. I would encounter people who didn’t know I had lost the baby and assumed that I had given birth early. I was asked to show pictures of the baby and was unable to walk down the baby aisle in stores without sobbing. I forgot to cancel all those free items that I registered for. Each time my husband went to the mailbox, there were samples. He tried his best to get all the baby things out of the house but didn’t know where I had hidden some items. Occasionally, I would find an unopened gift. However, the most devastating experience was that my body didn’t know there was no baby. I continued to produce breast milk for several weeks.
On top of that, I had to deal with insensitive people – being invited to a baby shower right after losing Jade, being asked what I did wrong to lose my baby. I was even told I didn’t have her with me long enough to develop a real bond. When I went to the OB/GYN for a follow-up, I had to sit in the waiting room with all the expectant mothers and new moms with their babies. The medical assistant asked me to pee in a cup – she thought I was still pregnant. I had to tell her that my baby died. I was beginning to think that I was never going to be able to leave my house without being triggered.
It was as if I was watching my life like a movie, but not participating. Thank God my husband and my mom took care of Cam and made sure that he didn’t fall behind in school. I didn’t have anything to say to God and didn’t want to hear anything He had to say to me. I’d lived a life for Him and done everything He wanted me to do. I knew I needed someone to pray for me.
One day, I took my iPod Shuffle and went to sit on the front porch. I was hoping the warm sun on my face would help as I had been sleeping a lot. Soon the song “Say a Prayer for Me” by Donald Lawrence and Faith Evans came on. There is a line that says,
“Say a prayer for me. You know what I need. Go before the Father and intercede for me. The devil is threatened by the gifts You’ve placed in me. Like you did for Peter say a prayer for me.”
As the tears began to flow, I realized that the Father understood every tear and that Jesus was interceding for me right at that moment because I couldn’t pray for myself. I must have listened to that song ten times. I finally came inside and cooked dinner. It was the first time since Jade died that we felt like a family again. As the weeks turned into months, I eventually returned to my classroom. God had me make a list of all the students who called me Mom. The list was full of male and female students of all races. I was reminded that I had hundreds of children who I loved and who loved me in return. I was going to be ok.
I wish I could say that I am there. But there is not a single day that I don’t wish Jade was here. August 27 through 30th are still the hardest days of the year for me. Thirteen years later, I am still on this journey. I wish I knew exactly what caused me to go into early labor. Some years I can look in the box and smile. Other years, just untying the ribbon is too much. Either way, I have learned whatever I decide is ok.
Cameron often will ask to visit his sister. Since he was thirteen, I’ve taken him to the gravesite where he has full conversations with Jade, telling her about how his day is going, how old he is, and how she doesn’t have to worry because he is taking care of me and his dad. I would be in earshot initially and as he got older; I would go to the car. It was just too much raw emotion. Each time I leave feeling blessed to have raised such a loving and caring young man.
Two years after Jade passed, I started a ministry called Precious Gems in her memory. This organization was created to minister to other moms who have experienced the loss of a child by premature death, miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. My goal is to support healing and deliverance and to provide an opportunity for mothers to “unpack the box, the bear, and the blanket”, each of which is packaged and comes with biblical references.
As much as I know this ministry is needed, it has taken me over eleven years to share it with others. I’m finally ready to tell my story and encourage other mothers to move forward one step at a time while holding on to God’s hand.
God is a healer. But we must allow Him to heal us. The loss of a child is indescribable and the worst pain ever imaginable, but if God can bring me through that, there is nothing else in life that He and I can’t overcome together. I encourage you to lean on Him and to have faith.
Encouragement for Moms (from Precious Gems):
The death of a baby is an unbearable loss. It is hard to believe that the God we love and serve would allow us to go through such pain. However, there is always a purpose and a plan. My journey with childbearing has been incredible, to say the least. It is my prayer that as I share my experience with honesty and transparency, women like me and you will be healed, delivered, and set free.
So, I invite you to open your heart. Dream again. Believe again. Dare to trust God again.
Prayer for Moms:
God, I pray for every mother who is living with the loss of a child. Help us to remember that you know what it’s like to lose a child and are here with us always. Continue to be our comforter as we continue on this journey towards healing. Amen.
Connect with Yolanda and read more of her story and blogs at ymckinney.blogspot.com.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with the loss of a baby and would like to learn more about Precious Gems, please contact Yolanda at email@example.com.
Want to learn more about Yolanda? Watch our “Moms Night In” Conversation on YouTube