One family's roller-coaster story of loss, hope, and even some humor through it all.
As their minivan hurtled down the highway, Amy Walsh* panted and struggled in the front while her husband Michael tried to keep his eyes on the road. Their children (ages 15, 14, 7, and 5) sat in the back. They were wide-eyed watching their mother, with the unmistakable pains of labor, kneeling on the floor, head and hands on the seat.
It was a rugged end to a once joyful pregnancy. Months earlier, after deciding to try to conceive again, Amy and Michael brought the whole family into the decision-making process. Life would change with a new baby in the house and they wanted to make sure everyone felt good about it. All of the children gave their enthusiastic blessing except the youngest, Joey. “I’m going to beat that baby like a dead-dog horse!” Joey announced. His horrified family paused and then burst into laughter. It’s tough giving up “baby of the family” status but even Joey knew he was being ridiculous. Soon, he readily jumped on the new baby bandwagon and plans moved forward.
Nothing to worry about
It didn’t take long before Amy had a feeling she was pregnant. The first two pregnancy tests were negative but that seemed to only heighten the anticipation. “Sarah [my eldest daughter] was my biggest cheerleader. She was right along with me.” Baby fever had swept the house and the children prayed every day for a new brother or sister. “I’ve always known when I’m pregnant even before the tests show it,” Amy said. So it was no surprise that a third test revealed indeed they were going to become a family of seven.
At the time, Christmas was only six weeks away, so the first weeks of pregnancy passed quickly, despite regular bouts of morning sickness for Amy. And the Walshes’ excitement spread as they shared the news of Amy’s pregnancy with friends and extended family. But suddenly, Amy’s morning sickness faded. This was unusual compared to her other pregnancies. She went to the doctor, who gave her another pregnancy test. It came back positive. The doctor offered to do an ultrasound but the doctor agreed there seemed to be nothing to worry about, plus it was almost a new year and a new insurance deductible. So Amy opted to wait, and returned home.
A few days before Christmas, though, Amy was still feeling off. As she helped decorate her parish church, the priest, noticing her unsettled demeanor, approached her. She confided in him that she couldn’t shake the feeling something was wrong with the baby even though she had been reassured by the doctor. After discussing, and praying together, Amy felt a small relief, so she decided to be positive and focus on the holiday ahead.
Opening presents on Christmas morning, “I felt fine,” Amy said. However, her relief from a few days ago vanished when she used the restroom and discovered she was bleeding. Later, during Christmas Mass, Amy was so overcome with anxiety and nearly collapsed in the pew.
Being a holiday, it took a couple days before Amy could get an appointment with her obstetrician. During that time, she prayed and spoke with close friends — one who had spotted during pregnancy and the baby was fine, and the other who had had four miscarriages. It educated her for the worst that might come and also “gave room for some hope.”
The first order of business at obstetrician’s was to get an ultrasound. It was excruciating watching the technician move her mouse across the screen and clicking in certain areas without any explanation. When the technician finally spoke, it was to say: “I can see the source of the bleeding.”
Amy was crushed but had a thread of hope. “But what about the baby?” She asked.
The technician replied abruptly. “Baby? There’s no baby in here.”
“What do you mean there’s no baby?” Amy responded.
“You’ll need to get dressed and talk to the doctor,” said the technician.
Devastated, Amy was ushered into the waiting room where she sat in shock and waited to speak with the doctor. He explained that although Amy was in the 11th week of pregnancy, the baby had likely stopped developing at around six weeks. There was no need to take immediate action so Amy went home.
A guardian angel at my side
After breaking the news to Michael and the children, the whole family decided to continue with their plans to go on a trip to the mountains, loaded up the minivan and began the 1.5 hours drive. After all the agonizing over the baby, it seemed like the perfect time to step out of grief and do something, anything different. Even if that meant a 6-mile hike and then rappelling down to a waterfall.
Being athletic, Amy wasn’t swayed when asked one last time if she wanted to sit this one out. The beautiful 3-mile hike in quickly re-energized Amy. But as they neared the destination, she began bleeding again. This time heavily. What now?
“You made it this far,” Amy’s eldest son Sean said to her. “C’mon, mom, you have to see the waterfall!” So, Amy gamely rappelled down before starting the 3-mile return trek. Unfortunately, the way back was the opposite of the buoyant journey there. Painful contractions started which inched into full labor with every step. The sanitary protection Amy had been using was quickly overwhelmed and she felt blood spreading throughout her dark clothing. Meanwhile, her youngest, Joey, was fading with exhaustion.
While Michael carried Joey, Sean, a Boy Scout, held onto Amy and softly encouraged her through each painful step. “My sweet son was like a guardian angel at my side. I would never have expected that from a 15-year-old boy.” Along the way, Amy was desperate to find more sanitary protection and asked every woman they encountered. Reflecting on the awkwardness, Amy laughs, saying it felt like asking, “Excuse me, do you have any Grey Poupon?”
They staggered to the minivan and all Amy wanted to do was get home. It was late afternoon, so the obstetrician’s office was once again closed. But a nurse on call told Amy she could at least take ibuprofen for the pain while she waited. Once home, Amy retreated to the master bathroom to finish her labor.
Michael, normally the very attentive husband and father, decided to call the cable company about their malfunctioning service. While Michael yelled on the phone and paced through the house, Amy, curled up on the floor, clutched his leg as he passed by. “Will you please get off the phone?” she pleaded looking up at him. Laughing about it later, Amy said, “He needed to fix something.”
Off the phone a few minutes later, Michael returned to Amy and found her in bed. “It’s done,” she said. “Don’t flush anything. That’s a baby. Put it in something.”
For the Walshes, there was no question, the next step was to honor their baby with a funeral. “Mom, let’s put it in a beautiful box. I have one,“ Sean offered. It was a gift Amy had given Sean the previous Christmas. A wooden box with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There was a perfect satin covered spot to lay the baby, whom they named Christmas.
Christmas Walsh is buried near a grotto at their parish church where he is still a part of their daily life when they go to Mass and because it’s where the youngest children attend school. Sometimes Amy finds pine cones, stones and other little treasures that Max and Joey lay down near the headstone. “Burying the remains gave us tremendous healing,” Amy says. “I felt a profound sadness for the loss of our child. I mourned what could have been.”
It’s never easy to understand why these things happen, particularly when Amy had felt a strong calling that she was meant to have more children (after realizing with her husband that perhaps they were closing themselves off from something or someone that was meant for them). “This has been a journey of faith, letting God plan our family as opposed to us. We never set out to have a bunch of children!”
Looking back on the turmoil on the highway a few months earlier Amy feels a mixture of emotions and even a large dose of humor. “I was in shock at how painful the contractions were and how I didn’t realize I would be going through a labor and delivery type experience. I wanted an epidural! I wanted it to stop! Then I felt concern for the children who were watching me wiggle around the car like a caged animal. I wondered what might be going through their minds. At some point, Michael and I were laughing at the hilarious scene that had unfolded. What an unforeseen chain of events that day.”
Besides getting back into the rhythm of life, for Amy, the last few months have been a time of contemplation and trying to hear what is intended for her. She attends daily Mass and brings a journal with her. “I’m trying to see how God is speaking to me and so often what I hear and who I meet gives me something new. Day by day it’s unfolding. I write it all down because otherwise I’ll forget all these things.”
“One thing I’ve realized is how often we can all be in a room together but many of us are only half listening. We get distracted by our phones, the TV, or work we have to do. Especially with family, we take for granted they’re always going to be here. I’ve stopped trying to control and plan everything.” She adds, thoughtfully: “All I want to do is love the people around me, right where they are.”
*All names have been changed to protect privacy.