Erica McNeal is one amazing gal! Not only is she a babyloss mama five times over, she is also a multiple cancer survivor. She found the strength to publish a reference guide entitled Good Grief! and we are honored to share her journey here. She hand-crafted a special note just for you.
I knew I had a high-risk pregnancy.
I was prepared my cancer may return while pregnant and was ready to face those potential complications. However, I was not prepared for an unknown factor that would force my body to go into labor at eighteen, twenty and ultimately twenty-two and a half weeks gestation.
I had been placed on bed rest for three months when a sub-chorionic hemorrhage threatened my pregnancy. At my eighteen-week visit, during an ultrasound, the technician could see that my cervix was already dilating. I was given medication, but went into labor two days later.
I was already 3.5 cm dilated when the hospital doctor’s saw me. I pleaded with them to do everything in their power to keep me pregnant. With a triple threat of drugs and my body nearly shaking out of the bed, my labor stopped. My contractions went away and my cervix closed. I was completely shocked – I didn’t even know that was possible!
About one and a half weeks later, I went into labor again and repeated the same procedures, breathing a sigh of relief when the labor easily stopped.
But on June 11th, 2007, my labor picked up again. A friend took me to the hospital and I told my husband not to worry about leaving work. I had every expectation the doctor’s would be able to stop my labor again.
But, I was wrong.
By the time I had gotten to labor and delivery, my cervix was gone. I was already 4 cm dilated and there was nothing my doctor’s could do. The only thing keeping my little girl from coming into the world was a pessary that my doctor’s had put into place just weeks before.
With my husband rushing to the hospital, I had to make a decision no parent should ever have to make: my life or hers?
My doctor’s feared I may have a rare condition called “placenta accreta” where the placenta burrows deeply into scar tissue. Since I had a previous c-section, and everything else had been ruled out, the fear was that my uterus could rupture after delivery when the placenta naturally pulled away from the uterine walls.
The only problem was the hospital we were at did not have the medical facilities to care for a baby as small as our daughter was. I would have to be transferred to another hospital forty-five minutes away by ambulance. There was a very real possibility I would deliver her in the ambulance and if my uterus ruptured, there would be nothing the ambulance staff could do for me. I would die!
I understood the great potential for severe medical conditions for our baby girl. I understood she would have less than a 1% chance to live and I understood she could only live for a few hours. But, against my doctor’s advice, I told him I wanted to be transferred to the other hospital. I felt like if God wanted to give this child life, who was I to take it away?
I signed the transfer paperwork and everyone walked out of the room. While my friend was in the hallway, frantically trying to reach my husband, I prayed silently.
“God, if the end result is going to be the same, whether I have her here or there, please let me have her here!”
I don’t even think I said, “Amen”, when an immediate peace came upon me. I knew I would not make it to the other hospital. As I called for the nurse, my contractions went immediately to thirty seconds and my husband came flying through the door.
Not even five minutes later, Kylie Joy was born. She was beautifully perfect, my tiny little 15 oz, 11-inch baby girl. She had little tufts of brown hair, a cute little button nose and long legs. She was absolutely gorgeous.
As we held Kylie as she died, my husband and I began to grieve all of the hopes and dreams we had for our family. The daughter we would not be able to hug and kiss whenever we wanted; the little sister to our living daughter, who was so excited about her new best friend. The little girl whose hair we would never braid, or watch play sports, or walk down the aisle on her wedding day.
Kylie lived for eighty minutes, but her short life and ultimate death rocked our worlds.
The first year grieving Kylie was the most difficult year of my life. I was a hot mess, working through the extreme guilt believing that I had killed my own daughter. Sometimes there were no words to express my emotions and I would simply cry. At times I wanted to be by myself, other times I needed so desperately for someone to sit with me in silence. I even needed to laugh occasionally! What I needed changed constantly on my unpredictable journey of grief!
Even now four years later, I struggle! I miss her. I miss what our family could have looked like. I still grieve the broken dreams, just mostly in silence now. I still get teary-eyed on her birthday, when I hear another child with the same name, and at times when my living daughter talks about how much she wants a sister.
For the first couple of years, we had no idea how our family and friends could come alongside our family. We were in the middle of a grief we had never experienced before and a pain we could not comprehend. We had no idea what we needed or what others could do to help.
At the same time, our family and friends wanted so desperately to help, but had no idea what they could do. They too experienced their own first time emotions as they grieved with our family. The problem was this caused a disparity; conflict and a lot of unmet expectations, on both sides.
While people meant well, sometimes their words came out wrong – very wrong! At times when the absolute most grace was needed, people rendered us completely speechless by their insensitive comments.
As I have supported many women through child-loss over the last four years, I have been shocked to find how common these hurtful words really are. This led to a desire to help fill the gap between people that are suffering that don’t know what they need and their loved ones that don’t know what to do.
My new eBook, Good Grief! provides tangible ideas of how to love someone going through unspeakable grief, through words and actions.
Words That Can Be Misunderstood: “At least she didn’t live long enough for you to get attached!”
Words That Encourage: “I don’t know what to say, but I love you!”
Actions That Are Intentional: Understand that the pain of grief can sometimes get in the way of grieving. Provide outlets for your loved one such as golfing or poker night for men and dinner or a spa day for women.
Until October 11th, 2011 all proceeds from the sales of Good Grief!, are going directly to families in the middle of facing their own difficult trials: A thirty-three year old woman battling a relapsed cancer and two families adopting high medical needs children.
What my family is attempting to do is less about selling an eBook and more about tangibly coming alongside these three incredible families. If I can provide some insight through times of tragedy AND help meet these financial needs, my perspective is that this is a win-win situation.
More information is also available at my website.
Thank you Erica. While we know your time is stretched so thin, you manged to write this beautiful piece. We wish you all the luck in the world mama!