On the morning of December 17, 2014, I texted my friend Leigh-Anne, who was 37 weeks pregnant with her second baby: “Hey lady, how’s it going? Hanging in there?” Knowing she’d answer when she had a break at work, I went about my morning. It was a Wednesday, so my oldest was at daycare and my little one—Juliette, then four months old—had a doctor’s appointment. I came home, put Jules down for a nap and started to make grilled cheese for lunch. Just as I put my sandwich in the pan, my phone rang. Leigh-Anne’s name flashed on the screen and I answered it with a cheery “Hi, honey!” Leigh-Anne didn’t say hello. She just said, “The baby’s gone.”
I immediately started to sob. “What?! Are they sure? Like positive?”
“Yes,” she said. “They did two ultrasounds. There’s no heartbeat.”
“Where are you? Are you at home?”
“No, I’m at the hospital. I have to deliver her.”
At that point, I was inconsolable. “Oh God, Leigh-Anne, I’m so sorry,” I kept saying over and over.
“I’m all right, Kate. It will be OK,” she said, though we both knew it wouldn’t. She put her mom on the phone, who said, “We just need you to be a good friend to our daughter.”
“Of course, whatever she needs,” I replied, though I could barely speak. I hung up the phone, turned off the burner under my charred grilled cheese and called my mom and my husband. Then I went upstairs to Juliette’s room and lay on the floor beside her crib until she woke up.
Hours later, I got a text from Leigh-Anne’s husband, Ray: “Baby is out. LA is physically good.” They named her Lillian Marie—Lily.
When I spoke to Leigh-Anne the next morning, I tried to keep it together but dissolved into tears again. I went to see her in the hospital later that night. I’m so grateful that she was at Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga, Ont., where they have a specialized nurse-led initiative called Handprints on our Hearts, in the Perinatal Bereavement Program, for families who experience stillbirths. Leigh-Anne had this amazing nurse, Laurie, who had experienced a late-term loss herself, and she met me at the door when I arrived. She hugged me (me, a random friend of a patient!) and told me Leigh-Anne and Ray would be OK and that they would heal. She told me Lily was in the room beside their suite, if I was up to seeing her.
When I saw Leigh-Anne, the floodgates opened again. And when she put her arms around me, I apologized for being so emotional. She said into my ear, “It just means you love me. It’s OK.” It was the first of many things I’ve learned about grief from my dear friend.
I saw Baby Lily, who was only four pounds at term. They realized now, after examining her, that she likely had a genetic condition that caused her to be born sleeping. Half West Indian, she had skin the colour of milk chocolate and her brother’s nose. A celebration of her life was held the day before Christmas Eve.
Over the next seven months, I’ve watched Leigh-Anne work through her grief. I’ve heard updates on doctor’s appointments—for her physical and mental well-being—and we’ve talked about how her little boy, Christopher, kept her going in the early days. She talks about trying again eventually, when she and Ray feel ready. The part I find most amazing, though, is her ability to talk about Lily. At first I wasn’t sure I should even say her name. But Leigh-Anne is her mother, and Lily will always be a part of the patchwork of her life. She doesn’t want to forget what happened, but she also knows that she won’t let her grief consume her. She is, far and away, the strongest woman I’ve ever met.
I’ve apologized for my initial reaction so many times in the past seven months, and Leigh-Anne finally said to me, “I was in shock. You had the reaction I couldn’t have.”
“But I was over the top,” I’d say.
“No,” she said, “you’re a mom and you’re my friend, and you were there for me. Don’t be sorry.”
I now know that I couldn’t have done anything more. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know what to say or do, that I felt helpless and cried more tears than I felt I should have. In the end, it was Leigh-Anne’s grief, and all she wanted was someone to shoulder some of it when she asked.
Walmart Live Better editor-in-chief Katie Dupuis likes structure and organization—a lot. Now imagine this Type A editor with a baby. Funny, right? We’re sure you’ll love Katie’s musings on life with Sophie, Juliette and her husband, Blaine. Read all of Katie’s Type A Baby posts and follow her on Twitter @katie_dupuis.