I recently was asked to speak at the 11th Annual Walk to Remember here in Atlanta, which I was honored. Anytime I get to talk about our baby boy Asher and the journey he took and still has us on, well, I welcome it. It is a wonderful event where you don’t see grim faces and lost souls, but you see loved ones wearing tshirts sporting their baby or babies name who have passed away. There are older brothers and younger sisters getting their face painted or drawing pictures in chalk with messages to their sibling(s) in Heaven. You feel a sense of community and overwhelming love . I don’t know where I would be without that community . I remember thinking shortly after Asher died, that no one would understand how I feel…that I was the minority. Yes, we still are the minority, we are the 25% of women who lose their baby. But, then again, that is TWENTY-FIVE percent. That proves that I am not alone.
The most moving part to me each year is not the singing, not the dove release, not the speakers…it’s the balloon release. At the end of the walk, everyone releases a purple balloon, representing the child they lost. When you see over 300 balloons in the air, floating up to Heaven together, it takes your breath away. Or, atleast it does mine. In that moment, you realize just how many children have left too soon, how many grieving parents have sat in empty nurseries just like you did. But, I try not to focus on the grief of losing a child but I CHOOSE to take that balloon release in. I let it sit there so I can process it and only feel the wind on my face as it takes them up, up and away. I like to imagine each one of those babies grabbing that balloon that has their name on it, the one covered with their Momma and Daddy’s kisses. It’s the closest thing we will have to touching them, until God calls us home.
I had so many people come up to me and not only say “Great Job” on my speech but “Thank You”. I wrote it from the heart and my goal was to leave everyone feeling like they are not alone and things get better with time. So, whoever reads this blog…all 3 of you :)…. I wanted to share my words from that day with the hopes that one day, if you feel like it can’t get better or you are not strong enough, I promise, you are.
Atlanta Walk to Remember 2015
I want to start off by saying how amazing it is to see each of you here today. Every year I am overwhelmed to see the number of loved ones that gather to celebrate the babies that have gone on ahead of us. And it’s not just the Mom’s and Dad’s that created those little lives. It’s the Mimi’s and the Pop Pops, the favorite Aunts and crazy Uncles, the older sister’s and the rainbow baby brothers that sit here today. They say it takes a Village to raise a child, but I firmly believe it takes a Village to survive the loss of a child. It was OUR village that walked alongside us during our pregnancy, our village that stood behind the curtain in the NICU as we held our sweet Asher. It was that same Village, who cried with us, celebrated with us and gave us the courage and strength to try again.
Our journey started as many of yours did. My husband Justin and I had tried for years to get pregnant and when we finally did, we felt like the weight of the world was removed. We went in for our 15 week ultrasound, where we knew we would learn the sex of the baby! As we hugged over the great news, our doctor said the legs looked a little short but this wasn’t his realm of expertise so he sent me to a specialist. We weren’t too concerned as we thought “Hey, of course the legs are short, he is the size of an apple right now”. So off I went to the specialist the next day. I told Justin to stay behind as I was sure everything was fine and there was no sense in taking a half day off. In hindsight, that was a decision I regret. I was the woman on the table who watched an ultrasound tech take too long and take too many pictures. I sat there and had to hear that our baby had a lethal form of Skeletal Dysplasia. I didn’t even know what that was. I didn’t even know how to spell it in order to google it. We soon learned that our baby had Short Rib Polydactyl Syndrome – a lethal form of Skeletal Dysplasia, more commonly known as dwarfism. The doctor said the baby would not survive outside the womb and that he would suggest terminating the pregnancy. Some of you may have found yourself in that same position, a grim diagnosis and having to decide what is best for you and your family. Justin and I felt that God doesn’t make mistakes. Our baby had fingers and toes, and a beating heart. So, we chose the road less traveled. They say God picks his strongest soldiers to fight his toughest battles. Well, we may have been drafted but we decided to FIGHT. We felt that if our baby was going to fight, well, so were we. We were keeping our baby for as long as God allowed us to and we would spend that time celebrating that life, our baby BOY’s life. And we would pray, pray harder than ever, for a miracle to be done.
I will never forget the day Asher was born. There were so many questions and what ifs that had gone unanswered during those 9 months I carried Asher—will he breathe when he’s born, how many fingers and toes will he have, will he cry, will he have red hair? Asher was born on May 26, 2013, 4 weeks early and weighing a whopping 6 lbs. 10 ounces. When I finally saw him, wow, he was beautiful. He was shaped like a little teddy bear, small arms and legs with 14 fingers and 12 toes. They were the cutest 12 toes I have ever seen. It’s amazing how much you don’t care about any deformities or handicaps when you have a child. God blessed us with 23 hours and 45 minutes with our sweet Asher Knox Martindale. So many people have said they couldn’t have done what we did as it would be too hard, to get attached to him for 9 months and then having to say goodbye. We felt that it would be harder to never have seen him or held him or been able to show him love. A quote from one of my favorites movies, Steel Magnolias, said it best, “I’d rather have 30 minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special”. Those 23 hours of wonderful that we spent with Asher were a miracle, as he had a less than 1% chance of living. God put Dr. Kenneth Kupke in our lives and used him to do his miraculous work. Dr. Kupke made the impossible possible by giving our boy time, time to grab our fingers and look back at us and blink his beautiful eyes. There is no mistake…God puts the right people in your life at the right time. Dr. Kupke was one of those people. He allowed us to have that moment of wonderful rather than a lifetime of nothing special.
Asher’s life renewed the faith in so many of those who surrounded us during that time. Asher allowed us to feel a kind of love that cannot be measured or described, as so many of you have learned first-hand. When we said goodbye to Asher, we told him to pick out a very special brother or sister for us one day. Justin and I were told we had a 1 of 4 chance of having another baby just like Asher in any subsequent pregnancy, so the decision to have another baby was not taken lightly. After deciding to try again followed by a year of no success, we felt it was the right time to adopt. It was after we had raised over half of the necessary funds and had completed the adoption home study process that we found out we were pregnant. It was then that our emotions switched from “Will we be picked by a birth mother” to “Will we have another baby like Asher?”.
I worried the entire 9 ½ months I carried Rowan. I still worry every day. For those of you that have had rainbow babies like we have, I am sure you know the feeling. You are paranoid about everything, more so than most new parents. There have been many times I have felt like I was just waiting for something bad to happen, for him to be taken too early like Asher was. And that will never change. After losing a child, I think the convenience of being able to let your guard down doesn’t exist. And I am okay with that. I think we have earned the right to be overprotective. I’ll wear that helicopter Mom badge proudly.
I want to close today with what I feel is one of the most important lessons through this whole journey. And that is, we have learned that those bitter moments after losing a child become bittersweet if you are blessed with a rainbow baby. That new baby will cushion the blow that holidays and the birthday song brings to us. That baby will dry your tears during those should have been, could have been moments you don’t have with the child you lost. But, that baby who has gone on ahead of you matters. They are loved. And their brother or sister that fills your arms today is not a replacement of that child. They are their legacy.