My daughter, Hailey Marie was born with Trisomy 18 on December 1, 2009, but healed completely on January 6, 2010 when the Lord called her home. This is her story.
My husband and I were 24 years old and had been married for a year and half when we started trying, or not trying not to have a baby (January 2009). At the end of March a home pregnancy test confirmed that we were pregnant. At this time my husband, Josh, was living in Georgia for some training with the Army, and I was back at our home in Illinois so that I could finish out the school year teaching. The long distance relationship meant that I had to share the news that we were pregnant with my husband during a video chat online and that I had to go to my doctor’s appointments alone.
When I was 12 weeks pregnant, I had a Nuchal Translucency Screening done. At the time I had a very minimal understanding of screenings. I knew that the results did not lead to a diagnosis, but they could give you an idea if your baby had a health issue. This particular screening identified the baby’s risk of having a chromosomal disorder, the most common being Trisomy 21 or Down Syndrome.
My attitude about that first screening was “Sure, why not?” I thought the screening was very routine and that I had nothing to worry about. After all, Josh and I were both young and healthy, and the risk factor for our pregnancy came out to be zero meaning it was considered very low risk. In retro spec I wish I had never agreed to that first screening because I had no idea was I was getting myself into, and I certainly didn’t understand how unreliable the screenings can be.
The first part of the screening consisted of an ultrasound in which the ultrasound technician measured the amount of fluid in the back of the baby’s neck (nuchal). At the time, I didn’t know what they were looking for. I noticed the technician taking a lot of time and numerous measurements, but I really didn’t think much of it.
Afterwards, I was surprised to hear my doctor tell me that the ultrasound came back positive. The doctor explained that the ultrasound showed more fluid than normal in the back of our baby’s head (normal readings are around 3mm, and our baby’s was 6mm). Alone, this did not mean that our baby had a genetic disorder, but it did mean that the chances she had one were greater than normal.
To further determine the chance of our baby having a genetic disorder the doctor had a blood test done, which is the second part of the screening. The blood test was completed the same day the ultrasound was done, but I had to wait a few days for the results to come back.
The doctor explained that if the blood test results came back normal, then our baby was going to be fine. If the blood test came back positive, then that combined with the ultrasound would suggest that our baby had a genetic disorder. She also explained that even if the entire screening was positive, there was really no way of knowing if our baby had a genetic disorder unless I had an amniocentesis, which runs the risk of a spontaneous abortion.
Right after she explained all of this to me and before I even had the blood test, my doctor asked me what I would do if both the ultrasound and blood work suggested that the baby had a genetic disorder. She asked, “Would you want to terminate the pregnancy?” I remember thinking to myself, “Did she really just ask me if I would ‘terminate’ my pregnancy or have an abortion?” I couldn’t believe it. She did. That was the last conversation I expected having at what I thought was a routine doctor’s visit.
Because of my beliefs and faith, I told my doctor that no matter what happened I would keep my baby. I also told her that I would not have an amniocentesis because of the risks associated with it.
After having my blood drawn, I left the office terrified and worried. I had to call my husband and tell him that our baby might have a genetic disorder like Down Syndrome—that was one of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever made. Days passed without hearing from the doctor’s office.
A week later I called to ask about the results of my blood test. The nurse on the line said that if I hadn’t received a call that meant that the results came back normal and there was nothing to worry about. Even so, I wanted her to check on the results to make sure this was the case, and the nurse confirmed that my results came back normal. Therefore, since the ultrasound was positive and the blood test was negative, the entire screening was negative. I was told that the chances of our baby having a genetic disorder were very low, and she should be a healthy baby. I felt so relieved, and afterwards many people shared with me that those screenings could be very inaccurate – many women have screenings that are positive, and they go on to give birth to healthy babies.
In June my husband and I completed our move to Alabama where he was stationed for flight school, and he was able to join me on my doctor’s visits. When I was 19 weeks pregnant, we found out that we were having a girl, and we decided to name her Hailey Marie. Words can’t describe how excited we were.
We chose not to have any further screenings done because of the stress it caused, and, again, regardless of what they would show, we were keeping and loving our baby. I felt confident that we would have a healthy baby because we were so young and healthy and because the rest of the pregnancy continued as normal with no complications. But I have to admit, in the back of my mind the thought that there could be something wrong with our baby was always there haunting me.
The week Hailey was born I had high blood pressure and was put on bed rest at home for a few days. When I came in for my next check up, my doctor decided to induce me because my blood pressure remained high. After being induced for two days, on December 1, 2009, at 2pm, when I was 39 weeks and 3 days along, my water broke naturally.
I was able to have the vaginal birth I wanted and almost had it as natural as I wanted. However, due to my being confined to a bed (due to my blood pressure) and not being allowed to move throughout my entire labor, I had a difficult time managing the pain naturally and requested medicinal relief, which they gave me through an IV around 5 pm. Very shortly after, I began pushing and Hailey arrived at 6:04pm; she was 6lbs, 18 inches (although I didn’t find this information out until much later).
On my birth plan I made it clear that I wanted Hailey put on my chest immediately after delivery, even before the umbilical cord was cut, which Josh was to do. After I delivered Hailey I waited to hear what all parents want to hear, the beautiful sound of a crying baby – and I got it. However, I knew something was wrong when she wasn’t being placed on my chest, and I knew they were cutting her umbilical cord, not Josh. I kept asking Josh and whoever else was near me what was going on and what was wrong with Hailey, but I didn’t get any answers. Before I knew what was happening Hailey was rushed off to the NICU, and I never saw her.
Eventually I learned that it appeared as though Hailey’s intestines were on the outside of her body and physically there were some other things wrong with her. They told me that she had to be flown to another hospital (the Children’s Hospital in AL) that had a level 3 NICU because the hospital I was at didn’t have the capabilities of taking care of a baby like Hailey.
Fortunately, two of our friends were able to drive Josh to meet Hailey at the hospital that night. Also, thankfully, I was able to go to the NICU to see Hailey while waiting for the jet to arrive that was going to transport her. She had countless tubes attached to her and a huge bandage over her stomach. She clearly did not look like a ‘normal’ or ‘healthy’ baby. But I didn’t see ugliness. I didn’t see imperfection. I didn’t see any of that. Instead, I saw Hailey through God’s eyes that day and every day after. I saw her through the eyes of love. She was absolutely beautiful. When the rescue team arrived, they let me hold her before taking her. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to have that moment with her, and I am forever thankful for that opportunity.
The next day I was discharged from the hospital and made the drive to join Josh and Hailey at the Children’s Hospital. When I arrived Hailey was in the NICU recovering from the surgery she had the night before (the doctors placed her intestines back inside of her). Josh and I had many briefings by many doctors while we were there. To keep a complicated story simple, Hailey had many health issues, the most prevalent being apnea, which meant she would stop breathing. Many of the issues and several of her physical traits suggested that she might have a genetic disorder.
To determine a diagnosis for Hailey, the doctors ran a FISH (Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization) test which would tell them if Hailey had a genetic disorder and what it was. By the time the results came back a few days had passed. Right before Hailey was to undergo a second surgery, the doctors told us that results had come back showing that Hailey had full Trisomy 18.
We really didn’t know anything about Trisomy 18, so the doctors explained that it was a lethal genetic disorder—lethal meaning that she was going to die. It was untreatable and incurable. They explained that Hailey had three copies of the 18th chromosome instead of the normal two in every single cell of her body. This prevented her body from functioning and developing correctly. The doctors didn’t know how much time she’d have with us. They explained that it could be hours, days, weeks, maybe months at best.
After having some time to ourselves to process the information, the nurses and doctors met with us again to discuss the next course of action for Hailey. We made the decision that the quality of Hailey’s life was more important than the quantity of days she lived. We wanted to make the most of her time here on Earth and didn’t want her attached to tubes and machines for who knows how long as that was not the kind of life we wanted her to live. Therefore, we made the difficult decision to not go through with the surgery and to stop all medical treatments and interventions.
A few hours later we were moved to a private room, and we were able to have all of our family members with us as well. We were able to hold her, give her kisses, dress her in her clothes, and I was able to work on feeding her bottles of my breast milk. She had an oxygen tube to help her breathe if she needed it, and she had an IV for fluids and nutrients until she was able to take enough of the bottle on her own. Also, she was off of morphine unless we felt like she needed it for pain. We made sure she was held every minute, and she literally was held in someone’s arms for almost a week straight.
A few days passed, and Hailey reached the many milestones she needed to so that we could take her home: she was bottle feeding well, off of her IV, having healthy diapers, and hadn’t had any more breathing attacks. After being in the hospital with Hailey for eight days, we were finally able to bring her home.
When we learned that Hailey had a lethal genetic disorder, our hearts broke, and we were in shock. Everything moved so quickly. The future for Hailey looked pretty dark. We learned more and more about Trisomy 18 by doing our own research online. We learned that Hailey’s birth was a miracle since most babies with Trisomy 18 don’t make to term or don’t survive birth. We also learned that most babies with Trisomy 18 who survive birth don’t make it out of a NICU or the hospital. The fact that Hailey was able to do so well and come home with us was a huge blessing from God.
We knew the entire time we had Hailey that we could lose her at any minute. We cherished every minute we had with her and did everything we could to make sure she was comfortable and happy. Even if she lived a short life, we wanted to make sure it was a full life and the best one she could have.
When we were home with Hailey we had many visitors, and we made many memories with her – car rides in her car seat, a walk outside in her stroller, Birthday parties, baths, reading books to her, singing to her, dancing with her, showing her Christmas lights and the Christmas tree, etc. I made sure she smelled the smell of flowers and felt different textures. I ran her hands along my face, across our dog’s fur, across her stuffed giraffe. Her daddy wiped her chocolate birthday cake on her fingers and face. We covered her in kisses – Eskimo and butterfly included.
One week with Hailey turned to two weeks, and weeks turned to one month – what miracles and blessings from God. On her 5 week birthday Hailey got a fever (most likely a result of an infection, which the doctors explained would likely be the cause of her death). We brought her in to her pediatrician that day and she had been doing so well that I felt like it wasn’t her time yet.
Hailey remained a fighter until the very end and never even showed any signs of being sick. The next day, January 6, when Hailey was 36 days old, God decided to call her home, and He did it just as I had prayed. I had prayed that her death would not be painful or ‘ugly.’ I prayed that she would pass away peacefully in the night while she slept and that morning we woke up to find that she had passed peacefully while we were all sleeping.
That morning we changed her diaper, wrapped her tightly in her pink blanket, held her close, and sobbed. After some time we called our hospice nurse (she had been coming twice a week to check on Hailey) to tell her Hailey had passed. Eventually the hospice nurses and the funeral home director came to talk with us and take Hailey. We arranged to have Hailey’s memorial service and have her buried in our hometown in Illinois. My husband cut a lock of Hailey’s long, soft, brown hair to put in her baby book, we held her close one last time, and kissed her forehead. Her hospice nurse carried her out of our house and to the car. It was hard to see her go.
We drove the 15 hour drive home which ended up taking 24 hours due to a snow storm and many stops. We spent time with family and prepared for Hailey’s memorial service. The service truly was a celebration of her life. So many family members and friends came to show their love and support and meet our little Hailey. The service was beautiful, and God gave us strength and peace that I didn’t know we could have during that time. After the service we privately said our goodbyes to our beautiful daughter. While her body is buried in Illinois, we know that we didn’t really say goodbye to her for her soul is in Heaven, and we’ll see her again.
We are devastated to lose our darling little girl, but because of our faith in God and Jesus Christ, we found and continue to find hope and joy during this difficult time. We know that God created Hailey with Trisomy 18 for a reason. We find comfort in knowing Hailey is with her heavenly Father and that she no longer suffers or lives with any of her disabilities, illnesses, or problems as a result of her Trisomy 18. She has been made perfect in Heaven.
While we miss her and all the wonderful things about her, we don’t mourn the loss of a life cut too short nor are we angry with God. Instead, we choose to celebrate the life of our amazing daughter and the miraculous 36 days she lived. We choose to remember the joy she brought to our lives while she was here.
I went into labor expecting to bring home a healthy baby girl. We weren’t prepared for learning that this would not be the case, that Hailey had Trisomy 18, and that we would lose her at 36 days old, but we made the most of a seemingly dark situation. We chose to approach the situation with love and faith. We tried to give Hailey everything we could as her parents, but she gave us so much more than we ever could have asked for.
We will always remember her for the strength and courage she showed as she experienced so many problems and pain. She lived a life that was worthy of her name which means “heroine” or “courageous.”
For anyone who has a baby with Trisomy 18 or knows someone who has or is going to have a baby with Trisomy 18 (or any other genetic disorder) please know this: No parent wants their child to be sick or die and that news is devastating, but please know that that child is still AMAZING. Yes my daughter was sick and had many problems. Yes I was devastated to learn she had Trisomy 18. Yes I was devastated to lose her. There are times I wish she had been a healthy “normal” baby, but she wasn’t and that’s OKAY. She was created how God wanted her to be created, and her life has a purpose that continues to be revealed to me each day in new ways. The same is true for all babies.
I never imagined Hailey could be as amazing as she was since she was so sick. But she was the BEST baby and daughter I could have asked for. She brought me so much joy my heart overflows. Even after her death when my heart is broken because she’s not here, the memories I have of her make my heart overflow with joy. She was simply awesome.
Please do not be afraid to keep your baby. He or she will bring you more love and joy than you can imagine, and he or she will touch and bless your lives and other people’s lives forever.
If you are interested in learning more about Hailey’s journey, how her life has affected me and others, and about my journey as a mother who lost her child, please visit my blog.