Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month
By Elyssa Cottrell
Special to Jobe Publishing
“I’m sorry, your baby no longer has a heartbeat.”
These are words that will forever be etched into my brain – words I heard while sitting in a dimly lit cold emergency room, and words that made my strong husband, Turner, drop his head into his hands. These are the words that no Mama or Daddy should ever have to hear.
If you have heard those words yourself or been close to someone as they were spoken, I am so incredibly sorry. I encourage you to take the next four weeks along with me as you read my story. I hope my story brings you the courage to speak out about yours and say your baby’s name with grace, strength, and dignity because they deserve to be remembered, too.
What started as a normal pregnancy ended tragically at 32 weeks and five days when I was told my baby no longer had a heartbeat. A painful feeling that no amount of words can describe. A sense of numbness came over me as the doctor told me the news. What felt like a slow-motion movie as she placed her hand on mine, the nurse crying behind her, and Turner’s face buried into the palm of his hands. What was happening? How was this real? We were just at the doctor, and everything was perfect.
After Turner called our parents to tell them the devastating news, we held hands for what felt like an eternity, crying to ourselves as we were both at a loss for words. Once our parents arrived, we sat in the cold ER together and cried, all six of us holding a part of one another as nothing else could ease the pain. It was a moment so hard for me to look back on and even harder to write.
I was quickly started on IV fluids and Cytotec to start labor and moved into another room – a room I wouldn’t leave for 42 hours, a room I never want to see again. For 42 hours, I heard the painful phone calls being made to our family and friends in the hallways. I watched family members come in and out with tired, tear-filled eyes, each hurting in their ways as they, too, were losing a grandchild, a nephew, and a cousin. I was poked, pushed on, asked how I wanted my baby’s funeral to go, what name I wanted on the death certificate, and if I wanted him to go to the morgue right after birth or placed on my chest.
After a long 42 hours of labor with my mom, LaRissa, to my left and my husband, Turner, to my right, I delivered my beautiful stillborn baby into the arms of angels. 4 lbs. 3 oz. and 18 inches long. I will never forget the moment they laid his lifeless body across mine. I smiled proudly as I finally saw the baby we had anxiously been waiting to meet. I gripped his tiny fingers, admiring each indention, line, and nail bed resembling his daddies.
As I rubbed my finger down his little peach fuzz legs, adoring his calf muscles, I imagined what a strong boy he would’ve been. I held each of his tiny toes, laughing out about his big yet small foot. I stared at his pursed lips, his blue cheeks from the loss of oxygen, and I picked his hands up again, which fell as I let go. My baby was lifeless. My baby was gone. My innocent, beautiful baby boy was gone. I held his lifeless body, saying repeatedly how I just wanted him to wake up and look up at me with the same love I was looking at him with. I wanted to hear him cry. I wanted him to clinch his fingers around mine when I held them. I wanted his feet to wiggle when I touched his toes.
My smile faded as my reality of never knowing who this boy would grow up to be sat in. I would never see this baby walk, and I would never see him start kindergarten. I would never watch him graduate high school or give him away one day to his future wife. What was supposed to have been the happiest moment of our lives was quickly stripped away as we admired our lifeless baby, the baby we named Sadler Ray Cottrell.
Sadler is the maiden name of my mother-in-law, Diana. Ray is my dad, John’s middle name, which means “wise protector.” After this long labor and a silent delivery, we quickly buried our baby boy. At 25, I never imagined I would bury my child. Nonetheless, I never imagined having to bury my first baby.
The day we buried Sadler was a beautiful, warm, sunny day in January. We felt his presence so strong that day as the sun was warm on our backs. It was a small gathering at our family cemetery, gathered by our closest family and friends. My sister played the song “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” the last song we would hear before we laid our sweet boy to rest. Sadler was buried in a beautiful wooden casket made by my dad, John, and Sadler’s grandpa, who spent all night building this casket the night before so that our baby could leave the hospital in a warm casket made with love. I gave Sadler one last kiss on the nose, covered him up, tucked him in with his teddy bear lamb, and told him, “I love you, my baby until we meet again.”
When we see those two pink lines on a test, this is an exciting feeling for most, one full of instant imagination of what our future will look like. When I saw those two pink lines, I immediately started thinking of a life full of babies, full seats at a table, and many presents under a Christmas tree. I imagined the moment I would deliver my baby and hear them cry out as they were laid on my chest. I imagined my husband leaving the hospital carrying the baby out in the car seat, with a heart so full of love it could burst.
We had our first ultrasound at eight weeks and saw our tiny baby growing great with a fast heartbeat. A few weeks later, we found out our baby’s gender surrounded by our family and friends. Once we learned our Sadler was a boy, we started working on the nursery, receiving boy clothes, and again imagining life with a little boy.
We got to our 20-week anatomy scan, and the baby was growing great again, and everything looked perfect. We continued planning and prepping for our little guy. We had a growth scan around 31 weeks and again the baby was growing great, nothing was wrong. Little did we know, that would be the last time we saw our baby alive. I never imagined leaving a hospital with empty arms, while crying hysterically in the elevator next to families headed to meet their newest addition. Another moment I will never forget for the rest of my earthly life.
Writing these words brings tears to my eyes from the unimaginable pain I felt leaving the hospital that day. If you can relate, I am deeply sorry. It’s a feeling we should never have to feel.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, which was put into place by Ronald Raegan in 1988. One in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and 1 in 160 end in stillbirth. Every year in the United States, about 23,000 babies who are born don’t make it to their first birthday. If I were to speak these numbers to you, instead of writing, I would ask you to take a moment of silence for all the losses that mothers endure. Since you are reading this, please take a moment and reflect on these numbers.
I, again, want to say I am so sorry if you have experienced pregnancy or infant loss. It is a hopeless feeling of loss that nobody can ever understand unless they, too, have experienced it. I know each loss is different and has its unique story. I am not here to write about how one loss is more significant than the other. Once you lose a baby, no matter the gestation, you unfortunately fall into the loss mom category, too.
Through my loss, I have met some amazing women who persevered, held strong to their faith, and stayed confident in knowing they would see the light again. I encourage you to stick with me for the next four weeks as I will show you how I held onto my faith when it was the last thing I wanted to do. I will show you how I continue to overcome grief and postpartum together while I longed for a baby in my arms. I will share how friends and family can support you during your loss. I will also encourage you to say your baby’s name, honor them, and try to make a change.
I don’t have a rainbow story to share with you, but I have a story that is still going. A story that is not over, a story that is filled with lots of heartache, as well as lots of happiness. One day, I hope we can all share our rainbow story. But, if you haven’t gotten your “rainbow” yet, this one is just for you. And to the one reading this who has been so close to loss that it felt like your own, this one’s for you, too.
If you want to connect with me, share your story, and stay up to date with mine, please follow along at https://www.sadlersrayofsunshine.com/. Also, I would love to connect with you on social media. Facebook – Elyssa Cottrell and Instagram – elyssacottrell
Elyssa and Turner Cottrell held their son, Sadler Ray Cottrell, as family members also mourned the loss of a grandchild, a nephew, and a cousin. Photo submitted.