October is Infant and Child Loss Awareness Month.
It’s a topic that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, partially because it is so very difficult to talk about, especially when it comes to little ones who were only in the world for a brief period of time.
Still, not everyone realizes that 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage or stillbirth, and those losses are deeply painful for the expectant parents. It’s a personal tragedy that can be hard to mourn publicly about, and even harder to talk about.
While it was a taboo topic for many years, moms are slowly but surely opening up and starting a conversation.
Some moms are sharing their “rainbow babies,” or children conceived after miscarriage, while others are still in mourning for much wanted children that passed too soon.
At the end of the day, what matters most is that all of these women are telling their stories, and empowering other moms to talk about their own prenatal losses and experiences.
Read on below to learn about one powerful mama’s heartbreaking story, and her message to other moms.
In late September of 2016, Alyssa Young went to the OBGYN for a routine check-up.
She and her husband Justin were eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child, a baby girl they had already named Scarlett.
Because her pregnancy was considered high-risk, due to Alyssa having cerebral palsy and diabetes type 2, among other conditions, she was doing everything in her power to monitor the baby’s progress closely. In late September, everything seemed to be going according to plan.
Alyssa tells LittleThings, “On September 28th I had routine ultrasound. Scarlett was perfect. Weighing in at 14 ounces and heart rate of 131, she was so chunky and so perfect. I was 19 weeks 6 days and she was just my pride and joy.”
The Youngs couldn’t wait to have baby Scarlett join their family; Justin and Alyssa had met six years ago, when they were just teenagers.
Young writes, “We knew immediately that we were in love and wanted to spend forever together. Almost right away we talked about getting married and having children of our own. Yes, we were young, but we knew what we wanted.”
That dream seemed poised to come true in June, when Alyssa followed an early mother’s intuition:
“Something in my gut told me I needed to take [a pregnancy test]… I laid the test on the corner of the sink and whispered to God: ‘God, please let it be positive, please. I’m begging you God. Please.’ Lo and behold, there it was two glorious pink lines. I wept from the overwhelming sense of joy my heart had.”
All seemed to be going just as planned, until September 28. The check-up showed that Scarlett was growing and thriving, but Alyssa realized that she was in an unusual amount of pain from the ultrasound and felt “off.”
At first, she chalked the discomfort up to normal pregnancy aches and pains, but grew increasingly worried, as her pain didn’t diminish and gradually evolved into an upset stomach and pelvic pain.
As she wrote to LittleThings, “Being pregnant, it is very hard to diagnose pains with everything physically changing. Friday rolled around and I just couldn’t take this pain anymore… Sunday, October 2, I was taken to the Emergency Room in my hometown because I was still in pain and having minor bleeding… Scarlett was perfect, so they sent us home. My husband and I were so relieved. We thanked God our girl was fine. Monday approaches, and I call my Obstetrician back… .I was told that everything I was experiencing was normal.”
She adds, “Every doctor I had talked to so far didn’t seem worried, so I had trusted in them. I knew everything was going to be fine. I prayed everything would be. I prayed harder than I ever have in my entire life.”
Still, she had a mother’s instinct that all was not well.
On Monday, October 3, the Youngs rushed to the Labor & Delivery Ward of the hospital that they had chosen for Scarlett’s birth, located 45 minutes away.
Alyssa writes, “When we arrived at the hospital, the kind nurses made sure I was comfortable… Once I was settled in, the on-call obstetrician came in to do an exam. He told us that I was either suffering from Incompetent Cervix or my body was trying to miscarry our beautiful baby girl.”
He told her that with Incompetent Cervix, they could normally perform a procedure to put a stitch in to keep the cervix closed, but that in Alyssa’s case it wouldn’t make a difference, and might prevent her from getting pregnant again.
She adds, “He performed an ultrasound to be sure Scarlett was okay, and she was. She was a perfectly healthy, gorgeous baby.”
Medical staff gave Alyssa magnesium in an attempt to keep her from dilating any further and kept her on bedrest, hoping that these measures would be enough.
Little Scarlett was still showing every sign of being healthy and normal, but it’s just that she was getting too big for Alyssa’s cervix to support.
Cervical incompetence is a common condition that affects 1 in every 100 women. It can be hard to catch early, but probably should have been caught earlier by Alyssa’s medical team, because she was considered a high-risk pregnancy from the start.
Unfortunately, despite the magnesium, Alyssa’s cervix continued to dilate the next day.
She writes, “I don’t really remember what time they came in to check on me, but I know it was early. The ultrasound showed I was dilated to 5 centimeters and Scarlett was basically on her way to meet us…I felt like I had failed. I felt like I failed him and our daughter. All I could spit out was “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” I must have repeated that a dozen times. We both cried and prayed, prayed and cried. We called our family and close friends to tell them the news. We told them that it’d be a good idea to come to the hospital. We were surrounded by so much love that day. So many prayers, and so much love filled that hospital room.”
At just 20 weeks and 5 days along, baby Scarlett was just a bit too young to survive; the youngest documented premature baby to ever survive was James Elgin Gill, born at 21 weeks and 5 days.
Alyssa and Justin knew going in that their baby girl would not survive long past labor, so they made sure family and friends (pictured above) were on hand in the delivery room to say both hello and goodbye to their little one.
Still, they prayed for a miracle.
Alyssa’s description of Scarlett’s birth is heart-wrenching.
She writes, “As I held her, she gasped for breath. I told her that I was so sorry. I told her I loved her. I told her it was okay to let go. Seeing your child dying and knowing that there is nothing you can do to save them, it’s a terrible feeling. You’re helpless. Everyone took their turns and held her. Everyone got to love her. That’s all she ever experienced was love.”
Scarlett survived for just two hours, but in those two hours she was held and loved and attended to by her entire family, and was held and cherished by her mom the whole time.
Her brief time on earth was captured in a series of beautiful birth photographs by her own grandmother, who had already picked out a “grandma name.” She was planning to go by “Haha,” so her photos are all credited to “Scarlett’s Haha.”
Baby Scarlett didn’t get the chance to experience more than two hours with her family, but Alyssa is giving her baby girl a powerful purpose. She’s encouraging fellow moms to talk about miscarriage and stillbirth, and to open up about cervical incompetence.
Her hope is that by raising awareness, more moms will be diagnosed early, and fewer perfectly healthy babies will be lost.