Brilliant sunlight was breaking through the tall windows within the room, contrasting strongly against the deep, somber, almost palpable sadness, which will be part of their lives—forever. Yet, amid the heartache emerged a determined commitment to break through the darkness of loss, a loss totally unexpected and contrary to a religiously healthy lifestyle during her pregnancy.
“I never once thought that we’d come home without a baby,” Sara Aud said, as she sat alongside husband Kyle, recalling that tragic day, August 2, 2013. She had chosen natural childbirth, using the Bradley Method, which involves a mid-wife, and doula (a woman who assists during labor and provides support). Her pregnancy had progressed normally, going full term, and giving birth on her due date.
She went into labor early August 1, but she urged Kyle to go on to work, since she was not progressing quickly. She, too, went to her job at Ohio County Hospital, where she serves as an occupational therapist. Her co-workers jokingly said that she was making them nervous by being there. That evening, the contractions increased. “Her pain was in her back. We had to press on her hips in her lower back to relieve her pain,” Kyle said. They had a caravan en route to the hospital, including Sara’s sister who was 5 months pregnant. They stopped three times to ease her through the contractions. Kyle passed the hospital entrance in all the excitement.
The midwife met them at the hospital. With the back labor, Sara could not lie down for long. Emelia, their daughter, was up high and so Sara knew she would be pushing for quite a while—two hours to be exact. Emelia’s heart rate was still perfect at this point. “I pushed and I pushed. I chose to deliver on hands and knees. The last time they checked her heart rate was about 1 ½ minutes before delivery. At that point she was so low in the cavity that it (the heart rate) could not be checked again,” Sara said. Two more pushes. “I knew pretty quickly that something was wrong because I knew Kyle was supposed to cut the umbilical cord . . . so when I heard the midwife say she was going to cut the cord, I knew something was wrong.” Emelia was not breathing.
“They were so quick to respond. I can’t tell you how much it eased our hearts to know that she was so well taken care of. If there was any way she was going to live, she would have lived because NIC-U was in there immediately, immediately! The midwife had started compressions anyway,” Sara said. The doctors tried five shots of epinephrine and intubation twice. “She didn’t take a breath once she was out.”
They elected to have an autopsy. If there were answers, they wanted to know. “She was so perfect. It might have been easier if something was obviously wrong. Basically, she’s a medical mystery,” Sara said. The only explanation was a possible vagal response, which slows the heartbeat.
“The memory of them working on her is so blurry. I was so out of it because of the pain,” Sara said. The blessing of having Emelia in the room with them the entire time came in the assurance that everything medically possible was done to help her.
Kyle said they chose to share their story for three reasons: One, they wanted others to understand this was not the result of natural childbirth gone awry. Two, they had decided they were not going to let this ruin their lives. Three, they did not want others to question the hospital staff’s quality of care. “She wasn’t meant to be here, and as terrible as that is, that’s a little easier to swallow than someone did something wrong and she should be here,” Sara said.
So how do they continue to cope from day to day? “We knew it wasn’t going to give her any glory to never speak her name, or act like she was taboo. She’s not taboo. She’s our daughter,” Sara said. They speak of her daily. They welcome others talking about her. They treasure the photos taken at the hospital. They display them prominently. They reach out to help others. They grieve together.
“I can remember in the delivery room—this always makes me cry—he grabbed my chin and he said, ‘We’re gonna get through this. We’re gonna be OK.’ I said, ‘You know what, yeah, we are. This is our first daughter, but she’s not our last,’” Sara said, as the tears flowed.
Counseling was helpful. Family, friends, their church and Sunday school class at First Christian have been enormous, continual support. The Auds also took advantage of a counseling suggestion to take a trip; they hopped in the car and went to Asheville and Charleston shortly afterward. They concurred that it was good to be away, to unwind and to be out of the house for a while. “It was a tough trip for sure,” Kyle said.
Sara acknowledged that she has a month where she does well, and then it hits her all over again. Compound that with her not being able to be pregnant since Emelia’s stillbirth. “You know it’s stress. Each month when you know you’re not pregnant, there’s a breakdown and you hit rock bottom again,” Kyle said.
“Every month I felt like she had died all over again. It was terrible,” Sara said. A friend who had her third child die of SIDS told her that a broken heart will do a lot to your fertility. Sara truly thought she would be pregnant quickly, as she had no problems being pregnant before. “All my friends are getting pregnant. They are at that point in their lives. I hated the look on their faces when they told me . . . it was like they were so sorry . . . it broke my heart.”
She told Kyle that she needed something to look forward to and that is when they began looking into adoption. They had tried three unsuccessful rounds of IUI in Newburgh. The second round of IUI was the absolute bottom for this couple. It occurred right before Emelia’s birthday. Neither of them knew much about adoption, but Sara plunged into it with zeal, contacting anyone and everyone she knew who had adopted with questions. “Kyle calls me the research queen,” Sara said.
They chose a domestic consulting firm in Atlanta, Georgia, called Faithful Adoption Consultants who have contacts with a variety of adoption agencies. They wanted a newborn from a state that is family-friendly toward adoption. In some states, including Kentucky, there’s a 20- to 25- day waiting period where the birth mom can change her mind. Sara knew she could not handle that type of stress. After all the paperwork, they were matched within a week.
Their newborn is due January 8 in Gainesville, Florida, to a birth mom and dad who have other children. She will be named Ellington Claire, having Emelia’s middle name and her initials. “What a gift. We left the hospital without a baby. We know what that feels like and to think that someone is willing to go through that so that their child will have a better life and we will have a family is a gift that you really can’t repay and you can’t really describe. I think I always knew that, but I never knew how personally it would affect us,” Sara said. “We want Ellington to know where she came from and that she was loved long before she was born, by two people, that we wanted her so badly . . . and that it’s not she wasn’t wanted.” The Auds did not meet any resistance from family or friends when they learned they were choosing to adopt, rather they wondered what took them so long.
Sara questioned God about why all of this has happened, but the struggles have strengthened rather than weakened her faith. “I don’t think we would have gotten through it without our faith,” she said. “Sometimes you feel so alone in it and you see all those other healthy babies born—and I’m shocked every time I see a healthy baby born. I don’t know when that feeling will go away.”
One of Sara’s friends also had a baby stillborn at 25 weeks. She has been such a good resource since they also adopted. Although Sara and Kyle are eager to welcome Ellington Claire, they know it is somewhat bittersweet, “because you have to think about the little girl you don’t have anymore and you feel guilty for being so sad for Emelia,” Sara said. “Knowing someone else has been through it and has lived through it helps.”
Their grief remains. “We’re definitely not trying to replace Emelia by any means . . . but we’re seeing ourselves healing, knowing that we’re going to have another child. A piece of our heart will always be missing . . .” Sara said. “The dark season is passing.”
[tw-divider]Update![/tw-divider] Sara and Kyle announced the birth of Ellington Claire. Weighing 6 pounds and 5 ounces, she was born Dec 21 at 1:55pm.
This article was featured in the November/December issue of Owensboro Parent Magazine.