Surviving the Death of A Daughter (pt.1): Questions

“Where is her heartbeat?”  

That question changed everything.

My pregnant wife, Emily, had just returned from the grocery store in time for her routine checkup with our superb midwife, Gay. Our daughter, Nicaea, was due in just two weeks. All three of our sons had come early. Consequently, we were anticipating our first girl to be snuggled in our arms any day now. All the stuff needed for a home-birth was neatly organized in the corner of our living room. Emily had already seen our back-up doctor. We had developed a fairly thorough “to do” list from our three previous home-births and everything was in its place. We were ready… or so we thought.

As Emily sat down with Gay, I quickly unloaded the groceries and prepared the boys for our annual trip to the Monroe County Fair. I had only a couple hours before I needed to sign in at my office for work. I needed to get stuff done so we could eat Elephant Ears and ride Tilt-a-Whirls together. Our house felt like a busy city intersection. Shoeless boys ran amuck as I put celery there and salami here. Then everything went slow motion. After repeated attempts, Gay was unable to find Nicaea’s heartbeat with the doppler. Impossible! I just felt her kick last night. 

“Is Nicaea alright?”

We rushed the entire family into the minivan and headed to the doctor’s office. Hudson asked me if Nicaea was alright. Maybe she was fine. Maybe the doppler was just broken. I told him she was fine. Emily’s face was long. She knew what I refused to believe. Gay’s assistant sat with the boys in the waiting room while we went into the ultrasound room. Minutes later our worse fears were confirmed. Nicaea was dead. I knelt over the edge of the bed’s frame and held Emily as she cried. Though I looked calm on the outside, inside of me was a tornado of emotions.

I walked outside the office, down the pathway, and screamed as loud as I could. It echoed through the parking lot. Then I crumbled to my knees and cried violently for a few minutes. I didn’t care if anyone saw me. I just didn’t want my boys to be scared. Once I regained a reasonable amount of control, I went to work. I arranged a place for the boys to stay, called all the grandparents, and notified our pastors. I got the boys situated in our friend’s minivan. They would be safe with trustworthy Christian brethren.

The doctor told us that we could either wait for her to pass naturally or induce the labor. We thought inducing labor would be the wisest course of action. An appointment was set for later that night at Bloomington Hospital.  I made sure we got something to eat. It wasn’t easy. Neither us were hungry. We both knew we were on the verge of a very long and challenging ordeal.

We only talked a little on the drive home. We both were stunned. Our life had suddenly taken an unexpected turn. There were no warning signs the entire pregnancy. Both Emily and Nicaea appeared to be totally fine at the obstetrician’s checkup the previous week. Our shock numbed us enough to be operational. Neither of us cried hysterically. At least I don’t recalled it happening that way. We both clung to basic truths from Scripture. God is good. God is in control. God is our loving father. We were met by our pastors at our doorstep. They read Scripture and prayed over us. It help prepare us for what was to come.

“Are you going to be okay?”

We checked-in to the hospital. As we walked to the elevator, the woman at the registration desk said, “Congratulations!” It stung. She didn’t know. So I didn’t say anything. I just politely nodded my head. At the Labor & Delivery desk, I purposely told the woman that my wife was here to deliver our still-born daughter. One congratulations was enough. They put us in a spacious delivery room. It had a television, a couch, and a special hospital bed. We watched Barter Kings.

My father-in-law was there. He had dropped everything the moment I called him and made a 3 hour drive in 2 1/2 hours. What father-in-law I have! I watched him love on his daughter. It was a bittersweet sight. I wanted to love on a daughter someday. Elders from our church came and prayed over us. My little brother brought me some Mt. Dew. My spiritual father, Tim Bayly, had turned around midway on his trip to his vacation home to be by our side. Gay was there. We had an army of friends and family. We needed everyone of them.

The Pitocin drip was doing its job. Emily was dilating. It wouldn’t be long now. Everyone left besides the hospital staff and Gay. We’d soon be face to face with our daughter.

I once watch a man die from a heart attack. His whole family was around him crying. It looked like a family reunion. The EMTs tried to push life in him. It didn’t work. My Cousin Greg died unexpectedly at 17. My Uncle Roberto, who was closer to a brother, died barely over thirty. Several of my friends died in tragic accidents when I was younger. I had just been at the funeral for a newborn in our church the previous Sunday. I’m no stranger to death. But nothing…nothing prepared me for the birth of my daughter.

Emily’s labor wasn’t too long. I had been there for the birth of all my children. I delivered one them. I wasn’t about to leave Emily alone. The anticipation was weird. I dreaded seeing Nicaea. Would she be deformed? When she came out it was worse than I ever imagined. I gasped and almost fell over when I saw her. The nurse asked if I was going to be okay. I snapped, “No.” Nicaea looked perfect. Like a little version of her mom. Her skin was paper white and covered in an unusual amount of blood. Her mouth hung open. I stood horrified. Emily pushed Nicaea’s chin up to close it and held her against her chest. We were so close.

“Why did this happen?” 

Medically speaking, we still don’t know exactly what went wrong with Nicaea. All signs point to a combination of complications from a disease called CMV and a blood clotting mutation we recently discovered Emily has. The experts continue to give us muddled answers. I doubt we will ever know for sure this side of the resurrection. The medical questions really aren’t the most difficult ones. There are much bigger questions…

Why did God allow this to happen? Or, to be much more biblical, why did God cause this to happen? He is in control of everything. He opens and closes the womb. So… why? Why Father?

God has given us some answers in His Word. They have been a great comfort to me and next time I’ll share a few of them with you. Until then I’ll leave with some words from Pastor Charles Spurgeon that capture my heart today:

“It is a wondrous joy to be the father of those who, day and night, wait upon God in heaven, and see his face, and serve him evermore; so be not sad or downcast if that is your case.”

Amen, amen.

10 thoughts on “Surviving the Death of A Daughter (pt.1): Questions

  1. Thank you for writing about Nicaea’s death and sharing your pictures. It helps me to feel more empathy and to grieve with you.

  2. I put off reading this all night. I hate it and love it at the same time. Another thank you for letting people into your lives in this way. The Hank Pryors love the Fosters.

  3. I, too, had to say goodbye to my infant 6 month old daughter, our first and only child at the time. We had no indications of any problems until she was born. I’d always known of Jesus’ amazing sacrifice on the cross for my sin. But, it wasn’t until Courtney passed away that I truly understood the loss my perfect, holy Heavenly Father felt when he watched his only Son die, and He allowed that because of my sin. Selfishly, I’d have loved to raise Courtney myself. But my understanding and appreciation for what God sacrificed for me is far greater that it ever would have been had God not allowed that experience in our lives. My prayers for comfort are with you and your family.

  4. Pingback: Surviving the Death of A Daughter (pt. 2): Answers | M. Scott Foster

  5. Pingback: Surviving the Death of a Daughter (pt. 3): A Painful Blessing | M. Scott Foster

  6. Pingback: Surviving the Death of a Daughter (pt. 4): Heaven on Earth | M. Scott Foster

  7. Pingback: Surviving the Death of a Daughter (pt. 5): Another Link with Heaven | M. Scott Foster

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