My Why, Lillian’s Story
“We loved the idea of you when children were a hypothetical idea years ago. We loved you when we found out in February 2020 that you were joining our family – as we traipsed to pharmacies across Bali, bought pregnancy tests with instructions we couldn’t read, just to confirm. We loved you as we held our breath and said our prayers at each doctor visit and ultrasound. We loved you when we learned you were a girl (always remember, your dad called it correctly!) We loved you as those ultrasounds started to show your features – your beautiful fingers and toes, your heart which stole ours, your head which no doubt contained a sharp and creative and determined mind. We loved you as we felt you move each night in your mother’s belly. We loved you as you came into the world too early and spent your entire, short life in our arms, laid atop our hearts. We loved you as you left the world far, far too early and took pieces of our hearts with you.”
Those beautiful words were written by my husband, Allen, and read to our daughter, Lillian Grace Penn, on the day we buried her.
In the middle of February 2020, Allen and I moved back to the US and to my hometown, Nashville, Tennessee after spending 10 years living overseas in Singapore and Hong Kong. Newly pregnant with the world quickly locking down due to the pandemic, we got our sweet French Bulldog puppy, Fitzgerald and prepared to fully settle into domestic life. I was convinced we were pregnant with a boy as I breezed through the first trimester with approximately 4 total hours of morning sickness one unmemorable morning. And as many other expecting parents did in 2020, we held a virtual gender reveal with our immediate families, cut open a beautiful cake over Zoom and found out we were having a little girl.
What was a textbook first trimester quickly turned worrisome in Week 16 when I started bleeding daily. And what was at first thought to be just a minor infection quickly turned into multiple ER stays and hospitalizations as the bleeding got heavier. At my second ER visit, we were diagnosed with a subchorionic hematoma (SCH) – a blood clot that develops between the baby’s sac and the uterine wall – and were told as the most common abnormality found on an ultrasound, most resolve on their own and result in a healthy baby. A few weeks of bleeding later, we anxiously awaited our anatomy ultrasound where we were thrilled to learn that our little girl was picture perfect and measuring in the 60th + percentile. And we were even more ecstatic to learn that the SCH was clotting and shrinking. All I could focus on was on each little step to get our baby girl here – first, week 24 — viability, next week 28 — third trimester, next 32 weeks and so on. 2 weeks after our anatomy ultrasound, my bleeding had slowed and the color had turned – revealing it was old blood – great news.
On June 5th, 2020, I spent the day in pain and discomfort and eventually realized I was having contractions. Eventually timing them and doing everything I could to wait for them to settle down, a mother’s instinct led me to tell my husband that we needed to head back to the ER. After an ultrasound, we devastatingly learned that my water had broken, the SCH had grown larger and it had started abrupting the placenta. I was 20 weeks and 3 days and all we could do was wait and see if bed rest in the hospital and IV fluids could keep me from pre-term labor until viability.
Sadly, at 6:23 AM on June 6th, 2020, our sweet Lillian Grace Penn came into this world, big enough and strong enough for the nurses to call the NICU. With NICU doctors asking us frantically her gestational age and frowning in disbelief that she was only just 20+4 weeks, they intubated her but couldn’t steady her. Our daughter was gently handed back to us as we were told the best for all of us was to hold her and love on her until she passed away peacefully. So for 4 hours and 19 minutes, that’s what we did. Held her, talked to her and loved her while waiting for her heart to stop beating.
During this time both our doula and L&D nurse softly encouraged us to let them call a local Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep photographer who could gently and respectfully photograph Lillian and provide us with newborn photos. I was against it, secretly terrified of what they would look like, while Allen reasoned that we should have the photos taken and if we chose to never look at them again, that was fine, but if we ever wished we had them, there would be no second chance. I am so glad his reason won out. Because there is nothing more beautiful to me than these black and white photos of my little girl.
NILMDTS provided us with a gift we never knew we would want or need, one that we forever cherish because it captures the most visceral memory of our daughter gone too soon. Lillian’s newborn photos are my most prized possession, sitting next to our bed where we get to see her before we go to sleep each night and first thing when we wake up every morning.
Since losing Lillian, I have found myself more drawn to raising funds, building awareness and growing public support for pregnancy and infant loss as well as the infertility community. Quite possibly the worst clubs to belong to with the best, most supportive people you can find. I am truly humbled to be joining the NILMDTS Board of Directors so that we can ensure more loss parents, during the worst time in their lives, can receive an unimaginable and incredible gift. A tangible moment in time of their little one who has left this world too soon.