The Word Among Us

Jan/Feb 2016 Issue

Celebrating Elizabeth

Her Life Was Short, Fragile, and Precious Beyond Telling

By: Tiffany Woods

Celebrating Elizabeth: Her Life Was Short, Fragile, and Precious Beyond Telling by Tiffany Woods

My fiancé and I received our baby’s devastating diagnosis at our usual doctor’s office. I had hoped the ultrasound would show that the baby was fine; the tiny arms of our child on the screen appeared to be waving vigorously. Then the ultrasound technician stepped out of the room, and a doctor entered.

“Your baby has anencephaly—an extreme case—and will not live. I recommend that you terminate this pregnancy.”

When we asked what anencephaly was, he briefly explained that the baby would be born without a brain. When we inquired further, he pulled out a medical book and showed us a picture of a dead baby. My fiancé and I were reeling with questions as the doctor started talking about steps I should take before getting pregnant in the future.

I stopped him. “I want to talk about this baby. Is my baby a boy or a girl?”

The doctor responded, “It’s a girl, but I recommend that you terminate the pregnancy.”

I felt defiant. “She’s still our daughter—whether I have her for an hour, a month, or a lifetime. I want to be with her as much as I can.”

On the quiet car ride home, my worries mounted. I didn’t have insurance, and my job at a grocery store was not going to be enough to pay for all those medical expenses—to deliver a baby that would die soon after birth, if not before. But I was determined to go through with a full pregnancy and see my daughter. Who am I to play God with this baby’s life? I thought. God has a plan for her, and we will leave her in his hands.

I immediately started to do research and found that other mothers facing this diagnosis had delivered their babies and spent precious hours with them before the infants died a natural death. That strengthened my resolve to see my baby girl. Feeling trapped, I called another doctor for advice. She referred me to Tepeyac Family Center’s Perinatal Hospice Program. The program takes care of infants not expected to live long—or at all—outside the womb: children like ours.

Called by Name. I was nervous for my first appointment with the Tepeyac ob-gyn, Dr. Marie Anderson. But her first questions put me at ease. She asked if my baby had a name and how she was doing. I was touched that a doctor would care and told her, “Elizabeth.” When I explained that I didn’t want to abort Elizabeth, Dr. Anderson smiled and told me that she would do all she could to help me and my baby.

During later appointments, the doctors at Tepeyac monitored us carefully. They helped my fiancé and me create a plan that included a scheduled cesarean-section birth. This would increase our baby’s chance of a live birth.

I wanted to make the most of the short time we would have with Elizabeth. Tepeyac Family Center had lots of creative resources for just that purpose. We were given a teddy bear with a device inside for recording Elizabeth’s heartbeat so that we could listen to it forever. The center gave us kits to make hand and foot molds after our baby was born. Doctors gave me names of other parents who had been through similar trials and would be willing to talk with us. They even connected me with a free non-profit group that photographs babies who might not make it home from the hospital.

Our last and most pressing concern was how we could afford the medical care. Tepeyac Family Center’s financial-aid staff helped me work through my insurance problems and other dilemmas, keeping in touch throughout my pregnancy. In fact, more than once, I got calls from the doctors and staff at Tepeyac who were just checking in to see how Elizabeth and I were doing.

More than a Memory. When the day of Elizabeth’s birth came, we made it a joyous celebration of her little life in the hospital room. During the five hours that she lived, she met her parents, godparents, grandparents, and others. She was baptized and confirmed. She was kissed, cuddled, and photographed like a movie star.

When she heard her dad’s voice, she swung her arms vigorously toward him like she had inside the womb. Elizabeth’s short life was filled with love and joy. And we now have a precious treasure chest full of memories, including a book that her dad wrote about the impact of her life.

We are still working through our grief. But I do not regret carrying my daughter to term.

Tiffany Woods and her husband live in Leesburg, VA.