How I imagine You

El Momma, big Sis Trinity and baby Mary-Linda

It’s always been hard for me to imagine how my babies will look and who they will look like, when I am pregnant. It was the same when we were expecting our second daughter in the summer of 2017. I knew she would look like an El. But, would her eyes be hazel like mine and Bakri’s? Would her hair be curly like Maddux and Leeland? Would she have olive skin like Trinity and Leeland? Or would her eyes be blue and her hair be blonde like Maddux?

When she died at 18 weeks gestation, I held her tiny little body in my arms. I remember that day so vividly. I never ever wanted to let her go and yet, I knew that her little body would not keep. And, I could not hold her like this forever. As the days passed, I would imagine her. I would have day dreams of her in heaven. I could see her. I could touch her. She wasn’t a baby at all. In my mind she was a little girl. She was three.

She was the age she would be now, had she not had an undetected fetal maternal when I was 4.5 months pregnant with her. She would have a sweet nature, because, well the Els all have sweet natures as babies. 💗 She would have had a distinct way of speaking. They all do. Each one had their own special way. She is so loved. I wish I knew more of her. But, I know there is someday. And, we are one day closer to that day.

Mary-Linda’s expected due date in 2018

Nothing is Normal in 2020

The Birth of Jimmie Josiah, May 2019



A mother’s journey to find normal after losing a child, adding to our family and living through 2020

 

In August of 2017, our family was the happiest we had ever been. Our four big kids were finding their way and thriving. Our two oldest boys were 13 and 11 years old. Our daughter was 9 years old and our youngest son had just turned seven. And, we were nearly halfway through what seemed to be a normal, healthy pregnancy with a baby girl, Mary-Linda, who we were expecting to arrive near the end of the year. Life was good! Until, it wasn’t.

 

In one moment, everything changed. It was still summertime and I left the kids at home with their dad so I could run to my 18 week appointment. I had been unable to find the baby’s heartbeat on the fetal heartbeat Doppler the night before, but I shook it off as user error and tried to put it out of my mind. At my appointment, my greatest fears were realized and I learned that our daughter’s heart had stopped beating. The next few days, months and even years have been a struggle to find a new normal for us. Our life after losing our daughter, Mary-Linda is so different from our life before.

 

We are still trying to figure out what normal looks like. For a year, I continued to work in the same capacity I had worked in before Mary-Linda’s death. I loved being busy and I loved my job. It seemed right at the time. We spent that entire year going to therapy, doctor appointments, and visiting with specialists. I wanted so badly to pinpoint what happened to Mary-Linda, so we could move forward with as much information as possible. And, as it turned out, there was a diagnosis and a cause of death. Mary-Linda had suffered a Fetal Maternal Hemorrhage (blood loss/severe anemia) and her heart had stopped beating. The medical professionals missed alarming red flags in my bloodwork and did not follow protocol to refer me to a specialist. I learned all of this, as I researched this condition and found the blood results from early in pregnancy. These “problems” were never discussed with me, but the specialists I met with to prepare for another pregnancy, assured me that Fetal Maternal Hemorrhage was not something that happened to the same mother twice. I worried that something was not right after I delivered Mary-Linda silently and that was making it more difficult for us to get pregnant again. For thirteen months we prayed, we waited and we kept hunting for answers.

 

In September of 2018, after having a chemical pregnancy the month before, we found out we were expecting again. It was exciting and terrifying. We had a fertility doctor, a primary ob-gyn and high risk doctor all working with us. After the initial visits to confirm pregnancy, we would alternate seeing the ob-gyn and high risk doctor every couple of weeks. Each visit with the high risk doctor they would check for fetal anemia. I also stopped working outside the home around the same time I became pregnant. It wasn’t my intention to make this my new normal, but it sure was a huge blessing. I was surrounded with people, family and friends who loved me and supported me. I ended up really enjoying my pregnancy and soon found out we were pregnant with a boy. My father passed early in the spring and we named our baby boy after him. In May of 2019, baby Jimmie Josiah El-Hakam joined our family earth-side. 

 

This last year has been anything but normal. We had a baby. We moved to a different home. I started a new job, was laid off from that job because of COVID-19. Our oldest son, who is on the autism spectrum, started high school. We spent most of the last year experiencing firsts with our new baby. And, we spent another year missing our Mary-Linda. 

 

By the time March came around, we were in a pretty good rhythm. And then, the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe and we went into strict lockdown with my mom, who is 78 years old and has some health problems. My older sister, Melinda had Down Syndrome and lived with my parents her entire life. She passed away suddenly on Valentine’s Day this year at the age of 50. 

 

Our new normal really isn’t normal at all. My mom has lived with us for the last several months. Our kids are home- which the baby loves, by the way! My husband and I are both working from home. It’s intense.

 

For now, there’s no getting back to “normal.” We’ve lost so much. If we focus on that, it becomes too overwhelming. So, instead we just try to focus on finding some joy and happiness in each day. My big kids are older, so chores have become a part of our new normal. We also eat so many meals together. We enjoy that. But, honestly, I am very nervous about our potential to be successful in distance learning this Fall. Creating space for school work and work at home and space for baby to flourish is proving to be very difficult. 

 

As a practice, we pray together and attend online church as a family each Sunday. But, even that has begun to feel difficult to engage in as a family. We talk about our Mary-Linda. And, we recently celebrated 3 years since she was with us. We mixed that celebration in with happy, socially-distanced birthday parties for myself, my husband and 2 of our other living children. She’s a part of our family. She’s just not on earth with us. In our new house, her ashes sit on a shelf in my closet. It’s actually a very pretty place. I have a Mary-Linda bear sitting nearby and I look at it every single day. Sometimes, I hold the urn and completely lose it. Because, sometimes I just miss her so much that I can’t catch my breath. Having other loved ones in heaven with her does give me peace. Her Aunt Melinda. Her grandfather. Her great-grandparents. I know she’s well cared for and she’s in heaven. It doesn’t make us miss her any less. 

 

As I close, I want to encourage others who are feeling stressed by grief, depression and the heartaches of being lonely in this pandemic: Please, do not put too much pressure on yourselves to “get back to” anything that you are not ready for. Losing a child is a devastating, often traumatic experience. Being in a pandemic and isolated from your family and your friends is challenging on so many levels. We are not going to come out of this unscathed and unchanged. But, you are not alone. Allow yourself time. Give yourself grace to be okay doing things differently. 

 

For me, personally, I find comfort in knowing that we will see our Mary-Linda again when we all get to heaven. I also find comfort in knowing that we will get through this moment in time. Things will get better again. We have to believe. Until then, we will keep on remembering and keep on living our (not so) normal lives.



 I just published Nothing is Normal in 2020 on medium link.medium.com/PhDyKxLZg9 #infantloss #medium #stillbirth #mommaof6 #nonewnormal #elmomma

Our Miracle Baby. 🌈💙🙏🏼

The last two years have flown by and yet, as they say, the days have been very long. At this time, two years ago, we were 10 weeks pregnant. It would be three more weeks before we would have another ultrasound, learn we were expecting a baby girl and announce the pregnancy. Our Mary-Linda was on her way. But, having our healthy baby girl in our arms in January of 2018, never happened. In mid-August our Daughter’s heart stopped beating and we delivered her and held her in our arms way too soon. The pain and numbness we felt was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Loss of our daughter and the loss of every dream and hope for her life on earth. It nearly broke us. In fact, it did break us. 
We are not the same as we once were. Sometimes I think we battle with past perceptions of ourselves. But, the truth is, we are changed. We are not the same as we were before our daughter was born sleeping. Perhaps we are stronger now, more tender, gentler, more loving, tough? 
We are parents of a child in heaven. Our daughter died. And, we lived. It’s hard.
Over the next year, our outward and inward focus was on grieving, healing and figuring out how to move forward. How could we move forward with our baby girl in heaven?
So, we leaned in to God. We leaned in to family. We kept busy with work. That Fall, I wrote five new songs – one, as a cry to God after losing Mary-Linda and four songs during the season of advent. I continued to grieve outwardly, and share my experiences by writing. This really helped the healing process for me and I’ve continued to receive messages from grieving parents telling me how much this meant to them.
Exactly one year after losing Mary-Linda I experienced a chemical pregnancy and I found myself without a traditional job (I have plenty to do with four living children!) I hit rock bottom and yet, all I had to cling to was my family, friends and God. And, I knew peace. Such a strange experience to know a peace that just doesn’t make sense. But, I knew God had this. The very next month, we learned we were expecting again. I had the entire school year, while I was serving as PTO President, to just be pregnant and grow this sweet baby. We had two doctors overseeing this pregnancy. My care was so much better than my previous pregnancy. 
What a dream. I didn’t ask for this but the Lord knew what I needed. I needed to be surrounded by love and to care for my baby. And that’s exactly what I experienced. It has not been easy. There have been huge financial burdens on our family but somehow we have always been provided for. 
And, that brings me to this moment. 
Two years almost to the day since learning I was pregnant with Mary-Linda and I’m holding her baby brother. The relief. The peace. The grateful heart. It’s all there. Delivering a baby with a heartbeat. It was everything I dreamed it would be and so much more.

Such a beautiful name…

Warning. This post discusses loss. 

We had a list of possible names for our baby daughter. Fifty or more different combinations. We knew we wanted to give her a name that paid homage to both our mothers’.

I remember a day a couple of months ago. My husband texted me one name idea. I replied back with my very large list (which I started working on right after finding out we were pregnant). The list was full of girl names. So many names. All of which connected with our mothers. He replied to my text with:
“Goodness me. This is going to be more difficult that I initially thought.”

We thought we had time to know for sure. The kids would often tell us of their name ideas.

Here are just a few:
Caroline
Evelyn
Oreo

We told them, “God knows her name and when we need to know we will know.”

On August 15th, 2017 we knew. I remember laying there in the hospital bed, in labor with our daughter and I just knew.

Mary-Linda Elizabeth

Just say it and it sounds so beautiful. So meant to be. Our precious baby.

We named her “Mary” for my husband’s mother. Mary means “wished-for child.” She is our wished-for child in every way.

We named her “Linda” for my mother. Linda means “beautiful.” She is beautiful and perfect in every way.

We named her “Elizabeth” because Elizabeth means oath or promise of God. We hold tight to God’s promises. Especially that He never leaves us or forsakes us. Knowing I was giving birth to our daughter who was already in heaven was only something I could go through knowing I was not going through it alone. The Lord was with us. His presence was felt and known in so many ways in that hospital bed.

I often think back to that experience- the worst of my life. But, I can’t help but remember so much peace in the deep heartache and suffering. That’s only possible through God. There really is no other explanation.

We love you forever, our baby daughter in heaven, Mary-Linda Elizabeth. 

Heartbroken

Trigger Warning. This post discusses loss. 

 

Psalm 34:1, 18
His praise shall continually be in my mouth. I will bless the Lord at all times;
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted


This is the hardest post I’ve ever written.
And, by far, the most difficult time of my life.

On Tuesday morning, at a nearly 18 weeks gestation, we found out that our baby girl’s heart had stopped beating.

We are devastated. Completely devastated.

Monday night, as I settled into my place in bed, I reached for the home fetal Doppler monitor so that I could listen to our daughter’s heartbeat. It was a normal routine for me. I had done this same thing many times this since she was 10 weeks along. Even at that age, I could find her heartbeat. This night was different. Things didn’t sound right. I didn’t panic. Mainly because I heard something (turned out to be my own pulse or the placenta beating). And I knew my regular appointment was the next day. I thought my monitor wasn’t working correctly. I really didn’t hold on to the thought that her heart could have stopped beating.

I decided to sleep in and not work out before my appointment, just in case she was in distress.

I went to my appointment alone. As I mentioned to the nurse that I wasn’t noticing her flutters as I had earlier in my pregnancy.  She said she would let the midwife know. When they went to find her heartbeat, my heart began to race uncontrollably. It sounded just like the night before. It didn’t sound right. She acted as though it was no big deal and I’d “won myself an ultrasound today.” I lay there still, as the reality began to sink in. I prayed for a miracle. I prayed and prayed and prayed. The ultrasound showed my biggest fear. My beautiful baby girl, still and with no heart beat. The midwife turned to me and quietly said what I feared most. “Rebekah, I’m so sorry, but there is no heartbeat.”


Dear God. Please, no. She said she would go get a professional sonographer to be sure. I remained laying down on the table as one person stayed with me in the room for a while. I wanted her to leave. I wanted to be alone so I could pray out loud. So I could cry out to God for a miracle. She asked me if I wanted to sit up. I said no. I wanted to stay there. She offered to go see what was taking so long and I asked her to please do that.

As I lay there alone in the room, I continued to ask the Lord for a miracle. “God, please restore our baby girl. If there is any way, let her heartbeat be strong. Please God, I know you are the God who heals. We need a miracle.”
The next sonogram confirmed the worst news of my life. Our child. Our fifth baby el. Our daughter. Our precious baby girl’s heart was no longer beating.

Moustapha had worried with me the night before. We both love all of our children so much. I needed him. I called him. Through the tears, I said his name “Moustapha.” He cried out “No!” Without saying anything else, he knew.

This is all I can share about that for now. 

Wednesday morning, I delivered our baby girl and held her in my arms way too soon. She is beautiful. She brought our family so much joy in the weeks leading up to this day. Our family now feels a deep sadness and a huge hole in our hearts. 

But, our hope remains in Christ. We know that God loves us all and that our daughter is in God’s arms. We are heartbroken. Please keep our entire family in your prayers.

Mary-Linda Elizabeth El-Hakam
We will love and cherish our time with you always. 
Love you forever. – Momma and Daddy
 

“We later learned that Mary-Linda had an undetected fetal maternal hemorrhage that could have been treated had I been seeing a high risk doctor. Always check your own test results and advocate for yourself.”

El Momma, 2021