Mom to Savannah Grace Renfro
Born asleep on May 18th, 2009 at 40 weeks, 3 days
My husband and I had been married for 4 years and had a son who had just turned one when we found out we were pregnant with our 2nd. We always wanted more children and I especially wanted a little girl. I already had her name picked out, Savannah Grace. To me, it was the most beautiful name ever.
After several months of trying, I found out I was pregnant. I knew it was a girl, my Savannah. The theme of her nursery was to be ballerina. I loved to dance, ballet was my favorite and I hoped it would be hers as well. Shortly before Thanksgiving, I took the quad screen test and a few days later, I got a call from the doctor. Savannah had a 1 in 9 chance of Down Syndrome. I was so upset. I wondered what was wrong with me, what I had done wrong. Who would take care of her after my husband and I passed? She would never be a ballerina. Was I strong enough to be the Mom of a special needs child?
We researched Down Syndrome and joined a local Support Group. The more I learned, the more my faith was strengthened and my heart was opened to children of all special needs. I knew that even if she couldn’t dance, she could be a fan of dance. We love her unconditionally. If this was what God planned for us, we would take it with willing and open arms.
We saw a genetic counselor that encouraged us to terminate. Abortion was never an option for us. It simply was never our life to take. Savannah later developed kidney problems as well and again, termination was brought up. Again, we declined. They wanted to perform an amniocentesis on her to see if she did have Down Syndrome. After much research and the only real benefit was knowing definitively if she had Down Syndrome, the risk from the procedure itself was 1 in 100 of miscarriage, so we declined.
I continued to be seen by maternal fetal specialists at one hospital but continued my prenatal care at another. We prepared for her arrival. I had a special needs group contacted and my husband changed his deployment schedule so that he could be here for her birth, which was expected to be early. We toured different hospitals and different NICUs and met with the doctors so that in a split second, we knew where we wanted her sent for emergency care since the military clinic I was being seen at did not have the resources.
At 34 weeks, I had am elective 3D/4D Ultrasound of Savannah done, just for fun. She looked perfect, beautiful in every way. I have a DVD of her smiling, opening and closing her eyes, practicing breathing, and waving. She was a happy baby and I could not wait to meet her. I knew in my heart, she would be my little ballerina, at least until she was old enough to tell me she liked something else.
At my 39 week appointment, I asked my doctor to be induced that weekend. It was the weekend of Mother’s Day and I had developed a lot of problems. It had been a difficult pregnancy and I found myself complaining about all the aches and pains. Since my cervix was unfavorable, the doctor strongly discouraged induction and scheduled an induction date for my 41st week. That same night I had the worst anxiety attack ever. After 30 calls, numerous messages to my doctor and labor and delivery, my doctor finally called me back 2 days later. She told me that I was fine, my baby was fine, and it wasn’t fair to her time with her family. I felt horrible, like a hypochondriac. I was having strong strange movement with the baby, but didn’t go in to get checked out for fear of being labeled a “difficult patient.”
At 40 weeks and 3 days, I went to church. It was Sunday and we did our usual routine. I felt her moving during Church. We came home and put our son down for a nap, and my husband made crepes. I was tired and went to take a nap. A few hours of being in and out of sleep, I noticed that I hadn’t felt her move in awhile. I drank lemonade, trying lying in different positions, poking around, but nothing helped.
I swallowed my pride and called L&D. They told me to come in. As soon as I got there, I was put into a room. The nurse assured me that I would feel much better once I heard the heartbeat. They couldn’t find one. The doctor came in and did an ultrasound. After a few minutes, I heard the most awful words a parent can ever hear. “I’m sorry, but I can’t find a heartbeat.” I burst into tears and called my husband who was home with our son. Then I called my sister, a nurse, because I couldn’t tell my parents in California. I am so thankful she was able to do that for me.
My husband arrived at the hospital and the chaplain was called. He was very nice and supportive and prayed with us, but we wanted someone from our own Church. We decided to do the amniocentises because at that point, it couldn’t hurt her and could possibly provide information as to why this happened. There was meconium in the amniotic fluid which was an indication of high fetal distress. That was the worst part, to think that she struggled.
I delivered Savannah the next morning at 10:15AM on May 18, 2009. She was beautiful and perfect and looked exactly like my son. We had a photographer come from a non-profit “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” and she took pictures of us with Savannah. Those are the most precious pictures I have and I made them into a book. The book includes everything from my pregnancy, all of my ultrasounds, and pictures of me pregnant – even a picture of the positive pregnancy test.
I was emotionally and physically drained from having given birth but we held Savannah for a few hours. My husband and I cried together and wept over what could have been. We realized she was just too beautiful for earth. I was no longer afraid of death. I was so depressed; I just wanted to be with her. But I still had a husband and son to take care of. I would have switched places with her in a second.
My parents dropped everything and flew in from California the evening after I gave birth. It was the beginning of a new relationship with them. They were like a totally different set of parents who were loving and understanding and supportive. I cannot thank Savannah enough for bringing us so close.
After getting released from the hospital the next morning, my husband and I were so busy making all of the funeral arrangements. I was so busy and in such shock, those days seemed like a blur. Her funeral was beautiful and she was buried in town in the Children’s Garden at the local cemetary. I go and visit her several times a week.
The first month was hard. My husband went to work, and I had a toddler at home to take care of. I was very depressed but didn’t cry. I thought something was wrong with me. I tried to immense myself with activities to keep my time filled. It was difficult getting back into our routine. I expected to be overwhelmed with two children, not one child and one very broken heart. It was hard to see other moms with babies, especially those around what would have been Savannah’s age. My arms ached to hold Savannah.
At Savannah’s 1 month birthday in Heaven, it really started to hit me that she was gone and that she should be here. Our lives are so different than we thought. The grieving process is hard and long. There are no shortcuts. I was angry at myself, I was angry at the doctors, I was angry at everyone. I was filled with guilt about things I could have or should have done differently. I reached out to others and joined support groups.
The Missing Grace foundation saved me in so many ways. I was able to connect with others who shared my pain and grief. They grieved with me and I grieved with them. I found my inner strength through Savannah. I had to find the beauty in this tragedy and make something good come out of something so horrible and painful. I reached out to others who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth. I am more compassionate and understanding towards others. We plan to foster children with special needs. I know Savannah opened my
heart to that.
In the end, Savannah did not have Down Syndrome or any kidney problems. She was completely perfect as she is now in Heaven. Her life has changed mine in so many ways. I have a new relationship with my husband. I have a new relationship with my parents and my sisters. When the waters were troubled, I realized who my real friends were and I understood why some were not. I also found it helpful to listen to a CD of the instrumental version of the songs that were sung at her funeral. They really calm me down and give me comfort and strength, but mostly a sense of peace.
In November 2009, we celebrated Savannah’s 6 month Birthday in Heaven while on a cruise. My husband had just returned from deployment (he left shortly after we buried our daughter) and it was important to me to continue to celebrate her life while reconnecting as a family. We spent 7 days aboard a cruise to the Carribean, and spent her actual birthday over a visit to St. Thomas. I had purchased 2 dozen pink roses, pulled them off of the stems and put them in a Ziploc bag, and kept them in the refrigerator in our cabin. We released them in the water of Magen’s Bay, which was beautiful and serene.
Shortly after returning from that cruise, I found out that I was pregnant. I was excited and overjoyed but terrified at the same time. Every night from the day I got that positive, as I fell asleep, I thanked God for putting that baby in my belly. I never again would complain or think negatively about anything that had to do with pregnancy. I knew that each day was a blessing and I made sure to acknowledge that. I was leaving in less than 2 weeks for my high school reunion. I had no idea that the day after I returned, my life would be devastated again. I had never had a miscarriage so there wasn’t a concern of this when we shared the news with friends and family. One December 1st, when I started to bleed and cramp, I somehow knew what was happening. I drove myself to the ER and when my blood was drawn, my HcG levels were 4. I had lost the baby days earlier and there was nothing I could do. In my depression, I had no regrets. Well, maybe I wouldn’t have flown to California and back by myself, but I knew in my heart that this baby was wanted, loved, and acknowledged, and I did the best job that I could do.
We received lots of advice about trying again. Some said to wait 3 months, some said to try again right away. A friend of mine had miscarried the same day as me. We decided to try again, and in late December, I got another positive, and so did my friend. I went on to miscarry again, and she went on to deliver a beautiful, happy, and healthy baby girl. Christmas was especially hard that year. I missed Savannah, but I couldn’t concentrate on anything. I had purchased all of the Christmas presents, but I couldn’t seem to wrap them. I ended up shipping everything to my sister, along with wrapping paper, and she did it for me. We went overboard with Santa gifts for my son. I thought that somehow, if I gave him all of these presents, it would make up for the fact that I was such a bad mom to him. I was so overwhelmed with my grief, that I knew I wasn’t being the best mother I could to him.
In January, my husband deployed again. He had changed his deployment so that he could be home when the new baby was born. The change was made the day before I miscarried, so after it was done, there was no going back. I assured him that I was OK, I had lots of keep me busy, and he had nothing to worry about. He left, and I fell into a very deep depression.
Someone suggested that acupuncture might help. I was willing to try anything. It didn’t work for me, and I would personally rather use that money for a massage. I continued therapy, but soon, I became paranoid. I knew that I was very depressed and I felt like no one could understand. Every time I saw a police officer, I thought they were coming to take Jeremy away from me. I tried and tried to involve myself in activities with him, not only for him, but for me. It forced me to get out of the house. However, I fell deeper and deeper into depression. I hit my lowest point on Valentines’ Day, 2010. I think it was the actual date of 2/14 that was harder than anything. Nine months earlier was my due date with Savannah, and at that point, I still could have saved her. I could have gone to a civilian hospital and convinced a doctor to listen to me, that I really was in trouble, and then, she would be here. Nine months earlier, we were still a family, I was happy, and the old Shannon. I didn’t want to be this new Shannon. I felt isolated and alone. I felt like I had completely lost my purpose in life. I wanted to be with Savannah. I knew that my husband could meet someone else who could be a better wife and mom to Jeremy than I was capable of being. I was so depressed that I couldn’t see past that and I didn’t want to live like that. My daughter needed her mother, and my husband and son deserved so much better.
I called my husband and told him what was happening. I reached out to my family for support. At that time, I had woken up, brought Jeremy to the babysitter for the entire day for 3 days, so that I could come home and lie in bed. I wore the same clothes without showering for 5 days and the worst part was that I didn’t care. I didn’t care that I smelled of BO or hadn’t brushed my teeth. I stopped eating and my weight dropped down dramatically. I remember thinking, why should I eat? My daughter can’t eat.
The decision was made to send my husband home and a few days later, he arrived. Things didn’t get better immediately, but I knew that with him home, my son was being taken care of. I love my husband. He stood by me through some very dark times and I will be forever grateful to him for that. To make matters worse, my doctor was prescribing me all sorts of anti-anxiety and antidepressants. Basically, he was a meds pusher. Once my husband came home, I slowly stopped taking everything and surprisingly, I began to get better. I think that meds are great tools, but if you depend on them to continue to numb you to the pain, then you aren’t dealing with the problem. I had to address the problem before I could get better. I didn’t want to live that way ever again, and I knew the meds were keeping me down.
We were driving around one day about 2 weeks after my husband came home and drove past a house that was for sale. We started to talk about it and thought that a new environment would be good for me. We bought that house and while it did provide me a distraction, I was very aware of what was happening and I continue to improve while dealing with my loss. Shortly after moving in, I suffered an additional miscarriage, but this time, I almost expected it and it didn’t hurt as much.
On Savannah’s 1st Birthday in Heaven, I traveled up to Washington DC to speak on behalf of the First Candle Organization with members of Congress in support of the Stillbirth, SUID, and SUDC Education and Prevention Act. It was a great alternative to staying in bed all day, and I knew that Savannah would be proud of me for sharing her story and making a difference. I also was asked to speak at my local hospital’s “When A Baby Dies” training seminar for nurses and chaplains.
Over the summer, I decided that I needed a summer project. I wanted to make Infant Bereavement Kits for parents who would experience the same devastation that I did. I made 30 bags which contained a disposable camera, book, and other items of comfort. My goal was to supply my local Catholic hospital with enough to sustain them for 1 year. It was a small way for me to give back and to help other parents. It was something that I wished someone had done for me.
My husband and I explored other options for expanding our family. We went through the training to become foster parents and in August, received our first placement. It was a 2.5 year old little girl who suffered many delays and problems as the result of severe neglect. I knew that she would likely become adoptable, so I went on a mission to try to fix all of her problems. My husband and I had to make the difficult decision to disrupt our placement when we realized that she would likely never be able to live independently and she did not bond with me. We went into this with full steam but burned ourselves out with all of the doctors and therapy appointments. I came home one day to find my husband crying. He said that he wanted our foster daughter to be Savannah. She had brought out his grief and I knew at that point, we were not the right fit. It was another loss and devastating to me because I knew I could be throwing away my only opportunity to have a daughter; to have that relationship that I had wanted with Savannah. But to her credit, she helped my husband along his own grief journey.
We sought out the help of a well-respected physician to help us. I underwent testing and we tried fertility medications. In November 2010, I underwent surgery to try to address my issues, and after 6 different procedures, some of the results were disappointing. We are not sure of what the future holds. I know that even if I have 10 daughters, I will always miss Savannah.
I miss my daughter every minute of every day. The pain does not lessen but the burden becomes more bearable. Sometimes, I go to visit her, and I curl up on her headstone so I can feel close to her again. I’m sure people passing by think I’m crazy. When people ask me how many children we have, I say 2; our son, Jeremy, and my daughter, Savannah, who lives in Heaven. Every night when I put my son to bed, I talk about her. I tell him how much Savannah loves him and that he will always be her big brother. He will grow up knowing he has a little sister who loves him and who watches over him from Heaven.
Some other things that helped besides making the book documenting my pregnancy and all of my ultrasounds, was planting a rose bush. The plant was given to me from a friend. When I cut the roses, and bring them inside, they seem to last for weeks. I try to find comfort all around me. We had a star named after Savannah. We had an autograph matte at her funeral and placed a picture in it just like we had at my baby shower with my son. It hangs in our living room right next to his. I had a teddy bear made from one of the blankets we bought and had it dressed in the outfit she wore in the hospital from “Remember Me Bears”. My sister gave me a necklace with a heart that has Savannah’s initials on it. A friend that I had been on the outs with came by to the house in the days following saying how sorry she was for everything and gave me a prayer blanket. It is white, hand crocheted, and was prayed over while it was made. I sleep with it over my comforter every night. It reminds me that God has a plan and I feel surrounded by prayer when I fall asleep. It helps me feel a little bit closer to her.
It has been 19 months since Savannah left this Earth. I have often wondered what it would have been like to hear her cry or to look into her eyes or to caress her cheek and know that she felt her Mommy’s love. I have faith that she did feel those things, somehow, some way. It’s hard but I am trying to find a new “normal” way of life. If we are blessed with more children, Savannah will always be our oldest daughter. Her future brothers and sisters will know about her and talk to her in Heaven. They will come with me to visit her weekly after Church. They can look at my book and ask us any questions. It’s important for people to know that she existed, she was a real person, and her life had meaning, value, and purpose.
No matter what, Savannah is our daughter and we love her unconditionally in Heaven. We wished we could have loved her here longer than just 40 weeks and 3 days, but it wasn’t part of God’s plan. I don’t understand it, but I intend to ask Savannah when I get to Heaven. Both my husband and I said following her death that we don’t want to do anything in our lives to jeopardize being with her. I have found the strength to comfort others going through miscarriage and stillbirth, most that I don’t know or haven’t met before. It is at times agony, but we strive each day to find the beauty and purpose in Savannah’s life. She is my angel ballerina, smiling down at me and dancing in Heaven. I believe it and I know it’s true.