ANN ARBOR – April 4, 2016 – it was a big day. Expecting parents Amber and Josh Horwitz were going to meet their baby girl, Harper. At 39 weeks, she was ready to make her grand debut. Labor and delivery was supposed to be smooth sailing, just as Amber’s pregnancy had been.
As Amber said, “I gained the proper amount of weight. I measured perfect. My blood pressure was always perfect.”
There was no reason this birth wouldn’t be perfect, too.
Harper entered the world the morning of April 5, weighing 7 pounds and 4 ounces, measuring 21 inches long. She looked a lot like her dad.
But she was lifeless.
Amber and Josh had learned just hours earlier that their healthy daughter had unexpectedly died sometime between the 39-week ultrasound and the trip to the hospital. An autopsy would later reveal no clear answers.
“We had to meet our little girl and say goodbye to her all in the same day. At that moment I knew I would never be the same,” Amber said.
In their overwhelming grief, the childless parents came to lean on a labor and delivery nurse who became a ray of sunshine.
Missy Taylor guided Amber and Josh through dark hours. She fashioned a chair into a bed so Josh could lie down next to Amber. She took care of messy details, such as managing paperwork so the couple could get professional photos taken of Harper. She asked how they wanted to handle the funeral.
“She cared about us in a way that I have never experienced in a hospital, and it made a world of difference to us,” Josh shared, in nominating Missy for the DAISY nursing award.
When Missy was presented with the DAISY Award in August, Amber and Josh came back to St. Joe’s to thank her in person. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when they shared their story and expressed their gratitude for Missy’s care. They gave Missy big hugs, and also shared news that they were expecting another baby, due in February. They hoped she could be there again, they told her.
February 14, 2017 – Amber and Josh’s first Valentine’s Day since Harper, and the second “big day” of their young parenthood.
“Josh and I were kind of freaking out because we had a really good ultrasound that day, and Harper died three days after our last appointment,” Amber said.
While the couple had an induction scheduled in four days, they opted to head to labor and delivery right away.
Amber’s nervousness quickly dissipated when she learned Missy was working that night!
“She was just so happy that she was working,” Amber said.
Just like his older sister, Charlie arrived in the morning. He was born at 10:05 a.m. on February 15, at 6 pounds, 12 ounces and 19-and-a-half inches long. He bears a stronger resemblance to Amber.
“When I heard him cry, that was the best part, because I knew he was OK,” Amber said. “To have him be OK and alive and have them put him on my chest was just a moment in my life I’ll never forget. He started staring at me the moment he came out,” she added.
The couple made sure Missy got to hold Charlie in her arms. He was a rainbow after months of rain.
This time, Amber got to enjoy the special rite of passage every St. Joe’s new mom experiences – a wheelchair procession to the Mother Baby unit. When the nurses welcomed the family into their room, Amber noticed they had already written Harper’s name under “Sibling.”
Renewal and Paying it Forward
Though many bleary-eyed new parents wistfully desire more sleep, Amber isn’t overcome with fatigue.
“Sometimes I just stare at him when I should be sleeping while he’s sleeping,” she chuckled.
Amber said she hopes her experience will bring comfort to families going through the same unimaginable loss. In the months that followed Harper’s death, Amber and Josh attended support groups and professional grief counseling. In some circles, Amber said, she felt stigma around acknowledging loss due to stillbirth. Some criticized her for sharing the photos of Harper that were taken at St. Joe’s.
Amber and Josh started a 501c3 non-profit, Proud Parents of Loss, to offer a space for grieving parents to find solace without stigma. On the website, Amber candidly shares her story, in hopes it will encourage dialogue and healing.
“The grief never goes away, and I would just encourage society in general not to let stigma surround something like this, and really validate these people as parents. Don’t be afraid to talk about your grief, don’t be afraid to show pictures of your child. You’re a parent just as much as anybody else,” Amber said.
Amber praised the St. Joe’s staff who took care of her last April and this past February, noting that every caregiver acknowledged Harper’s life and celebrated the fact that Charlie is her second – not first – child.
In just a few weeks, the family will celebrate what would have been Harper’s first birthday.
Amber said, “Of course there are bittersweet moments where I realize what I missed out on with Harper. But I’m just really happy Charlie’s OK.
“Someday we’ll tell him all about her.”
3 thoughts on “Proud Parents of Loss: Grief and Joy at St. Joe’s”
I,like many mom’s who read the story of this little family, did so through the blur of tears of gratitude for our own wonderful care we received at SJMH, when our children arrived. All I kept thinking was when my own mom lost her first child 78 years ago and how she likely didn’t received that enlighten, tender supportive care. My mom and dad were likely grief stricken after their beautiful first born Douglas Dale died after only nine days with mom. Mom told me she never knew anyone who had their baby die. I can only imagine the stigma at that time. We’ve come a long way, thankfully. Thanks for sharing your story, Amber and Josh.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. Your parents must of been very strong, as the support 78 years ago was almost nonexistent. I am so so sorry for your family’s loss of Douglas Dale. It is so touching that you speak of him so lovingly after all of this time. So lovely and special to honor him.
If you want to do something to commemorate his honor consider doing an event to support Proud Parents of Loss:
Amber and Josh thank you for sharing your story of Sweet Harper and your crushing loss. I am so glad you had an excellent nurse to help you through. Things were much different at Joes when we lost our first born. Back then they kept me on the PP floor and each morning I saw and heard new babies crying and being wheeled past my room while my beautiful boy was slowly dying at UofM. I worked at St Joes so many coworkers and a few docs I was close to came to give their condolences. My husband and I curled up together in my bed to comfort each other. My son, John Michael was transferred to Uof M and I will never forget Father Tim Dombrowski coming to pray with us and he had tears streaming down his face …as did we. I also remember the Respiratory Therapist preparing our son for transfer and she was quietly weeping as well. How her tears touched my aching soul as they took my baby away. Finally I was released to go to be with him as we made the agonizing decision not to do the experimental surgery. We spent the next days holding him constantly and praying. It was a nurse at Mott who after 3 days took me by the hand and literally helped me shower and bind my breasts bc my milk was in and flowing and my baby was comatose. She took care of me like I was her child and I was so vulnerable and spent that I was numb and unable to take care of myself. It was then that I realized what special people nurses are. After several days he passed in his fathers arms and after… I just couldn’t put him down to leave bc I knew I would never see him again in this life. He was so beautiful, so precious, the universe of love that opened with his birth was something I had never known. His cardiologist Dr MacDonald Dick came in from home late that evening and gently asked if he could hold our baby. I relinquished John Michael to his arms. How loving if this man. Then I held my lifeless baby for hours before I could place him in his bassinet and walk away. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. Once again a nurse came in and I watched as she ever so gently picked him up and kissed him and held him as we left the room. Nurses……amazing healers. They literally can bring the face and hands of Christ to the most vulnerable.