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.”