I had always planned to be finished having children by the time I was 35. My husband and I married in May 2004 and didn’t start having children until I was in my early 30’s. Our first daughter was born June 2008, our second December 2010, and our third and final daughter made her appearance on June 21, 2012 when I was 35 years old. My family planning had gone just the way I wanted it to. We were done having children. Or so I thought.
Our youngest daughter, Anneliese Marie, was born at 39 weeks gestation via an induction for medical reasons. She weighed 7 pounds, 5 oz and was 18.5 inches long. Anneliese was the happiest baby and most easy going of all of my children. Everywhere we went she made people smile, and her older sisters adored her. In September 2012 we went on a road trip to Disneyland with a then 4 year old, 21 month old, and Anneliese, who was 3 months old. Everyone thought we were crazy going with such an entourage, but it was perfect. Little did I know that those would be some of the most precious memories we would have with Anneliese, and the only family vacation we would ever have with our three girls together.
Being in the medical field, I had that unhealthy paranoia that comes with the knowledge that medical professionals have of all the medical issues that can befall our children. Of all of my friends, I was the most aware of the risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and I followed all of the Safe Sleep guidelines. Anneliese was breastfed exclusively, slept with a pacifier, was placed on her back to sleep in an empty crib free of bumpers and other items, the room was kept cool to prevent overheating. You name it, I did it or avoided it if it was a supposed risk factor. Yet on October 27, 2012, the unimaginable happened to my family. During an afternoon nap, our sweet baby passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. There was no disease to fight. No diagnosis to push for a cure. No chance to say goodbye. And for my family, the storm wasn’t over.
Before Anneliese’s death I was already feeling under the weather, but I attributed it to being a tired mom of three children under the age of 5. But as time wore on, I continued to feel miserable. I was already diagnosed with a condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where the body attacks the thyroid gland, so I thought that perhaps I was finally showing symptoms that needed treatment. I had scheduled an appointment prior to Anneliese’s death, and luckily, decided to keep it despite the fact that I could barely get through the day due to grieving. Soon after, we discovered that I had two nodules in my thyroid gland, and one of those nodules was cancerous. I remember sitting in the office of my endocrinologist crying. She knew that I had just lost my baby, and now she had to break the news that I had papillary thyroid carcinoma. It seemed almost unbelievable that one family could be dealt so much pain in such short period of time. It was our reality. It was our nightmare.
The next few years were a whirlwind of treatments, including surgery to have my thyroid removed and treatment with radioactive iodine. Cancer would normally be the most pressing trial or concern to the average person, but for me these treatments were nothing compared to the pain of Anneliese’s death. I barely even thought about my treatments; I just pushed through. When offered thyroid cancer support groups, I declined. The cancer was nothing to me, I could deal with it. What I couldn’t deal with was the loss of my daughter and not knowing why she died.
Having no medical explanation was, and still is, one of the hardest things for me to accept. SIDS is a death that leaves the family with questions and no answers. Roughly 2400 babies die suddenly every year and yet funding for research is paltry at best. Families are just told to accept the fact that “it just happens”. SIDS risk reduction has focused on safe sleep, but for families like mine, this is simply not enough. Soon after Anneliese’s death, a friend and I started a local SIDS charity walk, “Strollin’ to Fight SIDS”, to help support funding for SIDS research via The CJ Foundation for SIDS. Even one baby dying is one too many. More research must be done in order to save families from the lifelong pain that SIDS brings.
Despite the fact that the loss of my baby girl to SIDS was something I could not avoid, I still felt that the joy another baby could bring into our lives would be worth the risk. My husband was not so sure initially and needed some convincing. My thyroid cancer treatments forced me to wait to try to conceive. After treatment in January 2013 and then a year of waiting to try to conceive at the recommendation of my endocrinologist, we got the green light. In the summer of 2014 I was 37 years old and with a little prayer, we decided to throw caution to the wind. After several months of trying with no success, I felt discouraged because we had always conceived quickly. After consulting my oncologist and adjusting the level of my thyroid medication, I was pregnant!
Pregnancy after a loss is scary. Add in the fears of being a pregnant mom who is termed “Advanced Maternal Age” and the worry is multiplied. I was also considered high risk due to several other medical issues, including my history of thyroid disease. I was the kind of patient that my high risk OB loved. To make things more interesting, I was diagnosed with a complete placenta previa, condition where the placenta covers the cervix, at 20 weeks of pregnancy. On June 19th, 2015 at 36 weeks of pregnancy and just two days before Anneliese would have turned 3, our sweet baby boy decided it was time. Joshua James arrived via c-section at a whopping 7 pounds 1 ounce.
Joshua has brought so much joy into our lives. It has been a scary journey and it will continue to be so for some time. We have many milestones left to reach; first when he turns 4 months of age in October, then at 6 months of age when SIDS rates decline drastically. Yet through the SIDS community I know of families who have lost babies after that magical 1 year mark, an event termed SUDC (Sudden Unexplained Death of a Child). I might not be able to breathe a sigh of relief for many years to come, but he’s so worth it.
There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think of Anneliese. Losing a child isn’t something that you can get over. Having a rainbow baby brings such joy, but that child can never “replace” what was lost. Just because I think of my daughter every day doesn’t mean that I am stuck in my grief. I can still enjoy life and be thankful for its blessings. Through something so tragic, I am determined to make a difference for others through my work with Strollin’ to Fight SIDS. This is also my way of keeping her memory alive.