My Daughter Was Alive for 23 Minutes, and Every Second Was Beautiful

171
171

Twenty-three minutes.

That’s how long our daughter, Lyla, lived.

Twenty. Three. Minutes.

That’s shorter than I had hoped, yet longer than I expected.

Let me explain.

At our 20-week ultrasound, my husband and I learned we were having a girl. We also learned she had a terminal defect called Anencephaly. Our daughter was missing the majority of her brain, and this was not compatible with life. She had a brain stem, which told her heart to beat and gave her body movement, but she would not live.

When I first heard this, I sat wide-eyed, breathless, looking at the doctor. How do you respond when given news like this? I couldn’t move. Time slowed down as I looked around the room and met eyes with my husband. And then my thoughts began to race. Not compatible with life? This means death. This means no sweet baby with curly locks, no kisses, no diapers, no late nights, no first steps, no scraped knees, no hugs, no first day of school, no uncontrollable laughter or tickle fights or Ring around the Rosie, no prom, no wedding. I began to weep.

I was blindsided. This was my first pregnancy, and the joy that filled our hearts suddenly turned into despair. I had two options — be induced at 20 weeks, give birth and be done. Or — carry full term (which was completely safe for me to do) and meet our daughter, who might not be born alive — and if she was born alive, she would only live for a short while. We’d have to say goodbye as quickly as we had said hello. Those were my choices. Just those two. I ached for a third choice, silently begged for one that would mean life. But a third choice never came. My heart was broken.

I mean, sick-to-my-stomach, don’t-get-out-of-bed, weep-at-a-moment’s-notice broken. Some of the worst moments of my life. I remember lying on the floor at home and weeping because that’s all I could really do. Flat out, on my face, weeping for my little girl.

I decided (and my husband stood by my choice) to carry Lyla full-term, in hopes to say hello (if only for a moment), hold her in my arms, hopefully hear her heart beat and tell her how much I loved her.

But in the midst of all the anguish, in the midst of the storm, the sun began to shine ever so slightly. The moments of sadness were softly sprinkled with joy.

This may sound crazy, but the nine months and 23 minutes I knew this little gal were life-changing. Real. Raw. Eye-opening. Breathtaking. Beautiful. Bittersweet. Wild. And filled with joy.

Michelle Nagle and her husband, Tim, with their daughter, Lyla

Our sweet little babe.

We came to some sort of understanding that this short existence was to be her story. A long life wasn’t her tale to tell. We turned her brief time here with us into a gift, a blessing to us that we were even able to know her (in the womb) and hopefully for a short time on her birthday.

Yes, my heart was filled with so much sorrow, but Lyla reminded me what real joy felt like and that you cannot know one emotion without the other. Lyla made it known in my heart that life is fleeting and my loved ones deserve to know how much I cherish them. Her sweet little soul encouraged me to express my love to my family and friends. Even now, when I talk with those I love, the conversation usually ends with an unashamed “I love you.” Lyla taught me that. Her tiny existence spoke volumes. She slowed down sweet everyday moments. She reminded me to stop and watch the sunset, listen to birds chirping, appreciate the “death” of winter because it simply meant new life was coming soon, to fill my life with laughter, to cry without shame, to love with abandon, to speak up, to listen, to hear others, to try my very hardest to journey through life with a nonjudgmental heart. That everyone deserves joy, everyone is worthy of kindness, everyone deserves their chance to speak, everyone needs love. It may sound crazy that an unborn baby taught me these things, but she did. And it brings happiness to my heart.

Michelle Nagle and her husband, Tim, with their daughter, Lyla

Lyla was born on June 20th, 2007.

She was placed immediately in my arms. I asked the nurse if she had a heartbeat, and her answer was yes. I listened to that slowing heartbeat, and my heart was overcome with sorrow and peace.

For 23 minutes, I held her in my arms, I kissed her cheeks, touched her fingers and toes, loved on her with every ounce of my soul, shared her with my husband and listened to her heartbeat slowly fade. And then stop.

Without a doubt I wish she was here. I ache for her and wonder what she would be like, what she would look like, what she would sound like. This June, Lyla would be 7 years old. And I miss her still. But I do not stay in the sorrow too long. I search for the things she taught me, the people she touched. I tell her story when I can, to those who will listen. I remind them to love one another and love with their whole heart. I’m reminded of Lyla in beautiful moments, in songs we sing at church, in the love I see families express towards one another, in rainstorms, in beautiful blue skies, in quiet moments of reflection, in laughter between friends, in the sweet love I have for my husband and daughter, Eden, and the love they have for me. I am so glad I met her.

Because of Lyla, life is full and beautiful and brighter and sweeter and richer. It’s full of heartaches and disappointments, but also full of peace and joy, thankfulness and laughter. We have a 6-year-old daughter, Eden, who is the treasure of my heart. I truly believe I love her in an even deeper way because of my sweet Lyla. She still affects me today, and I hope she always will.

“When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” Kahlil Gibran

Miss you, sweet girl. Thank you for everything.

Love,

Mom

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 3.58.40 PM

 

171
171
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

RELATED VIDEOS

Film Documents Life With Down Syndrome Like Never Before

748
748

Sean Bogart has been on camera since he was a year old.

His filmmaking aunt and uncle, Didi and Richard Dobbs, began taping him to help themselves and others understand what it meant to live with Down syndrome. Their 28 years of footage is now scattered throughout their upcoming documentary, “Sean So Far.” But somewhere along the way, the film stopped being about Down syndrome.

In the trailer below, Bogart, 28, is wearing a neck brace. He’s sitting on a couch discussing the X-rays that were taken after an upper spinal surgery he had for his atlantoaxial instability, a condition that people with Down syndrome have an increased chance of getting.

Bogart had to put triathlon training on hold for 8 weeks to have and recover from the surgery. In the clip below, his aunt asks him what it was like to see his X-rays.

“Well actually,” Bogart says matter-of-factly, “I thought, ‘I look good in bones.'”

Didi Dobbs recalls this moment to The Mighty. “Who says that?” she says. “Sean always finds a side of things I can’t see.”

Today, Bogart is back to training with his triathlon partner, 19-year-old Troy Sundwall. They met through Unified Sports, a program that pairs athletes with intellectual disabilities and athletes without disabilities.  Together, Bogart and Sundwall will be the only two triathletes from Connecticut participating in the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in June in Princeton, N.J. Their friendship is also a focus of “Sean So Far.”

Troy & Sean talking (1)

Twenty-eight years ago, when Bogart was diagnosed with Down syndrome, his aunt and uncle searched for information on the genetic disorder.

“It was the 80s, there was no Internet and we couldn’t find anything,” Didi Dobbs told The Mighty. “And everything we did find referred to [Down syndrome] as ‘mongolism.'”

Originally, they meant for their footage to be used for a what-you-need-to-know-about-Down-syndrome type of film. But the scenes they’ve captured are anything but clinical. They’re about a person.

“The story of the triathlon is the backbone of this film,” Richard Dobbs told The Mighty. “But, really, the triathlon is a metaphor.  The film is about Down syndrome, sure, but it’s also about perseverance, about family, about friendship.”

“It’s about being human,” Didi Dobbs adds.

The documentary won’t be complete until Bogart and Sundwall cross the finish line in June. A preview trailer is below.

The Dobbses hope that when people see the film, they’ll begin to look at their nephew the way they do and the way his training partner does.

“Their friendship is so real. Troy sometimes forgets Sean has Down syndrome,” Didi Dobbs told The Mighty. “Sometimes I do, too. He’s just a person, a person who brings so much joy to life.”

“I think the film will be helpful for anyone today who’s just gotten a Down syndrome diagnosis,” Richard Dobbs adds. “There’s this universal theme about what it means to meet a challenge — that’s what we’re trying to show.”

For updates on “Sean So Far,” visit Facebook.

If you’re interested in donating to this film’s production, head here.

748
748
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

College Football Team Concocts Special Play So Fans With Muscular Dystrophy Can Join In

11
11

Matt DeRiggi, 11, and Danny Garofalo, 16, are big-time Rutgers University football fans. In April, the two young men with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) got to do more than watch from the sidelines. 

The video below of a spring practice shows Matt and Danny executing a play on the field with RU’s team. A celebration breaks out afterward.

“[Danny] loved it,” his father, Dan, told NJ.com. “That’s what makes it all worth it. As small as something like that seems, it really is a big difference.”

11
11
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The Short Bus Stops At My House

9k
9k
1012346_4932988294675_1325279080_n
via Laura Hertzog

It’s funny how the length of the bus you ride has the ability to define you as a person. Personally, I rode the regular-sized bus, the one the “normal” students rode to school. However, there was another bus that happened to stop at my house every weekday morning. The short bus, “the retard racer,” the bus that was transportation for my brother. Yes, my brother rode the short bus and will forever be the root of some kid’s immature joke. Or even worse the root of some adult’s joke. My brother is defined by his transportation of getting to school. They look past his ability to smile while making his bed every morning, or him surviving five open heart surgeries before the age of 5, or his ability to say “Luve you all.” It’s all looked past because of society’s standards of perfection.

Society has its stereotype of perfection for high school students. And let me tell you, the qualities of Down syndrome do not match our standards of perfection. Slurred speech, trouble writing, slowed motor skills, noticeable scars are the blunt indicators of the imperfections my brother has that society tells him and our family. His cognitive abilities will never meet education standards. I can remember the day my mom told me my brother did not meet the minimum of the bottom 2 percent on a standardized test. The anger stays with me today. The test didn’t show how far he has progressed from his starting point. It simply just related him to his other peers. He will always need to be in special education, he will always need a para helping him through the school day.

This may be how my brother is viewed in society, but I can tell you this is far from how I view my brother. David may be 17 months younger than me, but I view him as a role model, someone to impersonate. As I wake up in the morning, worried about if I will have enough time to put on makeup, and what the cafeteria is serving for breakfast, and how hard practice is going to be, and am I going to have someone to sit with at dinner tonight, and how I’m going to have to read 60 pages and make sure I keep up on social media; not one of those things come as a concern to David. There is something beautiful about his innocence. His worries in life are so minor compared to the average person. His worries consist of grabbing his two favorite toys to bring with to school, making sure he brushes his teeth in the morning and making sure the channel is tuned to the evening news at six. It’s humbling to observe.

I didn’t ask for my brother to have Down syndrome, nor did my parents, nor did my brother. However, I know we can all agree David is the reason our family is so strong. It’s the reason my mother fights to uphold human dignity every day. It’s the reason for my father’s compassion. It’s my reason for counting my blessings at night. It’s the reason for my sister’s generosity. Down syndrome may have put some road blocks in the way, may have caused some eccentric looks from strangers in the crowd, but ultimately Down syndrome has brought my family joy and has redefined perfection for each one of us.

And the short bus stopping at my house was the greatest blessing.

9k
9k
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The Beautiful Way a Couple Responded to Their Daughter’s Death

2k
2k

Cathy and Adin McCann were driving from their home in Des Plaines, Ill., to Pittsburgh, Penn., to spend Thanksgiving with Adin’s family when they decided that instead of letting grief consume them, they’d fight it with as much joy as they could muster.

A week earlier, their 3-year-old daughter, Sadie, had passed away from complications from Aicardi syndrome, a rare genetic disorder which typically includes brain malformations, vision issues, severe developmental and physical disabilities and daily difficult-to-control seizures.

Sadie Vert

While they drove, the McCanns reflected on Sadie’s life and came to a conclusion: They were going to continue to celebrate their brave little girl.

“It was important to us that she not be forgotten,” Cathy McCann told The Mighty. “We wanted to do something that would let her spirit live on.”

Because Sadie had always reminded them to be kind, her parents created a list of random acts of kindness that could be done in her honor. McCann wrote about her pay-it-forward idea on her blog, “Sadie’s Journey.”  Soon after, people from all over the U.S. began sending emails saying they’d like to participate remotely. Some plan to follow the McCanns’ list of kindness ideas. Others are putting their own twist on tasks.

One friend in Los Angeles, for example, will spend an afternoon cheering people up with “random acts of culture,” performing theater and musical numbers in the streets.

Pictures of peoples’ acts of kindness are posted to a Facebook page called, “Friends of Sadie McCann.”

On May 3 — the Saturday after Sadie’s birthday — those who live close to the McCanns will gather in St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Des Plaines to honor that brave little girl’s life.

“There will be sadness, of course,” Cathy McCann told The Mighty. “But I hope it will be a celebration.”

She hopes the kindness challenge and her choice to be positive will inspire others to make small efforts to be kind every day.

“Doing something little — opening the door for someone or helping someone reach the cereal — that can mean so much to a person going through something,” McCann said. “I’d like to see people be kinder to everyone around them.

Donations in Sadie’s memory can be made to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland.

2k
2k
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

This Boy's Extraordinary Talent Stunned Experts at the National Dog Show

12k
12k

When Cory Gould’s mother told director Tim O’Donnell she was bringing her son to the National Dog Show Presented by Purina, O’Donnell had one response.

“What?”

A convention center full of people and dogs seemed like an odd place to bring an 11-year-old boy with Asperger syndrome, O’Donnell thought. So much noise and chaos may make for an uncomfortable setting.

But for Cory this isn’t the case – he has a passion for dogs, and he can tell you pretty much anything you need to know about them. In fact, when Cory is talking about canines, he has less trouble in social situations.

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 3.55.21 PM

When Cory’s parents, Heather and Jonathan, realized their son’s fascination and talent, they called O’Donnell and asked if he’d be interested in making a film about Cory. He was.

“For the Love of Dogs,” which screened in April 2014 at the Independent Film Festival of Boston, centers around Cory’s trip to the dog show, but really, O’Donnell says, the 25-minute documentary is about much more. [Update: The full film can now be purchased for viewing here.]

“Autism isn’t easy. It’s hard,” O’Donnell, 30, told The Mighty. “[Cory] and his family work hard every day.”

The director hopes “For the Love of Dogs” will show people the highs and lows of autism, how difficult it can be and how beautiful it can be, too. Maybe, he says, it will raise awareness about the realities of the developmental disorder.

“If you see a kid throwing a tantrum in, say, a grocery store, maybe hold off your judgment,” O’Donnell told The Mighty. “That kid’s been working hard all day and maybe this is just the moment it got to be too much.”

Take a look at the trailer for “For the Love of Dogs” below.

h/t The Boston Herald

12k
12k
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

6,300
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.