The Gift of Zach

Dear Zach,

It’s that time of year again and your absence is felt in every fiber of my being. The tears have been coming on a daily basis since Halloween. They have a mind of their own and occur in public places like the Target toy aisle while staring and wondering what you would have been into this year. They fall in the grocery store when a sappy song comes on and they fall during yoga when my mind is calm enough to feel the depth of my sorrow. This is our eighth Christmas without you and it isn’t getting easier. The first couple of years were exceptionally brutal and all I wanted to do was hide under the covers until it all passed, but I had your brother to think of, so I dug deep and did everything I could to make the holidays special for him. Honestly, if it weren’t for him, I would travel somewhere far away every Christmas where there wasn’t a twinkle light or Fa La La in sight. Instead, I dive right in and end up spoiling Ian way too much. I am very aware of the abundant blessings I have in your brother and strive to savor every precious moment with him.

The day you left us I started a journey where I had to learn to balance both the joy of my blessings with the soul crushing grief of losing you. I think I’m getting better at balancing the two but sometimes the grief takes over and tips the scales. For some reason, this year seems a bit harder. Maybe it’s the fact that your brother is getting older and the innocent magic is coming to an end. Maybe it’s that we lost the much prayed and hoped for pregnancy earlier this year. Ultimately, the reality is that you are not here where you belong. This is a reality I will face, year after year and it wears me down. I was so excited and looking forward to your first Christmas and to having baby Zach on our family Christmas card in 2010. It took 5 years before I could send out Christmas cards again. How could I possibly send out a family picture that didn’t include you? It felt like a betrayal.

We never got to see you sit on Santa’s lap and will never see your face light up on Christmas morning. You will never return home from college for the holidays and will never bring your own little ones home for Christmas. The list of what should have been goes on and on. I really don’t think the old saying “time heals all wounds” applies to a parent who has lost a child. The wound is always gaping and raw. There is no denying that we have a different house without you here. While listening to Christmas music and decorating the tree I caught Ian looking at your picture with such sadness in his eyes. I would give anything to take that pain away from him. After a recent visit from your Uncle Steven, Ian asked if he is ever going to have an uncle for his own children. Ian finds Steven hilarious and I know he is thinking about how he wants a silly Uncle Steven for his kids. I don’t know what to say other than we will continue to hope and pray. My heart just screams when I think of his loss and the lifetime of experiences he will never have with you.

What am I to do with all of this pain? The only option is to turn it into fuel to help others because even through all of this pain I can see that you, my beautiful boy, are truly a gift. As your mom, I feel a duty to share the gift of you and help other families learn how important Count the Kicks is to reducing the risk of stillbirth. I know without a doubt that if I had been educated on kick counting, you would be here right now and anxiously awaiting Christmas with your brother. I promise that I will continue to spread the Count the Kicks message in your honor until we have seen a significant reduction in the roughly 24,000 stillbirths that occur in the United States every year. Our big initiative at Count the Kicks is to save 6,000 babies a year. This number equates to a 26% reduction of stillbirths on a national level and reflects the 26% reduction of stillbirth seen in Iowa where Count the Kicks started. I know we can do this. I’ve already done the unimaginable when I held you in my arms and had to say goodbye.

As we move towards Christmas I wanted to share my letter to you with expectant moms all across the United States so they are made aware of our free Count the Kicks app and what it can do for them. We recently experienced the joy of hearing about three baby saves in just 10 weeks due to moms who were tracking their baby’s movements in the third trimester. All three of these moms used the free app which helped empower them to speak up when they noticed a change in their baby’s movements. Mackenzie Johnson of Ankeny, Iowa was using the app to track her baby girl’s movements when she noticed a reduction in Pyper’s movement.

“She only gave us two very subtle movements in 30 minutes at the hospital. By running several tests, doctors knew something was wrong and decided to deliver right away. It turns out the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck three times and was restricting her movement. Doctors believe we would have lost her had we not been paying attention,” said Johnson.
Pyper and many other babies will celebrate first holiday traditions with their families this year due to Count the Kicks. The number of moms downloading the kick counting app has increased significantly in one year and we are very excited for what this could mean in the overall reduction of stillbirth in our country. The message to moms is simple: pick a time each day to see how long it takes their baby to get to 10 movements. If the amount of time it takes to get to 10 movements changes, moms are encouraged to call their provider right away. The Count the Kicks app is available in English and Spanish, counts for single babies and twins, sends a daily text or calendar reminder, and can be used in consultation with OB providers.

Sweet boy, while it is daunting to think that I have to live the rest of my life without you, I want you to know that the one thing that gives me strength and peace is that I believe without a doubt we will be reunited one day. Your death has irrevocably shaped me and given me a clear purpose in life to help others and I thank you for such a tremendous gift. Because of you, I know that we will save more babies, and continue to give families the best gift of all, a baby born safely. I am eternally grateful that you chose me to be your mother. Daddy, your brother and I wish more than anything that you were here with us. You are cherished and greatly missed.

I’ll love you forever,

Mom