It was September 30, 2015 and I had my 20-week sonogram. Because of my age, we had genetic testing performed, and by 15 weeks we knew our baby was a boy. Therefore, the sonogram that families are excited for where they find out the gender, was pretty uneventful for our family…or so we thought. This pregnancy was unlike the other two. First of all, I had my first child very young so the 9-year difference between him and my second was very different. Add another 9 years for the third and everything was different. It had been scary early on because I had some bleeding, and I had to be on medication to help sustain the pregnancy. After all of that, we thought we were in the clear. We had sold our house for various reasons and were packing to move.
I work full time as a physical therapist assistant, and my husband is a beef scheduler for Cargill, so we have very busy lives. My son was already off to college, my stepdaughter just had her first baby, and our daughter was 9 years old. We were very afraid to have another baby but ready or not this was happening. To be brief about our background, not a lot of people were happy about this baby. My daughter was having a hard time because she was the baby of the family. My husband’s daughter was entering a stage in her life where she was becoming a mother, and we were supposed to be grandparents, not having babies. Overall, early on, there was some negativity toward this pregnancy. Now that I was 20 weeks, everyone was beginning to come around. I was hoping this ultrasound would bring us closer to him.
Like I said, the sonogram was routine and supposed to be uneventful. I was excited to see him looking more like a baby, not like the blob he appeared to be at 10 weeks. The ultrasound tech took all of the measurements and looked at his heart, blood flow, internal organs, and measured his tibia, fibula, and counted toes. She measured his arms and counted fingers and then went on to measure his head. She said he was difficult to measure because he was pretty low in my pelvis. I was disappointed because she didn’t get the perfect profile picture that I was hoping for. The picture she did take looked strange. I just thought it was poor quality. She seemed to rush through the ultrasound, but maybe I just wanted to see him more. We had a routine appointment the same day, so went straight over to see the doctor.
We sat in the exam room waiting for the doctor. He entered and said the words no mother wants to hear. “There could be a problem with the baby’s head. It could be a serious problem, but I want to confirm it with a fetal specialist." I immediately thought of all of the things that could be wrong. We went to the specialist the same day and they did another sonogram. Our doctor said that the preliminary report shows the baby has anencephaly. I knew what this meant, but my husband did not.
Anencephaly is a neural tube defect where the neural tube does not close at the top. The skull does not develop, and the brain is exposed to amniotic fluid and becomes compromised, or does not develop. After a brief explanation and consult confirming the diagnosis of anencephaly, we had a decision to make. The specialist provided some information and said we did have the option to terminate. This was not an option for us. Because of our promises to God and faith in Jesus, we wanted to keep him. The simple fact that I could feel my son move, see him wiggle, and see his heart beat on the screen, did not even let me consider anything else. I already loved him. He was alive, and I could not take his life.
The next day we met with 2 very important people in our lives. One worked with the hospital, Jolinda, and the other was Ashley Opliger. Jolinda provided us with many resources and advice on the next steps to take. Ashley told us about her daughter, Bridget. She told us about Bridget’s cradles and the blessings that occurred despite the loss of her baby. She was able to move forward and still remember her daughter. Bridget provided Ashley with a huge ministry that honors her in such a special way. Bridget is able to help other parents have those few precious moments with their baby in a special cradle.
Just speaking with Ashley and Jolinda, we knew we still had some decisions to make. We left there with a little bit of hope. Hope that we would make it through this, and maybe come out stronger on the other side. Ashley gave us 2 prayer squares. One was for us and the other for our daughter. I will hold onto these and cherish them forever. It was the first positive tangible thing I could hold onto through this difficult time. It was the first outreach of support for my family.
That evening I wrote a letter to my co-workers and to our friends to explain our decision of keeping our son. I explained that even though we knew we would most likely lose him, his life was precious to us and we wanted to keep him with us as long as possible. The fear of the unknown was very tough, so I researched everything I could on anencephaly. My husband took it to God and prayed for a miracle every day. We met with Choices Medical Clinic that has a hospice program. I highly recommend anyone going through something like this reach out and ask for help, and accept it when offered.
I will never forget what someone said there. She said, “Your son is already is a miracle." For some reason that was my moment of clarity to continue to follow God. It was the moment I decided to keep praying for my miracle. I was wrestling with the Why’s for a long time. Honestly, I still do, but God and I will discuss this when I get to heaven. My husband said one thing that I will never forget. He said that this baby is guaranteed to make it to heaven, and we have to do everything we can to get there so we can see him again. We can do everything in our power to lead our children in the right direction, but there is no guarantee that they will ultimately choose to follow God. We kept praying.
We chose a name for our son very soon after the diagnosis. Vince Cruze Garcia. We called him by name every day. We had our quiet times where I would just talk to him and to God. I would sing to him as much as I could. I cried lots of tears almost every night. I had very tough days over that next 14 weeks. It was tough choosing to continue to work. We tried to keep our lives as normal as possible for the sake of our daughter. It was difficult to continue on with our every day lives, and pretend we had a normal pregnancy. I had to fake it every day. My husband became my rock and shoulder. He came to my work when I had sad days and carried me through all of it. He cried with me at night when that was all I could do. He prayed for me, for our son, and for our family. We had prayers from both sides of our families, from our church, and from lots of other church groups.
As we know, God has a plan for everyone, but it is not always the plan we want. My mother was beside herself watching her daughter go through an impossible trial and needed lots of prayer as well. We all needed prayer. Thank you, Mom, for praying for me through this. Ashley and Jolinda were so kind to text me throughout, offering support. I finally got brave enough to look at Ashley’s webpage and read about her experience. Though difficult to read, this was inspiring to me. The ideas on how to honor your child were very helpful. I was afraid my time would be short with my baby. I needed every moment during my pregnancy to last longer. This prompted me to begin to look for an outfit for him. I contacted a photographer, and toured the hospital. I was beginning to start the healing process by planning. I had put off planning for his birth because this meant that I was also planning for his death. Acceptance is one of the difficult parts of my journey.
Baby Vince Cruze was born on December 27, 2015 at 3:09 am. He was 34 weeks gestation, 3 pounds, and 15 ½ inches long. He was our perfect little baby. He entered this world and was caught by his daddy. He cried a tiny cry and took a big breath and his daddy yelled out, “He is alive! He is moving!” I held him close. Vince was with us for an hour and ½ before Jesus took him home. We held him in a blanket my mother in law made. He got to meet his sister, his brother, and his Nana. Kaci Forrest from “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” took pictures that we will always cherish. The hospital took a mold of his feet and made several copies of footprints. His little life had already made a mark on this world.
We had expressed our sadness of forgetting our Bible at home to our nurse. We wanted to put one of his footprints on a page in our Bible. She was kind enough to buy us a small book of Bible verses from the gift shop, and gave it to us with tears streaming down her face. What a blessing to have her with us. I wish I knew her name so we could give her credit and to thank her. We are so grateful for the time we had with our precious baby boy. In my earthly selfish eyes, I didn’t get my miracle, but the words from one woman stuck with me. “He already is a miracle.” We received a box from the hospital with one of Bridget’s cradles. Our little one was too big for it so we did not use it. He stayed with us for about 13 hours before we said our final good bye.
We had a service to celebrate his life a week later, and decided to have him cremated so we can always have him with us. I decided to honor his life by helping other babies, through breast milk donation. The milk goes to the micro-preemies, babies with allergies, and those who adopt and want to give their babies human milk. I donated a total of 3,598 oz. of milk and could not have done that without my Vince. His life will continue to be remembered in every way possible. As we heal through this journey, I am finding other ways to honor his life.
I discovered it is therapeutic to participate in a work day for Bridget’s cradles, because I know how much it meant to me to receive a prayer square. To know that I am not alone, and to know there are so many women that have gone through a similar loss and have emerged on the other side with incredible bravery and insurmountable strength leaves me with peace and compassion for all mothers who have gone through the loss of a child.
Our lives are forever changed because of our son. I love my son and miss him every day. I know that God chose us to be his parents. We no longer take life for granted and live it every day to the fullest. I pray that if I can reach just one mother going through this, and am able to help her, my son’s life has meaning. My life has meaning.
“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the lord. And he worshiped the Lord there. “ 1 Samuel 1:27-28.
“Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hider them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
Written by Jennifer Garcia, Vince's Mommy
Photography Credit: Color- David Williams Photography (Amarillo, TX);
B&W-Kaci Forrest (Wichita, KS)