Yesterday was 14 years.  Fourteen years! I was only 21 years old, Mark was 23, we had been engaged for 6 months, and we were facing one of the hardest times in our lives.

Mom and Bec were there with me…Mark’s employer wouldn’t let him have the time off.  The boss didn’t like the fact that I was pregnant but we weren’t married.  Mark couldn’t risk losing his job -it was the only income we had right then- so he didn’t push it.  I had support, I’d be ok.

The day before was full of tests in rooms full of student-doctors and nurses.  You quickly lose all hope of maintaining dignity when you’re having an ultrasound with about 20 people wanting to see the picture on the screen.  At least I only had Mom and Bec with me as the process of what I was doing actually started.  Amniocentesis to donate to the research going on at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (where I was), blood to donate, question after question after question…all going to the research.  At least I could feel like I was doing some good.

Bright and early I was back to the hospital and showed my “room”.  They weren’t really sure what to do with me so they cleaned out a room that had been used for storage up until then…it, technically, was outside of the labor and delivery area.

Mom laughed when I said “This isn’t so bad!”, she dabbed at my forehead when I realized it got a LOT worse, just nodded when I yelled at her about the morphine not making the pain stop…you just forgot you had a contraction, and calmed my fears of doing the wrong thing.

I had about 10 hours of induced labor to deliver the baby I knew would not live…in fact, had died the day before according to all the tests.  Lyric Autumn came into the world an angel weighing all of 7.5 oz and being 8.5 inches long.  I was 20 weeks, 2 days pregnant when I delivered her which meant that, although she didn’t have a birth certificate (if you notice, those actually say “certificate of live birth”), she does have a death certificate. 

For those who read this who don’t know already, Lyric had a neural tube defect called anencephaly.  Anencephaly is when the brain doesn’t form much past a basic brainstem.  Some babies have a little more and are able to survive until birth, some do survive the birth process, and a very few live for a time outside of their mom’s; however, they’re almost always both blind and deaf and the physical deformities that go along with making it to birth-age makes it almost impossible to feed them with breast, or even bottle.  The reason that there were always so many student-doctors and nurses around during my stay was because of the rarity of an ancephalic baby making it as far as Lyric did…many of these doctors and nurses had never seen a “real” baby with anencephaly and very likely won’t see one again.  The “good news” is that the study that I participated in was what brought about the changes that have seen the neural tube defect rate drop drastically.  Folic Acid is now part of the fortification of all your grain products, it’s in all the vitamins, it’s added to much of the food you eat from the grocery store…because of the study done at the University of Iowa.  It makes me a proud Mom to know that my painful experience has saved countless other parents from going through the same thing…and allowed their babies to be healthy and happy.

The memories that surround Lyric aren’t all sad.  Mom, Bec, and I shared many laughs while we were in Iowa City.  We got to spend the time as three women and as a mother with her two daughters.  I will forever be grateful to my big sister for being there with me when it probably would have been easier on her heart to avoid it.  And I will always have the memory of my mom being able to hold my first child since she wasn’t able to hold my last.

Most of the time I just tell people I have two kids.  It’s easier than having to see people’s faces fall when I tell them that I have three, two on earth and one in Heaven.  I never forget, though, that I had a daughter before Sabrina who was as unique as they come and who watches over us now.

Lyric Autumn Ham

Born/Died June 14, 1996