"Everything was normal during my pregnancy with Milla. My husband, Royal, went to every appointment with me. Sixteen prenatal appointments and three endocrinologist appointments. We had five ultrasounds. We had two registries. We had a maternity photo shoot. We had two showers. We designed and stocked a nursery. We read books. We watched videos. We meditated. We prayed. We were the quintessential over-the-top, excited, first-time parents. We couldn't wait to meet her."
At 41 weeks, when she finally made her appearance, she was the definition of perfect: 9 pounds 5 ounces, and gorgeous. The doctor held her up. Several people in the room commented on her beautiful lips. She wasn't making any sounds, but even as Kelly laid on the OR table, freezing and throwing up and waiting to hear her daughter's first cries, she told herself everything was fine. Even when she noticed that her husband, Royal, looked panicked and paranoid, she still reasoned that it was just taking them a little longer than usual to clear her airway, that this certainly wasn't the first time this kind of thing happened. It wasn't until after the fact that she hazily remembered a pair of pajama pants- an odd thing to recall in the middle of the chaos. They were worn by another doctor she didn't recognize, one who had briskly entered the OR, having been awakened in the middle of the night to rush down to MCV. Kelly didn't know how long it had been at that point, how many minutes Milla had been deprived of oxygen. She also didn't know that they almost called the code there in the OR.
After a healthy, textbook pregnancy, a freakish twist of fate would ultimately take Milla's life only two days later.
Milla Sanaa (pronounced "Mee-la Sah-na-eye"). 7/1112 - 7/13/12
"The first time I held her, she died. I whispered to her, 'you can go if you need to go, but if you can- and if you want to stay- we want you. We really, really want you to stay.' I prayed that the machines would beep in rhythm again. That the room crowded with doctors would look baffled by her miraculous recovery. I fumbled to push her face to my bare chest, as if maybe it would somehow snap her out of it.
Just like that, my first moments as a mother began and ended.
As the days went by, much of my grief manifested itself in anxiety. I couldn't go into a store on my own. I once stood waiting at the entrance of a restaurant when Royal went to park the car- my C section recovery still hindering long walks. I stood there choking back the tears while people funneled into the trendy dinner spot. I had heard of being so wounded that one felt naked, but until that day, I didn't quite understand. I felt like the world knew I failed at motherhood. We miss her. We miss our life. It seems like our best will never be our best again.
And yet, she is our greatest accomplishment. We are praying that she sends a younger sibling to help heal our broken hearts."
Kelly and Royal's prayers were soon answered. Milla's younger sister, Ravi, joined their family in May of 2013, not even a year after Milla was born. (Kelly became pregnant soon after she wrote the words above). Then, in January of 2016, the family welcomed their third baby- a boy named Allim. His name is Milla's spelled backward, as a tribute to her.
Over the years, Kelly has "collected" a group of loss moms. Together, they trudge through the heartache that only those who have lost a child can understand. She earned her Master Degree in social work, and works in community-based mental health services, often with those suffering from severe mental illness. She has long had a passion for teaching courses on empathy in client/provider relationships, as well as preaching the scientific foundation of it, referring to it as a type of relationship "currency." After losing Milla, the idea of helping to instill empathy (which is considered a "soft-wired" trait) in her workforce took on a personal significance. Her program became less generic and evolved into a much more inclusive approach, recognizing that the pain of loss can draw people together in a unique and impactful way.
You can learn more about her program here: www.restoreusprogram.com
2021 update: In early 2020, as the world was on the brink of a pandemic, Kelly and Royal learned they would be welcoming another baby in September. Benin Solace was born into the light of his loving family, and Milla continues to remind us all that hope will always find a way.
*A portion of this piece were Kelly's own words- borrowed from an essay she wrote in the days following Milla's birth and death. The excerpts and our conversations are shared- so very gratefully- with her blessing.*