Everlynn arrived in silence, limp, like a worn fabric doll. The doctor tossed her upon her mother’s chest. Her fingers and toes were blue and still. Her muscles loose. She didn’t cry. She didn’t breathe. One. Two. Three seconds. A kiss on her cool forehead. The nurses whisked her away and into the resuscitation room. She needed help.
Can a child fail on her first day of school? People aren’t fired on their first day of work. Yet somehow, on Everlynn’s first day of life, she had already begun to die.
Joy turns to sorrow
My wife, Hope, and I share a deep love for children. Our first child, Callen, was born in October 2018. Time passed, and Hope became pregnant again. Before long, we discovered we were having a girl. We decided to name her Everlynn. A boy and a girl. It was all dreamy and perhaps too perfect.
Early June 2020: Everlynn was due July 16. After weeks of delays, Hope finally had an appointment. She called me, her throat cracking: “She’s too small.”
I reassured her and reminded her that they said that about Callen, and he was over nine pounds at birth.
But the follow-up ultrasound had us on edge. Hope called. Again, in tears.
“They say Everlynn’s heart is enlarged,” she said.
We prayed and scheduled yet another appointment.
June 16, 2020: The specialist turned off the ultrasound machine and said she would talk with us across the hall.
“The right side of Everlynn’s heart is unable to pump blood to the lungs. Her body has compensated by increasing the size of her heart. This is quite serious. These findings are consistent with Trisomy 18. She will need surgery after birth, and you need to go to the University of Michigan hospital immediately. The prognosis isn’t good. I’m sorry.”
Wow. It felt like someone cut my own heart out and thrashed it with a hatchet. We set the appointment for 7 o’clock the next morning, and the journey began.
A quick delivery
June 17, 2020: Our morning at U of M hospital was busy, and our heads became foggy. After an echocardiogram, the pediatric cardiologist confirmed what we knew. Everlynn wasn’t well.
“We suspect Everlynn is distressed. You must deliver her as soon as possible.”
June 18, 2020: Everlynn nestled in her blanket. She had tubes in her throat, tubes in her belly, and tubes in her tiny nostrils. Yet, she was peaceful. The icy pain of the morning melted at the sight of her. Our girl. She was here, and she was amazing. At four pounds, Everlynn was half the size of her older brother when he was born, and now she had nearly made it through day one. Hope and I rested our hands on her miniature forehead and gave her kisses.
A tiny beauty
When Everlynn breathed, she made a squeaking noise. The noise resulted from air leaking around her breathing tube. But sometimes the noise was a raspy gurgle, and little white bubbles spilled from her chapped lips. I would dab them away. Then she just made the squeak. I loved the sound. It’s the only sound Everlynn made.
Everlynn would occasionally scrunch her nose, tighten her eyebrows, and stretch her mouth. Her face would become purple, her oxygen levels dropping. She would try to cry, but she couldn’t. The tube between her vocal cords inhibited her. She tried to call for help, tried to scream, but she was unable to make a sound. Hope was always there reassuring her: “Momma’s here, little girl.” Everlynn’s brow would soften. Her color would improve. She loved her mom.
July 6: Surgery day. I was tired and slept in Everlynn’s room until the anesthesiologists took her away. The doctors expected good results. We prayed she would improve, eventually coming off the ventilator, maybe coming home.
I sat in a dark corner of the waiting room, dreaming about the future with Everlynn. I played a father-daughter music playlist on my phone. I listened, closed my eyes, and waited. After a while, the doctor found me: “She’s out of surgery and doing well.”
When I saw Everlynn after surgery, she looked good. Her face was calm, and her skin looked better. The doctors were upbeat. I kissed my girls goodbye and went to stay with Callen. That evening I lay down to rest, my son in the bed beside me; it felt like our family was coming back together after a hard month.
Maybe we’ll all be home soon, and everyone can meet our little girl, I hoped. I tried to sleep.
My daughter, Everlynn
I woke the next morning to texts from Hope and immediately called her. She said the doctors were trying to raise Everlynn’s blood pressure, but nothing was working. I raced to the hospital.
“I’m here to see my daughter, Everlynn.” I’m fond of those words: my daughter, Everlynn. For weeks, I had said them every day.
When I found Everlynn on the 10th floor, I knew things were bad. Her room was stuffed with people. One lady continually gave her epinephrine, keeping her heart pumping.
The once-closed incision on Everlynn’s chest now gaped open, exposing her heart, giving it room to beat—an effort to increase her blood pressure.
I saw Everlynn’s heart. Dark red ventricles contracted. I used to place my hand over her torso, feeling her heartbeat shake her entire body. Now I could see that big, beautiful heart. She seemed too little for all this.
I went to Hope. A doctor sat beside us. “We’re doing everything, but it’s not looking good.” My heart fell. I knew the tone. I knew the speech. They said they would try one last thing.
I asked if Callen could meet his sister. They agreed.
“Baby!” he cried. Callen was in awe. He pointed and blushed and grinned. I’m not exaggerating. He loved her.
We went to the waiting room. Soon, the door opened, and the doctor spoke: “She seems stable.”
Minutes later, the door opened again. The other doctor. He informed us that Everlynn’s heart rate was dropping again.
“I don’t think she will survive this,” he told us.
Our emotions were wilted and numb. We gathered ourselves and went to hold our girl.
On July 7, 2020, at 8:45 in the morning, Everlynn Hope Zielinski went to meet our heavenly Father.
I saw her face swell, her curled fingers become blue, and her body stiffen. As I saw her soul released, it was all clear to me. Her life was worth it.
Healthy or not, you give a baby a chance. Right? The healthy need sustenance; the disabled need a ventilator. I don’t see such a grand difference.
An ever-present void
I miss saying “I’m here to see Everlynn Zielinski, my daughter.” I am often depressed. It’s hard to see the big picture, to think eternally. There really isn’t a happy ending to this story.
But there was a little girl named Everlynn born on June 18, 2020, at 1:45 in the morning. She had Trisomy 18. Her heart was three sizes too big. That big heart in that tiny baby touched people’s lives in a huge way. She touched my life. She changed my world. That’s enough, isn’t it? I hope so.
She had tiny nails on her crooked pinky finger, and her ears were small and closed. Her eyes were bright, like the red sun dropping below the dark horizon. She arrived in silence, and in silence she left.
I write her story with words, but Everlynn didn’t need words. She rested in her isolette, blinked her eyes, kicked her feet. And radiated peace. Heavenly peace. Peace through birth. Peace through the pain. Peace through life and then more peace, even through death.
It’s impossible to properly write about your dead child. I can’t do her justice. It’s like telling a joke that falls flat. With Everlynn, you really had to be there.
May I say two things?
I have regrets. I didn’t soak up enough of that little girl. She was a fountain of cool water. Giving. Refreshing. Life itself and heaven on earth. I should have and could have been with her more. But on this note, I want to say: If you’ve lost someone somehow, it seems regrets just prove you truly loved them. When I think of it that way, it helps.
Finally, I believe in eternity. I believe souls do not die. Earth is just the beginning. Everlynn is with God and the angels, further experiencing perfect peace. I want you all to meet her. Talk to God. He’ll sort you out.
So, when you get to heaven, look for a petite girl with strawberry blonde hair and peaceful blue eyes. I imagine she’ll be wearing a small pair of blue Birkenstock sandals, like her mom. Perhaps you’ll catch her chasing a white bunny through a flower patch of pink peonies. I don’t know if she’ll say anything; she’s likely rather shy. But she’ll certainly give you a little smile and maybe hold one of your fingers in her hand.
Losing a child is one of the most devastating things a parent can go through. But please know that you don’t have to go through these difficult times alone. There are people who want to help. If you have lost a child, whether through miscarriage or after birth, these organizations will support and guide you as you navigate the healing process:
- Heaven’s Gain Ministries “specializes in providing services and products for families suffering the loss of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death.” Visit HeavensGain.org for more information.
- The Emmaus Ministry for Grieving Parents “serves the spiritual needs of parents whose children of any age have died by any cause.” Visit emfgp.org for more information.
- Elizabeth Ministry offers help to families impacted by miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant or child death. Visit ElizabethMinistry.org for more information.
- Catholic Miscarriage Support offers support groups at CatholicMiscarriageSupport.com.
- PerinatalHospice.org is a clearinghouse for perinatal hospice/palliative care programs and support for families whose babies likely will die before or shortly after birth. Click on “List of Programs” for states and countries offering perinatal hospice.