“I often wonder how could this have happened to us? Why were we chosen for this? This kind of thing doesn’t happen to us. It’s always a friend of friend that this happens to. But then the thought creeps in, why not? We’re not special or exempt from tragedy. So then I force myself to think, what am I learning and going to learn from this? Something spectacular.”
Thursday, February 6th, 2014. That was the day Andy and Neena Earl became parents for the first time. It was also the day that would come to shape their marriage and the rest of their life together. That winter day ushered in a harsh phase of growth and love and renewal and an entire litany of other unspeakable lessons thrust upon young parents amidst unspeakable tragedy. Thursday, February 6th, 2014 marks the day they lost their daughter Indira at birth.
If there’s anything Mackenzie and I have learned on this journey, it’s that we’re not alone. No one is. Either you’re surrounded and bolstered by an army or you’re part of that army; soldier to fellow soldier in shared and respective tragedy. And in ways many are continuing to witness, Andy and Neena have shaken hands with grief in an attitude of grace and progression, leaving us all marks along the path to a bright and near hope; the path to a respite from the pain, the sorrow and the sting of loss that has or will or continues to pang us all.
Since the passing of their beloved Indira, Andy and Neena have welcomed their second child, Coen. And in a way, the world surrounding this family has been able to watch the quiet unfolding of their story with a sense of reverence, seeing firsthand the workings of beauty grown from anguish.
Here’s their story (as told by Neena):
Tell us a little about you and Andy
After years of crossing paths with each other at friends’ weddings and parties, Andy and I finally met and spoke to each other for the first time when we sat next to each other on the ski lift at Park City Mountain Resort. We had many mutual friends and were skiing in a huge group that day. He didn’t ask for my number that day but about a week later he requested to be my friend on Facebook and we chatted on there for about another week. Andy was a slow mover and I finally told him we needed to hang out again. We met up with some mutual friends (because Andy felt awkward hanging out alone, like I said, a very slow mover!) After that, we were pretty inseparable and we married 18 months later.
Tell us about your pregnancy with Indira and the events leading to her passing
I have Crohns Disease and was told that I could not attempt to get pregnant until after I had gone into remission. My doctor worked hard with me to get that to happen. Eventually I went into remission and was given the go ahead to start trying. After only two months of trying we were pregnant with Indira, our sweet baby girl! I had always had the feeling that pregnancy would be hard for me. Not mentally and emotionally, although that usually always happens with pregnancy, I was more concerned that I was going to have many complications physically.
Most of my pregnancy went well and I was surprised to not have had too many complications. We had a few scares here and there that led us to the ER but nothing too serious or detrimental. Around 35 weeks I became extremely itchy all over my body. My doctor had me blood tested for Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy which tested for bile acids in my blood and it came back twice the normal levels and it was confirmed that I had this condition that can be fatal to babies in the womb. Cholestasis only happens during pregnancy and it’s when the mother’s liver begins to fail which causes the bile that it usually processes to back up into the bloodstream. Once the bile acids in the mother’s blood stream reaches the baby, it usually fatal.
When my doctor first informed me that I had this condition, he told me that most babies aren’t stillborn with this issue until they reach 37 weeks. He told me he would see me at my 37 week appointment which was in 2 weeks and check on me then. He did not offer me any monitoring or non-stress tests, which I found out by doing a little of my own research, is standard procedure with any pregnant woman if she has been diagnosed with this condition.
So, the next day I demanded to have an NST which they gave me and Indira failed the NST. They sent me to the hospital to receive a biophysical profile ultrasound which is a timed test. The tech monitors the baby for 30 minutes and the baby must pass the test in 4 categories. If the baby does not pass all four categories in 30 minutes then the mother is sent directly to labor and delivery and is induced. Indira only passed 2 out of 4 categories. The tech said that some Ob’s would send me straight to labor and delivery with these results and some might send me home. My Ob sent me home.
Unfortunately, the next evening, I was struggling to get Indira to move. I drank a sugary drink, ate food, laid on my side and even showered since the hot water usually got her kicking. Nothing. We rushed to the hospital. We were admitted into the triage room in Labor and Delivery and two nurses attended to us. The first nurse placed the heart monitor on my belly and we hear nothing. She moved the monitor around frantically to find a heartbeat. Her hands started shaking and both of the nurse’s faces were grim and serious. I knew in that moment that Indira was gone.
The nurse didn’t say much. She stood and told us that she needed to get the doctor on call.
The OB on call came into the room and attempted to find Indira’s heartbeat. He said he heard something faint and wanted to move me to an ultrasound in another room to be sure.
Within seconds of getting to the ultrasound, he pointed to the screen and said, “see this, this is her heart and it’s not beating.” I couldn’t look. I only watched Andy’s face as he looked and I saw all the sadness and hurt and disappointment and anger and fear in his face. That was enough for me. I didn’t need that black and white image of her non-beating heart burned into my mind for eternity. By this time, my parents were there with us. Myself, Andy, and my parents, and anyone who knew us would never be the same again.
When the doctor confirmed that Indira had died, I felt like my body was going to explode with the most intense pain and sadness that I had ever felt. It was all consuming. I could feel it with every part of my body and being. In that moment, I didn’t know anything. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t comprehend anything. I say I could feel pain in every part of my body but I also felt numb. The only thing I could do was cry and let every feeling inside of me come out. I could only do what they told me to do from there on out.
They told me that they would induce me immediately and would probably deliver her the next day.
Honestly, in those first moments, I could only do a few things. I could only do what I needed to do to survive and even then I wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing. We went with the motions. The staff at the hospital were like a well-oiled machine for this type of tragedy. We basically got whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. As many visitors as we wanted, the biggest, most comfortable room away from all the other happy moms, and whatever food and drink we needed.
Labor was long and hard. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to hold Indira, I didn’t know what protocol was and I didn’t have my wits about me enough to ask. Honestly, I was even scared that I wouldn’t want to see and hold her depending on the condition of her body.
However, the moment she entered the world, the most incredible feeling of peace and love fell over the entire room. It felt tangible. Afterwards, every person that came into that room later remarked on the feeling that was there. Her spirit was there, comforting us and brought us happiness and gratitude to have those few hours with her earthly body. One of the most spiritual experiences of my life and for many of our friends and family that visited and met her.
If there is a way to describe it, can you tell us about those initial days following Indira’s passing?
The days following were intense. At the hospital, I felt peaceful and calm while Andy grieved heavily. When we got home it switched, I grieved and mourned heavily and Andy was there to help me in any way that I needed while I healed physically. It was a difficult battle to deal with healing from delivering a baby that I didn’t get to hold in my arms. The reward of the hardship of delivery is to hold your sweet child in your arms and I didn’t have that reward. Just the pain mentally, emotionally, and physically.
We relied HEAVILY on each other and our families and close friends in those first few days. We had an incredible support network that dropped everything to be with us and do whatever we needed the moment she died. Our friends cleaned our house, did our laundry and stocked our fridge and pantry with food while we were in the hospital. Our parents helped to pack up Indira’s things and put her room in storage. I didn’t want her empty room to be a reminder of her absence. I already had enough reminders.
We did all that we could to survive. What struck us the most is that in a tragedy such as this, is that we saw all that was good about humans and humanity. People came out of the woodwork offering their love and support. Some people we barely knew as acquaintances, others we hadn’t seen in years, and others we had never met. I don’t think we could’ve felt more loved and supported. Out of the bad came the immense good.
What was most helpful in that time?
I’ve often thought about this because, unfortunately, there were those that did and said the wrong things. We know all were well intentioned but some things were more helpful than others. We found that the most helpful people were those that made their way in and did what they could to make our lives easier. They didn’t try and fix anything, they just did what they could to make life easier. In a time like that, it’s hard to ask for help mostly because it’s even difficult to know what we needed. Family and friends anticipated our needs and were there before we could even ask.
Another thing that was helpful was when people would listen to us. We just needed to be able to mourn and have people comfort us. We needed people to commiserate with us. Not try and make us feel better with statements like, “At least you know she’s in a better place.” Those are “fix-it” statements. We didn’t need anyone to say things to fix it, because nothing could fix what just happened. We needed people to cry with us and say, “this sucks. This isn’t right. You should be holding your daughter in your arms and for that I am sorry.”
Now, with some time away from her death and birth, the most helpful is when people still talk about her and acknowledge her existence to us. A few months ago a friend texted me to tell me she had been thinking of Indira and had been crying for us. It’s been over two years since she was born and it brought my heart so much peace and joy to know that people hadn’t forgotten her even after all this time. I’ve had people tell me that they think about her a lot but don’t want to bring her up because they’re afraid of making us sad. My response is, even if it makes us sad, we’re usually always a little bit sad about it and the happiness of knowing that someone is still thinking about her and wants to talk to us about her is ten times better.
How did it affect your relationship with your husband?
Andy and I already had a great relationship. This only strengthened it. We became INCREDIBLY close. We were inseparable. We felt no irritability towards each other, we had no quarrels or disagreements. The spirit of Indira kept peace in our hearts. Losing a child can bring a lot of anger and resentment towards one another and unfortunately that’s real life and nothing to be ashamed of. We all grieve differently and especially men and women grieve differently from each other. It’s important to let each other grieve on your own path but love and support each other with whatever path they may be on.
What was different about your pregnancy with Coen, how did that experience differ the second time around?
This time around with Coen was completely different. We not only switched Ob’s, we changed practices. We sought prenatal counseling with a perinatologist doctor which is a high specialized Ob. They counsel with your Ob and come up with a plan for your pregnancy but perinatologists, also known as a maternal fetal medicine (MFM) doctor, do not deliver babies. So we monitored from before day one of being pregnant with Coen.
After I had Indira and had an autopsy we found out that I not only had cholestasis but I also found out that I had a condition where my blood clots when I’m pregnant. So, with pregnancy with Coen, I had to inject myself every night in the abdomen with blood thinner and I also had to take baby aspirin. This is something I will have to do with all of my pregnancies. My bile acid levels were also tested frequently and luckily cholestasis never returned. I saw my regular Ob more more often than a normal pregnancy would and in between visits with him, I met with my MFM. I felt very well taken care of. But even with all the attention nothing could help the anxiety and fear that history would repeat itself.
Tell me about Coen
Coen is a sweet, energetic, inquisitive boy that LOVES to play. If playing were his job, Coen would be employee of the month every single month. He’s not too much of a snuggler but he’s a big smiler. He loves people and has been very social and friendly since day one. He goes to anyone and gives everyone around him the biggest smiles. I fully believe that Indira shines through him. He has brought so much love and healing to all of us.
What message would you give to another who is going through a similar tragedy?
One of the best things I can tell someone who has to endure this same trial is that we must go with the flow of our grief. It ebbs and flows and changes course constantly. Let every emotion come to you as it comes. Whenever I tried to fight my sadness or anger, it didn’t work for me. There’s no timeline or protocol on how to grieve.
Have hope and you will find peace one day.
This quote from Steph Davis explained it perfectly:
It’s a long road and happens in tiny little steps at first. You’ll find yourself happy too, but there’s a lot of stuff you’ll have to face before that happens. At this point it’s best to just deal day to day or hour by hour and not think too much about the future. Right now your grief is this giant gaping hole with sharp edges but as you move forward in life the edges soften and other beautiful things start to grow around it. Flowers and trees of experiences. The hole never goes away, but it becomes gentler and sort of a garden in your soul, a place you can visit when you want to be near your love.
at first it’s all you can do to deal with your basic needs, and that’s what your best friends are helping you with now. Soon the sadness will come in waves, and you have to hold on through the intense parts, letting them well up inside you, carry you for a bit, then subside. It’s all important stuff to feel. Don’t fight it, but don’t get carried too far.
Just hold on.
It gets better and you’re not alone. You’re part of this horrible little club now, and the other members will come to help heal your pain with empathy and promise.
You are going to get through this. Even though this loss will shape who you are forever, you’ll be happy again. You will find peace.
Read more of Andy and Neena’s story on her blog, Finding Indira