Parents: Lyssa and Mike
Hometown: Warner Robins, Georgia
Carried to term, lived 2 days
Olivia Grace’s Story
After two successive miscarriages in 2003, Lyssa was overjoyed to find herself pregnant again in February of 2004. At first, she was afraid to tell her husband—she wanted to see if this one “took” before he or their three children had to suffer through another early loss. Much to her surprise, it was only one week later that her husband of eighteen years, Mike, looked at her carefully and asked if she was pregnant.
Early on, Lyssa and her husband refused all prenatal genetic tests. Through prayer and discussion, they had both decided that come what may, they would accept what was given to them by God. From the beginning, it seemed like a normal, healthy pregnancy—the kind that Lyssa had thoroughly enjoyed before, utterly free of complications. As time went by, however, the baby remained still and Lyssa’s apprehensions grew. Though with all her previous pregnancies she had felt the children moving within her earlier and earlier, this baby was different. At week nineteen, Lyssa still had not felt a single kick or hiccup. While her doctor assured her that this was completely normal, the first red flag rose in Lyssa’s mind.
One week later, Lyssa went in for her regularly scheduled check-up. It was at this initial ultrasound that she discovered that she would finally have the second baby girl she had so fervently desired. Finally, she would get her Olivia Grace. At twenty-two weeks, baby Olivia began to kick, yet Lyssa’s apprehensions remained. These kicks were weaker than they had been with her previous children. Though the movement was frequent, it was so different than what she’d experienced before that she simply couldn’t remove it from her thoughts. Lyssa’s mind was still racing four weeks later as the ultrasound tech ran the wand across her swollen belly. Why was the tech looking at Olivia’s heart for so long? And why did she need to leave to get the doctor?
After the doctor looked over the ultrasound for what seemed like forever, all he would reveal was that he saw several serious defects in Olivia’s heart. He wanted Lyssa and Mike to see a perinatologist immediately. Three long days and a two-hour drive later, Lyssa and her husband found themselves in the office of a prenatal genetic counselor. Once there, the counselor discussed the choroid plexus cysts that the doctor had found on Olivia’s brain.
While this symptom was normal on its own, she shared, it indicated something much more significant when it presented with the complex heart defects that Olivia was suspected to have. The counselor then handed Lyssa a sheet with the words “Trisomy 18” circled. “Babies with Trisomy 18 are considered incompatible with life,” the woman said gently. Lyssa began to cry; the baby inside her was going to die, and nothing could be done about it.
In the next room, as Lyssa and Mike stared at baby Olivia’s beating heart on the ultrasound screen, they could see the redundant tissue flapping back and forth between the hole in the ventricular wall with each contraction of the tiny muscle. As they watched, the cardiologist began to draw Olivia’s heart. As defect after defect was sketched out on the page, Mike and Lyssa could hardly tally all the problems the doctor listed off: a VSD, abnormal hepatic drainage, excess septum tissue, and a thick aortic valve turned backwards were all problems in their yet-to-be-born daughter’s heart. “I knew that night that I had a choice to make.,” Lyssa said. “I could become bitter and be consumed with the death of my child and live a miserable life, or I could choose to sing God’s praises and look for the good.”
Slowly but surely, Mike and Lyssa began to spread the news of their daughter’s illness, culminating in the encouragement of one powerful Thursday night. With most of their extended family present, Lyssa and Mike began to open up about Olivia, passing around the pictures that the cardiologist had drawn of her heart. Standing up, Mike’s sister began to read Psalm 139:13-16. When Lyssa heard the passage, she knew instantly that this was to be Olivia’s life verse. She printed up copy after copy of the psalm and posted it around the house with other verses and voices of encouragement.
At week thirty, Lyssa and Mike consented to have an amnio so that their OB and the hospital would be best prepared to care for them and advise them of any special medical care for Olivia. Two weeks later, the anticipated results arrived—Olivia did indeed have full Trisomy 18. Hoping to focus all their attention on Olivia when she finally arrived, Mike and Lyssa began preparing her memorial service. “Here we should have been planning for our baby’s homecoming and it should have been joyous,” Lyssa lamented. “Instead, we were facing our baby’s death and planning her funeral.”
On Wednesday, September 29, 2004, Lyssa was induced with the intention of giving Olivia the chance to be born alive. All the extended family and friends came to the hospital to cheer Lyssa and Olivia on. Olivia Grace was born at 5:21 pm that day after only two pushes. Olivia was limp and unresponsive but could breath and after awhile, cry as well.
Friday came in the hospital, and Lyssa and Mike awoke sensing the same air of heaviness, a heaviness that was to linger throughout the day. Olivia awoke looking different than she had the day before; her color had changed and the dimple in her nose had returned. As the day progressed, Olivia grew visibly weaker. Finally, Lyssa, Mike, and their now four children were able to go home together with hospice care to be alone as a family of six. The May family was given several precious hours with her at home before Olivia passed away in Lyssa’s embrace.
“As I was holding her in my arms and loving on her, I told her that we all loved her very much, that we would miss her terribly, and we would remember her forever. It was okay for her to go be with Jesus. Shortly afterwards, she very quietly and peacefully climbed out of my arms and into the arms of Jesus. That day was my father’s birthday—he had passed away 26 years ago. How perfect that Jesus waited until my father’s birthday to make that Olivia’s birthday into heaven. I know that my father was waiting right there to take her hand and usher his granddaughter into the kingdom of heaven. She is the only one of my children he has ever met.”