One afternoon in July 2017, Emily Zoladz sat in her backyard enjoying the sunshine with her two children, Nora and Isaac, now 6 and 4.
A butterfly fluttered around her for a long time, seeming not to want to leave her side.
Emily doesn’t remember her daughter’s exact words, but Nora said something like, “Mommy, that butterfly really wants to be by you.”
Suddenly, Emily got chills all over her body. Four days earlier, she had suffered a miscarriage at 12 weeks into her third pregnancy. Her midwife, MaryAnne George, CNM, keeps special white butterfly magnets in her office to honor the babies who die before they’re born.
“Nora climbed up on my lap, and I just cried,” Emily said. “That was a very special moment.”
Emily still gets emotional when she talks about losing her baby. Yet she and her husband, Chris, have been open about their experience, hoping that by telling their story they would heal and help others do the same.
“It was like nothing else, the worst pain I have ever felt,” Emily said.
Two days after his wife’s miscarriage, Chris wrote a blog post about the loss.
“That was very healing for him to write about it,” she said. “After he did, I got so many messages from women and friends, some of whom have been through the same thing. They all experienced it in their own way. I did not know how common it is, or how taboo it is to talk about.”
Emily had been a patient of MaryAnne, a certified nurse midwife at Spectrum Health Medical Group Midwifery Obstetrics and Gynecology since she was in her early 20s and a newlywed. MaryAnne delivered both of her children. She and Chris had already had a six-week appointment and ultrasound, when they heard their new baby’s heartbeat.
Then came July 9, 2017. The Zoladzes were in the process of moving from Alger Heights in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to their current home in Rockford. At 12 weeks, they were just getting ready to start sharing the news of the baby with family and friends.
It was Nora’s birthday, and they were planning a trip to the beach to celebrate. Emily had some spotting, like she had with another of her pregnancies. The next morning, the bleeding worsened, so MaryAnne asked them to come into her office.
MaryAnne performed an ultrasound. No heartbeat.
“I remember she gave me a big hug,” Emily said. While they embraced, MaryAnne whispered comforting things in her ear.
“She felt like a mother in that moment,” Emily said. “She was wonderful.”
Chris snapped a photo of the two of them hugging, an image that brings back emotion to this day.
He would later write about this in his blog: “MaryAnne embraced Emily with a deep, maternal hug and said, ‘That was your baby and it mattered.’ We cried together and then had the room to ourselves to process before we discussed what to do next.”
He wrote, “I remember the silence was interrupted by a sound from the adjacent examination room, the unmistakable sound of a baby’s beating heart on an ultrasound machine. I remember looking at Emily through our tears and saying, ‘I’m happy for them.’”
MaryAnne felt the agony right along with them.
“We held each other, and we both just needed to cry, because that’s my baby, too,” she said.
Rather than having a medical procedure, Emily opted to deliver the baby at home, with the help of medication to induce labor. The baby is now buried by a wisteria bush at their home.
“It was an awful thing to go through, but going through it that way helped me,” Emily said.
In September 2017, Emily learned she was pregnant again, sooner than she anticipated. Ari joined their family.
But Emily thinks about the baby she lost as being her third baby.
“The loss of that baby will always be with me.”