"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."
Kelly Humes, 41. Wife, mother of 3, and social worker.
"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 I laid on the OR table, freezing and throwing up and waiting to hear her first cries, I told myself everything was fine. Even when I noticed that Royal looked panicked and paranoid, I reasoned that it was just taking them a little longer than usual to clear her airway, but that this wasn't the first time a baby took a little longer than usual to cry. It wasn't until later that I remembered the other doctor who entered the room and recalled that he was still in his pajama pants- having been awakened in the middle of the night to rush down to MCV just for us. I didn't know how long it had been at that point, how many minutes she had been deprived of oxygen. I didn't know that they almost called the code there in the OR. I didn't know that a freakish twist of fate would ultimately take her life two days later.
Milla Sanaa (pronounced "Mee-la Sah-na-eye"). 7/11/12-7/13/12
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."
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Milla's younger sister, Ravi, joined their family in May of 2013, not even a year after Milla was born. (Kelly became pregnant very soon after she wrote the words that I've included in this piece). Then, in January of 2016, the family welcomed their third baby- a boy. Allim's name is Milla's spelled backward, a tribute to his oldest sister.
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:
*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.*