Like every couple expecting a child, my wife and I were so excited. We had always loved the name Phoebe for a girl, and we knew that we wanted to use that name even before we were married. Catcher in the Rye is our favorite book, and Phoebe is the main character’s (Holden's) sister; she's the only person in the world whom he considers perfect, innocent, and beautiful. We love the scene where Holden sits on a bench at the zoo, watches his sister ride the carousel, and desires to be the catcher in the rye…the one who protects youth and innocence. When we found out that our baby was a girl, we felt like we had the perfect life. We had so much fun decorating Phoebe’s nursery with birds, since the phoebe bird is also an adorable type of bird. We dreamed of how our son Connor would play with her and how she would look up to him, how she'd dance with me on her wedding day and get her nails done with my wife when she was older. She was the missing piece in our existence, and we were so excited to welcome her home.
On August 11, 2015, we went to our doctor for a routine check-up. Phoebe was five days past due. My wife, Stacy, hadn't felt her move much the day before, but because we knew that she was a big baby and that movement slows down toward the end of pregnancy when babies run out of room, we were not alarmed. Our doctor’s appointment started out as lighthearted and fun as every appointment. We were even joking about how stubborn Phoebe was being in coming out and speculating when Stacy would be induced.
Our doctor came in the room and we joked around with him a bit. Stacy reclined on the bed and the doctor took out his heart rate monitor. He lowered it to Stacy's stomach and heard nothing. Stacy started to panic right away and reached for my hand. Phoebe always had a very strong heartbeat that we could hear immediately. I assured her that everything was fine, and so did the doctor. He moved the monitor around for what felt like an eternity and then finally got a heartbeat. Everyone in the room breathed a loud sigh of relief and smiled. The doctor then felt Stacy’s pulse and said, "I just want to make sure that that heartbeat we heard was the baby’s and not yours." He asked us to go to an ultrasound room across the hall.
In the ultrasound room, Stacy started to cry and my breath became very shallow. The doctor lowered the wand to her stomach and looked on the screen. We saw Phoebe’s heart on the screen, and it wasn't moving. Our doctor looked at us with a slight tear in his eye and simply said, "I'm so sorry but your baby has died." "What does that mean?" I said, confused. He replied, "Your baby has no heartbeat; your baby has passed away. I'm so sorry." Stacy jumped off the table and hugged me. Then she ran to her mother who was waiting in another room. My vision went white, and I ran to the bathroom to throw up. When I returned to the room where Stacy was, everyone was crying. The doctor hugged me, but I was too angry and numb to accept what had happened.
After giving us some time, the doctor prepared us for what we had to do next, and that was deliver my stillborn daughter. A C-section was offered up to Stacy as an option, but my wife said she'd rather deliver her naturally, which impressed me so much with the strength she displayed. We made an appointment to come back to the hospital that night. We went home, told loved ones who fell into our arms crying, and picked up our son Connor from school. We didn't tell him what was going on at that moment so we could cling to his innocent happiness before we went back.
We checked into the hospital at Sutter Roseville at 7:00 PM. A picture of a fallen leaf floating on water was placed on our door to let staff members know what had happened to us. My wife's induction started, and she tried to fell asleep. Her mother stayed with her in the hospital room, and I went home so I could lie next to my son while he slept. I stayed up most of the night quietly sobbing as I looked at his face on his pillow and imagined what she would've looked like at his age…something I still do at times.
The next morning, on August 12, 2015, I dropped my son off at school and went to the hospital. My wife began to feel labor pains and started to push. The whole time we were hoping it was a mistake and we would hear a crying baby when she came out. At 11:51 AM, my daughter Phoebe was born. There were no cries, but she was beautiful and perfect: 9 pounds, 2 ounces, and 19 1/2" long. After Phoebe was delivered, the nurses wrapped her in a blanket and let us hold her. Holding her consisted of the most complicated emotions we had ever felt. We had waited so long to see her, and we loved every part of her, but the sadness of losing her overwhelmed us. We cried when we saw our daughter for the first time, knowing that it would soon be our last. I remember looking at her body, every inch of it, trying to remember every chubby fold, precious toe, and curly hair, because I knew I was never going to see these things again for the rest of my life.
We tried to make the most of the time we had with Phoebe. We hugged her and sang to her. Our family members held her. Our nurses arranged for a photographer to take pictures of her, and we had her baptized by our priest. The nurses eventually took Phoebe away. The night we spent in the hospital after her birth was our hardest night. Stacy and I spent it just sobbing in our room. It had been the hardest 24 hours of our lives.
We found out that Phoebe died of a fetal-maternal hemorrhage. That's when a baby's blood rushes into the mothers' blood stream. We were told that this happens in 1 out of every 5,000 pregnancies…but usually it occurs after a trauma, such as a car accident. Fetal-maternal hemorrhages, however, can also happen completely at random, spontaneously, and for no reason, like what happened to us, but the odds of that happening are so small that there is little research done on it. The only solace we have is that when the hemorrhage happened, it happened very quickly; Phoebe didn't suffer, and there was nothing that we could have done to prevent it. A friend of mine said, "We all wish we will die peacefully in our sleep, and Phoebe not only got to die that way, but also, in the embrace of her mother in the most perfect environment for nurturing on earth."
We had Phoebe cremated and held a small service for her at the church that we now attend every Sunday. The days and weeks that followed were dark and blurry. People called, flowers came, and condolences were given. All of them were appreciated, but I can't remember details about any of it now. We felt like shells of what we once were…unable to smile or laugh or eat or move. Our son was the only motivation we had to put one foot in front of the other most days. We wanted to keep his life seeming as normal as possible.
A few weeks later, when we could handle it, we told Connor what happened to his sister. He was only three years old at the time, so we weren't sure how much he would understand. We took him into her nursery, sat on the floor, and told him that his baby sister Phoebe was no longer coming to live with us, but she would always be with us, watching from the sky. Our son's eyes filled with tears and he let us know that he did, indeed, understand.
Since her passing, the outpouring of support we have received has been incredible. Stacy and I decided that endlessly sobbing or raging at our misfortune is not how Phoebe would want us to live. We decided to turn our post-traumatic stress into post-traumatic growth and use this part of our lives to become better people. We honor Phoebe every day and think about her every time we hear or see a phoebe bird. We are grateful for our son Connor and our new son, Theo. We especially love our family, friends, and Wake Up Call listeners for helping us in all the ways that they have. That is why we founded Phoebe’s Fund. We wanted to help grieving parents like us by removing the financial burden of getting professional therapy, and we knew we had the support system to make this charity happen. Thank you for taking the time to read Phoebe’s story and for checking out Phoebe’s Fund. If you ever want to take a quiet moment for Phoebe, go visit her memorial bench at the Sacramento Zoo…it’s overlooking the carousel…like in Catcher in the Rye. Now anyone can sit and watch children play while thinking about the beauty of innocence and youth, and we’re glad Phoebe has given them a place to do that.
Thank you for reading our story.
The Ferguson Family