Editor's note: Marty Mitchell of Plainfield will take part in A Walk to Remember on Saturday, Oct. 10, in Naperville. The walk benefits the SHARE Program at Edward Hospital, which helps parents through their baby's death by helping them preserve the few memories fate affords them and offers parents a place where they can share their experience, grieve and possibly rediscover hope.
By Marty Mitchell
If you goWhat: A Walk to Remember
Why: Proceeds support the Wings of Hope Garden and the SHARE program at Edward Hospital for families who have lost babies during pregnancy or soon after birth
When: A memorial service begins at 9:30 a.m. with the walk at 10 a.m.; on-site registration starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 10
Where: Riverwalk Grand Pavilion west of Centennial Beach, 500 W. Jackson Ave., Naperville
Cost: Free, donations and pledges requested
Having kids was never something I questioned. I knew when I found the right girl, we would expand our family and have children. So when I married Ashley in 2011, it wasn't all that surprising to me when we found out we were pregnant.
I didn't count on how unprepared I would be. I had never changed a diaper, never fed a baby and, other than a failed attempt at having a dog in college, I had never had responsibility for any living thing before.
In those first few weeks after finding out our baby news, I was very nervous. How would I do this, could I do this, would I be a good dad and help raise a great kid? All those questions raced through my mind, but as time grew I knew I had the answer to all of them.
Always the optimist, I just knew we would figure it out. I would take on parenting like Phil Dunphy (from "Modern Family"), pretending to be the cool dad, showing my kids magic tricks and trying to be more manly than I actually am. I had a great wife who always wanted to be a mom, all the comforts a baby would need, and a commitment to make sure this child would grow up to be great.
As the weeks progressed and we found out it was a girl, I started thinking less about the first few weeks of her life and more about the long-term experiences I would have with this little girl. I thought about the activities she would get involved with, what her personality would be like, whether she would take after her mom or me, and how our relationship would be as she grew into a young woman.
I was excited about all of it, the sleepless nights, the temper tantrums, teaching her numbers and letters, and everything in between. I just couldn't wait to experience all the countless memories only a father and daughter can have.
Due to a shortened cervix, at the start of our 24th week of pregnancy, Ashley began having contractions that wouldn't stop. After a night in our local hospital, they transferred us to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Two things happened -- the first was intentional, the second was not.
Intentionally, even though I may have been scared, I tried to keep my wife calm and her hopes up. I was supposed to be the one who stayed strong and kept it all together. So I tried my best to do that as the doctors told us what would happen if they couldn't stop the contractions.
Secondly, and not on purpose, I had uncontrollable selective hearing. The doctors came in, talked about the odds of a baby surviving at 24 weeks and the complications that would come along if she did survive, and shared all-around not-good news. I didn't hear any of it. I just thought, "Well, that won't be happening to our baby," and my wife and I just kept our hopes up and never really discussed the "what if" part.
Maybe that was our way of protecting ourselves, not allowing the bad news to break us down and knowing we had to stay positive.
All the medications couldn't prevent Ashley from delivering. She had developed an infection in her uterus and our little girl needed to come out.
On May 22, 2012, Sloane Elise Mitchell came into this world. I saw her for maybe five seconds before they rushed her out of the room. Not really feeling happy or sad, I just held those emotions until I found out what would happen next. I wasn't prepared for it; I don't think anyone is.
The doctor came back in and shook her head from side to side. She said they tried to keep her breathing, but she was just too underdeveloped to make it.
They left Sloane with us and would give us as much time as we needed with her to say goodbye. This moment is one I was not prepared for, I wasn't prepared to accept the news, wasn't prepared to console my wife, wasn't prepared to hold my daughter and realize it would be the first and only time.
I cried. I held my wife and just cried. I didn't know where we'd go from there. Soon-to-be parents aren't taught this parenting skill. There isn't a manual or book that walks you through what is next. As a husband, I wanted to console my wife. I wanted to take away her sadness and add it to my own.
Nothing mattered in that moment, just holding onto my wife who was holding our daughter. My daughter's whole life started and stopped in front of me and all those hopes and dreams that a father has for their little girl were gone.
The days that followed were tough -- tough in a way that words can't begin to describe. As a husband, I just felt I had to be the glue that held us together. I was trying to cope while my wife was just trying to survive. Everything in our home was a reminder of what was lost. Clothes that would never be worn, a crib that wouldn't be slept in, books that I would never read to her, and a million memories that would never happen.
I tried to throw myself back into work, hoping that getting back to normal would help us. What I found was that after you lose a child, there is no more normal. You pick up your broken pieces and try to fit them into a new puzzle, making the best of what you have while knowing they will never fit just right.
Thankfully, beneath all the hurt and depression, there was a little hope tucked away in both Ashley and I. We felt we needed a baby, not to replace Sloane, but to replace our sadness with joy. With a transvaginal cerclage placed, we once again planned on a baby.
As luck would have it, on April 29, 2013, Collins Elise Mitchell came into this world happy and healthy. Those books would be read, that crib would hold a sleeping baby, and my hopes of a father-daughter relationship reinvented themselves.
I wish I could tell you my tough days were behind us and Ashley and I lived happily ever after. However, after trying to once again grow our family, our son, Knox Thomas Mitchell, was stillborn on Jan. 12, 2014, at just 22 weeks gestation. It's an experience we never thought we would repeat, and I can assure you the second time is not any easier than the first. It's like a sequel to the worst nightmare you've ever had. All the emotions come raging back.
I had been here before so I knew all I could do was hold on, try to get us through each day and try to hold onto the smallest bit of hope for better days.
Better days have found us once again, proof that there is always a tiny bit of hope even in the darkest of days. Removing even more risk of premature birth, Ashley underwent a trans-abdominal cerclage, which is more invasive but can provide better outcomes for someone in Ashley's situation. Luck would have it, everything worked out almost perfectly. Our son, Porter Thomas Mitchell, was born on June 25, 2015, and although five weeks early, had all his fingers and toes and is a happy, healthy little boy.
Sloane and Knox may have gone ahead without us, but they are here in our home. When you come to our home, you may hear only two kids in the yard, but the Mitchells are a family of four children and we couldn't be more proud of all of them.