Emma Lee was barely 13 weeks into her pregnancy when doctors told her that one of her twins, a baby girl, would never be able to survive outside of the womb
Abbey Ahern is a 34-year-old mother who lives in Cashion, Oklahoma. When she was expecting her third child, doctors discovered at her 19-week scan that her daughter had anencephaly. That meant she would not live beyond a few hours.
Nevertheless, Abbey decided to carry her daughter to term, even though it was the ‘most difficult thing I have ever done’.
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Fourteen Hours And 58 Minutes
Annie lived for just 14 hours and 58 minutes, and she spent them surrounded by her family.
According to the National Institutes of Health, anencephaly means the baby has an underdeveloped brain and incomplete skull. This affects around one in 1,000 pregnancies, most of which result in miscarriage.
Abbey and her pilot husband Robert, also 34, decided to have a live birth so that they could spend time with their daughter. And then, they would donate her organs. This has made Annie the first infant newborn donor in the state.
So Much Beauty
Abbey said: ‘Carrying a terminally-ill baby to term was by far the most difficult thing I have ever done…
‘For us, even in the midst of our terrible heartbreak we were able to see so much beauty.
The process of donating Annie’s organs has been incredibly healing to me, knowing that my baby has saved lives.’
Then she added: ‘The entire thing felt impossible. If it wasn’t for my husband and our strong support system I believe Annie’s story would have been completely different. Probably much darker.’
Abbey said she was met with some skepticism from family and friends, but nobody tried to put them off their decision.
‘From the first moment, we hoped for a live birth and planned a C-section. We wanted a few precious memories with our girl. No-one tried to change our minds, but whenever I told certain family members and friends, they asked, “Are you sure this is what you want to do? Even my own sisters both told me later that they thought we were crazy for wanting to carry to term.’
At the time Annie was born, Abbey had two older daughters, Dylan and Harper. They are now seven and five, and she has since had another daughter, Iva, that is now two. When she heard her third daughter’s diagnosis, it ‘sucked the air right out of my lungs’.
She added: ‘I knew what he [the doctor] was saying but I couldn’t really apply it to us or to our baby.’
Afterwards they asked the doctor for the gender of their unborn child and decided to name her on the spot.
‘Naming our two older girls had been a struggle. But right then, we named her easily: Annie, which means, “grace.”
‘We knew she had a purpose — even though she was not made for this world.’
Before Annie was born they had numerous hospital meetings to plan everything required to ensure that they were able to donate her organs to transplant donor service LifeShare.
Abbey said being that during her pregnancy, even the most simple questions about it was agony but she usually tried to answer as if nothing was wrong.
She also said they did not know how long their daughter would survive; they only knew it would be for a very short time.
‘One of my big fears was that I’d be at the hospital and her time would be slipping away, and I wouldn’t have what I needed for special moments, like the hat and booties I knitted for her pictures or a gift for her sisters,’ she said.
Their marriage counselor gave them a white dress for Annie to wear which they packed for the hospital with a hat and booties.
Heaven Is For Real
Dylan, one of Annie’s sisters, requested that they bring a copy of the Christian book Heaven Is For Real, as told by Colton Burpo to his parents Todd and Sonja, so they could read it to Annie after she was born.
Abbey said that before the birth on June 26, 2013 she had ‘such a sense of peace’.
When Annie arrived Abbey heard ‘a commotion’ and saw the photographer taking pictures.
‘She had the mask on and her eyes were full of tears, but she was smiling. I knew Annie was here.’
‘She Was So Beautiful’
‘She didn’t cry much, but I heard her making noise. They showed her to me, and she was so beautiful,’ she said.
When they finally put Annie in her arms Abbey said she felt ‘lighter than I’d felt in five months’.
She added: ‘I remember holding her hands and pressing my face on hers and smelling her. I couldn’t kiss her enough.’
And even if it was a sad moment, Abbey said everybody was happy.
When they read Annie the book as requested by Dylan, Abbey felt it was ‘one of the best moments of my life’.
And then, at around 11pm she heard Annie ‘gasp’ and knew that she was reaching the end of her life.
She said: ‘Annie got to be with us all day, and she was ready…If she had to die, I’m so glad it was in my arms.
She lived a beautiful and incredible 14 hours and 58 minutes. She spent her entire life surrounded by love, joy, and peace. There was no sorrow, even when she passed away.’
Abbey was disappointed that her organs were not viable for transplant because her oxygen levels were too low- but they were able to donate her heart valves and some of her organs could still be used for research.
A Story Of Hope
They were told they could start trying for a baby six months after Annie had passed, and Abbey soon became pregnant with Iva.
She said: ‘Annie’s story is one of hope. I think it shows people that in the midst of tragedy, there can be beauty.
‘Annie was not ours to keep — her story was meant to be shared, and I intend to do so until the day I die.’