The Little Footprints of My Angel Niece (Still Birth)

Stillbirth Poem Photo with Little Feet

Photo of Daughter Saying Goodbye to Baby Cousin

Post Dedication: 

Ella Grace and her loving parents

I’m just the Aunt - and it was the worst day of my life.  

I’m writing this post in part because I’ve witnessed my sister, my best friend, and her husband experience the devastating loss of a still-born baby girl at 38-Weeks gestation - my niece, Ella. I️’ve watched my sister grieve over the last several years and I’ve listened to her express how alone she feels in the process and I️ want to share her story to honor my angel niece, Ella Grace. I️ hope that somehow, by sharing this story, which will come in multiple posts, that somehow it will someday help someone else somehow.

The day started out completely normal...

Extension 3699. That's the extension that I always called because on the other side is my big sister who works for the same organization as I do. I️ would always ask her to meet me in the cafeteria for lunch. During her pregnancy, I️ called this extension for fun updates from her - like getting the details on baby kicks and fun random stories about whatever it was that she was craving that day.

In October of 2016, my sister was 38-weeks pregnant and she was GLOWING.  She and her husband couldn’t have possibly been more ready to be parents.  Their nursery was ready-to-go  12-weeks into their pregnancy.  They had a 529 College Savings Plan for their baby before they were even pregnant.  They were so so so so excited to start a family.

I️ was different than my sister - I was a grumpy pregnant person - I️ think in part because I didn’t know any better - I️ didn’t have the appreciation that, in part, can only be gained after seeing the loss of a baby up close and personal.

During my pregnancy, I️ was so so physically uncomfortable. I️ both looked and felt like a pregnant, hungry dinosaur.
—- stomp stomp stomp rawrrrr
^ that’s how I️ felt

But not my sister - she wasn’t grumpy - she beamed with pure joy. I've never met any woman who was as ready to be a mother as my sister was and she has been this way for as long as I can remember.  In many ways, my older sister is like a mother to me.

My sister was glowing at 38-weeks pregnant...

She and her husband had their baby’s carseat installed at 28-weeks into the pregnancy. At the time, I couldn't understand their seemingly premature need to sacrifice that car’s backseat capacity (sq. Ft) so early on the game but now I think that's what loving, excited parents do when they are SOOO excited to be parents - it was so clear, to everyone around them, that they couldn't wait for the baby to come.

It was a Monday afternoon, I was at work - and I had just finished a report for my boss right before it was due.  I wanted a lunch-buddy, so I called extension 3699 around lunch time, like usual, and when my sister picked up the phone she sounded worried.  My sister said that she thought that she was being a "paranoid pregnant mom" because it hadn’t “even been long since the baby last kicked”…. but still she said that “something just didn’t feel right” though - and then she told me that she was going to go ask her co-workers (she worked in a medical clinic) to do a Doppler heartbeat check so she could hear the baby’s heart-beat and get that reassurance that the baby was OK.

I remember that my sister said - in that same phone call - that “the piece of watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher candy didn’t work this time” (watermelon Jolly Ranchers were my sister’s go-to candy for kick counts - just enough sugar in it to help get the baby to move for the kick counts). Historically in her pregnancy, she ate a watermelon Jollyrancher and these had always given my sister the reassurance and peace of mind to let her know that baby was there and alive (kick kick kick) — but the Jollyranchers hadn’t worked this time.  We hung up the phone and then I went alone to get some coffee from our cafeteria at my work.

I again called Extension 3699...about an hour later - and this was the first moment that my heart sunk deeper into my stomach than I knew was possible...

I️ had attributed my sister’s worry to her being a careful Mom-to-be who was just being extra safe - my sister is a very level-headed person - she was not the type to overreact (she was probably the most level-headed, sane one in our family).

An hour or so after I️ hung up the phone with my sister, I realized that she hadn't called me back. ...

So I️ called her office...again.

(Ring, Ring...)

On the other end:

“Hey Amanda, it's Sarah...."

(Why was Sarah, my friend who is a Physician Assistant at the medical clinic where my sister worked, answering my sister’s work phone extension?)

"Sarah, why are you answering my sister’s work phone?" I asked. 

"Hey…so…I’m…I’m….your sister is fine but she just left to go to the birthing inn. I'm sure everything is fine and that the baby is just in a weird position but we tried to find a fetal heart beat and we couldn't, so she's just being careful....."

My heart sank.

Nothing could be wrong at 38-weeks....I thought she was past the point of concern...

.....But there was no way that anything could be wrong.  She was 38-Weeks. She was well past the point of concern, I️ told myself.  “This” wouldn’t happen to anyone I know, let alone to my sister....this is what I told myself.

I hung up my office phone (not sure if I even said bye to Sarah) and I ran (speed-walked at a turbo level) to my car with a panicky feeling I️ tried to suppress.  I got in my car and drove across town to the Birthing Inn.

I called my sister on my way there.  My sister didn’t answer her cell phone. Not the first, second or third time I️ called.

I tend to be a spaz about important situations (admittedly), so I️ kept telling myself this was just another example of me overreacting —

I️ “knew” (or I️ wanted to believe) that I was going to walk into the Birthing Inn to see my sister laughing at herself for worrying and overreacting and I figured I'd probably get there after she was done with her non-stress test (NST). I knew I was overreacting and that my sister was just being extra careful.


I remember walking into the Birthing Inn and I️ remember walking up to the nurse station. It’s the hospital that I️ work’s the hospital where I had my baby...the same group of nurses that cared for my daughter and me during my delivery ... they know me --- I work there - my whole family worked there -  it's the same group of amazing nurses I’d met during some of my sister’s appointments throughout her pregnancy when I’d tag along with her to keep her company.  Until that day, the nurses had always let me by-pass the security check-point and go into the Birthing Inn.

Why were these same nurses suddenly putting on their professional faces when I walked into the Birthing Inn this time?  This went through my head.

There was a nurse looking at a computer screen. In hindsight, she had a sad look on her face. The type of look where you go home from work and cry at the kitchen table-- type of look....

“Is Brandie in room 317 or in room 318 this time?” I️ asked, expecting a smile and a head nod towards my sister’s room - screw HIPPA when we're all basically family...right?

But this time, I didn’t get a smile from the nurse, and the nurse looked at me in a way that made my heart stop.


I️ instinctively started walking towards one of the three rooms that I️ knew my sister had to be in.

“ here."

“ here."

the nurse urgently told me...


I️ reassured myself: Oh ok. My sister just wants privacy. (Seemed strange because I was pretty sure there was literally nothing about my sister that I didn't know....) But ok problem. Fewf! It’s gonna be fine  

I️ said to the nurse, “Everything is ok right? Oh man she probably just wants some privacy so please just tell her that I came by..."

"Please just wait here...wait.”

(My head started what is happening?)

"Do you need my ID? I promise I'm her sister. I’m sorry I thought you knew me. Just tell her I️ stopped by!”

But the look that I️ got from that nurse was a look I’d never ever seen from anyone before (and I literally grew up surrounded by doctor's and nurses and worked in a hospital for my entire career.... The look was the professionally trained look of a nurse protecting the emotional and physical needs of a patient in urgent need - a panicked look mixed with sadness and the want to tell me and comfort me but also knowing that she wouldn't be able to....the look where she didn't want to be the one to have to tell me what I already knew was a huge possibility based on the non-verbal cues of every single nurse at the nurse station and the dead silence of what is normally a cheerful hallway in the hospital Birthing Inn....

That is when I knew but I didn't want to know.... something was very very wrong. I've never seen a sad face on any nurse in a Birthing Inn (it's not a look I ever want to see ever again...because it means something isn't right)...

Non-verbal communication is too powerful....I️ don’t know how to adequately describe how my intution communicated the worst information to my brain that it has ever had to process..

"Is everything ok? Everything is ok, right?"

I asked the nurse if it would change her response...

That professional look again....."I'll be back. Please wait here," the nurse said to me.

Why wasn't the nurse assuring me that my sister was fine?

I️ was confused by my own gut feeling.

I text messaged Sarah - “Oh f***...".

Then I did what I always do when I’m panicking and don’t know what to do - I called my mom - she always makes me feel better and tells me it’s going to be OK.  I pressed the “call” button my dial my mom and then I heard the song “UPTOWN GIRL” blaring from one of the exam rooms….I had just programmed that song as the ringtone on my mom’s iPhone for when I called her……my mom was in one of those exam rooms with my sister I realized.  Then I realized that my mom was my sister’s emergency contact —- and my stomach sank even more  

Still, I hoped for my mom’s to reassure me everything was fine with Brandie and her baby...I expected my mom to say "Oh Brandie just called me and it was just [insert something as serious as Braxton Hicks, which isn't serious]...but that didn't happen. 


My mom had made a huge deal about how she was going to finally "clean her home office today" and she meant it this time.. So why is she in my sister's sonogram room? Then, I saw my mom open the door of the very dark sonogram room - she must have been stepping out to answer my phone call. My mom didn’t notice that I was standing 50-feet away from her at the nurse station..... and I saw my mom pull her ringing phone out of her purse to answer my phone call...

Still in denial over all of the non-verbal cues on the faces and the bodies of every single person surrounding me, I yelled to my mom, “Mom I'm right here! I didn't know you were even here! Wait. Why are you here? Is everything ok?"

And the look on her face told me everything I️ had feared and tried to ignore in my gut about every single non-verbal cue and clue around me - everything was not ok - it was not ok....and in that moment I knew that my sister had lost her baby. My niece.  I learned at the same time - it’s a girl.  My sister and her husband had waited to find out the gender.   
Looking back at it, it's interesting to me that at no point did anyone - not a doctor - not a nurse - nor my mom - ever said any words confirming anything - it was all in their facial expressions.  It's pretty amazing how much facial expressions alone - without words in any form - can communicate from human to human....everything was communicated to me through the looks of pure genuine sadness in their eyes.

My mom must have been holding it together for my sister while she was in the room, because when my mom saw me down the hallway from her, she broke down in sobbing tears - I've only seen my mom do this one other time in my entire life.  Like a scene in Grey's Anatomy (where an extra on the show is screaming dramatically in the hospital hallways as the docs rush her child into emergency surgery) - I start screaming in the middle of the Birthing Inn hallway (screaming with grief and tears)....all I remember is saying "No! No! No! No! No! No!"

And there we were - the Birthing Inn hallway. As new families, new moms, and new babies were tucked away in their own rooms with their new little - alive - babies, there we were.... 

I was oblivious as to how this must have been echoed down the hallways of happy mothers nursing their newborns and posting their Facebook birth announcements...disturbing this peace, screaming "No! No! No! No!" in a pure state of an ugly-crier's grief....  At one point hours later I remember being jealous of the women in those rooms because they had healthy babies and my poor sister couldn't have one. I remember at one point hearing the sound of a baby's first cry from a room way down the hall - I never thought I'd be so unexcited to hear the sound of new life because it stung - like a loud cry in my sister's face.  It felt unfair.

When the doctor heard my mom and I crying in the hallway, he ran out of my sister's room (I still hadn't seen my sister at all at this point).

The next thing I remember is Dr. Ambry, running and rushing us into a conference room and then shutting the door quickly...

"Is the baby gone?" I asked the doctor (still in disbelief).

His eyes confirmed it.  Again, it's amazing how much looking into another human's eyes can communicate.

"The baby" - I heard my own words... this suddenly wasn't "the baby" - it was a little girl or little boy - my niece or my nephew. (We still didn't know the gender at this point - my sister and BIL left this as a surprise.)

"A little's a was a girl..." the doctor said to my mom and me.

My niece.

I learned I had a niece at the same moment that I learned I didn't.

A little beautiful baby girl. My niece. She was gone from us before she ever came.

My sister and her husband had waited to find out the gender - they loved the idea of waiting to find out. They loved the excitement behind waiting. None of us expected to learn the baby's gender in this way.

It was such a devastating feeling to learn that there was a baby girl who had been with us at the very moment that we learned that the baby is no longer with us.

Then an even worse feelings came over me (I didn't think it could get worse) - my SISTER (the mother) - where is she?  How could I have been so self-centered thinking about MY grief?  MY SISTER?  If I (the aunt) am this devastated.... 

I love my sister so much and imagining her pain physically made my heart and stomach hurt.  Flashes of thoughts went through my eyes of what she would go through not only in the coming hours but in the coming years - decades.  It was overwhelming and it immediately overrode my own sadness and I felt selfish for even being sad.    And in that moment - my focus switched to my sister - grief subsided because it had to - and my sadness looked so much smaller than it did before.

My poor sister. She had the biggest heart that was full of love for her baby.

Hours passed as family arrived and we waited for my sister to deliver her angel daughter.  I paced up and down the hallways waiting - pretty sure I drank all of the apple juice stocked in the nurse fridge because I was anxiously pacing and suddenly I had the biggest sugar high of my life (literally drank 15 cups of apple juice).

A Birthing Inn nurse from Texas was flown into the hospital - she specialized in full-term still-birth deliveries.  Her name was Tracy and it was evident she had done this before but she knew exactly what to do and what to say to help my sister.   I was grateful for her.  

Hours later, we each got a turn to hold her - my niece.  Baby Ella Grace they named her.  

My niece was beautiful and perfect. Chubby cheeks. The perfect baby.

Photo of Author Holding Angel Baby Niece

Much of the rest of this story isn't mine to tell (my fingers are also hurting from typing this and I'm a blubbery mess every time I pick this post up to make edits (it's taken me two years to write this post).  

"Life sure kicks ya in the ass sometimes" my sister's brother-in-law commented as we all awkwardly waited for Brandie to deliver.  Such a seemingly inappropriate comment at first in my mind - but it was the funniest thing I'd heard in 36-hours at that point.  We all needed it.

Photo of Angel Baby Funeral

Yes. I said 36-hours. My sister was in labor for over 36-hours. My heart still breaks and I cry as i write this every time I pickup my computer to edit this post.

There's a happy ending to this story.  900 people showed up to Ella's memorial service.  900 people signed her book at the memorial service.  

And it's been 7-years since that awful day, and now I have two nephews and another niece, and I cannot imagine life without them.  I also know that but for Ella dying that they wouldn't be here.  It's the only thing that helped.

It's been a long long long journey for my sister.   She is the strongest woman I know.  

I love you sis.  I love you too, Ella.

Aunt Moo

PS.  Kiss your babies.  Call your parents.  This isn't a dress rehearsal.  Tell the people that you love that you love them.

"That's the thing about unhappiness - it takes something worse to come along sometimes before you realize that it was happiness after all."  (The Crown, Queen Elizabeth II)

Quote of the Day - Here's the thing about unhappiness - you don't know it was happiness until something worse comes along and then you realize that it was happiness after all.

Little Footprints - My Angel Niece's Funeral Program With her Little Footprints
In Honor of Angel, Ella Grace and Her Little Footprints

You Might Also Be Interested In:

The Little Footprints: My Angel Niece

To order the Short Story "The Little Footprints" on Amazon, visit "The Little Footprints" by Mia Grande on the Amazon Kindle Store.


The Little Footprints, by Mia Grande

Link:  The Little Footprints, by Mia Grande

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