I had an amazing birth experience with my firstborn. I’m pretty sure I may have even called it divine.

Though my birth experience with my second was absolutely heartbreaking, I would also argue that, upon reflection, it was still divine in its own way.

The most unique part of the birth story of my daughter, Mayla Grace, is that it begins with the final beat of her heart.

When I try really, really hard to remember, the last time I think I recall feeling Mayla move was in the very early morning on Thursday, October 27—the hours she always loved to keep me awake, like 3:00 am to 5:00 am. Oh, how I wish I would have paid closer attention to that last kick so that I could have relished in it and bottled it up in my memory forever.

I got out of bed around 7:00 am as usual to get ready for my day and to field my FaceTime from my husband, Jason, and my son, Kyson, before they left for school (I was staying at the Ronald McDonald House next to the hospital since Mayla would need immediate care after birth). After getting my e-kisses, I headed down to the gym to “workout.” It was something I continued to do to try to uphold pieces of my normal life routine, but it really just consisted of a lot of sitting and moving around weights of less than five pounds.

After my “workout,” I headed to the communal kitchen to make some breakfast when I received a phone call from my Uncle Jeff. It turns out he had driven all the way down to Cincinnati from Dayton to surprise me and was already standing outside the gate. I let him in and we sat in the dining area and talked while I ate my oatmeal. Then, I gave him the grand tour and we just enjoyed each other’s company talking the entire morning.

After he left, I grabbed some lunch and hopped on a few work meetings.

Around 3:00 pm, it occurred to me that I hadn’t felt Mayla move much, if at all, so I ate a couple bites of a cupcake my mom had brought the day before to celebrate how far Mayla had come and I laid down hoping to try to get her moving. Nothing.

I texted Jason and my mom telling them both—and we all hoped and prayed she was just having another sleepy afternoon.

Jason’s best friend, Andrew, was getting married Saturday and the rehearsal and dinner were scheduled for that evening, so I needed to get myself together to be ready for my ride.

The whole drive I felt uneasy and even mentioned to our friend, Ashley, that I hadn’t felt Mayla move.

We arrived and so many people were happy to see me and Mayla as we were so close to our induction date and they had been praying for so long on our journey. The evening, though full of love and laughter, felt heavy as I ate delicious food and dessert yet still felt nothing from Mayla.

Looking back, I almost feel like God purposely filled our day surrounding us with people we love and who love us because He knew we would need it for the following day and days to come. God’s kindness has always been evident throughout the journey with Mayla.

On the drive back, I continued to express my concern to Jason. When we got “home” to the Ronald McDonald House I, again, laid down to try to see if I could feel her move by just being still.

I laid on my left side and poked my belly. Nothing.

As I switched over to my right side, I felt a different sensation. I can’t explain it—it just felt lifeless, floating. I poked again. Still nothing.

I told Jason I had a bad feeling—that I thought Mayla had passed away.

My mouth was saying the words, but my heart and head weren’t really believing them.

We had had this experience a handful of times before and it had always turned out just fine.

It was after 11:00 pm by now, and we were hesitant to call or walk over to the hospital because it was already so late and we did have an appointment the following afternoon after all.

But something inside of me told me to go, so I called on our way over and they were ready for us.

Jason wheeled me into the first labor and delivery room and I gingerly climbed onto the bed and pulled up my sweatshirt.

Like so many times before, they put the gelled doppler to my belly on the bottom right where she always was—and we heard nothing. They searched around in a couple of other places. Nothing.

All we heard was a swishing noise—a silence, a sound that will haunt me forever. After all of the NSTs we had, it almost seemed like we had come to take for granted hearing the beating of her heart. It was the loudest silence I have ever heard in my life. And the stoic faces of the nurses and doctor confirmed what we now knew.

All I could do was cry out. Wail.

Jason tried to keep me calm as they got the ultrasound machine out to confirm what we had heard—what we had not heard. Again, they placed the gelled wand on my belly.

For the first time on an ultrasound, there was absolutely no movement. All I remember seeing was the outline of her ribs, almost like a prison—with a heart not beating behind those bars. We stared—and the stillness just stared back at us. We knew her heart was broken, but it was always beating whenever we saw it, fighting.

I wailed out again. And again. And again. Jason asked if we could have a minute and the nurses and doctors left the room. I don’t remember exactly what he said between my cries, but he tried his best to console me while he tried to process the nightmare himself.

The thing we feared the most and yet never actually thought would happen, had happened.

The doctor returned a few minutes later and explained to us that we had the option to go back to the Ronald McDonald House to get some rest and deliver her in the morning, or we could go straight over to the hospital to be induced to deliver. The thought of her still inside of me without a beating heart was too much to bear, so we opted for the latter.

As Jason wheeled me to the car, I panicked as I frantically wondered if we should have immediately prayed that God would bring her back to life—just as Jesus did Lazarus. As I envisioned delivery, I delusionally thought she might come out crying, breathing, healed. Did I think of the Scripture soon enough? Or, was it too late to ask God for the same miracle?

As we drove over, “Evidence” by Josh Baldwin was playing on the radio. “I see the evidence of your goodness all over my life.” I blared the song and I shouted the words, trying my hardest to believe them in that very moment. And, despite the circumstances, I think I honestly did somehow.

As we pulled into the hospital parking lot, the song “Brighter Days” by Blessing Offor came on. “I know there’s gonna be some brighter days.” In this nightmare, at the bottom of this valley, it almost seemed like a promise—and I clung to it.

Before we headed in, we prayed together with that song playing in the background. For the first time, we didn’t ask God for the miracle we had been praying for the last sixteen weeks. We just begged for Him to be with us and to give us the strength to face the challenge that lay before us—to welcome our little girl into this world knowing that she had already left it.

We had no idea what to expect when we walked in. We were honestly just going through the motions. In complete shock. Confusion.

As much as I wanted to just go home and leave it all behind, I also didn’t want to regret anything. I straddled between begging not to have to live out this nightmare and wanting to meet my daughter with warmth and peace in my heart—the way she deserved.

After checking in at the front desk, we were met by a nurse named Carrie, who was so kind and so gentle.

She started an IV with fluids right away and it went smoothly, which was a blessing in and of itself as none of my IVs during this pregnancy had gone well whatsoever to that point.

The doctor performed a cervical check next. I had actually been contracting most of that day. It was as if my body knew Mayla’s heart was no longer beating and was trying to get her out to meet us. I was three centimeters and, at that point, having contractions every three or four minutes.

After going back and forth, we decided to just get an epidural right away before they even pushed any Pitocin. I was already so exhausted—physically, emotionally, and mentally. I had already experienced so much pain. Natural labor just didn’t seem possible. So, around 3:15 am, I got the epidural. It was a long process, and painful. My nerves had me shaking and cold. It ran down through my tailbone and “shocks” went up and down my left leg, so she had to redo it higher up in my back—but it finally was in and kicked in quickly.

I prayed for God to have mercy on me and make the labor and delivery go quickly, to not delay the inevitable.

Around 4:15 am, they started to push Pitocin, still at three centimeters. At 6:15 am, I was only four centimeters. So, around 7:15 am, they broke my water. Around 8:15 am, I really started to feel contractions more so they upped the epidural. By 8:45 am, I was fully dilated and shaking, almost ready to push. We had to wait for the doctor for almost 30 minutes, but I started to push around 9:15 am and Mayla Grace was here by 9:26 am.

When she came out, it took our brains a second to catch up to reality. For just a millisecond, it felt different—like a normal, live birth. You know, those feelings that you can’t even find words to describe. Sheer awe. The miracle of life coming into this world.

Except that she was lifeless.

And yet, we still fell so in love with our daughter. She was our Mayla Grace.

We had gone back and forth on whether or not we wanted to hold her, but the minute we saw her we couldn’t resist. They put her on my chest and I was reminded of how amazing it feels to have a newborn right there. I was reminded of how empowering giving birth really is and how right it feels to finally get to meet your baby.

She was so perfect, a true angel. Jason couldn’t stop kissing her cheeks and I couldn’t stop staring at her sweet little face. I held her hand. I patted her bottom. I made sure the towel was wrapped around her little body to ensure she was warm—just like mamas do.

Eventually, we gave her to the nurses for them to bathe her. They weighed her and measured her and swaddled her in the beautiful blanket that our neighbor got her along with the matching bow.

She looked like an angel, just so beautiful.

They got her footprints and cut a lock of her hair. A professional photographer came and took photos.

We took turns holding her and kissing her.

My parents came and held her and sang to her and talked to her and showed her things out the window. A lifelong friend who was working at the hospital that morning even got to meet her and our pastor came and held her and prayed over her.

It was almost like a normal delivery. We just passed her around and hung out like she was a regular, sleeping baby.

It was as if a magical bliss transcended the gravity of our reality.

It was… divine.

Only something God could create in the midst of such sorrow.

The power of a small, new life—the hope that it brings with it—not even death could take that away from those moments.

Those are moments I will cherish for the rest of my life until I get to hold my Mayla Grace again.

After a while, her color started to change and we knew it was time to say goodbye. We kissed her and took our last photos of her and we let her go.

Our nurses, Peggy and Brisa, who actually helped deliver Mayla, were so kind and comforting throughout the day. They answered our easy questions and our hard ones too. They laughed with us. They cried with us. They loved Mayla Grace with us.

Later in the afternoon, we were transferred to the antepartum unit to recover and my parents went over to pack up the room at Ronald McDonald House for us.

It was all pretty much over as quickly as it had started—both my stay at the Ronald McDonald House and Mayla’s life.

But her birth, though heartbreaking, will be something that I will always remember because it allowed us to meet our daughter—and it was the first time I would understand that grief and joy can somehow coexist, a concept I would become very familiar with in the coming days.

A concept that could only be made possible by one mysterious Person.



Listen to more of Courtney and Mayla's story on our podcast.

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