The Miracle Before Christmas: Gianna’s Gift

I spoke with Heather just a day before we would meet. Neither of us knew the extent of the miracles waiting for us as we chatted about the upcoming delivery of her sweet baby, diagnosed with Trisomy 18 earlier in the pregnancy. We weren’t sure whether she was having a boy or girl or how long she and her family would have to spend with their little one before saying goodbye. Together, we planned the best we could in our brief conversation. I packed a bag of items that would be fitting for either a boy or girl and an overnight bag for myself in case I needed to stay in Columbus for longer than expected. (I actually spent the next few days in Columbus supporting families, but that is for another post!)

Heather and Dan were prepared to have moments with their baby as she was not expected to live long after her birth. We asked to have both the photographer and the priest in the operating room, bending hospital protocol for these most special circumstances. Sometimes I have to fight to get birth professionals to allow the photographer in the OR, so to have a priest and photographer there was unprecedented. It was important to Heather and Dan to have their baby baptized immediately, while she was here. We were so grateful that the hospital made an exception to allow that to happen. The entire staff was very supportive of the family’s wishes and helping us to make the most of the time with their sweet baby.

It was the first time the young priest would support a family facing the loss of their baby. Father Tony didn’t look much older than my twenty-one year old son. And, although he was quite capable and comforting as he supported this family, I felt myself wanting to make sure he was ok, feeling protective and compassionate, as I knew he would be forever changed by the events that were about to unfold.

There is always an excitement when waiting to welcome a life into this world, even when that life is expected to be brief. I met the family as we waited for Heather to go into the OR, the sweet brother Luciano and sister Ava, the grandparents, the aunt, the godparents. Love filled the room, even as we waited to meet Baby H.

We gowned up and sanitized. I held my camera, positioning myself strategically in the operating room. It was my first time being allowed to photograph in the OR. I spoke a silent prayer for the family, for Father Tony, for my own photography abilities.

Lord…please give them our best. Please give them time with this sweet baby. Please give them the grace and strength to endure what lies ahead. Please carry them.

Heather’s face was filled with the peace that surpasses all human understanding and the sufficient grace God gives…just the right measure when we need it. She shone with the joy that mothers feel as they wait to meet their babies. They had hoped and prayed just to get to this moment. It was already a miracle that their sweet baby had come this far.

Gianna baptism1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was born, so tiny and beautiful. I snapped the pictures, as Mom and Dad glimpsed the first glances at their baby girl. After assessing her, the nurses and doctors said we needed to move quickly for the baptism as it seemed Baby Gianna had only moments. She was not breathing, but her heart was beating slowly. I grabbed the Baptism bib Heather and Dan brought. Father Tony held the holy water in his shaking hands. Dan, father to baby Gianna, released the emotion he had carried for months as his knees buckled a bit. I put down my camera to hold him up for a moment as the tears fell. Dan found his voice to speak his daughter’s name with authority after a moment. Father Tony poured the water over her head, and as he said the familiar words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” …the next miracle happened. Baby Gianna coughed and sputtered and breathed, and her heartbeat rose to a normal rate. Her skin turned a healthy shade of pink. We all stood in awe: medical staff, support staff, and family. Godparents and grandparents listened over a special system the hospital uses to communicate.

Dan carried Gianna down the hall to meet her brother and sister and the rest of the family. Tears fell. Love filled the room.

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Heather was finally able to hold her sweet baby girl, and she glowed with the peace and love that oozes from a mama-heart. They hoped for moments with their baby. God gave them days to love on their girl. She was passed around the room. Moments were captured. Her first moments.

Gianna close up

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Her sister and brother were able to give her a bath.

gianna bath11
 

The family soaked in the miracle of those moments as time stood still. A lifetime of love filled the room to welcome baby Gianna. With her life came the gift of time.

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Gianna breathed on her own and was able to eat, such a mighty little warrior!

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Just days after her birth, she was able to go home with her family. She passed away in her home, feeling nothing but the love that filled the room…the love that will be carried in the hearts of her beautiful family all the days of her life. It was an honor to meet Gianna and her amazing, brave family.

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Here are their words about the experience:

From mom, Heather:
Trying to find the words to express my gratitude to Kelly & SGM…
From the moment we first spoke the phone I knew we were meant to meet. If I was blessed enough to meet my baby…I wanted to have family pictures. I waited until the day before my c-section scheduled to reach out. It’s hard to find the words to explain to someone that I’m not able to keep this baby with me. Only days before would I even allow myself to pick out a few items. I was so scared to buy any items and never be able to even use them. Due to other circumstances of
my pregnancy I found out very early in my pregnancy my unborn baby would be diagnosed with Trisomy 18. I’ve had so many people tell me how strong I am. I’ve only been able to get through this experience with faith. Every day of my pregnancy was a blessing. Gianna was a special gift. Sharing her story makes me smile & so happy. My heart aches & I miss Giana dearly. Every bit of heartbreak and pain was worth it. I would carry her all over again just to have those precious hours. I had hoped and prayed so much that I had a misdiagnosis, to then praying that I could have even a few minutes. I find it so comforting to share.
Kelly not only captured this by photographs but witnessed first hand the most personal raw & loving moments of Gianna’s birth & Baptism. Gianna had a purpose. I adore that she & Father Tony were able to witness such a miracle with Dan & me in the operating room. She also made sure to include older siblings Ava & Luciano. The photos & sharing her story & keeping her memory alive. Dan & I are blessed to have such an amazing community of support from our parish & friends & family. We hope this helps others by sharing Gianna’s story & to share SGM.

From dad, Dan:

My Dear Gianna,

We were so extremely lucky to have you in our life for 47 hours. When we were told of your Trisomy 18 we knew from the beginning you were a gift. It was only fitting that you were named after a saint. You taught me so much about strength and fight that I will carry for the rest of my life. I asked you to fight so we could have time and you responded to allow everyone to experience your love. You brought so much joy to your mother, brother, sister and myself. I can’t believe the impact you have had on so many lives in a short amount of time. I am so proud to be your father and will think about you everyday. It is hard to let you go but know you have a purpose. I know you will watch over us and protect us. We will miss you dearly but thank you for teaching our family about faith, strength, love and compassion.

Love you
Dad

gianna snuggling1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To learn more about the support offered by Sufficient Grace Ministries, please visit www.sufficientgraceministries.org.

Comments

  1. Linda Bailey says:

    Hi Heather, Dan, & Family. Beautiful story & beautiful Gianna. God Bless all of you. When I had my full term stillborn, 38 years ago, they didn’t even let me see our son. When Nina & Joe lost their sweet first baby, we all spent time with her. So beautiful & very hard time.

  2. Carol Whitsitt says:

    Beautiful and full of strength. God Bless you all.

  3. Mary-Agnes Hayden & Family says:

    Heather,

    You are such an amazing mother!! During your pregnancy, I knew and watched you for the small period of time you were with us… the bravery you had shown. But now after reading your story, there is no description that can even begin to explain just how strong you really are! God chose you & Dan to take this journey for the strength and love that HE knew you both would provide for your beautiful angel in such a small moment in time.

    We love you Harrigan Family! Prayers for each of you and your sweet Gianna.

    “Life is not measured by the breaths we take… But by the moments that take our breath away.”

    Love, The Hayden Family

  4. Dan, Heather, Ava, Luicano

    We are so proud of you and the faith, love and caring you allowed us to be part of. A parent’s hardest trial is to see their children suffer. What miracles we shared as we got to spend time with Gianna. You are always in our hearts, thoughts and prayers!
    Love, Dad and Mom

  5. Christeena says:

    My dear friend,

    You have been in my thoughts daily for quite some time. Gianna is so lucky to have Dan and you as her parents and Luciano and Ava as her siblings. We are all so lucky to have Gianna come into our lives. Gianna touched so many hearts, taught so many lessons of love, faith and gratitude, from the time you carried her in your womb to the 47 hours she took breaths. Thank you for allowing us all to witness her miracle. Your sweet family will forever be in our thoughts and prayers.

    Christeena

  6. Dearest Heather,

    This is beautiful. Tears are falling as I read your testimony. I tried to call you back and left a message. I didn’t want to keep bothering you but want you to know that you and your family have been in my prayers. Please let me know if Back in HIs Arms Again can help you in any way?

    I have a few things I would like to send you. Can you e mail me your Address? Our e mail is backinhisarmsagain@gmail.com

    You and your husband are a beautiful example of HOLY love and sacrifice.

    Please call me 614-906=3115.

    In Christ and Always for life,

    Kambra Malone.

  7. Heather and Dan your story has touched me in so very many ways I can’t begin to really tell you. Our baby was diagnosed right before Christmas this past year with full trisomy 18 and I am currently 20 weeks. I am praying for a wonderful experience as yours. And that the rest of this journey we are on is joy, and peace, and love. Its been very difficult to process but I am just trying to prepare for whatever may come our way at this point. God bless you and your family. ❤❤❤

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