I gave birth to a baby girl in 1970. She only lived three days, but I never got to hold her
Barbara Bourland walked into Orlando Regional Medical Center in the spring of 2005. She knew what she planned to ask sounded strange—thirty-five years had passed, but she had to try.
She asked to speak to a chaplain as tears welled up in her eyes. She bit her lip forcing them to stay pooled in her eyes. As Chaplain Bernard Gebara entered the lobby the tears slipped down her cheeks, he escorted her back to his office and listened to her request.
“I gave birth to a baby girl in 1970 when this was Orange Memorial. She only lived three days, but I never got to hold her. Is there any chance you have any records or pictures of her?” she asked. Chaplain Bernard explained that unfortunately medical records are not kept that long. He then placed a call to Chaplain Mark Bartel at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children to see if he could offer her any additional assistance. Barbara began telling her story again.
My husband, Gerald, and I love children. We already had a son, Christopher, when I became pregnant again. I returned to my obstetrician who monitored the pregnancy, but it was the worst nine months of my life. I had loved being pregnant before, the trees were greener, the flowers smelled sweeter, but this time…well, everything just seemed different.
I had extensive bleeding and was huge – at six months, I looked like I was ready to deliver. But I couldn’t feel my baby move. I thought maybe I was having twins I was so large, but my doctor assured me that I carried a big baby girl. I seemed to be the only one worried. I didn’t want to miss my baby move; I couldn’t sleep for fear of missing it or I wouldn’t even let my son play loudly for fear I would not notice. For months my fears grew – what was wrong with my baby?
The day before I was to deliver, my son’s pediatrician told me I had polyhydramnios which indicated that my baby was not processing the amniotic fluid correctly and would likely have birth defects. For the first time in seven months I had peace; I had known something was not right. Finally, someone had answered my question.
The morning of August 14, 1970, I went into labor. I gave birth to a three pound child. I could see by the looks on their faces that everything was not right. “Did I have a boy or a girl?” I kept asking. But no one would answer me. I was sedated before I even knew if my child was a boy or girl.
I had come to for several hours, but was all alone. Before sedating me again, my doctor told me my child had ‘severe birth anomalies.’ I remember asking as I faded, “What are severe birth anomalies?”
When I woke again I asked to see Gerald. “Have you seen our child?” I said through my tears. “Yes,” he said as he too cried. “Our baby doesn’t have ears. And we can’t tell if it is a boy or girl,” he said before the tears choked out the rest. My heart broke into a thousand pieces.
“What do we do?” I asked. “Should we call Dr. David? His kids are in our kindergarten class.” We placed the call and he came immediately. Ronald David, MD, was a pediatric surgeon and we needed his counsel. “Have you ever seen a baby this bad before?” I asked him. He answered honestly, “No, not which lived.”
We wanted to do all we could to help our child so we decided to let Dr. David operate. About eight hours later he returned. “You have a little girl,” he informed us. “I found the beginning of tiny ovaries.” He then went on to tell us that it didn’t look good. She did not have an esophagus or kidneys, her lungs were underdeveloped, her heart only had two chambers, and she had no colon. We were very grateful for his honesty. Even though she was very sick, she did not need help breathing. She lay in her tiny bed and fought for her life for nearly three days. She was called Baby Girl Bourland.
I was in my room alone the day after her surgery when I heard God speak to me. “I loaned her to you for a few minutes. Now I am going to take her back and make her whole. I will hold her for you.”
Then Dr. David entered. “She died, didn’t she?” I asked. “Yes.” “I know. God just told me.” Gerald and I cried. We grieved the loss of our daughter. Dr. David left us alone; he was the most remarkable person I had ever met.
After Gerald and I talked, we asked Dr. David if there was any part of her that was well enough to donate to another sick child. “Not really,” he replied our hopes dropping. Then he offered slowly, “You could donate her body to research. We could study her and then be able to better help other children.” “How do we do it,” we answered quickly. “I’ll make the arrangements,” he said. He looked into their faces and promised, “I will take very good care of her.”
My husband tells me she was beautiful, but I never saw her. I never got to hold her. At the time I was advised to treat it as a miscarriage, like she never had existed. But it wasn’t true and I have never been able to pretend it was. Whenever I mention her, I call her, “my baby girl that died.”
My life went on. I even had another son, Gregory, who is absolutely perfect. But thirty-five years have passed and I still don’t feel this is finished. She died when I was twenty-six, now at sixty-one, I need something more.
After hearing her story, Chaplain Mark explained to Barbara that the surgical suites at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children were named after Dr. David. When he took her to see the plaque praising his loving concern, endless dedication and God-given medical skills, her heart welled with joy. That was the man she had known, who had worked to help her daughter.
Chaplain Mark also told her about Dr. David’s research from 1970 to 1977 on congenital heart defects. He researched two chamber hearts (hypoplastic left heart syndrome) along with other congenital defects. Her little daughter obviously had been instrumental in this research. “It was so emotional to know that he had gone on to such greatness and had such an impact.” Chaplain Mark explained that Arnold Palmer Hospital now performs surgeries to fix the rare hypoplastic left heart syndrome defect.
One day when Chaplain Mark met with Barbara, he said, “This baby needs a name.” Cautious excitement grew in Barbara’s chest, “It is not too late?” “It is never too late,” he assured her. Chaplain Mark arranged a ceremony for Gerald and Barbara along with their best friends in the chapel at Arnold Palmer Hospital. It began this way:
Yet Jerusalem says, “The LORD has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.” “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for a child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on my hand…” Isaiah 49:14-16
During the ceremony Barbara and Gerald named their daughter, Laurie Frances Bourland. They now call her by her name. “It was a time of rebirth and death; a celebration and a funeral. It was a wonderful day and the beginning to a new road.”
“Laurie Frances had reason. She has taught me compassion and empathy like I never would have known. Mark helped me to see that she had also made a difference in other’s lives as well. Dr. David’s research assured that. Mark gave me the permission to heal. He is a strong person with a special place in my heart,” Barbara shares.