It was the Monday following Mother’s Day, 2014 when Cassandra first found out that she was pregnant. Like many first time mothers, excited did not begin to describe how she felt! The planning began and small items were being purchased in preparation for their son or daughter. On July 25th, at just over 15 weeks gestation, she went in for a routine checkup. She was told she may even find the answer to the question every parent asks…”Is it a Boy or a Girl?”. The excitement and anticipation grew! Little did she know, her excitement and anticipation would soon turn into every mothers worst fear. I asked Cassandra to tell me about that day…
“It had already been a bad day. It was cloudy and I was running late to my appointment…” She went on to describe her experience with the ultrasound stating, “it was fine up until she saw a spot near the baby’s head”. Cassandra said she was then sent back out to the waiting room. “It was the longest 20 minutes of my life” she explained.
After what felt like forever, Cassandra, Matthew (the father), and Cassandra’s mother were taken back into a room to speak with their obstetrician.
“She explained that our daughter had anencephaly and instantly my heart dropped…”
“We were also told this day that they were 80% sure that we were having a baby girl”
Matt and Cassandra were then referred to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, MO to see a specialist. On July 29, 2014, the doctors in St. Louis confirmed that their daughter did in deed have anencephaly. Cassandra’s options were limited; she could choose to have a medical abortion or carry her daughter, knowing that the chances of her surviving the delivery were slim to none. For many, this would be a difficult choice, but not for Cassandra. She had already made her decision. Cassandra had decided before making the trip to St. Louis that she would carry her daughter for as long as she could. She knew that this was not the easy road and she could only imagine the obstacles that would be in front of her. It didn’t matter. Cassandra firmly believed that when her daughter left this world, it would be by God’s hands, not hers or that of a doctor.
“It was the next day when we chose her name ‘Briella Sophia Grove'”
Between the information given to them from both doctors, and the research they had done on their own, they knew that Cassandra would most likely not carry her daughter full term. This information was confirmed at just under 16 weeks gestation. It is possible to carry a baby with anencephaly full term, but not probable. They were also informed that their daughter may live a few days, hours, minutes or just seconds. It didn’t matter to Matt and Cassandra, if it was only a few seconds, they would treasure every moment they could get with her.
Matt & Cassandra
So, where do I fit into all of this? In July of 2014, I had gone to dinner with my friend Paula, Matthew’s sister. We spent time discussing my photography business and how I was excited to be shooting my first newborn session very soon. Somehow during that conversation the topic of “remembrance photography” came up. Paula asked me what I thought of it and if I could ever do it. My response was “I don’t know if I could ever do it, but i think it is a blessing to families in need”. I went on to tell her that “maybe one day”, when my children were older, I would consider it, as I do feel it is an amazing ministry. Less than a week later, Paula called and asked me “Do you remember that conversation we had…can you do it?”. “Do what?”, I asked. “Remembrance photography”, she replied. I was at a loss for words, I am not even sure how long it took me to respond: “This isn’t a hypothetical question is it?”
“No, it isn’t” she replied. “My niece has been diagnosed with anencephaly, her mother has chosen to carry her for as long as she can, but she will be terminal. The doctor suggested looking into a remembrance photographer”
I honestly didn’t know how to respond at first. What ended up coming out of my mouth was something along the lines of:
“I don’t think I can, but I do believe that if you need me there, God will give me the strength…yes, I will do this”
I spoke with Paula about looking for a photographer who would possibly have more experience in this type of photography, but they were determined they did not want a complete stranger in the room with them. I have known Matthew and Paula for many years and they just felt comfortable with having someone they knew with them during this difficult time. So I made the commitment that I would be there for them at this time of need.
At the time, I had very little experience with off camera flash and considered myself a “natural light photographer”. This is not always possible in the hospital setting. Not knowing how much time Matt & Cassandra had, YouTube videos became my best friend!
Matthew and Cassandra were given another 7 weeks before Cassandra went into labor around 1:00 AM on September 17, 2014. Cassandra delivered Briella at 5:22 AM. Briella was just 1 pound when she was born and 12 inches in length.
Corey & Anatalia
She received many hugs and kisses from her aunts….
“She lived 4 minutes on this earth before taking her last breath in my brothers’ arms”
Matthew and Cassandra have not only remained strong during this difficult trial, but have continued to have faith that
“God had a purpose for our daughter. She has touched so many lives”
Because of this experience with Briella, there are many lives being touched. I have began an organization called Quilts for comfort, ( http://www.facebook.com/quiltsforcomfort ) in remembrance of Briella. I was also lead to apply for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (an international non for profit organization that uses volunteer photographers to do remembrance photography sessions for families like Matt & Cassandra).
You can find out more information regarding anencephaly at http://www.anencephalie-info.org
Leave a comment and let Matthew & Cassandra know how Briella has touched your life! I kindly ask that you only leave supportive comments.
Copyright of Images belongs to Jessica Sneed Photography, Matthew Grove, & Cassandra Coley.