Emma's Story

To celebrate the 6th anniversary of Emma's birth, Mark and Tammy Maxey have each recorded their memories of Emma's life.  They hope that by seeing God work in their lives, you can see God's fingerprints in your own life.  You can also read an account published in the Houston Chronicle on February 22, 2005.


Emma is special.  Her life began in 2003 when Tammy became pregnant after two years of trying to conceive a sibling for Ethan.  We had just moved from Garland to Murphy to make room for our growing family and were ecstatic.

Tammy had a difficult first trimester with Ethan in 1999, so it was no surprise that she was nauseous with Emma.  Mild in the first few weeks, the  nausea grew increasing debilitating so that Tammy couldn't get out of bed.  Everything made her sick: food, drink, sunshine, and frequently me.

When dehydration set in, she spent a couple of nights in the hospital.  A couple of weeks later, when it occurred again, we were in for a week.  Towards the end of the stay, on a Saturday, the medical staff did an ultrasound on Tammy's legs to understand why they were swelling.  When the nurse returned, Tammy immediately guessed the bad news.  Tammy had a blood clot in her left leg that stretched from her groin to her calf.  The weekend doctor didn't help when he confessed he had never seen anything like this before.

Thankfully, we found a good hematologist.  Tammy was put on blood thinner injections twice a day.  She couldn't walk and often couldn't get out of bed, though the nausea improved a wee bit.

We also found a good perinatologist who could look after Emma herself.  At 17 weeks, we came to him  hoping to find out the sex.  We had been hoping for a girl and were looking forward to Tammy recuperating.  We were so happy when he told us the sex and we could see Emma body moving inside Tammy.  In hindsight, I look back and I can now see a doctor was muted and somber.

At the end of the session, he said the words no parent wants to hear, “There's no easy way of saying this, but there is a problem”.  What we learned over the next few weeks was that Emma had a chromosomal defect known as thanatophoric dysplasia.  It is a form of dwarfism that prevented her bones from growing as they should.  Specifically, her ribs would never grow large enough to let her lungs develop to a size sufficient to sustain life outside the womb.  Emma would die shortly after she was born.

This was like someone knocked the wind out of us.  The emotional blow devastated us and threw us into a darkness I've never known.  Our family, who had already been around for weeks helping take care of Tammy and Ethan, rushed to our side.  Tammy's mother in particular was crushed because she lost a daughter, Gloria, at 24 weeks prior to Tammy.  Our friends prayed over us and our Sunday school  class fasted for us.  Our mailbox was constantly full of well wishing cards and our refrigerator full of almost every casserole known to man.

Because Tammy was still early in her pregnancy, the doctor told us that abortion was an option.  Should  we carry a baby to full term knowing she will die in the end?  We anguished over this but in the end decided to leave it up to God.  To us, Emma was our living daughter and we were determined to give her the best possible life we could.

Emma's problems caused new problems in Tammy.  Tammy began to carry too much fluid in the womb.  She also experienced what we later found out were gall stones.  Throughout the remaining months, there were several choices we had to make. We tried to balance the needs of Tammy with those of Emma.

We also grieved.  Its an odd thing to know months in advance.  Every time someone congratulated Tammy on being pregnant, we knew we were going to turn their joy into sorrow.  We made detailed plans for the day of her birth while at the same time making detailed plans for her funeral.   Throughout all this time, our parents stayed with us off & on.

At 6 a.m. on Sunday March 21, 2004, Tammy woke me up thinking that Emma was coming immediately.  Tammy was already dilated to 10 cm and the amniotic sac was starting to come out.  In my mind's eye I can still see  Tammy being carried out on a stretcher to the ambulance while paramedics entertained Ethan on our balcony.

They announced the birth that morning at church and by 11 a.m. we had 40 or so people at the hospital.  The doctors felt it was unsafe for Tammy to give birth while her blood was still thin from the blood thinners and Emma was in the wrong position.   After several hours, we couldn't wait any longer.  Emma was born breach with Tammy's blood dangerously thin.

I was alone in the room when they brought her to me.  I cradled her tiny still body.  The only sound she ever made was a tiny sneeze.  They brought Tammy in and we spent a few moments with her then family and friends poured in.  Emma lived 9 months inside Tammy and about 2 hours outside.  She lived a perfect life enveloped by love.

God is good.  He gave us our first daughter with whom we shared many joys.  He taught us what it means to cherish life and he taught us what it means to grieve.  He taught us the power of prayer and the value of spiritual friendships.  We discovered that when you get physically sick, Satan attacks your mental and spiritual health too.

I hope this account blesses you with these lessons vicariously through us without having to go through something similar.  Maybe one day, we'll share with you Molly's story …


The year was 2004, and I had the perfect life:    a wonderful Christian husband, a beautiful 3 year-old boy, support of extended family,  and financial security.    We had tried for 2 years to conceive and we were finally pregnant.

My pregnancy was complicated by hyperemesis, a severe form of morning sickness.    I lost 15 pounds in the first trimester.      I was hospitalized twice due to dehydration.       Due to immobility combined with a blood clotting disorder, I got a deep vein thrombosis (blood clot) in my left leg.   I gave myself injections of blood thinner twice per day.  My Mother and Mother-In-Law lived with us and took care of our son during the first 4 months of pregnancy.    Despite the complications, we were told that our baby was healthy.

At 17 weeks pregnant, we were in the Doctor’s office for a sonogram.   We were excited to find out the sex of our second child.    The Doctor said “You have a daughter, but there is no easy way to say this, so I will just come out and say it”   He said that our daughters long bones are extremely short in comparison to the rest of her body and her abdomen was severely protruding.   As expected, our daughter was diagnosed with thanatophoric dysplasia.    It is a severe form of dwarfism that is fatal because the lungs cannot develop in utero because the short ribs constrict lung development.    We were told that she would be fine inside the womb because the umbilical cord is her life support.    But, the minute she was born, she would not be able to breathe sufficiently to sustain life.    Even though we were devastated, we gave our daughter a name: Emma.

We were educated on our alternatives:   we could induce labor now  or I could carry Emma until I spontaneously went into labor knowing that she would die hours or days after birth. We had a huge choice to make.

Many weighed in with their advice.       Some said, “Why would you continue to carry her when you know what the outcome would be?” 

 We sought counsel among those we trust.  We looked to scripture.     We thought of Jeremiah 1:5, where God calls to Jeremiah,  “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart”.   We read in Psalms 139:13-14, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”   God knew our daughter.   Her life was valuable to God and would serve His purpose.

The alternatives were weighed.   The best thing and the right thing to do we knew was to let God take control.     She would live and die when God decided, not when we decided.   We wanted God to have a chance to heal her if that was His will.     Regret of termination was not a burden we wanted to carry.

We sought out other families who had been given the same devastating news about their unborn child.      One couple told us about how the death of their daughter had led them back to Christ.  In addition,  they shared how their loss had strengthened their faith and helped them to put God first.

My pregnancy was complicated further by a condition called polyhydraminous.    Emma was not processing the amniotic fluid normally, so I had too much amniotic fluid.   This resulted in torn abdominal muscles and was very painful.

In the meantime,  Emma was a very active baby in utero.    I could feel her kicking all the time.    We knew that the time Emma’s life outside the womb would be short, so we cherished her while she lived inside me.     Knowing that they were  part of the few precious moments we would ever see her,  we recorded every sonogram. 

It all began on a Sunday morning when I was 35 weeks.    The day is important because our congregation of 1000 members knew our situation and were all praying for us.     A few days before I had sent out a prayer request to our prayer team of over 300 members via e-mail.    I asked that  they pray that (1) Emma would be born alive so that we could have some time with her (2) that Emma not suffer and (3) that I would have a safe delivery.    I was on a  blood thinner that increased my risk of hemorrhaging during birth.     By the end of this day, all of those prayers would be answered.

She was born alive.  But, the first thing I noticed that Emma was not moving.    Being so active inside, I thought she would be active at first.    Her eyes were closed.    I heard her make a “snurgle” noise through her nose.    It was obvious that Emma was not suffering.   She was very peaceful.      I held her, but she did not look anything at all like I had pictured in my mind.   She had a full head of jet black hair.  Her skin tone was very red and turning purple because of the lack of oxygen.     She was so precious.      The room became flooded with our family and friends. 

Emma’s heart kept beating for 2 hours, then it stopped.     She lived the perfect life surrounded by people that loved her.    We said our final good-byes, and she was taken to the morgue.    We were given a memory box with a lock of her hair, her hand and footprints, other mementos and written information to help the difficult months that were to follow.

 The months following Emma’s death were the most difficult months of my life.     I struggled with depression.  I was angry, bitter, and sad.     I became very anxious that I would lose my son, my husband, my life.     I learned to counteract my negative thoughts by meditating on God’s word and by counting my many blessing every day.

 I have never regretted carrying Emma to term despite the fact that we knew the odds were against her living.   A week after Emma died,  the youth group at our church gave us a necklace with a heart engraved “the heart remembers”.     They were so touched by our loss and our decision to carry our daughter to term despite her prognosis.    I hope that our decision may one day impact a young woman’s decision to choose life despite the consequences and shame of an unplanned pregnancy. 

Our life had been perfect, but now we had a huge hole in our heart.      Why did we have to go on with this huge hole?      Why had this happened to us?   Below, I attempt to answer this question. 

I learned much through our loss.  For starters, I had taken our promise of an eternal home for granted.      Prior to our loss, my insight and appreciation of heaven was limited.   Heaven was needed at the end of lives, but that seemed so far away.    But when our daughter died, I needed heaven now, not later.     To leave your child in the cold hard ground at a cemetery in nearly unbearable.   But, to know that the body is just a shell for our soul, comforted us.     It was her lucky day. 

I  learned how to minister better to those who face the loss of an infant.      I have been able to be a support for those who have lost their hopes and dreams.     In 2009, our youth minister’s wife lost her unborn daughter at 20 weeks.    She called me to come to the hospital.         She needed someone who had walked in her shoes.    She needed someone to help her bear her burden that knew what she was going through and could help get her through it. 

I  learned about the amazing power of prayer.  So many of His children prayed for us,  our Sunday school class even had a day of prayer and fasting for us.   Even though God chose not to heal Emma physically,  she was healed and has received the ultimate gift.     We view our life on earth in terms of His physical protection, and I learned that God is concerned much more with our spiritual health than our physical health.       God will allow bad things to happen for the greater spiritual good of all.     He has a master plan.   We cannot see it, but He can.     We trust in His power and  His divine intervention.

Months after Emma had died,    our desire to have another child on this earth was still strong.    After much prayer and consideration, we decided to try and to adopt a baby.      Adoption is a very emotional experience, and  our social worker didn’t know if we were ready, given what we had been through.   But, she finally agreed to let us start the process.        It took us a year to get all our paperwork and education done.   We waited for one year to be chosen.    We were chosen in the fall of 2005 by a wonderful birth mother and became parents to our second beautiful daughter, Molly Grace.    She was 4 years old February 24th.   When I think of why we lost our daughter Emma,   Molly is the best of the reasons.    If Emma had lived, we would have never considered our adoption.       We would have never been graced by Molly.  We would have never known what the miracle of adoption can bring.    We would have been a “normal” family, not having learned anything through the process.    As fire sharpens steel, we have been through the fire and are now stronger in our faith and know that with God all things are possible.