When Abbey and Robert Ahern showed up to their 19-week obstetric scan, they felt relaxed. After all, they had two daughters already, so they knew the drill.
And, at first, the appointment seemed routine.
But midway through, the technician grew quiet and told the couple she needed to speak to a doctor. The doctor came in to perform his own scan, and then turned to them and said, “What I have to tell you isn’t easy, so it’s best if I just come out and say it.”
What he had to say would rock the Aherns’ life. It turned out that their baby suffered from anencephaly, which means that a portion of the brain and skull is missing. The condition, the doctor told the couple is “incompatible with life”.
“The words 'incompatible with life' just sucked the air right out of my lungs,” she told Good Housekeeping. “I knew what he was saying, but I couldn’t really apply it to us or our baby.”
Although 95 per cent of parents whose babies are diagnosed with anencephaly opt for a late-term abortion, the Aherns decided to carry the baby to term. Not only did they want to meet their daughter, but they decided to donate her organs. “From the first moment we hoped for a live birth, and planned a C-section. We wanted a few precious memories with our girl,” Abbey wrote on her blog. “No one tried to change our minds, but whenever I told certain family members and friends, they asked, “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
But the Aherns were determined. And Annie, as they called her, was born on 26 June 2013.
“I remember holding her hands and pressing my face on hers and smelling her. I couldn’t kiss her enough,” writes Abbey on her blog Tomorrow Will Be Kinder.
"I couldn’t kiss her enough"Abbey Ahern
Throughout the day, the Aherns parents visited Annie, as did Annie’s two older sisters, who were two and four. “We read her [children’s book] Heaven Is For Real. That was one of the best moments of my life.”
Then around 11pm that night, Annie began to gasp, and it was clear that she was fading. “Robert was so wonderful because she was both of ours, but he let me hold Annie.”
After 14 hours and 58 minutes, Annie died in her mother’s arms. Afterwards, the couple spent time with her, before she was taken into surgery for the organ donation procedures.
“When it was time to go into surgery, they put me in a wheelchair and I held Annie close, pressing my face against hers. If I kissed her soft cheek a million times it still wouldn’t have been enough.”
For the first six months after Annie’s death, Abbey was hit with waves of grief. However, the knowledge that Annie’s organs helped save the lives of other newborn babies helped sustain her.
“Annie’s story is one of hope. I think it shows that in the midst of tagedy, there can be beauty. Annie was not ours to keep – her story was meant to be shared, and I intend to do so until the day I die.”