The Story of Harper and Mackenzie

Traci Shupert Photography

Traci Shupert Photography

David and I discovered that we were expecting our first child in November, 2009. As a perfectionist, I immediately worried that I would not be a good enough mother for my child. As an economist, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to provide for my first born. But, as a woman who had been waiting for the “right time” in her life, I swelled with joy at the thought of having a baby. David and I, high school sweethearts, had been married for little over three years when we found out about our miracle.. After getting married, we waited to start a family until after we had finished our education, settled into secure employment, and bought our first home. That fall, we felt as if everything had gone as planned. But in February of the following year, our life path took a welcomed diversion when we found out that our miracle was really two! After hearing word of “double,” my aforementioned fears admittedly also doubled. But as my due date of mid-July quickly approached, my joy and anticipation of giving birth to identical twin girls more than doubled.

My pregnancy was surprisingly normal, but I certainly didn’t expect to carry my babies for 40 weeks. As a result, David and I spent most of the late spring arranging two of everything – cribs, cradles, changing tables, strollers, and car seats. We weren’t completely ready for their arrival and certainly nothing was perfect, but if the twins came before mid-July, we could manage. By late May, I was seeing my doctor weekly. I looked forward to my warm, sunny drives down the flower-laden, downtown streets to the doctor’s office. David accompanied me to each of my appointments, but on this particular morning, he needed to catch up on some work at the office after a long, Memorial Day weekend. When I arrived at my appointment, I went through the typical routine, which started with a heartbeat check in the ultrasound room. I always dreaded this portion of the visit, determined that the doctor would find something abnormal. But on this particular morning, my good mood and avid conversation with the technician overshadowed my worries. When the technician told me she needed to leave the room for a moment, I paid no attention. I gleefully stared at the monitor, as if I was looking into my babies’ beautiful blue eyes.

Then, it struck me that something was horribly wrong. Are the babies okay? It was just me and my girls in the room, and I clutched my stomach, as if doing so would give me the answer I needed. Then, the doctor came into the room. In as few words as possible, he told me that Baby B didn’t have a heartbeat and I needed to go to the hospital immediately to guarantee the safe delivery of Baby A. My thoughts went straight to “two of everything” – cribs, cradles, changing tables, strollers, and car seats.

The rest of the day is a blur to me. I remember asking the doctor as I gathered my belongings from the ultrasound room, “Is there a chance you are wrong about this?” There wasn’t a chance. I remember driving myself in a daze to the hospital across the street from the doctor’s office. My life had suddenly changed in one million ways. I remember NOT crying. It wasn’t until I was at the hospital that the nurses very generously stopped the commotion of the emergency room, and told me to breathe. The tears suddenly flowed uncontrollably, and I already started to blame myself for the tragedy.

Forty-five minutes after learning that my daughter had been welcomed to heaven, her twin sister, Harper Elizabeth, was born. Despite the fact that she entered our lives 7 weeks early, she weighed a sizable 5 pounds and fully utilized her tiny lungs. When I heard her cry, my tear-stained face managed a smile. My husband, although heartbroken by the events of the day, cut Harper’s umbilical cord and beamed like a proud father.
With that, Harper was whisked away to the NICU so that she could be given special care. This allowed us to direct our attention to Mackenzie Taylor, who was born just one minute after Harper. She was much smaller, but, of course, looked identical to her sister. I was unable to hold her at first, but my husband cradled her to his chest, the love pouring from his heart just as fast as the tears poured from his eyes. Our love for these two small creatures was extraordinary, despite how physically new they were to us! We were fortunate enough to spend nearly 24 hours with Mackenzie – talking to her, taking pictures, praying, and savoring every piece of her. There was even a moment when the four of us were reunited once again in the NICU, and a single picture was taken – two amazing babies and two confused parents, not sure whether to smile or cry. At the time, I was too scarred by the situation, exhausted from the C-section, and concerned about Harper’s well-being to cherish the one last time on earth that we would be together as a family.

Traditions Photography

Traditions Photography

Saying goodbye to Mackenzie was the biggest challenge of my life; the fact that Harper was still too tiny and frail to come home from the hospital with us complicated my feelings. We buried Mackenzie Taylor ten days after she was born. Her final resting place sits squarely in front of a breathtaking statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary; if I wasn’t able to protect her during all hours of the day, I knew that Our Mother would.

David Schmitt

David Schmitt

Mackenzie’s grave stone bears the phrase, “One and Only You,” which references a book I read at her funeral. This book, “On the Night You Were Born,” was one I looked forward to reading to her as she grew up. One line particularly resonates with me, “For never before in story or rhyme, (not even once upon a time), has the world ever known a you, my friend, and it never will, not ever again….”

We think about Mackenzie every day, and I can’t imagine a time in my life when we won’t. But, Harper certainly eases our pain. Harper spent only 16 days in the NICU, coming home at a mere 4 pounds. Now, she is a thriving one-year old – meeting every single milestone and exuberant, which I believe is due to a certain angel watching over her. A part of me looks forward to being able to talk to Harper about her twin sister, sharing with her what I believe would have been true about Mackenzie. But another part of me dreads this day, because I know that Harper misses Mackenzie and feels a void that only her best friend can fill.

The doctors cannot explain why Mackenzie was taken from us too soon, and our questions remain unanswered. But there are a few things that David and I have learned from this experience. Specifically, we believe that we are better people because of Mackenzie. Mackenzie has taught us to appreciate both the ordinary and precious things in our lives. As a result, we are better parents to Harper, treating her as our daughter and not just the surviving twin of Mackenzie. We are also more appreciative of the family and friends who supported us throughout this challenging time. Mackenzie has revealed to me the things that are important in life. The fears I had prior to becoming a mother now seem incredibly insignificant. Mackenzie has inspired us to be more giving. With the help of our supporters, our team, “Team Heaven and Earth,” raised over $3,000 for the March of Dimes this year. Mackenzie has allowed us to trust. We believe that God has a reason for putting our family though this pain. Finally, Mackenzie has encouraged us not to fear death. Only in death will the four of us be together again.

Because of what we have learned, and for the immense joy we experience despite our sadness, we are blessed to have Harper Elizabeth with us on earth and Mackenzie Taylor watching over us in heaven.

Traci Shupert Photography

Submitted by Kristen Collett-Schmitt, mother of Harper and Mackenzie, on behalf of the Schmitt Family (South Bend, Indiana)

Comments

  1. sighhhh…. i wish i could come up with the right words. when tragic stories hit my closest friends and family, all i can ever do is hold them. though you are a complete stranger, know that i’m giving you a virtual hug right this second. why these things happen to us, i have no idea. thankfully God has the answer to all these questions and one day, long from now, we will understand. a lump swells in my throat and my heart breaks for you. i thank God you were able to keep harper here with you on earth til you can meet your sweet mackenzie again. hugs from cincy to you.

  2. Anna Liesemeyer says:

    Made my heart pound and my eyes swell with tears. With great suffering comes great wisdom. Thank you for an incredible testimony! I know it will touch the hearts of so many, including mine.
    Anna

  3. theresa gray says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, how difficult it must be. No doubt that MacKenzie brought you many gifts that your family will recognize and be always grateful. I have you and your sweet family in my prayers. Would you mind mailing me I would like to make sure you are aware of a resource we have to provide you a beautiful remembrance video. At no cost to you. Just go to the aurelia rose video http://www.1heart2souls.org/ (let them know you received info from us) May your days be filled with peace and thanks for becoming a 1heart2souls Sharing Parent, many will be moved and helped by your testimony. Blessings to David and beautiful baby Harper as well.