By Rachel Hoeing and Guest Blogger, Patrice Williams

Our TMoM Mother of the Year Contest took place in May.  Patrice Williams was crowned our TMoM Mother of the Year, and once everyone read her story, they quickly learned why.  Patrice has experienced an amazing journey during her time on this earth and we all have something to learn from her experiences.  Although the journey has been tough, Patrice has found a way to smile and inspire others through her blog.  We wanted her to share her story with all of you in a series of posts.  Today is the first.  After you read this, you will be anxioualy awaiting the next. Rachel

On Sunday morning, April 20th, 2008, my husband, Matt, and I were sitting in our young couples Sunday school at church and we were watching a video of David Ring. Do you know him? He is an amazing man, afflicted with Cerebral Palsy since birth, with an amazing story. The short version of his story is that he had a very hard childhood, his mother being his best friend and greatest (and many times, only) advocate in the entire world. On top of his CP and the constant embarrassment, ridicule, and discouragement he endured, he became an orphan at the age of just 14 years old. Passed around from family to family, rejected and alone, he struggled to know if life was worth living. (Spoiler alert: he decided it was and has a wonderful life today!)

So that Sunday morning, I was privileged enough to hear him speak, even if only by DVD. I was in tears (crazy 37 week pregnant tears, I might add) listening to him speak of his many struggles. And over and over, through my snotty tears, I kept wondering, “Could I have that kind of faith? Could I bounce back and be resilient like that? If something so horrible happened to me, would I truly be able to make the choice to love and live my life, despite the pain and sorrow?”

Little did I know that my test would come only hours later.

Our son, Gabriel Matthew Williams, was due to be born on May 10th, just two weeks and six days away. The day before, I had turned 37 weeks and was considered full term. “Come on, Little Buddy, whenever you’re ready.” This particular Sunday morning, I remember commenting to Matt in worship that Gabe was rocking out like crazy to the music. (Our contemporary service is REALLY contemporary.) He loved going to church! Later that evening we were lying on the couch and Matt asked if I had felt the baby move in a while. This was a common question for him to ask. “Huh,” I said. “I don’t remember feeling him in a while. I’m sure it’s fine though. I bet he’s just moved down.”

I didn’t go to bed overly worried (first time Mommy ignorance, I guess), really believing that he had just moved into a lower position and that’s why I couldn’t feel him. I went to my teaching job the next day and taught first and second periods. I sat down for third period planning and it hit me: I hadn’t felt him move all morning. I immediately drank a caffeinated drink and called my OB’s office. I made an appointment to go in after school (still, with the ignorance). I taught fourth period as normal. But then the other Spanish teachers on the hall took over my fifth period class and kicked me out. I called Matt in the car and told him I was headed to the doctor and would call him after I got out. He insisted on meeting me there.

We waited for what seemed like forever and then they called us back. They put that non-stress test machine on me and placed it about 20 different ways to try to get a heartbeat. “Are we supposed to be hearing something?,” I asked, with fear in my voice. “Yes, but don’t worry. We’ll just do an ultrasound.” They moved us into the ultrasound office, and the nurse left to go get the doctor.

It hit me. This was not right. I wasn’t supposed to be back there. Our baby was gone.

The doctor came in, said some sweet sounding words to which I replied, “Just find it.” He looked for about thirty to forty five seconds and our fears were confirmed. “You can’t find it?,” I asked through tears. “I’m sorry,” was all he said. At 37 weeks, our Sweet Gabriel’s heart had stopped beating.

How could this be? Does this really happen? The doctor and nurse left Matt and me alone for a few minutes. “Why now?????” I sobbed into my hands. We embraced, both crying, not believing what we had just found out. Why would God take him now?

I won’t go into the details of having to give birth to a dead, full-term baby, but I will say that God provided sweet moments of grace, mercy, smiles, and even laughs that carried us through such a terrible time. We were surrounded by our family who all loved our boy almost as much as we did. We were never ever alone. God was so close and we could so clearly sense the peace and strength he was giving us. I had friends from church that later told me they were up all night praying for us. I knew they were before they even told me. We were being sustained by something so much bigger than ourselves.

Gabriel Matthew was born at 3:11am on Tuesday morning, April 22nd. He had a head of thick, dark hair and broad shoulders just like his Daddy (it may or may not have been a mullet), but his nose and eyes were his Mommy’s. He was beautiful. We spent a couple of hours with him, and then called the nurse to come and get him. Sweet Gabe was already home. Now we just had to learn how to live (and love) without him.

Was it even possible?

When we went home, it was to a beautifully painted and decorated nursery. To a closet full of washed, sweet smelling, adorable baby boy clothes. And worst of all, to an empty bassinet.

My stomach (or my brain) gave me false feelings of being kicked and movement in my tummy. My arms literally ached from the absence of his warmth in my arms. I saw him every time I closed my eyes. The funeral was on Friday, April 25th.

I thought my life was over.

Little did I know that this ending, this horrible loss, the death of my child, the most unimaginable pain I had ever felt was really only the beginning of an incredible journey. What I saw as the end, God saw as just the beginning.

To be continued…