McKenzie and I served in the same mission and I officially met her at our mutual companion’s wedding. Her and her husband, Braxton, had their little boy, Trevor, with them. He is so cute! And since then I saw through mutual friends some of her posts about the loss of their little girl, Maely. I started following her on Instagram and knew her story would be a blessing to others.
McKenzie was born in El Salvador and adopted along with her twin brother when they were babies. She loves her Latino roots and learning more about that culture. She graduated from BYU with her Bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies and plans to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work. She loves living in Utah surrounded by family and the mountains. She and her husband Braxton met while serving missions in south Texas. They have two special kids and a Wheaten Terrier puppy named Neville Longbottom. McKenzie strives to spread awareness for Down Syndrome and infant loss in any way she can, especially through social media. She finds so much joy in being a wife and mom, serving in Young Women’s in her ward, and in all things Harry Potter.
“Keep trying, be believing. Be happy. Don’t get discouraged. Things will work out.” -Gordon B. Hinckley
Growing up in the LDS faith, I learned that as long as you do your best to obey God’s commandments, that you would be blessed. I learned this in church lessons, by reading scriptures, and through my mom’s example (my dad passed away when I was a baby and she raised us as a single parent). This was instilled in me at a very young age and always stuck with me.
Several years ago, I was home for the summer from BYU, and going to the Young Single Adults ward. For our ward activity one week, we were going to get to have a small, private little devotional with Elder D. Todd Christofferson. I was really excited because even though he and his wife lived in my home stake, we rarely got to hear from him in person because Apostles are busy! I don’t remember everything he talked about that day, but I’ll always remember one thing he said; he told us that as long as we were doing what’s right, he believed “that you will have the righteous desires of your heart.” I truly took that to heart and remembered it constantly; it was great motivation for me to continue trying to live a Christlike life.
Eventually, I got married to an amazing guy! I had served a mission in Texas, and upon returning home, I went on a couple dates and explored some dating opportunities. After a few weeks, I started spending time with an elder I had known from the mission; our friendship quickly progressed into a dating relationship, and we were married a year later. During our sealing, the sealer (who is a family friend) talked about some trials in marriage like infertility but said he didn’t think that would be one of our struggles. Immediately that statement from Elder Christofferson crossed my mind; having kids was one of my biggest dreams and clearly a righteous desire, and I took this to mean that we’d have no problem in that regard (Phew!). When Braxton and I were first married I always told him that I wanted three things: a puppy, a baby and to go to Disneyland (Please feel free to laugh, I am right now!). A little over a year later, we found out I was pregnant! We even went to Disneyland that same summer- check, check! Life was honestly going exactly the way I had expected and planned it to, and I couldn’t be happier. I was doing what was right and felt that I was indeed receiving those righteous desires of my heart.
Halfway through that pregnancy, we found out our baby could have Down Syndrome. My husband and I were pretty crushed. It wasn’t what we wanted and didn’t see how it was going to work. With a lot of patience, faith, and trust, we accepted God’s will. Once our son was born it was ok! We weren’t stressed and knew that he was meant to be ours. Parenting a child with Down Syndrome has its challenges; Trevor is physically and cognitively delayed, which requires a lot of therapy. Braxton and I always felt that if Trevor had a sibling close to his age, it would be the best therapy he could have. We knew a little brother or sister could help his development better than we could! When Trev was almost a year and a half old, we found out I was pregnant again. We were so happy that he was going to be a big brother! Once again, everything was going right.
At my first prenatal appointment, we did a blood test to find out if this baby had any genetic problems like Down Syndrome. When the test came back negative a few weeks later, we were relieved. We were going to get to enjoy pregnancy this time around. We knew we were having a girl (that genetic test tells you the gender of the baby), and of course, I went right out and bought cute clothes and started a board on Pinterest for baby girl nursery ideas (I was just a little excited). I lived in this state of bliss for a couple more months until we went in for my 20-week scan. The nurse had a hard time seeing much during that ultrasound, so my doctor sent me to a specialist. I went to that appointment alone, not thinking it was going to be a big deal at all… Oh, how wrong I was. During that ultrasound, I laid helpless on the table in a dimly lit room as a perinatologist read a huge list of things that were wrong with my little girl. I was in complete shock. This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be right! I asked what this meant for my baby’s outlook on life, and the doctor stated that he expected her to be stillborn or die minutes after birth. This is when the tears came. My world came crashing down. Somehow I made it home and called my husband to leave work. My mom and sister were there and I explained what was happening. No one could believe it. Later that night we went to Braxton’s parents’ to talk to this family about our baby. Everyone was distraught. I can easily say that was the very worst day of my life.
One of the things I really struggled with after this news was anger. Anger that so many people were able to have 4, 8 or even 12 kids who were perfectly fine and I couldn’t even have 2. I was so angry that my excitement over being pregnant at the same time as my best friend, sister, and sister-in-law (who were all having girls, too), was taken away. I was so mad that I was figuring out burial and funeral plans instead what outfit my baby would wear home from the hospital. She was never going home with us. I was so mad and heartbroken for Trevor, that he wasn’t going to grow up with his little sister. But most of all, I was angry with God. How could this be what was right for us? I was a good person who had already been through a lot of hard things in life, so why was He adding this on top of it all? Didn’t He see that we were trying to have kids, just like He’s commanded us to? I was supposed to have this righteous desire. It didn’t make sense. I didn’t want to pray. I didn’t want to go to the temple. I just wanted to be away from Heavenly Father.
A week after we received this news, the fall 2016 General Women’s Session of stake conference was being broadcast. I went with my mom to the stake center to listen to the messages. When President Uchtdorf spoke about faith, I was flooded a wave of emotions. His talk was titled “Fourth Floor, Last Door” and was all about faith. I’m sure that talk was helpful to many who heard it that night, but I needed it desperately. In my head, I knew all the things he was saying, but my heart needed to be reminded of the truthfulness behind his words.
“Faith means that we trust not only in God’s wisdom but that we trust also in His love. It means trusting that God loves us perfectly, that everything He does—every blessing He gives and every blessing He, for a time, withholds—is for our eternal happiness. With this kind of faith, though we may not understand why certain things happen or why certain prayers go unanswered, we can know that in the end, everything will make sense. All things [will] work together for good to them that love God. All will be made right. All will be well.”
The next week some of my dear friends who knew what we were going through, invited Braxton and me to go to conference with them downtown. In that Sunday morning session, I cried and cried as I listened to President Russell M. Nelson’s talk about finding joy, no matter our circumstances (Joy and Spiritual Survival). He stated, “My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives. . . Just as the Savior offers peace that ‘passeth all understanding,’ He also offers an intensity, depth, and breadth of joy that defy human logic or mortal comprehension. For example, it doesn’t seem possible to feel joy when your child suffers from an incurable illness or when you lose your job or when your spouse betrays you. Yet that is precisely the joy the Savior offers. His joy is constant, assuring us that our ‘afflictions shall be but a small moment’ and be consecrated to our gain.” Once again, I knew this was exactly what Braxton and I needed to hear. I was definitely in survival mode, drowning in grief. But Heavenly Father was aware of that and inspired those talks for not just me, but hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. He was trying to tell me that even though having and raising kids is indeed a righteous desire, He has something else planned; I just needed to hold on a little longer and trust in Him.
After Conference, I resolved to try and let my anger go. It didn’t just magically disappear, but I learned how to deal with it better. I knew that my baby girl would NOT want me to use her short life as an excuse to pull away from my Father in Heaven. Satan is so sneaky and will use whatever he can to tug at us little by little until we’re far from our Heavenly Father. I wasn’t going to let that be me. I reread those messages many times in the weeks that followed and can truly say they carried me through some tough days.
A couple months later, the day came when we held our baby for the first, last and only time on this earth. Maely Grace was born at 31 weeks, 16 days before Christmas. She lived for an hour and 6 minutes. In that short period of time, Braxton gave her a name and blessing, Trevor got to interact with her, and we took as many pictures and videos as we could. And just like that Maely was gone; she took her last breath and slipped away without me even realizing it.
The days that followed were some of the most difficult ones I’ve ever experienced. They were filled with an excruciatingly painful physical recovery, planning for and having a memorial service, welcoming a new niece into the family, lots of tears but also an outpouring of love. I cannot begin to express the heartbreak one feels upon seeing their child in a casket and placing it in the ground. How grateful I am to know that Maely isn’t really in there and that we’ll get to be together with her again.
Almost a year has passed since that time; Maely’s first birthday is coming up and my emotions are all over the place. I long for and miss her. I’m so proud of her for making the choice to come to earth for such a short time because she knew how important it was to God’s plan of Salvation. I’m grateful that she showed us that now is the time to pursue adoption (something we always wanted to do, but later on in life). I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to say that I’m grateful for this trial, but I AM grateful for what it’s taught me. I’m more patient, understanding and charitable than I was before. I have a *small* glimpse into what it’s like to suffer from depression and anxiety. I know how it feels to truly think you’re alone. At times I’m still angry and sadder than I can bear. But that’s when I really lean on the Savior and rely on His atonement to pick me back up.
As I think back to Elder Christofferson’s words about receiving the righteous desires of our hearts, I still believe them. He didn’t say that they would all happen in this life; He just said we could have them if we did our best to follow the Savior. So that’s what I’ll do! I’ll strive to find joy, trust that it will all work out, and keep faithfully trudging along to my fourth floor, the last door; the day I’m reunited with Maely Grace. I know Heavenly Father loves me. I know he wants to grant me what I most desire, and that He will- in His own time and in His own way.