From Helplessness to Hopeful
by NancyLee Honey Marsh
Photography by Anne, Inc. – Sloan Bragg
“For me, it was a journey to openness,” offered lovely Heather Quinn, as we spoke in her quaint Hilton Head Island boutique, Louette, named for her grandmother. “It all happened so fast. I became ill while teaching when I was 35 weeks pregnant,” recalled Heather who holds a Master’s degree in Special Education. “In the doctor’s office they heard Harper’s heart beat and said it sounded fine. After they did an ultra sound for safety, the technician became silent. As they whisked me off for an emergency C-section at Beaufort Memorial, I thought maybe we were having a special needs child. Even though concerned about Harper when she tiptoed into our lives that April day, the doctors said she was ok. It was not life threatening, but they air lifted Harper to MUSC. Still recovering from surgery, I remained in the hospital, while Brian (husband) drove to Charleston. Within hours, I received a frantic call from Brian. A priest had been summoned to give Harper’s last rites, and I needed to hurry! An ambulance was rushed to me. Not only physically, but emotionally, it was the most miserable ride of my life. We were led to a family room where Brian and the priest were waiting. They put Harper in my arms. We were in shock. It seemed one minute she was ‘OK,’ and the next I was counting her every breath, knowing our little girl was leaving us for heaven.”
She had the very rare maternal-fetal hemorrhage. “The MUSC staff was incredible,” Heather said. “One nurse stood beside me, holding the oxygen up for Harper. I worried about her, but she assured me she would stand there as long as we needed her. I will never look at nurses the same again. They are amazing. Twelve hours later, Harper died in my arms. It was a terrifying, yet beautiful moment.”
Three days later, Heather left the hospital. “As they wheeled me out, instead of our baby, I was holding a package about coping with the loss of an infant, ” she said. Lightening struck! The formerly positive, happy Heather curled into a little ball in bed and could not move. Heather’s mother, Alison Stanley, remained close to her daughter, comforting her as best she could. Brian, owner of Twelve Oaks Group, threw himself into his work, and called priest after priest pleading for help for Heather. “Finally, I had to tell him to stop, as they came too frequently,” recalled Heather. “I was such a mess and so uncomfortable with my anger. I threw a shoe at Brian and yelled at my mother! Trauma brought out the dark side of me. Brian not only lost his baby, he lost his wife.”
As Heather slowly began to function, she felt all she saw were friends with healthy babies. She wrote in her journal, trying to keep it together, but a new feeling grabbed her. “I couldn’t have cared less about anything and wanted to throw in the towel. I went to Holy Family Church with flowers for Mother Mary. I sat, prayed and cried. I distinctly remember writing on May 28, 2012, that I could not do this any more and who is Ella Grace?” Some of Heather’s friends drifted away, with the comment to call if they could do anything. Those who remained, not only called, they took action. Older women having experienced her grief visited her and shared their recovery process.
In August, Heather returned to her teaching job. “I was in severe depression, but did not recognize it. By November, I had to give it up. Being around the children was too difficult for me. Since I always thought of having my own shop, Brian suggested investigating the possibilities. I refused, but he insisted, asking me to try it for a year and see how it developed. Still sad and feeling like a failure, I reluctantly started to work on the possibility. It actually helped the grief, and my husband and family were amazing. My strong, no-nonsense grandmother, Louette Brown, reminded me repeatedly that I was strong. She inspired me with ideas for the shop and instilled in me the classic, vintage feel that could be created. That November I found out I was pregnant and was filled with anxiety.
Even though everyone said I was crazy, with Brian’s encouragement, we opened Louette in March 2013! On June 20, 2013, our rainbow baby appeared, Ella Grace!”
Brian also found The Zoe Foundation, a Savannah based non-profit organization, which provides support to families who have lost infants and helps with financial burdens. “I went kicking and screaming to the first meeting. When I met the Executive Director, she said they needed a South Carolina Chapter.” Heather said. “The Harper Project is the South Carolina Chapter of the Zoe Foundation!” With their faith stronger, Heather and Brian embraced their pain and used it as fuel for their “journey to openness.” As the pain eases, the beauty remains.
Revelation: It’s okay to be mad, show the ugly side of grief and sit with grumpy time. Then think of the good and blessings in life and shoo away the sadness.
Life decision: At the University of Georgia, Heather moved from a dance major to history major.