It was late in the evening, and Emily Long hadn’t felt her baby move for a few hours.
She did all the tricks doctors and baby books suggest.
She lay on her side, eating a chocolate cookie. She drank a glass of orange juice. She woke up her husband, Joel, in bed, and together they placed their hands on her belly, searching for signs of life.
They found nothing.
They were admitted to St. Thomas Midtown in Nashville a couple of hours later. Just after midnight, doctors confirmed the worst — there was no heartbeat.
Emily and Joel Long lost their baby girl on June 5. Afterward, they faced the impossible task of saying goodbye.
Hardly enough time.
But, for the Longs, the medical staff at St. Thomas Midtown suggested another way. The hospital owned a Cuddle Cot, a device that when laid underneath the surface of a crib could help cool a baby’s body, preserving it for two or three days longer.
Their relationship began as casual college acquaintances with a mutual best friend; later they became long-distance companions separated by a stretch of Tennessee highway.
Not long after Emily’s 26th birthday, they began dating.
They were married in 2012.
For a time, they thought they might remain the childless couple of their group, by choice.
Then, one day last summer, Joel looked at Emily.
“Do you really want it to be just you and me forever?” he asked. She didn’t. She wanted their two to become a trio.
“And it happened immediately,” Emily smiles.
At 10 weeks, the results of precautionary genetic testing came back normal. Along with it, came the chance to learn the gender of their baby. Emily had the nurse write it on a piece of paper and seal it.
“Congratulations on your upcoming baby girl,” it read.
Emily and Joel screamed and they cried, and they texted a photo of the paper to everyone they loved.
“Everybody was so invested in this baby,” Emily says. “They all felt so attached to her.
“That made us even more excited.”
The milestones kept passing.
“We would watch TV and see her go crazy,” Emily says. “And especially after I ate.”
Emily walked every day on the treadmill or along the Gulch greenway through downtown. The Longs had baby showers of their own, filled with onesies and bows.
At the 37-week checkup, everything was great. The baby was probably 6 pounds, the doctor estimated. Emily was not dilated yet. They scheduled an ultrasound for the following week.
It didn’t happen as expected.
Emily was 38 weeks pregnant when they realized late their baby wasn’t moving.
The on-call doctor pulled the ultrasound machine right next to the bed where Emily lay, scared to death.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “There’s no heartbeat.”
“That haunts us daily,” Emily says. “It’s so painful.”
The Longs chose to have a C-Section. Emily asked for the most minimal amount of medication, she wanted to be coherent lying next to Joel.
With the couple’s permission, the doctors turned on Christian music. It was better than the silence, Emily says, especially knowing there wouldn’t be a crying baby.
“The absence of that is so heartbreaking.”
The couple, bleary-eyed and emotionally fatigued, awaited the arrival of their daughter.
She was stillborn at 2:30 a.m.
“You have a beautiful baby girl,” the delivery nurse told them. “She’s amazing.”
Tired and in a state of shock, the Longs were taken to a room to recover.
Nurses said they would bring their daughter to them.
Their baby girl was brought in near dawn.
The room overflowed with people and flowers. There were many tears, much laughter.
On the second day, they named her.
Helen James Long.
Their daughter’s namesake.
“That was such a special moment,” Emily beams. “It was a gift she had the opportunity to meet Helen James.”
It could not have happened without the Cuddle Cot, she says.
On the third day, the Longs parted with Helen James.
The time was right.
They slow danced with her, kissed her and put her down in her crib.
Then they left, at peace because of the gift of that time.
In memory of their daughter, the Longs raised money. More than $22,000.
The Longs were told the nurses were in tears when they heard the news.
“Without it, we maybe would only have gotten one day with her,” Joel says. “We got three.
“We knew what it meant to us already, and we saw what it meant also to the staff there. They were so gracious.”
It seems fitting to have a part of Helen James’ memory there, too.
Each one has a plaque that reads:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no change or shifting shadow. ???