Mom Shares Unbelievable Message of Hope While Holding Dying Newborn

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In the months before our babies are born, we hope and pray and pray and hope that everything will turn out okay -- but tragically, sometimes it doesn't. A heartbreaking Good Housekeeping essay about the devastating choice one mom was forced to make when her unborn baby was diagnosed with a serious birth defect reminds me of the true meaning of selflessness. And, it's a stunning testament to the fact that even the briefest of lives can leave behind legacies that last forever.

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Abbey Ahern was 19 weeks pregnant with her third child when she got the horrible news: Her unborn daughter suffered from anencephaly, a birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain or skull. Faced with the decision of late term abortion or carrying her daughter to term knowing she likely wouldn't survive more than a few hours, Ahern and her husband had to make a choice.

Most families in this situation (about 95 percent) opt for a late-term abortion, but Ahern decided against it, explaining that she and Robert wanted a "few precious memories" with their baby, even if her own sisters thought she was "crazy" for deciding to carry the baby to term.

But Ahern believed her daughter's life, however brief, had a purpose -- and that's why she asked her doctor right away about the possibility of donating Annie's organs. After all, she was "perfectly healthy" other than her brain.

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From the moment on, Ahern said, a team of "hospital liaisons, neonatologists, chaplains, the ethics committee and people from the NICU" all worked together to make the organ donation happen -- and also to make sure that the parents would be able to hold and bond with their baby.

In the days leading up to Annie's scheduled C-section, Ahern sas she was filled with anxiety over everything picking out an outfit for the baby (the only outfit she'd ever wear) to explaining the situation to her older daughters (ages two and four). But when the day finally came, she said she was filled with a sense of peace. Surrounded by family, Ahern said everyone was "talking and laughing." "We told stories," she said. "No one was sad."

And then ... Annie entered the world, "chubby and pink," a beautiful little girl.

This is one of the very first pictures of Annie. It is so strange to look at her precious body, before all of her wires and monitors were attached. All I see is perfection. Perfect little toes, perfect chubby legs, her perfect tight little fist shoved into her perfect little mouth. Her only imperfection was the top of her head, and it would end up stealing her from us. May 15 is anencephaly awareness day, and my heart is with all of my anencephaly mom friends I've met through social media over the years. Thank you all for being there with me, and for sharing your hearts and support. � #anencephalyawareness #pistolannieahern #sarahlibbyphotography #anencephalyawarenessday #organdonor #donormom #donatelife

A photo posted by abbeyahern (@abbeyahern) on

Sweet baby! I can't even begin to imagine staring down at that tiny face, knowing her life would soon be over. As a mother of three, it absolutely tears me apart. The sacrifice Ahern made by bringing this child into the world is almost incomprehensible. She had so much love for her daughter that she was determined to make her life matter, even though she was only on this planet for 14 hours and 58 minutes. Not even a full day. Still, in that time, she met her mom and dad. She listened to a story -- Heaven is for Real -- and snuggled with her big sisters. She felt the love of her grandparents and aunts and uncles.

And, perhaps most significantly of all, she left a life-saving legacy. Annie's heart valves were donated for recipients, with many of her organs used for research purposes. As Ahern said, she'll "never know the number of lives she was able to save -- because not only were her organs donated, but the protocol was also put in place for other infants to donate their organs."

More from CafeMom: Baby's Life-Saving Heart Transplant Shows the Bittersweet Beauty of Organ Donation

What an absolutely amazing mom! Thankfully, Ahern and her husband welcomed a healthy baby girl, Iva, just a year and a few months after Annie's birth -- though Ahern admits the grief process is a long and complicated one.

"The old Abbey is gone," she said."When Annie left, she took a piece of me. She forever changed me, and I thank God for that."

Annie's short but exquisite existence will no doubt change the lives of many, and we thank Abbey Ahern for that. I admire her so much for making this decision, one I'm not sure I would have had the strength to make in her place. Annie will live on forever thanks to her mother's courage. Read Ahern's essay in full at Good Housekeeping, but be prepared for a tidawave of emotion. And get ready to hug your own babies just a little tighter tonight!

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