She wanted to go to the dry cleaners.
It seems silly to her now, but there was nothing silly about it then. After they left the hospital, Marquisse Watson insisted her husband, Antwon, stop and pick up their comforter. They had dropped it off before their world was turned upside down. Before doctors told Marquisse her life was in danger. Before she was rushed into an emergency induction at 24 weeks pregnant. Before they found out their daughter had a 10% chance of surviving the delivery.
Marquisse didn’t want to go to the dry cleaners, she needed to go to the dry cleaners.
She craved something normal. Something she was supposed to do before her newborn daughter died. Something to keep them from what was waiting at home.
Eventually, Marquisse walked into her daughter’s room. It had already been painted pink, and the closet was full of clothes.
The first-time mother collapsed onto the ground.
‘Where’s the baby?’
Antwon had pulled the car around front. As a hospital worker wheeled his wife outside, he packed their gifts and a pink balloon that said, “baby girl,” into the car. A stranger waiting for a ride saw them.
“Where’s the baby?” she asked.
This was his reality now, and the stranger must have seen it on his face. They had never even heard their daughter cry.
“She didn’t make it,” Antwon said.
He realized this would be his interaction for the next several months. It was a moment seared into memory. There were many more moments like it.
When Antwon dropped to his knees in a hospital bathroom and prayed. When he held his daughter’s hand – and her entire body fit in his palm. When he returned to work a week after she died and was told “life goes on.”
He never forgot it, and he never forgot her.
Alana Marie Watson was born on May 22, 2014. She died 36 hours later, weighing less than 1 pound.
'Sad, sadder and saddest'
I met Antwon almost six years later, a few days after my wife and I had a miscarriage.
We met at a bar I thought was a coffee shop. I got there first, and when someone told me the coffee shop had moved, I decided to stay. I might need a drink, I thought.
Antwon was the first person I told.
I didn’t plan it like that. Our meeting had been scheduled for weeks. And when I originally made plans, it was just another interview. Another person to talk to for another story.
At that point, my wife was pregnant, and we were expecting our first child. Then, in January, Brittany started bleeding. I didn’t fully understand what that meant. She went to the doctor by herself while I worked.
The nurses said nice things, reassuring things. I wondered later if they actually believed them. The doctor was old, his office cluttered. He thought she was there for a pregnancy test.
She was there to learn whether we had lost our pregnancy.
After Brittany got the results, she went to work. She didn’t know what else to do. I was in the living room when I heard our garage door open later that evening. A few minutes passed, and she didn’t come inside. When I opened the door, she was in the car crying.
I told Antwon this, and he told me about the hospital. About the balloons. About a tattoo of Alana on his shoulder. About how it took him years to tell his wife what he was going through, because he was so worried about her.
When Alana died, Marquisse blamed herself.
She couldn’t go to Target without seeing something that reminded her of the pregnancy. Pickles made her think of the food cravings, and blueberries reminded her of the pregnancy app that said Alana was once the size of small fruit.
Marquisse oscillated between sad, sadder and saddest.
When she went back to her job as a nurse, she found it difficult to empathize with patients. Ahead of most shifts, she cried on the way in. And the nights before work, she often felt anxious and sick.
A few days after Alana’s death, the Watsons went to church. Marquisse cried through most of it. Their story was shared, and prayers were offered. After the service, a couple approached them and shared their own story of losing a child.
It was a glimmer of hope. A reminder they weren’t alone.
Marquisse soon found herself writing sympathy cards to other families. She wanted them to know they weren’t alone, either. To know they weren’t the only ones getting questions about when they were going to get pregnant again. To know they weren’t the only ones who needed counseling.
She eventually formed a nonprofit organization to put families in touch with resources, support groups and information related to infant loss, stillbirth and miscarriages. It became her therapy, and it became part of her healing.
She named the organization after her daughter.
“Every time I write ‘The Alana Marie Project,’ I feel like a proud mama,” she said.
When happiness turns into guilt
I was brushing my teeth when I saw our pregnancy test in the trash. A few weeks earlier, Brittany asked me to read it for her. We’d been trying for months.
The test said she was pregnant. I screamed, and she cried. I told her we should keep the test. And we did.
Until it became a symbol of what felt like failure, no matter what anyone said.
When my wife got pregnant again, there was no screaming. No celebration. The joy we felt before was replaced by worries and fear. Fear my wife said only got worse when we found out we were having a boy. Fear when we started telling our family his name. Fear when our doctor said he was so small he would need to be delivered early.
Fear that never really left us, even after our son was born – happy and healthy.
After our first meeting, I didn’t talk to Antwon for almost 11 months. I wasn’t ready to tell his story, because I wasn’t ready to tell mine.
When we met again, we talked about his three boys. We talked about the guilt that accompanies our happiness. We talked about the jealousy he feels when he sees pictures of father-daughter dances. And we talked about how grateful he was to spend the time with his daughter he did.
“She helped me find purpose in life,” he said.
When we were done, Antwon handed me a small bag with tissue paper sticking out the top. Inside was a card and a newborn onesie. The card congratulated my wife and I on the birth of our son. They called him a rainbow baby, a term meant to symbolize light after darkness that I didn’t understand until this year.
The card was signed: The Alana Marie Project.