By Ashley Opliger
In one unexpected moment, my life changed forever. Over six years ago, I had just finished a speech therapy session with a little boy. I walked him and his mother out the front doors of the outpatient clinic I worked at as a Speech-Language Pathologist.
As we said our goodbyes, I felt a gush of blood run down my leg. My heart sank. I was thirteen weeks pregnant with my first child. What was happening? Was I miscarrying? Panicked, I ran to the bathroom and grabbed a colleague, a good friend, to come in with me.
I called the OBGYN nurse line with fear trembling through my voice. I was so scared. I don't remember what the nurse said, but my friend urged me to go to the ER right away.
She wrapped her sweatshirt around me and drove me to the nearest hospital. Although that drive was somewhat of a blur, I remember she played worship music and remained calm as I sat on her sweatshirt and soaked it in blood.
When I arrived at the hospital, my husband and mom were there to meet me. Once I was lying on the hospital bed, a nurse put a doppler machine on my belly as we anxiously waited to hear our baby's heartbeat. Ba-boom, ba-boom.
We heard those little pitter-patters and knew our baby was still alive. Then a sonographer came in to do an ultrasound.
As she pulled up the black and white moving image on the screen, we could see our baby moving and waving at us. It was such sweet relief to know our baby was okay. But that feeling was quickly overshadowed by bad news.
The sonographer then pointed at a large black space encircling our baby. My womb was hemorrhaging in a place called the chorion (the space between my baby and my uterine wall).
Almost half of this space was bleeding. The doctor came in and diagnosed me with a large subchorionic hemorrhage and told me there was a 50% chance that I would miscarriage.
They suggested I go home on bed rest and take medical leave from work. So that's what I did...for eleven weeks. And every day, I prayed for a miracle: Lord, please let the hemorrhage heal and our baby grow healthy and strong.
But at each appointment we were given more bad news. Our baby, whom we found out was a little girl, was growth restricted and measuring further and further behind on her growth scans. The hemorrhage was getting larger and was now behind the placenta, cutting off essential nutrients.
Despite the poor prognosis, we chose to celebrate her life. So we named her Bridget which was the name I had chosen in the eighth grade to be for my first daughter.
But the weeks on bed rest were some of the hardest of my life. As I lay in bed, anxious and alone, it was hard for me to believe that God would do something good out of my pain. I felt abandoned by God and questioned how He could allow me to go through this. Why wasn't He intervening and saving my daughter's life?
When I was twenty-three weeks, I was hospitalized again due to increased bleeding. I passed several large clots, but was sent home. During this time, God led my mom to knit a little blanket for her granddaughter. The doctors anticipated that Bridget would be born early and small, so my mom wanted to make something to cuddle Bridget that would be her size.
After knitting the blanket, she wondered how she would swaddle such a tiny baby in this small blanket. That's when God gave her the idea to knit the sides up and create a little cradle. She packed it in her hospital bag and prayed.
A week later, Bridget Faith Opliger was born at 10:27 am on October 22, 2014, already in the arms of Jesus (at twenty-four weeks and five days into my pregnancy). The nurses swaddled her in a traditional hospital blanket that was much too large and bulky for her precious little thirteen-ounce body. Although she was so tiny, she was wonderfully made.
Every detail about her was so perfect: her tiny, long fingers, cute button nose, peach fuzz above her lips, and her eyelashes that had already formed. My mom placed her in the cradle, and instantly, it gave us peace in our heartbreak. We could pick her up and love on her. It made it easy for us to hold her and bond with her in the twenty-four hours we had together.
We went home and grieved. In the overwhelming sadness, I had a decision to make. Was I going to believe that Bridget was really in Heaven and that Jesus was who He said He was? Was my faith real? If it was, then I wanted my entire life to display my belief.
So as I lay curled up on the floor of her empty nursery, I completely surrendered my life to Jesus and told Him I'd do whatever He wanted me to do. And right then, I believe that God sealed His promise to use my grief for His glory. It was this moment that led us to start a nonprofit ministry called Bridget's Cradles.
It's hard to explain all that God has done in the six years since that moment. But to summarize: we first started donating cradles to our local hospital where Bridget was born. A local news station recorded a story about us, and it ended up airing nationwide.
Hospitals all across the country wanted our cradles to offer to their bereaved patients to hold their precious babies born into Heaven in the second trimester. We became a 501c3 nonprofit and started to grow our knitting and crocheting volunteer base. And we began shipping cradles to hospitals all across the country.
We are now in over 1,050 hospitals in all 50 states and comfort over 26,000 bereaved families a year with our cradles and memory keepsakes. We also host a remembrance event annually on October 15th, Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day, that gives hope to hundreds of families. In 2018, we moved into our own headquarters space and started leading support groups for grieving moms called Hope Gatherings.
It's hard for me to articulate all that God has done in and through Bridget's Cradles in the past six years. We will never know the names or stories of all the babies and bereaved families impacted on this side of Heaven. But we trust that God knows each of them by name and that He has called us for this purpose.
When God made Creation, He saved the best for last. After making the earth, land and sea, trees and flowers, moon and sun, birds and animals, He created humans. In Genesis 1:26, God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (ESV)." Before resting on the seventh day, God made mankind on the sixth day. And after looking at His final Creation, He said that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
Out of all that He made, there was only one that He created in His own image and permitted to rule over the land and everything else He created. That's because He considers us His most prized possession (James 1:18 ESV). He even numbers the hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7 ESV) and knows each of us by name (Isaiah 43:1).
What a privilege it is for our cradles to hold His most sacred Creation! Though we wish we lived in a world where babies did not die and families did not need our cradles, we are grateful that God has given us this comfort while we live in a broken world.
Each cradle is made with a little yarn and a lot of love. Every cradle touches the hands of many volunteers who pour their hearts into every stitch and pray over the family who will receive it. We have a beautiful, short video that shows the journey a cradle makes from the hands of a volunteer to when it holds a precious baby in a hospital. You can watch it here.
I would love to close us in prayer:
Dear God, thank You for the opportunity to share my story with the readers of Living Loved Today. God, I am so grateful for Bridget's life and the ministry You have given us in her memory. It is an honor to serve grieving families and point them to Your Gospel. You offer us salvation and the promise of eternity with our babies in Heaven. Thank You for dying on the cross so that we could live forever with You. You are a good, loving Father who comforts us in our grief. You are a God of redemption and can use our grief for good if only we will surrender it to You. Lord, I pray for each person reading this blog that You would work in their hearts to use their own unique story for Your glory. Everyone has their own story to tell and special skills and talents. God, I pray that each person would step into all that You created them to be and bless others in Your name. Thank You, Lord, we love You.
Ashley Opliger is the President and Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas. Bridget's Cradles donates cradles to over 1,050 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year. She also leads monthly Christ-centered support groups for grieving mothers and organizes remembrance events for bereaved families.
Ashley is married to Matt, and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven) and two sons, Branton and Brenner. She is a fully-devoted follower of Christ who desires for women to find faith to embrace a beautiful broken life.
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