It is often said that children teach parents what life is all about. That could easily be said about Mya McKinney, the daughter of Bayle and Chris McKinney.
Last November, after months of trying to get pregnant, the couple, who were “born and raised in this special little town with no desire to ever leave,” found out their 4-year-old son, Braxton, would be getting a sibling.
“I, like many mothers, desired a healthy and happy baby — that’s all that matters,” Bayle, a kindergarten teacher’s assistant at Second Street School, explained, divulging that she secretly had been envisioning a future filled with pink bows and dresses.
Some would call it mother’s intuition, but Bayle knew from the look on the ultrasound technician’s face at her 18-week gender reveal appointment that the news was bad. Instead of finding out the sex of their child, Chris and Bayle went home with a referral card for a next-day appointment with a specialist.
It was in that office that the McKinneys learned they were expecting a daughter, Mya.
But, the specialist added, her diagnosis was dire. She had bilateral multicycstic dysplastic kidney, a lethal congenital anomaly of the kidney and urinary tract. Mya would not survive. Doctors recommended terminating the pregnancy.
But that wasn’t the end of Mya’s story. In fact, it is only the beginning.
Though she went through a range of emotions after the “incompatible with life” diagnosis, Bayle said the strongest was the feeling of abandonment.
“I felt as if the world decided to keep turning without me — that no one could understand my agony. That I was alone,” she added.
It took time, the love and support of their family, friends and, most importantly, their faith, but Bayle and Chris decided not to heed the doctor's advice. They were going through with the pregnancy.
“God gave us Mya and at that time we didn’t know how long we would have her,” Bayle said. “So we made the decision to cherish and celebrate every single moment God would allow us to have with her.”
They would continue to commemorate the pregnancy like they had done four years earlier with Braxton. After all, they had to be strong for their son.
There was a backyard gender reveal party, pregnant belly paintings and photos and dozens of ultrasound photos, during which Mya was known to play peek-a-boo.
The family took a recording of her heartbeat, which was always pumping so strong, to Build-A-Bear Workshop and made the Mya Bear so they could listen to her heartbeat every day.
They talked about sissy daily with Braxton and blew dandelions into the wind with wishes for a miracle attached. The night before the scheduled C-section, Bayle and Braxton posed for a final pregnancy selfie.
On July 12, the surgery had been scheduled for the morning, but emergencies kept pushing it back. Bayle figured it was the Lord’s way of giving them more time with Mya, who had been especially active that day, pushing and kicking like crazy.
After the delivery Bayle cradled her in her arms and pressed her to her chest. Chris held them both.
“There are no words to describe the amount of love that filled our hearts as we held her for every moment of her life. Our baby was never cold. She was never alone. She never experienced sadness or fear,” Bayle said. “She was surrounded with love for every second she was on this earth.”
At about a quarter til 8 in the evening, Mya took her last breath. She had lived for three hours.
Sometimes the ache of her absence is unbearable, but the family vows to keep her memory alive and is coping with their grief one day at a time.
“When Mya died, she took a piece of all of us with her. But she gave us something too — she taught us to be brave and follow your heart,” Bayle said. “She changed my heart and the hearts of everyone who knew her, loved her and has heard her story.”
When the McKinneys made the decision to carry Mya to term, some people couldn’t understand why. The naysayers said there was no point. But, Bayle says, they were wrong.
“Our society deems a fatal diagnosis as the final answer and that the book should end there. But that diagnosis was only a chapter of this story,” she added.
The McKinneys are not alone. An estimated 1 in 4 people have their lives irrevocably altered by the death of a child during pregnancy, at birth or in infancy.
In 2017, 4.1 million infant deaths were reported, with 2.6 million of those being stillbirths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 370 Kentucky infants died in 2016.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and the McKinneys are sharing Mya’s story with the hope that it will help others.
“I wish I had advice for parents who lose a child. I wish I knew how to help. I’m not sure if there is help,” Bayle said, adding it’s been the hardest thing the family has ever faced. “But through all of the sadness, fear, unanswered questions and heartache, I know we’ll be OK and that God will see us through to tomorrow.”
That was one of the lessons that Mya taught them: Just because things don’t go as planned, doesn’t mean that beauty can’t come from it.