Brett Finnell (left) and wife, Christina Relacion-Finnell, hold the ultrasound photo of their child Emmett inside their home on Monday, two years after
Brett Finnell (left) and wife, Christina Relacion-Finnell, hold the ultrasound photo of their child Emmett inside their home on Monday, two years after complications in her pregnancy led to them having a stillborn child. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE/JEFF PORTER

ASHBY - Last week, Christina Relacion-Finnell and Brett Finnell celebrated what would have been their son's second birthday.

They placed a "2" candle on top of a cake - cake batter ice cream with brownies, Oreos and hot fudge - and settled in to watch the Celtics play the Bucks in their Ashby home.

Which team would heir son Emmett have rooted for, Christina wondered. Who would have been his favorite Avenger?

"We always just wonder, because there are always those what ifs. Like what would he have been?" she said. "Even ordering the cake. Would he have liked this flavor?"

For a while, everything was going well. In January 2016, on her 35th birthday, Christina found out she was pregnant.

As they entered the second trimester of the pregnancy, the couple was preparing a Disneythemed birth announcement, when their doctor ordered an ultrasound.

The appointment, which started routinely, ended with the discovery their child had Turner syndrome, a rare chromosomal disorder.

"We went in there all happy, we saw pictures of our baby," Brett said. "We went from that to really kind of low."

A second ultrasound revealed the full severity of the situation, but they held out hope returning for additional ultrasounds.

"We went through everything with (the doctor)," Brett said. "We asked him is there a chance for surgery? Is there a chance for anything? He basically flat-out told us that in this kind of situation we would be looking to keep the baby and you guys comfortable if you were to go to full term.



Brett said the message was clear. "In all words, he was saying the baby would be in the NICU until it passed away," he said. Over the weekend they weighed their options and chose to end the pregnancy.

"To us our baby was suffering and that was not fair," he said. On the day of the procedure, they entered the hospital where Christina went through an induced labor on the same wing where other mothers were giving birth.

"I think the hardest part of that was to go into the OB unit and give birth on the same floor where all the other moms were ... and then get wheeled out and not leave with a baby," she said.

Though all babies with Turner syndrome are girls, some confusion following the birth led nurses to identify their 7-ounce baby as a boy. The couple named their child Emmett in the hospital and remember him as their son.

Brett and Christina recalled the immediate support they received from friends and family. Christina's mother visited from California. Their family planted a tree in Emmett's memory in their front yard.

But the couple also wanted to speak to others with similar experiences.

"We've had some friends or family be like, oh you can just try again," Christina said. "It's not that simple. We wanted that baby. It's not like going to the store and getting a bottle of milk to replace it."

Their search led them to the TEARS Foundation, a national organization with a chapter based in Worcester. According to the foundation and average of about 25,000 stillbirths occur each year.

At the organization's support group, the couple discussed the many emotions associated with their experience, which can best be described as "complex."

For Christina, the experience was both emotional and physical. Ever since the stillbirth, she said she has experienced new health problems, which are considerations as the couple thinks about having another child.

Brett said the experience made him feel like he couldn't protect Christina. Since her connection to their baby was physical, he said it seems deeper than his attachment.

These factors mean the ways men and women grieve after a stillbirth is often different, they said.

Pregnancy loss can also be hard on relationships. In 2010, a study showed couples who had experienced a stillbirth were 40 percent more likely to break-up than couples who hadn't, Reuters reported.

Brett said it's easy for communication to break down for a topic that is so challenging to speak about.

"Because, you know, what do you say?" he said. "It's difficult to know what to say, when to say it."

Brett said he is one of the few male volunteers with TEARS, an organization where locally woman outnumber men nine to one. Christina also volunteers with the organization and serves on the board of directors.

TEARS is planning"Rock & Walk" at Nashoba Regional High School on June 24 to raise awareness and money for several different initiatives including a phone service for grieving parents, safe cribs and program that covers funeral costs for children 12 and under.

Sign-up is online at 2018massachusettsrockwalk.

Two years after their loss, some days are easier than others, they said.

Midway through ordering Emmett's birthday cake where she struggled to select a flavor, Christina wondered what the woman taking her order must think. "She's probably going to think I'm crazy with the writing I had on it and stuff, but then I'm just like, I'm sure I'm not alone. We're not the only people who are going through this."

"You just have to do what you need to do to commemorate those milestones and to get through the grief together."

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @DobbinsSentinel