Noelle Harper

Submitted by Evan

We had our first prenatal appointment on October 26th, 2021. The doctor used a small sonogram to show us our baby, and all we could see of her was a tiny pulsing pixel on the screen. That was Noelle’s heart. At the time, we had no idea that her tiny and impressive sign of life, would also be her cause of death. On Valentine’s Day 2022, right in the middle of American Heart Month, and on the very day we are meant to celebrate love, we were told that the right side of Noelle’s heart didn’t form correctly and that it would lead to severe complications.

Five days later, as a means of escape, we went to the Botanical Gardens. While visiting the butterfly exhibit, a blue butterfly with a broken right wing landed on my wife’s back. We knew it from the second we left our appointment, but that blue butterfly was further confirmation that Noelle is more than her diagnosis, she is beauty and sadness, healing and pain, grief and joy. That butterfly was a little bit different than all of her friends, and she struggled a little more to fly, but she flew free among her friends and she was most amazing butterfly in the garden. We quickly started noticing butterflies everywhere. On clothes, on posters, on trees and bushes outside. Noelle was with us, not only physically but spiritually.

The next three months were a whirlwind of highs and lows, of hopes and fears. One symptom would improve, and another would get worse. Twice a week, we would walk away from the hospital with another unpronounceable diagnosis to add to Noelle’s extensive list. That would be accompanied by hours our sifting through medical websites and online testimonials, desperately searching for any sign of hope or any success story of babies like Noelle. But Noelle was unique. Her diagnosis was unique, her treatments were unique, and her fighting spirit was unique. The intervals between those doctors visits are when we had the good memories: rewatching the ultrasound videos on loop to see Noelle move her head, eyes, arms, and legs; feeling her dance along to music in the car and while we are shopping; encouraging her to kick us by feeding her lemonade or hot Cheetos.

After countless trips to the hospital, imaging, 2 hour drives for appointments, phone calls, Zoom meetings, and genetic testing, Noelle showed us that she was ready to emerge from her cocoon and take her chances with the outside world.

On May 10th, 2022, 2 days after Mother’s Day, Noelle was born at 10:06 in the morning. She was 4 lbs, 3 oz, 17 inches long and had a head full of magnificent red hair. And just like a butterfly, her life was not measured in years or even months, but in fleeting, awe-inspiring moments. 62 minutes. She fought for her life for 62 short minutes before she decided that it was time for her to rest. She decided it was time for us to stop fearing for her. To most people, 62 minutes is no more than one episode of a TV show or a commute to and from work. But for her mom and dad, 62 minutes with Noelle in our arms felt like an eternity of bliss and serenity.

Just because her life was brief, does not mean it was tragic. When we announced our pregnancy to my parents we gave them a onesie with a card attached that quoted a conversation between two best friends. It said: “How do you spell ‘love?’ Asked piglet. “You don’t spell it, you FEEL it” replied Winnie the Pooh.” We used that quote to announce Noelle’s entrance into the world. Now, one very short year later, we have just passed the anniversary of her diagnosis. And there is another conversation between those same friends from the Hundred Acre Wood: “How does one become butterfly?’ Pooh asked pensively.
‘You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar,’ Piglet replied.
‘You mean to die?’ asked Pooh.
‘Yes and no,’ he answered. ‘What looks like you will die, but what’s really you will live on.”
Butterflies pollinate plants and help more of them grow. Without butterflies, there would be far less love being spread, and therefore, less beautiful flowers. Without Noelle, there is certainly a lot less beauty in the world. But there doesn’t have to be less love.

Noelle Harper Cipra. We will follow your lead and emerge from this experience stronger than ever and we will be transformed by your birth in a way that we will one day fly alongside you among the clouds. Because you are still our daughter, and you are still a granddaughter, and a niece and a cousin, a friend, and the prettiest angel in Heaven.

So to all of the parents out there reading this who have been through a similar experience, I pray that you acknowledge your child’s beauty every time you see a butterfly (or any other sign that they are close), acknowledge their strength every time you feel scared, and acknowledge their love every time you feel your own heart beat.

We love you Noelle. And we miss you more than words can describe. And most of all, we are so proud of what you have done and everything you will do.

Love, Evan (Noelle’s Dad)

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