Remembering Blessings – Tammy Mundell


This post may be too much for some of my pregnant readers who are only wanting positive and uplifting thoughts.  This post discusses loss and may be difficult for some to read.

The circle of life…we are all a part of it whether we want to be or not.  Babies are born – and grow too quickly.  We forget about our own years passing as we watch them blossom and grow into a person who will scarcely thank us as they rush out the door to their next activity (marriage, parenthood…), not even being aware of their own years passing until they find most of them gone.  We often don’t take stock of our lives until most of it is behind us…if we are lucky to get that far.

The thing that I think we need to keep in mind (no matter how upsetting it may be) is that we don’t KNOW when the majority of our days are behind us!  How many of us at 25 think, “wow…half way done!”  Yet how many of us won’t make 50 years because of disease, accidents, etc.

I have OFTEN pondered these questions:  if I died today, did I make a difference in the world?  How would I be remembered…or even WOULD I be remembered??  I try to picture who would come to my funeral, and the discussions that they might have.  What impact will I leave behind, regardless of whether I live 96 years…or only another week.

Sometimes the reality that life is unpredictable smacks us painfully in the chest, bruising our hearts forever.  I have seen babies that could only be with their mother’s in-utero, never knowing the true pleasure of a real kiss as they were taken too soon (and to those parents know this – I will never forget your precious babies!)  I have known a 5 year old, Brian, whose mother thought he had a cold….until she took him to the pediatrician and for the first time heard the words “primary pulmonary hypertension”.  It was only weeks later that I was sitting with his mother, Lisa, on her back patio just hours after his death.

6 years ago tomorrow, April 28th, 2004 – I lost my best friend.  I don’t get a chance to really talk about her much…and if this blog post is already too sad and upsetting for you I understand!  I actually think right now I’m just writing more for me than for anyone to read.

Tammy – taken in 2001 weeks before she had her fifth baby

Tammy Mundell….an amazing woman!  We met in 2001, not terribly long before she was going to have her 5th baby.  She had 4 daughters who she adored, and had no idea if she was going to have a boy or girl this time.  She and I quickly bonded, and she asked me if I would be willing to come and take pictures at her birth – OF COURSE!  I was at her baby’s birth….and got some incredible photos.  I especially loved the one where she was telling her husband that it was a boy…they had a son.

We quickly became good friends…the kind of friends that you actually don’t HAVE to talk to every day and still stay super close!  She was there through a whole lot of “life” for me…and I saw her through a whole lot of “life” as well.  You know all of the events that happen…family issues, injuries, major life events.  She became an EMT…I continued my work in the birthing community.  Eventually we both enrolled in midwifery school together, joking that together we were a ‘complete midwife’ as she had a ton of medical knowledge and I had a ton of birthing knowledge.  We vowed to help each other through midwifery school and that we would work as a team once we were both licensed midwives.

She was working full time with Southwest Ambulance when she found herself pregnant again.  It wasn’t something she had specifically planned, and was actually quite a challenge given the place and time in life in which she currently was.  She LOVED being pregnant (I never met someone who seemed to enjoy being pregnant as much as me…until Tammy!) and adored her children – but there were definite stresses in her life, such as how to balance this job with family.  She had always been a “stay at home” mother before, enjoying nursing her babies for as long as they wanted to, spending time with her kids…

But it looked like that wasn’t an option for her this time, and she continued to work full time with the ambulance company.

Halfway through her pregnancy I went with her for an ultrasound…I asked if she was going to find out the sex, and she was not – but said *I* could look so long as I didn’t tell her what it was so she could discover it at birth.  I peeked…and never told.

When she entered her third trimester, Tammy shocked me by saying that when she birthed this baby, she wanted it to be just the two of us.  She didn’t want the midwife that had seen her through her previous 3 pregnancies, she didn’t even want her husband and children there as they had been previously – she wanted just me.  She knew what I could and couldn’t do…and she wanted it to be the two of us only.  I was nervous, sure…but also exceedingly flattered…and told her that it was her birth and I would do whatever she wanted, that I loved her and wanted her happy.

I lost my midwifery apprenticeship over this.  I don’t blame my midwife…but when I told my preceptor midwife that I would be doing this birth with Tammy, she said she no longer would work with me because if “only a couple of years of apprenticeship and you think you’re a midwife?  I don’t want my name associated with that….”  I explained to her that it wasn’t that I thought I was a midwife, it’s that Tammy didn’t want a midwife there!  But it was well outside of her comfort level (and the fact that my preceptor was her previous midwife three times – probably didn’t set well, either.)

Tammy – taken April 27th, 2004

On April 27th, when she was 36 weeks pregnant, she and I met at my home for a prenatal…and a photoshoot.  She had been working at a local event called “Country Thunder” and so was self-conscious of her “farmers tan” from her boots and being in the sun all weekend…but she was gorgeous to me!

Still working full time, she looked tired…and we talked a LOT that day.  I begged her to cut back at work, to enjoy this final part of the pregnancy.  She said she couldn’t because she wanted every second she could get off of work to go to staying home with the baby and nursing.  We spent the entire afternoon together. I said goodbye to her, hugged her by her car and kissed her on her cheek.  I turned and headed inside without watching her drive away – because I had no idea that would be the last time I would see her.

I edited the pictures in just a couple of hours and sent her the link to the private website I had put them on for her to see.  I never got to hear back from her, but her husband, Rob, told me that she saw them and LOVED them!!  I do wish I’d been able to hear from her what she thought of them.

The next day, April 28th, started out unremarkable.  In fact, I remember nothing about that morning – but would never forget that afternoon.  I was enrolled in a class at the local community college…ASL (American Sign Language).  Out of the entire class, there were two girls that I became quick friends with –  Amy Reilly and Ellen Rose.  The class was taught by a Deaf woman, and there was the rule that voices were strictly forbidden in class! Oh how I loved that class – and learned so much!  It was very interesting to spend a full hour each class in total silence, and it really showed how LOUD this world is most of the time!

Halfway through the class, my pager went off!  (cell phones were to be turned off, so Tammy was instructed to page me if she needed me)  My heart lept as I excused myself to go outside….was I being called to a birth?!?

I went outside and called the number back.  Her husband answered the phone.  I remember smiling, so excited, sure that the baby was coming!  Rob said, “I’m sorry to tell you that Tammy was involved in a car accident about an hour ago…”

Disappointed that she wasn’t in labor, I asked, “Oh no….is she okay?”  You know, the question you’re obligated to ask even though they always are?  You have to ask if they are okay just so that you can hear that they are fine and just need you to pick up a kid, or help them get somewhere….it’s not a big question, it’s a formality.

“No….she’s dead.”

I would think my heart stopped beating, but looking back it was more like my entire world stopped for a moment and became this surreal slow-motion movie moving around me but I’m not in it anymore.  I just said, “No….no….no….oh god….no….no…oh god…no…” and then I got pissed!!  It can’t be true – and if it’s not true, why in the hell would he say such a thing?  I couldn’t wrap my brain around it…it wasn’t true…couldn’t be….and I remember thinking, “you two got into a fight and to piss her off you decided to call her friend and say something like this?? Seriously??”  but then realized that THAT made no sense, either…

Still numb, yet I could feel the tears dripping off my chin.  I wasn’t crying…yet I was.  I kept hearing, “no…no….” and finally, mind still trying desperately to understand what he said, I asked, “The baby…what about the baby…??”

He said quietly, “We lost both of them.”

I hung up on him.  I couldn’t hear anymore, and I hung up on Rob.  I still feel bad (and Rob understood)…but I couldn’t think.  I felt….trapped….needing to escape….confused…didn’t know what to do.  I remember walking into the classroom, still in shock with eyes POURING tears.  The entire class turned to look at me and I spoke the first words spoken in the classroom all semester – “I just found out that my best friend was killed….”

Amy and Ellen  jumped up and rushed to me. They held me as they walked me outside.  I sat down outside and shook….saying, “I don’t know what to do…I need to do something…I don’t know what to do…”, forever grateful for their friendship and love in that moment.  They probably barely remember that day, but I will never forget how they were there for me when I so desperately needed it.

They encouraged me to call my husband to come get me as I was in no condition to drive.  By the time my husband got there it was already released to the news – EMT and mother of 5 killed in the line of duty.  I called Rob back, apologized for hanging up on him, and asked if there was anything I could do….there wasn’t.  I asked him if he wanted to know the gender of the baby and he did…it was a boy.

The following days I would get more information – she was driving her ambulance from Florance towards Mesa.  While their road continued straight without any stop signs or anything (a road typically traveled in the 60-mph range), there was an 18-wheel gravel truck traveling the opposite direction.  A car ran a stop sign and into the path of the gravel truck…the gravel truck swerved to avoid the car – right into a head-on collision with the ambulance.  It was a miracle that the only lives lost that day were Tammy and her son.

Tammy’s ambulance soon after the accident

The morning of her funeral, Rob presented me with a bracelet – one of the bracelets she was wearing when she died.  I wear it every April and think of her, grateful that she was in my life.

Tammy the day before she died – I wear the bracelet on her right wrist

At the funeral they displayed one of the photos we had taken the day before her death and that made me feel good. The funeral was emotional for me and I barely remember it – I cried hard enough I kept saying to my husband, “I…can’t.  I…can’t….do this.  I…can’t…”

Sometimes the reality that life is unpredictable smacks us painfully in the chest, bruising our hearts forever.  I look at my children, at my husband, my friends, and myself…and wonder what the future will bring.  The reality is that the future brings with it the unimaginable…blessings beyond compare, and heartache to remind you to enjoy each blessing.  I feel lucky to have had the losses I have experienced, because it means that I was given a great gift to enjoy before it was lost.  Everything in this world is temporary and if you are only looking towards the future you might miss that which is TODAY.

So if you are reading this, hug your children and think of all the good in your life…and enjoy today.