In search of an angel for Gabriella

Four years ago, Anthony and Kristen Bencomo learned they were expecting.

They were thrilled. Their first.

They told everyone. Debated names. Enrolled in Lamaze classes.

Kristen kept doctor appointments. Marveled at her budding baby bump. Wondered why she never felt a kick. Endured headaches. Spiking blood pressure. Nerves?

Complications. Time to deliver.

Too soon?! No choice.

Doctors performed a C-section. Hooked the tiny thing to a ventilator. More tubes and wires than baby.

Scary.

After a dozen whirlwind days in the Florida Hospital neonatal intensive-care unit, life finally slowed to a pause.

Anthony at last could hold his little girl.

Born at 26 weeks, she was shorter than a ruler, lighter than a loaf of bread and so thin he could slide his wedding ring over her hand and up to her shoulder.

Her premature arrival had shifted life into fast-forward for the Orlando couple. She was born before his mother could throw the nursery-rhyme-themed baby shower she had planned, and before Anthony could decorate her nursery's walls with Mother Goose rhymes.

Anthony held her, admiring her blue eyes, stroking the island of brown peach fuzz rising from a sea of wrinkled pink skin.

She was beautiful.

Goodbye, Gabriella Grace.

In the end, her tiny lungs and heart weren't ready.

And the Bencomos weren't ready for the wave of grief that swept in when, less than two weeks after she entered the world, their "Gabi" left it.

"It's not a game of pain Olympics in terms of who's lost the most," says Anthony, 33, a recruiter with Lockheed Martin. "The loss of a child is the loss of a child, whenever it happens. You're not supposed to outlive your child."

Yet, too many parents do from stillbirths and miscarriages. And then there are those who lose a child because of other circumstances, such as Kristen, who was cursed with a genetic defect that can cause pregnancy complications.

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