COVINGTON, Ga. - “I don’t talk about it,” were one of the first words spoken by Mandie Cushing as she sits inside of a quiet room, tears filling her eyes. It is a beautiful day outside the walls of the old newspaper building; but inside, a mother sheds tears as she finds the strength to share her story of happiness, sorrow and brotherhood.
Mandie’s husband, Micah Cushing, serves as a fireman at the Covington Fire Department where he is “not just another fireman,” said Mandie. He has been serving the Newton County area for five years as of April 2019.
Mandie and Micah found out they were pregnant the first month they were married; the baby would be their first child together. Mandie has two daughters and Micah has two sons from previous marriages.
“Everyone was ecstatic,” Mandie said.
It was the day the couple was supposed to find out the sex of the baby when they found out the tragic news: their child has gastroschisis. Gastroschisis is a birth defect where the baby’s intestines are found outside of the body.
The doctors told the couple that there was a 50-50 chance their child would survive.
“We didn’t tell anybody that was going to happen,” Mandie said. “We carried that burden.”
Mandie began feeling anxious around 32 weeks into the pregnancy, and during this time, she knew she would not have a future with her little daughter, Liza June. She knew her mother’s intuition was a “powerful thing.”
“I knew I wouldn't have her,” Mandie said.
Four weeks later, the doctors began worrying about the baby’s health, and it was recommended for Mandie to begin the delivery process. She received six rounds of steroids every few hours, and as the labor began, she sensed a “peace that lingered in the room.” It was estimated that 30 doctors and nurses were inside the room as Liza June Cushing came into this world on Feb. 22, 2019.
“To give birth to her and feel everything, it was almost a gift,” Mandie said. “I feel like she deserved that.”
Liza June was transported via ambulance to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta within an hour of her birth where she stayed for two weeks. During that time, Mandie and Micah stayed in hotels and slept in a hospital recliner so they could be close to her. They only saw their other children about four times during those two weeks.
“When you walked in to see her, she was this big,” Mandie said through tears as she showed, with her hands, just how small Liza June had been.
“She was itty bitty,” Micah said.
Their daughter had to be fed through a tube and needed a ventilator to breathe. It was hard watching their newborn daughter struggle, and Mandie “had to watch a really strong man be broken” as her husband kept holding out hope for their daughter to be okay.
“I knew at that moment when he was still holding on that I had to be the one to make him let go,” Mandie said.
“I felt selfish,” Micah said. “I don’t think without the medical assistance and them keeping her alive, I don’t think that she would have done that on her own.” He added that “it hadn’t sunk in yet that it wasn’t fair for her.”
The doctors showed their support for any decision the couple made in regards to their child, and Mandie knew that meant her daughter would not be getting better. The decision was made to let go - the feeding tube was removed and Liza June was unhooked from the ventilator.
Mandie and Micah took turns holding their daughter as she passed away. It was a two and a half hour process that left them heartbroken.
“We felt helpless,” Mandie said.
“I remember panicking,” Micah said. “You want to help.”
Liza June Cushing died March 1, 2019.
The Covington Fire Department gave Micah an extended amount of leave as he and his family grieved for the loss of their daughter. The department also donated money to the family, which paid for most of the funeral and the flower arrangement for the gravesite.
“All I could see were police uniforms and fireman uniforms at the viewing,” Mandie said. “I was lost in a cloud of faces because all I remember is every single one of them were in uniform.”
Mandie does not remember much of the funeral; however, she does remember the line of ambulances, firetrucks and police cars behind them as they drove to the gravesite in Newborn where the owner of Newborn Memorial Cemetery donated a plot. Rockdale Fire Department covered the department so the entire team at the Covington Fire Department could be in attendance.
“It was like out of a movie,” Mandie said.
“Every truck in the city came to the gravesite,” Micah said. “It was very overwhelming.”
“When they say that the firemen have a brotherhood, you don’t really take that to heart until you see something like that happen,” Mandie added.
The Covington Fire Department continued to reach out after the funeral, making sure Micah and his family were doing ok. Gift cards, money and small gifts were sent to the family from city employees and local groups in Covington.
“I’m overly thankful that my husband works for the city of Covington,” Mandie said. “No county, no city and no other department would have given the support, the donation and the respect that the city offered.”
“They taught me through this what brotherhood really means,” Micah said. “People just came together, and it really was like I was their brother and they were taking care of me.” Micah also said, "I don’t feel like even 'Thank you' can ever put into words what it meant to us."
As they continue on with their lives, Mandie and Micah will forever hold the memory of their daughter and the actions of their Covington family close to heart.