"There is so much more processing that I need to do," says Michelle Wilkins. "For Dan and I, for Dynel's family, this is ongoing."
She was in stunned disbelief listening to all of the evidence, particularly an interview in which her attacker confessed to police. It was at that point, he says, where her disbelief sharpened into anger – she calls it the moment “where anger woke up.”
“I don’t mean anger like blinding or all consuming because I still maintain a perspective of her humanity, my humanity, and how we are connected by that,” says Wilkins, 27. “But we also make choices which have consequences and in her case those consequences caused a lot of pain.”
Wilkins was attacked in the home of Dynel Lane, 35, in Lane’s home after she answered a Craiglist ad for free baby clothes for her unborn baby girl. Wilkins planned to name the girl Aurora.
When she arrived at Lane’s Longmont, Colorado, home, Wilkins was stabbed and choked until she lost consciousness. Lane then cut Wilkins’s baby from her womb. Prosecutors claimed that for the past year, Lane had falsely told others that she was pregnant.
What Wilkins remembers from the attack is a “blur,” but it was only in court that she realized Lane had “many opportunities to do the right thing and how many opportunities she didn’t take.”
For instance, Wilkins says that during the trial, she learned that Lane knew she was still alive, but that she decided to leave her in the basement.
Wilkins says that while she was being attacked, “I also told her that I loved her and when I said that there was complete stillness.” She adds, “Like she could have made another choice and she didn’t.”
While she pushes forward with constant support from her boyfriend Dan, as well as family and friends, she still looks back on the daughter who was taken away from her and the future she thought she had ahead of her.
“Before the attack, Dan and I had just gotten our own little house in Longmont. It was a cute little two-bedroom and really cozy,” she says. “Aurora was going to have her own bedroom eventually. We were really excited and were kind of walking into this blindly.”
They had taken care of everything Aurora needed for the first year of her life. Her closest friends threw her a baby shower where, she says, they “showered me with love and affection.”
One memory of the excitement she felt before the attack stands out:
“Right after we found out we were having a girl we were talking about what we were most excited about,” she says. “He said, ‘I can’t wait to buy her her first pair of hiking boots.’ I thought that was cute. Our love for the outdoors is a lot of what bonds us so I thought how sweet that he wants to share our world with his daughter.”
When Wilkins woke up in the hospital connected to numerous tubes, the clock read 7:30. She thought it was 7:30 pm but then realized it was the next morning.
“I was trying really hard to keep calm but as the minutes ticked by and the memories started trickling back, I really started to panic,” she says.
The only thing on her mind was Aurora.
“The whole time it’s dawning on me and getting closer and closer to the real possibility, or the real probability, that Aurora was not alive,” she recalls.
It was the first thing she asked Dan.
“He said she didn’t make it,” she says. “The next five days at the hospital were awful. We supported each other. We took turns holding each other and asking the question why. The other would always answer that there was no answer to that.”
Two days later, they were able to spend an hour with Aurora.
“I just felt her presence so strongly. It was really bittersweet because I could feel her and I could sense her but I didn’t get to hold her like a normal mother and that is heartbreaking” says Wilkins. “I got to dress her, read to her and sing to her.”
Wilkins says her ability to grieve was delayed because she first had to physically recover from the attack itself.
“At first I had to have this sense of safety in order to experience the intense traumatic emotions,” she says.
And while it only took her two months to make a full physical recovery, her emotional recovery still has a long way to go.
A GoFundMe page was created to help Michelle through her long recovery.
“It’s really been crippling,” says Wilkins. “There was this confusion of how to handle it because physically I’m good. I’m still a very young person and so I felt this drive to live, but so much within me was just so tired and exhausted and overwhelmed with everything that I’ve experienced.”
She admits that some days she sleeps in and doesn’t “engage in a more vigorous way with life,” but other days she’s out hiking and climbing and “doing all the these ‘normal things’ for someone on my age.”
Dan has never left her side.
“He has really supported me as much as anyone could have,” she says. “Since this attack I suffer from PTSD and I’m sure from a partners perspective that that’s a really scary thing to witness. I really admire him for holding space with that and trying to be so present with me during those episodes where there is no instruction book, there is no manual.
Sometimes Wilkins thinks Dan feels compelled to be strong, because he wasn’t the one attacked.
But, she says, “It still happened to him because it was his daughter. There is this struggle with accepting that you can only be a rock for so long before you realize that you deserve all the attention and resources. He is another victim of Dynel’s actions,” she says.
After the trial, Wilkins quoted Martin Luther King in her statement to the media, but there was another quote she almost went with.
“There is this quote by Brene Brown that really speaks to how I feel. To me, strength is being vulnerable and being open,” she says.
The quote reads: “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Wilkins is currently taking ceramic classes and planning for her future with Dan. She wants to open an organic farm that also serves as a healing center. She is currently researching where that place will be.
Despite her excitement for her future, she says, “There are moments of definitely yearning for Aurora. I can speak for Dan and I both when I say that.”