With Christian’s birthday two weeks away, I’ve been thinking a lot about the short time we had with him. One of my fears is that my memories of the day of his birth and death will fade. It isn’t possible to remember everything in detail, so I have reflected on the memories that stand out.
I remember how miserable I was physically. I hadn’t slept, I wasn’t allowed to eat, I had an intense headache, it was (understandably) a very long labor, for a while it looked like I would need an emergency C-section, and I was exhausted. In looking back I feel like my physical state had a huge impact on my emotional reaction once Christian was born. For better or worse, the sheer exhaustion dampened my emotions. When I think about the hours between his birth and going home, it seems like I was numb. Maybe part of that is the way the memories have changed over the years – in the photos we have of that evening, I am expressionless. I don’t remember strong emotions.
But at the same time, I do remember the mounting terror of not hearing Christian’s heartbeat. I can imagine the nurses’ faces as they tried to filter out my own heartbeat to find his.
And I remember the agony of waiting for the nurses to put him in my arms. The two longest moments of my life have been (1) when Christian was born, and he lay on the hospital bed; and (2) when Ramona was born with the cord around her neck, and the nurses took her from my arms to try getting her to breathe. Those two memories are inextricably linked in my mind. I know that in reality, it was probably only 20 seconds before the nurse handed Christian to me, but it felt like a terribly long lifetime.
I remember one of the nurses giving me the stethoscope later in the evening to listen to Christian’s fading heartbeat. I couldn’t hear it. The nurse could, and Jarom could, but not me. I was probably too numb at the time to feel guilt. I certainly feel it now.
With intense feeling, I remember giving Christian, wrapped in a lovingly made blanket, to the nurse when we were ready to leave. I feel the anxiety and despair of handing him over, knowing I would never hold him again. I wish a hundred times I could go back to the moment before he left my arms. I can’t say for sure if I watched the nurse walk down the hallway or if I’ve invented the memory, but I can picture her walking out of the room, quietly carrying him downstairs to the morgue.
I have good memories, too. Tender ones. I remember my parents and in-laws spending what must have been, for them, an overwhelmingly difficult and long day with us in the hospital. I remember my dad giving me a massage to ease my headache. I remember my mom standing at the side of the bed, rubbing my arm. I remember her helping me take out my earrings when it looked like I might need a C-section, and later put them back in. I remember my mother- and father-in-law holding Christian with such love.
I remember my doctor sitting, almost reverently, after he delivered Christian, while we blessed and washed our son. He called me a few days later to express his condolences again and to ask how the funeral service was. I have sent a Christmas card to his office every year since.
Despite my misery and ungratefulness at the time, I remember the nurses who did everything in their power to help me. They followed the birth plan I brought with me. They cared for me even when I was rude to them. They stayed past the end of their shifts when my labor dragged on. One of the nurses was assigned to me when Ramona was born, and she remembered Christian. That is all I could ask for.
And I remember the bereavement volunteer who stayed with us. Her own son had died years before in a very similar situation. It wasn’t that she set her own feelings aside, but she used her experience to help guide me through mine. I have never felt so much that someone was joining me in my sorrow rather than watching from the outside. She knew what I was feeling, and she let me feel that grief without trying to cheer me up or distract me or minimize my agony. I have shared this particular memory with only a few people: when she was packing up her things to leave, as the nurses were preparing my discharge paperwork, she asked if there was anything else I needed. I shook my head, and with a slight catch in her voice, she gently said, “You just want him back, right?” She knew the pain. She voiced it. I will never forget how meaningful that was to me.
I remember the friends and family who spent all day cleaning my house, who took Evan and June so we could focus on Christian, who brought meals and flowers and love. I remember the neighbor who showed up at my house unannounced about a week later – probably knowing that I would have said “Thanks, but I’m fine” if she had offered to help first. She started a load of laundry, put dinner in the oven, visited with me, and then took Evan and June for the rest of the afternoon. I use this as an example every time someone asks how they can help a friend whose baby has passed away.
I remember one of Jarom’s law school professors coming to the funeral. Nothing had been announced at the school – it was about a year after Jarom graduated – but she had seen the notice in the newspaper. It has always made me feel like there is an extensive network of people who care about this sorrow of ours. We aren’t alone in remembering.
That is what I ask you to do – remember with me.