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.
Again, blame Google Reader for the demise of my blogging skills. I never read blogs anymore, so I also don’t write blog posts anymore.
This has been on my mind recently and I’m not actually going to plan out this post to make sure it’s coherent in any way. Take that!
An overwhelming majority of the parents I’ve met who have also had an infant or child die talk about how they feel their child’s presence still. Mormons have this phrase we like to toss around that “the veil is thin” between this mortal world and the next life. I think we use it a lot to try to comfort people who’ve lost a loved one.
I don’t feel that way. Ever.
I don’t have any concept of what Christian’s personality is like. I don’t think of him as a guardian angel. I do not feel like he is near.
And that’s ok.
For a long time I felt like I was not being sensitive enough or I was doing something wrong or I was in some way inadequate to feel Christian’s presence. But none of those things are true. Christian still exists, of this I am sure, and I am learning to deal with his absence as a big fat question mark. In case anyone feels the same – it really is ok to not feel a deep spiritual connection. One of the hardest things to be told after Christian died was that now I had a guardian angel watching over me. First of all, I’m positive he has better things to do than hover around me shaking his head as I make one mistake after another. Second, if he is just hanging out watching me, the complete lack of a sense of his presence makes me feel even worse: my son died and I’m unable to feel him near. So it’s been very liberating to realize and really accept that I’m allowed to go through life with no concept of Christian’s personality and no sense of ongoing connection with him.
My grief is mine, and Christian is mine, even if my grief and my connection with him is different from how other parents feel.
Also, Ramona and Christian look so alike! It makes me happy.
It’s really been almost three and a half years by this point, but I never got around to writing when it was Christian’s birthday this April. I suppose that says something.
Between year 2 and year 3, I had Ramona. There was so much anxiety while I was pregnant with her! It was emotional and often overwhelming and really, really difficult to believe that things would turn out okay. Delivery was very traumatic for me, and then I got to worry about SIDS for a few months. But at the same time I healed. Ramona wrapped my heart in sunshine. And eventually I felt that just as we didn’t deserve to have Christian die, we didn’t deserve (still don’t!) a baby so pleasant and happy and cheerful as Ramona. She is incredible, and she’s helped me feel joy. Lots of joy.
Let’s see what I can remember about Doubleplusgood Day. In the weeks leading up to it, I wasn’t thinking much about Christian being gone – I was basking in Ramona’s golden glow. I had vague plans for a good deed to do to celebrate Christian’s birthday, and of course we had cookies at our house for anyone who wanted to stop by. The actual day of his birthday was pretty lousy, though, despite how much it seemed like it wouldn’t be hard for me. It was a Sunday, and we were (of course) running late for church. I was in a bad mood because I hate being late and because when it comes down to it, I’d rather be partying with Christian instead of talking about honoring him and remembering him. So that still sucks. When we got to church, there were no seats left! We’ve been late before, but there’s always somewhere to sit. It kind of pushed me over the edge. Fortunately, some people had remembered that it was Christian’s birthday, and despite my bad mood it was so, so nice to have people say something.
I had hoped that we’d have lots of friends drop by to tell us about their good deed. For me, that represents love for my family. I was surprised and a little hurt that only one family came by, but it made their visit extra meaningful. Before they came I took a grief nap (just made that up, it’s not a thing) and Jarom took Evan and June to the cemetery. By bedtime, I had gotten texts from a handful of people about their good deed. I had built it up in my head that I’d be hearing throughout the day how people helped celebrate Christian, and it was hard to spend the day feeling a little forgotten.
To be fair, Doubleplusgood Day was an anomaly. Most of year 3 was spent in anticipation of, and then delighting in, Ramona. I still have some feelings of guilt about how happy she makes me – like it’s somehow disloyal to Christian. (I know that isn’t rational.) I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in heavy grief, and I’m sure no one else wants me to, but it feels like my joy means I don’t miss Christian anymore. (I know, not rational and not true.) The guilt is lessening, though, and maybe by year 4 I will have found a balance between the lifelong sadness of Christian’s death and the joy of actually living my life and loving my family that’s here with me.
I’ve put off writing this for the past week and a half, because I’m not sure how things are going. Life is confusing and wonderful and terrifying and hilarious and sad. So, pretty normal.
Christian’s second birthday was, I’m happy to say, not looming ahead like his first birthday seemed to. It’s mainly due to the fact that a week before his birthday this year, we got to have an ultrasound of our [so far] healthy baby girl, and the good news – the excitement of looking at baby clothes, the optimism, the hope for the future – really mellowed out the sense of loss over Christian. It was really, really nice to feel like good things will still happen in my life, maybe happen soon.
Unfortunately, some of my excitement was – whether consciously or not – an attempt to ignore my ongoing grief. I’ll never stop being sad that Christian died. I will enjoy my life, but I don’t think there’s going to come a day (though maybe I’m wrong) when I think, I’m so glad this is my lot in life. Grief manifests itself far less frequently now, but it has still taken up permanent residence in my heart. Sometimes it sneaks up on me, like when I’ve spent a week or two being happy about a baby girl and then suddenly the next day is what should be my two-year-old’s birthday party.
We asked friends and family to do a good deed in Christian’s honor again for Doubleplusgood Day. My brilliant idea was to take cookies (the delicious orange chocolate chip kind!) to the labor & delivery nurses at the hospital where Christian was born. To be honest, I do NOT remember the nurses fondly, but I’m willing to concede that I was not my best self that day. So I made cookies, put them in a pretty box, wrote a nice note, and headed down to Payson with Evan in tow.
Yeah, it didn’t occur to me until I stepped off the elevator onto the labor & delivery floor that this was all a terrible idea. Have you ever experienced intense anxiety? For me it always feels like prickles – actual physical ones – all over my skin, and I want to run and hide or stop existing or curl up into a ball. I don’t know what I was thinking! Somehow I forced myself to walk over to the nurses’ station, and although I’m rarely emotional in front of people, I did get really teary. All the moms on the floor were going to have live, healthy babies that day, babies they got to take home and watch grow. And being back in that part of the hospital did not bring back very pleasant memories. Dead babies aside, the day Christian was born was really an awful day – no sleep, no food, maybe needing an emergency C-section, headaches, barfing, machines beeping constantly… the overwhelming emotion of knowing my baby was about to die, on top of all those things, made for a lousy day.
So I didn’t stay long at the hospital. One of the nurses came and gave me a hug, they congratulated me on my upcoming baby, they were all sympathetic and nice. But I wanted to cry because despite their compassion, they had no idea what it’s like. (I don’t want them to! I wish no one did, including me.) It reminded me of one of my favorite, heartbreaking moments from Christian’s birthday: when we were just about ready to go home, the bereavement volunteer (the one who put together our amazing, priceless box of keepsakes) was finishing up. She’d been there for hours and hours. She tucked the last few items into the box and turned to me. I was sitting in the rocking chair, holding Christian, who had died probably about 3 hours before. She said, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” I shook my head. I don’t remember if I looked at her, but I definitely heard the emotion in her voice as she said, “You just want him back?” I definitely started crying again then. She understood. She knew the agony I was going through, and would go through. And she wished desperately she could help.
(I should toss in a disclaimer here that it’s currently 3:30am, I’m still up because I have to finish a project for Jarom, and I am not only sleep-deprived but caffeinated and hormonal. It’s ok if you are sad because I’m sobbing – quietly – thinking about that moment.)
Anyway, I had a friend put together a floral arrangement for us to take to Christian’s grave, but when Evan and I left Payson it was about to rain. Then I had to go pick up June (who had been crazy wild fussy and was really making it hard to grieve), and by the time we all made it home, I was emotionally spent. When Jarom got home from work he sent me to bed. I cried big tears and let that anguish engulf me until I fell asleep.
That being said, Year 2 is so much better than Year 1. I didn’t feel (quite as much) like I needed to force Doubleplusgood Day on people. Christian is my son; it’s ok if other people are too busy or uninterested or whatever to remember his birthday. The world will go on. I was touched by the acts of service done in his memory, where last year I just really hated having to “celebrate” that way.
Next year, I hope, will be even better.
I’ve mentally composed this post several times as I try falling asleep the past few weeks, but now I can’t remember what I was going to say. Trust me, it was eloquent, witty, and just the right amount of heartbreaking. You would have loved it.
Instead…I’ll be making this up as I go along, and it won’t be nearly as eloquent, funny, or appropriately heartbreaking.
I would absolutely say that sitting here at Year 1.5 feels wonderfully, unbelievably different – and better – than being at 6 months or a year after Christian’s birth/death. In a lot of ways, I’ve come a long way in healing. Of course, in a lot of ways, I also feel irreparably broken.
Things that have gotten easier:
- holding (some, not all) babies. I even held a one-day-old baby this summer!
- getting through my days, weeks, and months without wanting to stop existing. I was really depressed for the first few months, and I’m so glad to not feel that way anymore.
- making birth announcements for friends.
- talking about Christian to strangers. The first time I told someone that my baby had died, I barely made it through a sentence without wanting to run away and cry.
- thinking about having another baby. There will be at least 2 years between Christian and whoever comes next, and I do appreciate that he’ll have his own space.
Things that are still hard:
- going to church. There are SO MANY babies and pregnant women.
- hearing pregnant women complain. I know pregnancy can be miserable – but from my perspective, I would give anything to have a healthy baby safe inside, even if it meant being on bed rest or giving up sweets (seriously) or whatever.
- seeing baby clothes at the store. This had gotten way easier until my recent “Wait, what? I’m pregnant? Wait, what? I’m not anymore?” Now it feels like I was so close…
- rare moments when I think about how old Christian would be and what he’d be doing. One of my friends was due at the same time as me, and sometimes I realize that Christian would be toddling around with her little girl, he would have had his first birthday, I’d be chasing after him and getting frustrated about teething and naps and dirty diapers.
- family milestones, like Evan starting school or a nephew getting baptized. These are things I will never see Christian do. I don’t know if this sense of loss will stick around for the rest of my life, but it’s certainly here now.
- baby showers. I tried one a few weeks ago, and made it all the way until gifts were opened. I took off because…baby clothes. They’re so tiny, but they’re still so much bigger than Christian was.
But, even with the list of things that are still hard, overall my life is so much better than it was last year. Or six months ago. I don’t spend every day feeling awful. When I drive Jarom to work, I drive past the hospital where I got the news that Tiny Baby would die. When I drive Evan to school, I drive past the mortuary. So there are lots of daily reminders, but they don’t make me feel heartbroken (usually).
I know this sounds weird, but I love – love – love meeting other parents who’ve had a baby die. They feel like instant kindred spirits. Maybe it’s just nice to talk to someone about Christian, and about their baby, without the awkward “I’m so sorry for bringing that up, I don’t know what to say, let’s talk about something else” moment. I like talking about Christian. Actually, I love talking about Christian. I can’t see him or hold him or watch him grow; I can only talk about him. So I do, maybe too much. But I really appreciate being able to talk about him with someone who understands, from experience, how wonderful it feels to talk about him.
Was that eloquent? Heartbreaking? I didn’t get much wittiness in there, sorry. Maybe at Year 2!
In my mind, my pregnancy with Christian (and, really, my life as a whole) is cleanly divided into two parts – “Before the Ultrasound” and “After the Ultrasound.”
Everything before was normal. Hopeful. Innocent. And, from my perspective now, naïve. Even the morning of the ultrasound, I remember getting ready for the day, trying to deal with an Evan breakdown, going about life without any idea I was about to get such horrible news. My concern was really just whether we’d have a boy or a girl – Jarom and I couldn’t agree on a boy’s name. The ultrasound was a way of settling that question, not raising more heartbreaking ones.
About two weeks Before the Ultrasound, I was at a bridal shower. I had just transitioned to maternity shirts, but only because I had one I really loved. I was barely showing a tiny, tiny bit. Someone commented on it at the bridal shower – “You don’t look pregnant at all!” I cheerfully agreed. I hadn’t been sick at all, I had very few pregnancy-related complaints, it was nice to be pregnant without feeling like it.
For the past year and a half (it’s really been that long since Christian was born!), I’ve felt a mixture of disgust and pity when I think about the seemingly foolish optimism I had Before the Ultrasound. At the time, there wasn’t any reason not to be optimistic – yes, I knew women who’d had miscarriages, and a few women who had “lost the baby” during pregnancy, but those are friend-of-a-friend and I-read-this-really-sad-blog stories. Not things I thought of as real possibilities. Not things that could or would happen in my own life. But with the disturbing perspective of grief, every part of my life Before the Ultrasound took on a “Why were you so cheerful?” cast. In really dark moments After the Ultrasound, I hated my Before the Ultrasound self. She had no right to be happy.
A little over two weeks ago, I started having a weird pain in my side. Very early in the morning the next day (a Tuesday) I took a pregnancy test to ease my mind about the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy causing the pain. I knew the test would be negative, but it wasn’t – which fed my fear about an ectopic pregnancy. I went into the OB office that afternoon; no indication of implantation outside of the uterus. So I began to very cautiously hope that things would be ok. The nurse sent me in for a blood test to check my hcg level. For the next few hours, I thought I’d be able to enjoy pregnancy until I got closer to the 20-week ultrasound (at which point I would become overwhelmed with the fear of another fatal birth defect).
But when the nurse called with my hcg results, she said they were so low that I was either barely pregnant or I was going to miscarry. Come back in on Friday, she said, and we’ll be able to see if the levels have gone up significantly (yay, pregnancy!) or down (boo, miscarriage).
Wednesday I tried to distract myself. I watched for signs of an impending miscarriage. I tried distracting myself some more. And I assumed the worst. But Thursday, when nothing bad had happened yet, I very consciously allowed myself to feel excited. I figured out my due date. I thought about baby clothes. I let my heart be light.
Unfortunately, Friday came with bad news. My hcg level had gone up only a few points, when it should have more than doubled. I was told over the phone that “This is not what we’d see with a healthy, growing baby.”
And, of course, the world crashed down around me. Not to the extent it did with Christian’s diagnosis and death, but with an added note of “You should have known better than to hope. You DID know better.”
But since then…I’ve actually started to regret not having been more optimistic. Tuesday to Friday was not a long time, and I only let myself be happy for one day. I was suddenly jealous of Before the Ultrasound Mika, who had 20 weeks of optimism and innocence. Yes, I knew that there were (and still are, with any future pregnancies I may have) lot of things that can go wrong. Miscarriages happen. Fatal birth defects happen. Inexplicable stillbirths happen. Tragedies during childbirth happen. But optimism feels so much better than pessimism (or, perhaps, even realism). Letting my heart be light felt so good. So refreshing. I’ve been weighed down by fear for so long that hope was a blessing.
Instead of being disgusted with my Before the Ultrasound innocence, I’m uplifted. Instead of hating my brief Thursday excitement, I’m motivated to be optimistic about the future. I’d much rather do that and crash later than spend months or years in despair.
What are you optimistic about?
Do you remember the part in Finding Nemo where Marlin is trying to leave Dory behind? He attempts to explain tactfully why he doesn’t want her to come with him anymore. “I can’t afford any more delays and you’re one of those fish that causes delays. Sometimes it’s a good thing. There’s a whole group of fish. They’re . . . delay fish.” And after Dory worries that he doesn’t like her, he says, “It’s because I like you I don’t want to be with you. It’s a . . . complicated emotion.”
I have complicated emotions lately.
Everyone is pregnant. Close friends and family, acquaintances, people I vaguely recognize from our neighborhood. And those who aren’t pregnant have just had babies. In the past few weeks I’ve had at least 4 people tell me they’re expecting.
And they’re so excited.
I want to be excited for them.
But a little bit, I’m just heartbroken?
This was all compounded by seeing my not-quite-5-month-old nephew this past weekend. I avoided him at first; then in a moment of “That baby realllllllllly needs help going to sleep” I offered to rock him to sleep to give my father-in-law a break. And holding this little baby, having him snuggle against me clutching his blanket . . . it was awful and wonderful. Extremely awful and extremely wonderful. I will never rock Christian to sleep. I’ll never be frustrated that he’s still awake despite my best efforts to put him down for a nap. I don’t get to see him happily clutch a favorite blanket.
I can’t even hold him. He’s gone.
It seems like it would be nice to have a new baby. One that I could grumble about and cuddle with and be miserably tired with. And I think if I had a baby, not to replace Christian but to help me heal, I might not have such complicated emotions about other people’s babies. Since that isn’t an option, I’m left with conflicting feelings of heartache, jealousy, excitement, guilt, and aloneness.
So if you’ve recently told me you’re expecting, or if you’ve recently had a baby, and I haven’t seemed particularly thrilled – I’m sorry. I wouldn’t be bothered (at least, not so much) by a stranger having a baby – it really is because I like you that I don’t want to be around you sometimes. It’s a complicated emotion.