*Trigger warning: Personal accounts of stillbirth/child loss are mentioned in this post.*
The day you left, I wasn’t prepared. Then again, who could possibly anticipate how to feel or respond when told that their child’s heartbeat has inexplicably stopped? I was alone that day — driving myself to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning because I was sure I must be overreacting. There was no way that something serious could be wrong. I’d inevitably be discharged and home again later that morning…right?
No. Not in the least.
The doctor simply looked at me with tears in his eyes, almost whispering, “I am so sorry.” I don’t think I ever heard either of us use the words “no heartbeat”, “dead”, “lost”, or “gone” in that moment, because they were superfluous. I knew what he meant. It was 2:15 in the morning. When I called your papa to ask him to come to the hospital, I simply asked if he could find someone else to look after your sister. He was positive he knew what had happened as I sobbed between sentences. I should’ve been more straightforward, though; told him exactly what happened instead of leaving him to wonder, perhaps with a false sense of hope. But I couldn’t bring myself to say it out loud. That would mean that it was real.
My first thoughts were those of utter disbelief. I did everything I could to take care of myself for your sake. Especially during a pandemic. Not only am I your mother, but I am a nurse. I had been working just down the hall five hours earlier. How could any of this possibly be real? What did I miss? What did I do to have lost you like this? Then, I imagined my name appearing on the L&D grease board — the reason for my admission no longer reading “decreased fetal movement”, and so cruelly screaming “fetal demise”. I believe my coworkers must have known the true nature of what had happened before your own father did. I waited for him as I clutched my abdomen, rocked back and forth, and said “I’m sorry” over and over again.
When he arrived at the hospital, we held hands, cried, and asked, “What now?” We would utter those words through the rest of the day as we were guided step-by-step through every decision we had to make. Your papa looked at me solemnly and said, “At least the worst part is over.” Because he believed that learning you were gone would be the most painful part of this whole process. I began to sob again, and told him that the worst part wasn’t over…because now we had to deliver you.
I remember the cold, bright operating room and sitting upright as I moved onto the operating table from the gurney. My hard chart was in the corner, and it had a giant, purple butterfly taped to it. I was still hoping that this was all some horrible nightmare. Somehow, that butterfly was confirmation that my life had become the living embodiment of every worst-case scenario I had ever imagined.
I wasn’t prepared.
Nobody could have possibly prepared me for the silence as you were born, with the exception of my crying. I did not expect an acute feeling of emptiness to take hold as the doctor gently guided you out of my body, nor the wave of grief as a nurse said, through her tears, “He’s so beautiful.” The peace I so suddenly felt when I saw your face and felt your warm cheek against mine caught me off-guard. I could’ve been so easily fooled into thinking that you were still alive.
I wasn’t prepared.
I wasn’t ready for any of this.
But how could I have been?
How could anyone have been?
I wasn’t prepared.
When I was wheeled out of the hospital with a weighted teddy bear, the blanket in which you were swaddled, and a memory box in my lap, I didn’t realize it would hurt so much to leave you behind. To drive away, and never see your sweet face again. To see you nine days later in a tiny, sealed box carried by your papa from the hearse to the place where we would bury you.
Nobody ever told me I would ache with every thought of you, and that every aspect of daily life would become a constant reminder of your absence. Never could I envision a time when your big sister would ask to visit her baby brother, because you would never come home with us. It never occurred to me that my home would become my only refuge; that I would be reluctant to leave it for any reason at all.
I wasn’t prepared to lose my sense of self.
I didn’t know that a part of me would die with you.
I wasn’t ready to let go of the dreams and hopes I had for you, but they were already slipping away.
Dear God, I wasn’t prepared!
Before this, we owned one vase that frequently disappeared whenever we needed it. Now, flower arrangements were dispersed around the house. I would cry as I thinned them out when the flowers lost their color and shriveled. A large collection of vases would gather in a small corner as the flowers died. To this day, I almost cannot stand to have bouquets of flowers inside of the house.
Who could have told me that I would stare out of the window to the backyard for hours, hoping that the yellow butterflies and humming birds were a sign that you are okay? Wherever you are…
Who could have anticipated that I would want to talk about you every chance I got? I sought advice from support groups, feeling some semblance of peace for only a short time. I eagerly, and almost impatiently, looked forward to the next opportunity I had to talk with other bereaved mothers. It was the only way to keep myself from drowning in this deep, ubiquitous sorrow that stole all of the color from my world.
Not one person — not even another bereaved parent going through the exact same experience — could ever have prepared me for the dark, sinking, relentless pain that has devastated every aspect of my life. I can feel it in my bones.
As the days pass, the dark moments don’t feel all-consuming. They haven’t gone away completely, and, according to every article I have read and every bereaved parent I’ve ever met, they never will. Fewer days are entirely eclipsed by the overbearing cloud of grief. Nevertheless, despite however illogical and counterintuitive it may sound, I almost don’t want the pain to go away. I have photographs, your blanket, the hat you wore, your baby band from the hospital, etc. But none of that is you. The pain almost feels like the only thing I have left.
Recently, we watched Westworld. In it is a character who lost his son. He talks to his wife about his grief, and her words changed, in part, the way I thought about my life without your physical presence.
Bernard: I think about him every day…I turn expecting to see him. But he’s not there. He’s never there.
Laura: When he died, I remember thinking it was like the sun had gone down and it was never going to rise again. I walked in the dark for so long. I don’t know why people said [“if you love someone, let them go”]. If you love someone, why would you ever let them go? That’s what saved me. The only part of [him] I had left was his memory. And if I died, the darkness would take that, too. But if I kept moving, I could find the light again. And I could bring him with me.
I don’t know what the path ahead of me looks like, or if I will ever fully succeed in finding the light again. Everything still feels so hopelessly dark, but I will try to keep moving forward for you, and everyone else I love. I will do my utmost to honor you and try to make you proud. I’ll bring you with me. Even if I never feel adequately prepared to face what lies ahead.