Hey Jude – Medical Records

STILL…QUESTIONS

Over a year ago, I paid roughly $140 to get my medical records from Providence Hospital in Mobile. I was—at the time—evaluating a theory that low blood pressure was instrumental in losing Jude. We were approaching finding out the gender of our rainbow, Eilie, who would be a girl, and I’d come across some research that implied that hypotension could be as health-hazardous to a fetus in pregnancy as hypertension.

Fast forward to two days ago. Sean and I do natural family planning (Creighton method). Not to over-share, but two cycles within the past five months have been indicative of low progesterone and / or infertility. **Spoiler, we’re not trying right now, so I can’t say if infertility is an issue**. The first month was while I was weaning Eilie, so I attributed the incident to her changes in nursing. This month, I have no excuses.

As I started to look at the indicators of low progesterone, I realized that me during Jude’s pregnancy matched well with those indicators. These things were abnornmal for me but included:

  • Extreme, frequent headaches
  • Low **nudge, nudge, wink wink** drive (seriously, any nudging had better mean that I get to go to sleep early)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability / depression

Oh, and a few other things. Anyway, for anyone who’s ever been pregnant, thinking of being pregnant, or is pregnant, you know that being fat, achy, and fatigued are all pretty darn normal. Sean and I were in the roughest patch martially we’d been in. We’d just renovated a house together (so stupid). We were recovering from the growing pains of our first child’s first year in which I felt completely neglected (in that, I had no personal time to so much as shave an armpit…I did, in case you were wondering). I was working passionately to mount a new career as a freelance writer so that when we had Jude, I could start working from home. Because I was visiting Lillianne at Mom’s store during my lunch hour at USA, I’d lost my hour to exercise.

Of course I was fat, cranky, and tired. Who’d want to have a squelch after that? And honestly, I have NO idea how Sean felt. He was probably as unhappy as I was; however, when one is unhappy, they have limited time to actually assess how unhappy the other person is.

 

GROWING PAINS

We were at the precipice of a slippery slope. Throughout Jude’s pregnancy, Sean had commented he’d barely felt the baby kick because he we never spent enough time together for him to feel Jude’s baby bump. I, on the other hand, felt Jude kick all of the time. He was such an active baby. I knew he’d give Lillianne a run for her money. I mean, if we thought Lillianne was a climbing monkey, Jude was going to be a cirque du toddler. We’d need helmets…and padded mats.

Then, as you know, on December 24, we went in for a 9:00 a.m. check-up. Sean, Lillianne, and I looked at Jude’s heartbeat on Dr. T’s handheld device.

“He’s going to be a chunker,” she said. I felt the same way. I knew that like my brother was to my mom, my second baby—my boy, was going to be a meatball. I couldn’t wait.

Without any intelligible reason, I candidly asked Dr. T as she left the room, “Do you think there’s any chance he’ll come early?”

She tilted her head and scrunched her face thoughtfully. “No, I don’t see any reason,” she said.

Why did I ask that? What a stupid question. I had no reason to ask that; however, it was prophetic and my second indicator thus for of things to come; though, I didn’t realize it at the time.

 

RECAP

On December 26, after noticing decreased fetal movement, I called and went in. On the way to the hospital from west Mississippi, I had reassuring movements. It’s a false alarm. I’m still going in, I thought.

We checked in…Jude had a heartbeat. There were some indicators on his BPP—like the lack of lung activity and my slight excess of amniotic fluid (polyhydraminos) that were causes of concern.

The doctor on call told us that our baby was actually small…lower 5th percentile. This was when I started to cry. My parents had come to take Lillianne with them, and we bravely blinked back tears in face of the news. How was my doctor so wrong about his size?

The setting sun was visible through the windows at Providence Hospital. Sean and I were hand-clasped as we followed a nurse toward the hospital where I’d be checked in for monitoring. Meanwhile, Lillianne…a little over 18th months, held hands between Mom and Dad and walked in the other direction. I looked back to see my golden-haired daughter walk away from me. I had no idea that it would be the last time she’d be in the same room as her brother while he was still alive. If I had, I’d have let her hug him goodbye.

What followed for me from my experience has been documented; however, the medical records…the data story tells of a different narrative and one in which I feel says the opposite of what I’ve been told, which was, “We don’t know what happened.” If I read this accurately, and mind, I’m not a medical doctor, I think it’s clear what happened. Jude died of hypoxia. It’s not apparent WHY this all happened (I’m inclined to think hypotension and possibly low progesterone were factors, but there’s literally no way to know); however, I think what happened might be easier to discern.

 

A DATA STORY*

*A use of ***indicates I’ve skipped perfunctory detail

5:49 p.m. : Patient admitted to ‘Provid:0703’

***

6:33: Fetal Monitor: UA REF (So, the baby is on the monitor, too, I guess?)

***I received an IV. My BP was higher than normal (123/63 and my BPM was 90).

7:00: Decreased variability

7:00: Average contraction duration: 40 seconds in the last 30 minutes; intensity, mild

7:00: Accelerations: 2 in the last 30 minutes

7:00: Decelerations: 1

7:00: Baseline: 150 bmp in last 30 minutes

7:00: Variability: Minimal – detectable <= 5 bpm

7:00: Contractions: 6 in last 30 minutes

7:00: Contraction frequency: 2/ 10 min in last 30 minutes

7:05: Dr. F notified of poor variability; IV orders changed from heplock to LR at 125ml/hr

7:05: Fetal tachycardia noted, reported to Dr. F (Dr. F. is the doc on call who I met with previously who indicated Jude was small.)

7:24: FHR1: TACHYCARDIA (tachycardia detected)

***

7:30: Contractions: 4 in the last 30 minutes; 1/10 in last 30 minuets; 0 accelerations in last 30 minutes (FHR 1)

7:30: Dr. F called to check on patient; informed that FHTs has improved; however, variability is still minimal, *** and she denies feeling any contractions or abdominal pain.

7:33: PT sitting up, eating; family brought dinner and visiting.

7:53: FHR1: SIGNAL LOSS; Please adjust FHR sensor

8:00: Contractions: 6 in last 30 minutes; accelerations 1 in last 30 minutes; baseline 155 bpm in last 30 minutes. Av. Contraction duration: 70 seconds in last 30 minutes

8:07: BRADYCARDIA: Severe Bradycardia detected

8:12: TACHYCARDIA: Tachycardia detected

8:16: RN Nurse remarks: I went to the phone to update Dr. F about decelerations and variably. Dr. F called to inform of another pt on the way and I updated her. I was told that we would continue to watch her and more lab work would be done in the morning. I expressed concern about the decelerations and minimal variability.

8:30: Accelerations: 0 in last 30 mins, 155 BPM in last 30 mins, contraction duration 108 seconds in last 30 mins,

8:57: FHR1: No Transducer

9:00: Contractions 4 in last 30 minutes…

***

9:00: Up to bathroom (me, the patient)

(I was put back on the monitor. This was the longest 50 minutes of my life. If I were to swear to it in court, I’d way it was 10 minutes).

9:06: SIGNAL LOSS. Please adjust FHR sensor

9:06: BRADYCARDIA; Severe bradycardia detected

9:12: O2 applied via face mask at 8L per (nurse) (What they haven’t noted is that at least half an hour to an hour earlier, I requested to be moved to USA Women’s & Children’s. I was advised when I stabilized, that would happen. It. Never. Happened.)

9:14: O2 applied via face mask at 10l/min

9:15: BRADYCARDIA: Severe bradycardia detected

9:19: FHTS audible; fetal movement audible

9:20: SIGNAL LOSS; Bad FHR signal; please adjust FHR sensor

9:22: PT discussing how much baby is moving and states that she things it is because she has just eaten for the first time today; fetal heart tones audible 140s; fetal movement audible

9:22: Doppler at bedside; FHTS audible; fetal movement audible; begin using Doppler to aide in placement of efm so that it will trace

9:23: SIGNAL LOSS; Please check patient and FHR sensor

9:23: FHR1 measurement method: No transducer

***

9:24: Nurse (RN) remarks: Pt states that it is hard to believe she went to the doctors office for decreased fetal movement this afternoon when he is moving so much since she has eaten while attempting to audit monitors fetal movement is visible and audible. (In hindsight, I believe Jude was in fetal distress, which is why I felt his movements. My poor baby. I wish so much that I’d have done so much so differently.)

9:29: FHR1: SINGAL LOSS

9:33: Dr F notified of patient status and requested for her to come assess fetal monitoring strip. She stated she was on the way and to have ultrasound ready in pts. Room. Dr. F informed that FHTS were audible and fetal movement was audible and visible per RNs as well as the pt and significant other; however, we were uncomfortable not being have be to have the monitor tracing the heart tones.

9:40: Ultrasound brought to pt room, plugged in and turned on

9:42: Nurse: Explained to pt that the ultrasound was brought in because Dr. F is coming in to ultrasound her and assess the fetal monitor strip. RNs alternating assessing FHTs with EFM and doppler—pt states that she feels baby kicking, fetal heart tones audible 150s fetal movement audible, significant other has been at bedside.

9:46: FHR1 SIGNAL LOSS

9:50: Dr. F at besides. Ultrasound reveals no fetal movement and no heart rate per Dr. F. Pt requests stat c-section and states, “Please do all you can do.”

 

AFTERMATH

After that, I was rushed in for an emergency Cesearean delivery with the hopes…the hopes that a miracle could happen and knowing it probably wouldn’t.

I was in shock and convulsed in panic as I was wheeled in to L&D. I rhythmically changed, “Oh God, oh God, oh God,” on the way in. I looked into a light that was a facsimile of the Kingdom of Heaven—a big beautiful bright light—as I took what could’ve been my last gulps of air in the hopes of saving my son. In those moments, I also prayed to be spared so my daughter, Lillianne, wouldn’t grow up without a mother.

Lillianne’s mother survived. I pulled out of the sandbag of medicated sleep and asked Sean, “How’s our baby?”

Sean clasped my hand. “He didn’t make it. I named him Jude. Jude David. Is that okay?”

I started to sing, “Hey Jude.” And Sean started to sing with me. And then appeared a man of God whose name is also David, Father David, our Priest, and he prayed for and with us in our darkest hour.

 

REFLECTION

I keep thinking I’m finished looking for answers, but then something happens, and I’m on the hunt again. I know this is the writer in me. The bloodhound that sees mystery, intrigue, and questions to be answered at every turn. I m insatiably curious about the what-ifs of life. Respectfully, in the case of my son, I am curious not for causes of morbid fascination but to (1) get closure; (2) to help others; and (3) to know what to look for if we get pregnant again.

I have increasingly become of the opinion that hypotension is undermonitored and undervalued as a complication of pregnancy; however, as one who suffers from this sleeping giant, I know for a fact that Eilie, our rainbow baby would have died had it not been for increased monitoring and the solid instincts of my regular OB, Dr. T.

I miss Jude so much…every day. He would be such a precious age now. I loved seeing Lillianne at two. I imagine my boy at this age…just two months away from two and a half. He’d have been so cuddly and beautiful; however, he’s among the angels, and he blesses me every day. I know God took Jude for a reason. I no longer believe Jude’s death was a miraculous ascension into heaven (I never thought that per say, but I also had no idea “what happened). Now I know that there were variables that might have influenced our outcomes. What if a different doctor was on call? What if we went straight to the high risk facility, USA Women’s & Children’s? What if I just ripped that darn IV out and drove myself to Women’s & Children’s? Would Jude have lived? But then, would he have died in minutes? Would he have suffered greatly? Would he have lived but with traumatic brain defects due to lack of oxygen?

To every question, all I can say is, maybe. That’s the bitter-sweetness of hindsight and begging the “what-ifs”. I could go for days. At the end, this is my life. This is my world. We lost Jude. He’s in heaven, but he’s such a beautiful addition, and he’s such a real part of my family and my life…it’s as if he was still right here every day.

Jude has given me drive and strength. I’m going to continue exploring my research about hypotension in pregnancy. I’m going to raise money for women and prenatal support particularly in the area of raising awareness for women who fall into this category. Jude will not have gone in vain; he gives me strength to do something good for all of woman and their unborn children’s kind.

 

Dear Jude,

Goodness, how much we’ve grown in these past two (and almost a half!) years. You’ve taught me so much. You’ve made me everything I hoped you would and more. You’re so amazing my darling. Please keep inspiring me and moving and motivating your father and me. Help us to be our best selves for Lillianne, Eilie, and you…and that last baby if it’s meant to be. Jude, help us learn and use your story to help others. What’s more, help me find real and accurate information and researchers who can prove my theories or lead me to better ones so that you and I can be instruments for raising support and awareness to help other mommies keep their angels on Earth so long as that’s where God intends them to be. 

I love you, sweetheart.

Until we meet in heaven.

Mommy

 

Hey Jude – Extraordinary Faith

Joshua

Last week, our Sunday school class covered the events of Joshua 10, which were honestly quite extraordinary. It was the day that the sun stood still in which Joshua and the Israelites were able to defeat predator armies because God essentially froze the moon and sun in the sky, which provided enough light for Joshua and his army to advance as needed. He also threw in a hailstorm on the enemies of the Israelites for good measure. I can only imagine it was a lovely day…to have a full sun and a full moon simultaneously….unless you were on the losing side.

Anyway, in our group, the question was asked as to how one has faith when we aren’t always presented with extraordinary circumstances. I reflected on this because at no point has the sun or moon stopped for me (I’m not even sure death would stop for me, nudge, nudge, wink, wink Emily Dickinson). I’m being flip. But truly, we have extraordinary things happen to us all of the time…it’s just that sometimes the end result isn’t always something that we think is what we want or deserve.

I did comment some to the lesson during class that day, but when we were asked if we had an example of how extraordinary events were transformative for our faith I didn’t respond. The answer was fully-formed in my mind, but I couldn’t talk about you, Jude.

 

Jude

I couldn’t explain the story about how I went in for monitoring because I hadn’t felt you move as much on 12/26/14. I couldn’t explain that while being monitored, they lost your heartbeat. We went in for an emergency Cesarean delivery. I was literally in shock; I shook from head to toe as oxygen was administered and I was rushed into the OR. I couldn’t even think clearly. I just kept saying, “Oh God,” as if by repeating the mantra, God would appear and make this all okay and save my son.

My last conscious and cognizant thoughts before going under for the surgery were of Sean and Lillianne, “God, please let me wake up,” and my last spoken words as I felt pin-pricks along the previous cesarean scar line that had delivered Lillianne, “Wait, I’m not asleep!” And then I inhaled the gas. Must get to sleep. Must get to sleep.

I woke up, and Sean was by my side. The world was fuzzy. “How’s our baby?” I’d asked. The baby hadn’t made it. “I named him Jude, Jude David,” Sean said, and I started to sing, “Hey Jude,” which had been the impetus for me wanting to go with the name Jude (ultimately). Originally, Jude had been a boy’s name that we both just loved. When we found out we were expecting a boy, Sean had wanted to explore other boy’s names to be sure. Aedan became a close contender, but after a night of Beatle’s tribute music and hearing “Hey Jude”, I knew that Jude was the name I wanted for my son. It was a name that represented the person I’d forgotten how to be…a person who could be sentimental and emotional and who felt deeply. I’d become very unhappy with many things because what they don’t tell you when you have the audacity to get married and to pursue “happily ever after” with a kid and some guy you hopefully didn’t meet on the Internet, it’s really stinking hard to come close to “happily”. Love really isn’t enough; it’s not even close. You have to also both be good, sacrificial and understanding human beings.

 

Marriage & Parenting

Sean and I loved each other, and we wanted to understand each other, but we may as well have lived in the Tower of Babel for much of Lillianne’s first year and the subsequent year when we were (as planned) pregnant with Jude. I wasn’t happy; my feelings were like a valve that was slowly being turned into the off position. This was the cumulative result of my 20s plus the impact of becoming a wife and mother without truly understanding what any of that actually did to a person who would –if I’m being honest—could’ve been complete without any of those amazing things. I could have. I know I could. I’m thankful I’ve been chosen for what I have, but if nature had decided I couldn’t have kids, I’d have been okay. Sean wouldn’t have. He wanted kids; craved them. He definitely had no idea what he was signing up for, but he had the yearning that so many humans have that I didn’t.

 

Un-Plans

I’m not being melodramatic. I know that if we hadn’t started doing natural family planning (because I was very aware of the heightened cancer risks after 30 and my family history with cancer) and if we hadn’t been so aggressively bad at it those first four months and happened to get pregnant, I’d have never looked at myself or my life or my selfish ambitions and said, “Yes, now’s a great time to have a baby.” And maybe, for the first time, I think that perhaps Lillianne was God’s first effort to get my attention.

 

Plans

And then we got pregnant with Jude. Jude was planned. Sean and I were both close in age to our closest siblings (Sean was 13 months younger than his brother, and I was 20 months older than mine) easily knew we wanted our children close together. Ideally, Lillianne and her sibling would’ve been 18 months apart, but stress literally hindered our conception plans, and it so happened they were destined to be 20 months apart…at least that’s what it seemed at the onset. Jude’s gestational due date was 2/15/15. We were sure we’d have to do a Cesarean, so I chose 2/11, my mom’s birthday, as his DD.

 

Testing Faith

Then, on 12/26/14, Boxing Day, the day after we celebrated Jesus’s birthday, it all went wrong. Jude went to heaven. He was gone. I’ve written extensively about how surreal that first night was in the hospital with Sean by my side in the twin hospital bed. How every time I woke up after falling asleep, I’d have to remind myself that this was real. My son was dead. I was no longer pregnant, even though I could feel twitches in my body, like baby kicks. Little phantom kicks. I’ve never been so raw.

I had to pause just now in this writing because to revisit that room and that night and that space in my mind is all encompassing. I had been a Christian, that is to say, someone who had no problem believing in God and having “faith” in God and the Bible, my entire life. I never went through that edgy phase some kids go through where they challenge religion and spirituality and faith. I had reason to, mind you. I was bullied at times. I wasn’t beautiful. I really just wanted to be loved. I was an introverted artistic kid who was pre-Meyers-Brigg obsessive “what about me” anti-bullying culture. I had an eating disorder for eight years. I was literally afraid that I would die from it some nights as I lay in bed. I didn’t lean on God during many of those times, but I didn’t reject Him either.

When I lost Jude, it was like a wake-up call. I did, for a brief time, wonder if God hadn’t taken Jude to force us to the wake-up call. I had to wonder if I wasn’t such a horrible human being that God had to kill my baby for me to look in His direction. I don’t think that’s the case. In fact, I sometimes wonder if perhaps, Jude’s death wasn’t entirely preventable. We have always been lead to believe that it was a complete medical mystery. I’ve been okay with that because it’s something I can cope with. There’s not one person or one mistake or one thing to direct pain, frustration, and rage at, so I don’t express those things.

Even thought I don’t think God took Jude to wake us up, that’s what happened. Sean and I both remember Jude’s funeral on New Year’s Eve of 2014. It was a cold, clear, sunny day with a beautiful blue sky. We wept as the wake started. He was so tiny in that little white box. Oh, how I cried when I saw his little coffin. Parents who’d suffered so much more than I did –and who would suffer so much more than I would—came, cried, and hugged me. Eventually, I stopped crying. I just felt…at peace.

Sean stopped crying, too. We felt peace. Later, afterward, we agreed that we felt…peace. We also were surprised at how much faith we had. Suddenly versus that had been words really meant something. I could do all things through Christ that strengthened me, for example.

 

The Extraodinary

And that brings me back to Joshua and the extraordinary things that Christ does that gives us cause for having faith.

An extraordinary thing happened to me and my family. It was an extraordinarily bad thing. We lost a baby. A beautiful, health, 4 lb, 2 oz baby boy went to heaven at 33 weeks the day after Christmas for reasons we may never know. Sean and I were broken. Lillianne was a haven of joy. We had nothing but our faith to rely on and so began a journey. I craved being closer to God. I needed the water of life that is only found through faith. Sean said that he felt like Jude saved his life because without losing Jude, he wouldn’t desire heaven the way he did.

Yes, God does do extraordinary things to transform our faith. Sometimes, they are mundane things. Sometimes, they are terrible things. God has the power to take negatives and positives and to heal us and help us from them.

I realize that I’ve never seen the sun and the moon stand still at the same time, and I probably won’t, but at the same time, I also know that my world has stopped spinning, and I’ll never be the same.

“And there has been no day like that, before or it or after it….” Joshua 10:14

 

Dear Jude,

I love you. I do miss you. Your sisters miss you. I know you’re with us, but I wish I could hold you. It’s hard to believe that you’re almost 2 ½, darling. I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. I really wish I could see how you look. I look at your pictures, and I just miss you. You’ve done so much for me. I don’t know how I could ever ask for a more beautiful boy. You give me so much to look forward to one day.

Love forever,

Mommy

Hey Jude – When I Think of You

Little Jude. I think about you a lot. More than you know. They way I think about you is different from how I think of your sisters because they live here, and you live in heaven. Of course, all three of you live in my heart.

I think of the little boy you would be now. Two. Such a precious age. You’d be walking and talking. You and Lillianne would be busy little playmates. Lillianne wouldn’t be dragging Eilie around the house behind the Mickey Mouse scooter; it would be you, and there might not even be a Mickey Mouse scooter because it’s Eilie’s scooter. In those moments when Lillianne tries to talk to Eilie like she’s an older child, and Eilie’s just…not…I think of you.

When we go to the playground, and Lillianne can’t find any other kids to play with, I think of you. You’d be chasing her around, climbing everything she climbed, and she would tell you how to do it and she’d cheer you on and give you a pull to get you to the top of the slide faster. 

Today we took Lillianne to her first Mardi Gras parade (and Eilie, too). It would’ve been your first parade, I thought, as I watched Lillianne on Daddy’s shoulders and could see the olive-skinned, shiny, dark brown haired cherub you’d have been with gold-flecked chocolate-colored eyes and a Cupid’s bow lip and rosy cheeks. I didn’t see you sitting on anyone’s shoulders, but I could just see you up there next to Lillianne. I thought, “Jude would’ve loved this.”

When new people ask how many kids I have, I think of you because I have to explain about my baby in heaven, and they always look so sad and say they’re sorry. Yes, of course, I’m sorry, too, and I’m sad, but I also know how God used you to help make me a better and more faithful person. I’m not perfect, but I want to be a better person all of the time. You made me more compassionate. You gave us Eilie. I can’t really fathom what the parallel universe that now constantly runs alongside my life would be like if you were here. 

When I look at your father, I think of you. His life, like mine, is steadily undergoing a transformation that I don’t think could’ve or would’ve happened if not for what God’s done for him through you. 

I don’t understand why we had to lose you. I really don’t. You were such a busy thing. I like to think about your alive time. It was such a fleeting but such a special time. And then you were gone to heaven. 

So, I’m thankful for the times I think of you and imagine you with us or what’s going on in that parallel universe. I’m thankful that you’re still so very alive in my heart and that there are so many wonderful things that happen to me and your daddy and your sisters that I can say, “Jude helped us do that.” I love making new memories with you. 

I love you, sweet baby boy. I’m thinking of you.

Hey Jude – Golden Rainbows

Today is 1.26.17. Jude is 26 months old. It’s a golden day for tomorrow, our rainbow, Eilie, will be one-year old. Without Jude, we wouldn’t have our rainbow. Without what happened a year ago, which was extra monitoring because of Jude, we wouldn’t have Eilie. While today has been an otherwise ordinary day, I feel like in heaven, rainbows were spun of gold for my boy and all of the joy and the blessings he brings to us each and every day…and especially, his sister Eilie.

I’ve mentioned this many times, but when we lost Jude, my best friend, Becca, flew in as fast as she could buy a plane ticket to be with me. I didn’t ask, and neither did she. She just showed up.

This past January, Becca’s beloved GaGa, (Etta) passed away. Becca and I met in middle school. We quickly bonded over the awkwardness of being adolescent outcasts and the absurdity of changing socks for gym class. The year after sixth grade, Becca moved, and I was alone in every sense of the word. My only solace was the letters I wrote to Becca and that I received (and that I still have). It was a blessing to me that Becca had family living in Mobile: her GaGa, aunts, uncles, and father. Becca was a military child and was neither born nor settled in Mobile; it was truly an act of God that she had reason to return when she left in the mid-90s.

Thus, a few times a year, Becca came home to see family. There were many times I spent the night at GaGa’s house with her. I remember watching movies, eating dinners, and always, always being greeted with a wide smile, an exclamation of joy, and a big hug when GaGa answered the door.

That was the GaGa I knew, but I learned even more about her at her funeral. I bit my teeth to hold back tears as the service started. Part of me was thinking of Jude’s service; part of me was thinking of the grandmother who accepted me as a second granddaughter because I was best friends with her beloved Becca; she was a woman so full of love.

I soon learned through beautiful stories shared by her children that she was a woman of sass and celebration. She took care of people…she had the world’s greatest sense for laundry needing to be done, and don’t get me started on the gold stilettos. Grandma had game!

Of course, she was also a beautiful heart. She was a prayerful woman and a compassionate woman. She did things to and for people that most of us could only dream of doing, and as her eulogy continued, I realized that I was less than half the woman she was.

After the funeral, we went to the cemetery, the same one where Jude lies next to my beloved Memaw, who passed roughly 20 years ahead of GaGa when I was 13 on January 2, 1997.

On the drive, I learned that Becca’s oldest brother, Charlie, was laid to rest near his grandparents (or rather, they were laid to rest near him). This I hadn’t known; Jude was lain to rest next to my grandmother, and my parents will be next to them, and Sean and I, above them.

Though it was indeed GaGa’s day, nothing could prepare me for seeing where Charlie, a beautiful young man whose life ended far too soon my sophomore year of high school and his freshman year of college, was buried.

Perhaps it’s something that a mother and a parent feels that can’t be explained; perhaps it’s something that only a traumatic loss…one that’s too sudden and too soon that shakes our core, can be related to…I don’t know. I wasn’t able to focus on anything other than Charlie.

When Charlie passed away, he was a freshman at FSU. It was during Mardi Gras that he passed away. I remember most distinctly “being there” with Becca (but not being there in the best of ways because I was truly too naïve to be there the way I now wish I could’ve been) with her dad and Ann at the Civic Center on the lawn near the arena. It was night. No one was particularly celebratory.

I didn’t know Charlie well. He was a nice guy and a fun, funny guy. He loved animals. He wanted to be vet…I knew that much. His obituary was particularly long as he was survived by many beloved pets in it. It was printed in Mobile’s paper. My 10th grade English teacher mentioned it in class, and I, despite my extreme shyness, raised my hand and said that was my best friend’s brother. I’m not sure what her reason for mentioning it was…she wasn’t being disrespectful, but I thought it was important for people to know more about Charlie…that he loved his animals and that he had a family and a sister who missed him.

I’m honestly not sure why we try to remain composed at funerals. I’ve noticed this as I’ve gotten older. People try so hard not to show their grief in front of others. Though I felt like crying several times during GaGa’s funeral (it was that laundry story, if you must know…poignant yet so telling), I held it together until Ms. Donna, Becca’s mom, stooped to brush her fingers across the raised bronze of her son’s name on his headstone.

All mothers must do that. It was a gesture I recognized because from the day Jude had a headstone, I would kneel and brush my fingers across his name and think of how much I missed him and just saying his name aloud.

Becca knelt beside her mother, and the two wept. I put my hand on Becca’s shoulder to “be there”…to be there for the years and years of grief and sorrow where I wasn’t for proximity or ignorance. I cried for and with them, for there are times where tears can express what words cannot, which is that I cannot and will not ever understand, and in equal measure, I understand, and I feel your pain. I wasn’t thinking of Jude, but he was giving me the power to feel…it’s a gift I’m thankful for.

When she rose, Becca and I hugged, and she painted a beautiful picture of little Jude in heaven, delighting both Charlie and GaGa, and vice versa. I know they are all together and dancing and playing and laughing.

As we idled back to our cars, the sun broke through the clouds, and I realized that Becca and I would have many more years of holding each other’s hands. I know God gave me this person for a reason. By all accounts, it’s miracle she has family here; it’s a miracle she had reason to visit. My strongest friendship is one that’s persisted since I was 11 years old but is one that hasn’t had a physical presence for 22 years. She’s a sister to me, and I know one day, our goodbyes and hellos will come with heavier prices as we say goodbye to parents and more grandparents…as we endure life lessons and hardships I can only imagine, but you know what? I’m thankful to God that she’s the one who’ll hold my hand, and I’ll always be there to hold hers.

There may not be golden rainbows every day, but there are pots of gold at the end of rainbows, and I feel like Becca’s mine.

May golden rainbows shine down on you all.

Dear Jude… 

Thank you for everything. Thank you for giving Dr. T the intuition to deliver your sister a year ago tomorrow. Thank you for giving me the ability to feel more than I’ve ever felt in my life. Thank you for being my boy. You’re my boy. Happy golden day to you, dear heart. You’re 26 months on the 26th! Kisses and hugs. I can’t wait to see you in heaven. Dance and play and celebrate the glory for mommy, my darling. I miss you.

Love,

Mommy

Hey Jude – What It Means to be Pregnant after Loss (PAL)

Two years ago today, we lost our second baby, Jude, at 33 weeks. One year ago today, we were nursing a tender wound while also thanking God that Jude’s little sister, Eilie, our third baby, who was also 33 weeks, happened to choose December 26 to be active and to help assuage our “pregnancy after loss” anxieties.

If you’ve read Letters to Jude in the past, you may know that following Jude’s loss, I found a Facebook support group called PAL, which stands for pregnancy after loss. In this group, I joined a niche group called PAL – Third Trimester. Some of these women had similar stories to mine; others had more harrowing tales of multiple late losses or a combination of both.

 

We got pregnant with Eilie five months after we lost Jude. We weren’t trying; it just happened because well, biology, and negligent natural family planning. Speaking of biology, I run like a Swiss clock. I’m on time, all the time, every time. So, I was due for a “time” and on a whim, that Sunday morning after a particularly enjoyable night out with Sean, I took a test. I know it’s cliché, but you really could’ve knocked me over with a feather when two pink lines showed up on the First Response test.

 

My head swam. I grinned stupidly. After all, we planned to get pregnant again as soon as we could. We’d wanted our children to be very close in age. We didn’t consider any kind of emotional healing or coping, and I still maintain that there’s no amount of time that will permit you to be “ready” after a loss. Those scars will burn whether it’s been five months or five years between your loss and your rainbow pregnancy. The only thing that you need to know is if you’re “ready” to become pregnant again and to hope again. You’ll never be the same after a loss, and you’ll never be “ready” for a baby (even if you’ve never had a loss, honestly).

 

I took the test in to show a very tired Sean, who was making a sandwich.

 

“Are you freaking kidding me?” He was elated.

 

Like kids on Christmas morning, we couldn’t wait to share our joy. I texted one special friend who’d been with us the night we lost Jude, and then we told our parents…immediately. Stupid, I know. Everyone was prayerfully excited. We even told the family we were expecting (but were very early) a week later after Lillianne’s second birthday party. Consequently, we’d told them we were pregnant with Jude following Lillianne’s first birthday party. I realized that this was possibly an ominous thing to do, but we wanted prayers.

 

We talked about sharing the news on Facebook and social media early; however, we soon learned that the very real trauma of being pregnant after loss came with a lot of internal conflicts that aren’t rational or easy to resolve.

 

From my observation as well as my experience, there are many traumas and anxieties associated with being pregnant after a loss whether it’s a single miscarriage or stillbirth or multiple losses. Every time, no matter the situation, there is the highest hope paralleled by the most crippling fear. If you are newly pregnant after loss or have a friend who is pregnant after a loss, these are some of the realities.

 

You won’t know how to tell people you’re pregnant again.

We wanted to tell everyone early to ask for prayers. We thought 13 weeks was an appropriate “early” time to make an announcement about our rainbow baby. We ended up announcing at around 20 weeks, and the best way I could do it was to take a photo of Lillianne holding a pair of knitted pink baby booties (like the grey ones I’d gotten for Jude and accidentally buried with him in my grief) with a little message. We’d had so much support from everyone after we lost Jude. I felt like I owed it to them to ask for their prayers for Jude’s sister. Despite this, I couldn’t find the way or the words for over a month and a half after my originally intended announcement date.

 

Other pregnant women will upset you even when / if you’re pregnant again.

After we lost Jude, I should’ve abstained from going to Target because it’s like the Capital of Mom. It’s almost required that you have a baby or be expecting a baby to enter. I would go with Lillianne feeling raw, emotional, and listless, and I would see bumps everywhere. I was irrationally upset and resentful, and I felt terrible because having suffered what I suffered, I never wanted to begrudge another woman her baby; in fact, one of my most sincere prayers was that if statistically so many people had a stillbirth that I would be the ONLY one of my friends and acquaintances in their childbearing years to suffer the loss. Let me be the statistic, I prayed. Still, it upset me to see other pregnant women…especially very pregnant women as I looked right before I lost Jude. I averted my gaze and cried on the inside and thought they were naïve because they didn’t know how blessed they were while realizing that some of them knew just how blessed they were.

 

Previously innocent questions about your family will seem cruel.

If you have one child, many ask, “Will you have another?”

 

If you have no children, many ask, “Are you planning to have children?”

 

If you have two children of the same gender, many ask (as we’ve now experienced), “Are you trying for a (gender) baby?”

 

This ruffles a lot of PALs’ feathers. I mostly take it with a grain of salt. Of course, I was caught off-guard when I was first asked if Lillianne was my only one. I was checking out at Target (because, Capital of Mom) when the cashier conversationally asked the poisonous question. We’d just lost Jude. I froze, said yes, and felt so painfully guilty on the way out of the store. Sean, who was with me, who’d taken the month off after we lost Jude to cope and to heal with Lillianne and me as a family, assured me it was okay to tell the truth…that no, what wasn’t my only one.

 

After that, I readily told anyone who asked that I had two…one here and one in heaven. Reactions to this honesty varied. Some people were crushed on my behalf. Others shared their own losses. Still others acted completely unaffected (“Oh, I’m sorry,” (checks nails)) and would probably have been more upset if I said I lost my iPhone.

 

I also felt weird –after telling people I’d lost a baby—not being super emotional. First, I don’t get publically emotional often. Second, I’ve accepted what happened. Third, I have faith that’s helped make losing Jude something that’s made me stronger and more joyful as a person; he’s still with me. He’s not here, but he’s with me. I can’t explain this other than to say it’s part of God’s power and mystery. So, I can speak with calm about my son without falling apart.

 

Anyway, I digress…the questions come often. Now that we have Eilie, a lot of people seem to think that my life won’t be complete until I have a boy (mind, these are strangers). I have a boy, thank you. I’ve also reconciled that I may never have a son on Earth to raise, and honestly, I’m okay with that. Really. I’m okay with it. I was disappointed when we found out that Eilie was a girl because I really wanted a boy. It was irrational, but I did. I knew he wouldn’t replace Jude, but if the baby was a boy…then I wouldn’t have a box of baby boy clothes and hopes and dreams to quietly collect dust in a closet for the rest of my natural life. Alas, though, the baby was a girl, and she’s a joy.

 

You will constantly worry about the worst thing happening.

When we lost Jude, it was after diminished fetal movement. There were no other signs or indications of problems. He just…wasn’t as active. Before I could feel the baby move, I took pregnancy tests because I wasn’t nauseated (other than that one day), didn’t have swollen painful breasts, didn’t feel crappy, etc. like other women in their first trimesters. I was tired, sure, but I also worked until one or two in the morning and woke up when Lillianne woke up. I was already tired. How could I tell the difference?

 

Eventually, I started to have a bump, and eventually, I started to feel movement. I was obsessed with the movement. I knew Eilie’s patterns like the back of my hand. She was super active, which was very reassuring. Then, there were times where she wasn’t super active or where she wasn’t as active, and I nearly lost my mind. My chest tightened, my breathing was restricted. I poked and prodded and panicked. There were countless nights at 3 a.m. when I was awake obsessing over baby movements, fastidiously ensuring I was laying on my side, and praying the baby would move, so I could go back to sleep.

 

One day in late November, Eilie was conspicuously still. I finally, calmly yet fearfully, called and asked to be seen by the high risk doctor. They suggested I call my regular OB and go get put on the monitor there. After what happened with Jude, I flatly said ‘no’. Jude’s ultrasound had been misread. Jude died at that hospital. If he’d have been born, he’d have been rushed to USA Women’s and Children, away from me for days. If I went in and lost this baby…or if she was born and taken away from me…. No. Just. No.

 

I advised the high risk clinic receptionist I’d be checking in at W&C ER and going from there. I texted my regular OB who I have the utmost respect and appreciation for and let her know what was going on (she wasn’t the OB on call when we lost Jude, and honestly, she had no signs…I don’t fault her an iota).

 

We arrived and were checked in. My dad stayed with Lillianne for over two hours while I was monitored. An ultrasound and non-stress test showed a “perfect” baby but that I was having contractions (though, they eventually said perhaps it was just the baby moving as late November was very early for contractions).

 

Your loss date will be a milestone, but it won’t make the anxiety stop.

I had a unique (though not exclusive) experience in that Jude and Eilie were both the same age on Jude’s loss date. For most PALs, the date of their baby’s loss is a significant date, and the date in which their rainbow is the age of their angel baby is a significant date. These are very hard days for a PAL because we are reminded so much of what is missing and what is at stake on these days.

 

What’s more, there’s always the fear of the same occurring again. While I shadowboxed my way through Eilie’s pregnancy (guessed at what was wrong, tried to do everything differently during Eilie’s pregnancy from wearing compressing socks to exercise obsessively), there are many PALs who know why they lost their rainbows (cord complications being a top cause). Here’s what sucks. There are literally tons of things that can go awry with a pregnancy. PALs will look out for the thing that went wrong like hawks. I was OCD about diminished fetal movement even though I realized that anything could’ve gone wrong, and if you read the first story from Eilie’s birth, you’ll know it almost did.

 

I had such a thin uterus that it was admitted after Eilie was born that had we persisted in the pregnancy before the spontaneously decided delivery date, rupture and possibly tragedy would’ve been eminent.

 

Against all logic, we plan to “try for another one” and when I say “try”, I mean we will just become really bad at NFP again. With Jude, we tried with deliberation to get pregnant. Eilie and Lillianne were happy accidents. I recognize that I’m already taking psychological steps to avoid taboos.

 

No PAL wants to repeat anything they did with their losses. They also don’t want plucky encouragement. They don’t want you to tell them to be happy they can be or get pregnant again.

 

As one who is quite capable of becoming pregnant, I respect that there are many women who can’t or for whom this journey is much harder. Please don’t diminish a loss by telling a pregnant woman to be happy she is pregnant. You don’t know how hard she struggled to get there or what it cost her emotionally. There are some women who are softer than I am, and for these gentle creatures, they bleed with all their hearts. Questions about their families or fertility, lack of sympathy, neglect over the special days by family members and grandparents….that cuts these women to the core.

 

For me, we remember Jude all of the time. I think Eilie looks the way he’d have looked in many ways. Sean is my partner in this journey. His grandparents miss him. My beautiful friend, Rachel, who was there the night I lost Jude, who learned of Jude’s passing in the wee hours of a Saturday morning and who visited me every day, and who I first told of our rainbow bird’s expectancy, has sent flowers for two years in love and honor of our son. My precious friend Courtney sent thoughtful gifts on holidays for a year for Lillianne and Jude (obviously, for me, but for him) (and Eilie shortly before we had her) (the lanterns we have were from her, and I think of her whenever we send one to heaven for Jude). My best friend who dropped all to come hold my hand when we lost Jude and who never fails to contact me on the important days. I have so much love. I still think fondly of everyone who came to Jude’s funeral that New Year’s Eve…of Laura who not only gave me the opportunity to work from home (whether she realizes it or not) but whose beautiful offering of sympathy was the first thing to greet me on the doorstep when I came home from the hospital, of my dear friend Jeremy, who brought food and compassion, and Kat, who also brought food and her love, and to others who sent flowers again…who showed up.

 

Sometimes, just showing up and trying to understand is all a PAL needs. As a mom who’s lost a baby I pray that you never experience this if you’re reading it, but if you have, please know that there are communities of fellow parents out there who do understand and who can help to hold your hand. Please know that when your parents or in-laws or others say stupid and rude things, they don’t mean to be rude and stupid. They just don’t understand.

 

Here’s what I think we, as PALs, can and should do for others. We should help educate them.

  1. Please do not ask a PAL if they want a certain gender of baby.
  2. Please do not ask a PAL to be happy with what they have. They are happy, but one can be happy and grieve at the same time. It’s not our fault you’re uncomfortable with grief. Maybe you should see a therapist to figure out why you have that problem.
  3. Please do not be offended if a PAL cannot or does not want to host or attend your baby shower. (I attended one shower after I lost Jude…my best friend’s. She was having her first baby, and she was like my sister. It was an honor to do her shower, and consequently, that shower took place on the 26th of September, and I missed Jude’s story that month; however, it was a joy to do that and to be there for her. If it wouldn’t have been or if I couldn’t have done it, I know she would have understood it had nothing to do with her or her beautiful baby.)
  4. Please understand if they don’t or cannot have a shower (or do not want one). (I never dealt with this as my first was born living, and I’m a firm stickler for one shower. I never saw a need to have a shower for every baby I had, so I didn’t have one for Jude nor did I have one for his sister; however, some women lose their first and the idea of a shower for their rainbow is agonizing. Please respect their anxieties and wishes. It’s VERY hard to prepare for a baby and to celebrate hope after a loss.)
  5. Please understand how staggering it is to set up a nursery or to take one down. We never set up Jude’s nursery. It was on the to-do list, but it never happened. I had a closet of clothes to box up (I wept as I did so), but I didn’t have an entire room to change. When we found out Eilie was a girl, we painted the beige room yellow and I pulled some of my favorite sleep sacks that were to be Jude’s for Eilie’s. I still have one outfit that was to be Jude’s hanging in her closet.

 

Honestly, I don’t have any more rules. I just have my experience. I’ll always miss my Jude. I’ll cry at weird times over him (or so it seems). Some women are more emotional (from what I’ve read) than I am. Some women are more easily wounded by questions and comments than I am. I sometimes wish very much that I could cry and let my emotions bleed from my eyes more readily and often. I think it would help, to be honest. Alas, I can’t, and I don’t. I cry over commercials or moments in shows that remind me of Jude. I miss him.

 

At the end of the day, what I’d like to suggest if you have a friend who is childless, who has miscarried (many, many women miscarry in complete secret), or who has suffered a stillbirth or God-forbid, a later loss, please keep in mind that we all have grief or pain. These are hard times and questions. Please just show love and compassion and sensitivity to the best of your ability. Respectfully, I know you can’t please everyone, but do try to keep in mind that the lady who works at the grocery checkout has a baby who died after a few days old or the lady you’re sitting next to at Barnes and Noble while your kid plays with the Thomas the Tank train set had a stillbirth right before her due date. Oh…you didn’t know that? No…I didn’t either until I shared my story, but if you don’t have my story, then you may never know theirs. So, I implore you now of two things:

  • If you’ve had a loss, please share it. Mothers of miscarried babies, please stop hiding behind statistics. You deserve to air your grief. You hide too much. You’ll find so much support if you just step outside of your bindings.
  • If you’ve not had a loss, please let others know you’re open to hearing their stories. Few things are more agonizing than sharing our stories to be dismissed or hushed because others are uncomfortable with our truth. We aren’t looking for shoulders to cry on; we’re just telling you about our family; it so happens, our families have angels in them.

So, I pray you all have nothing but health, love, and happiness in your families. I pray you show love and tenderness and understanding to your friends and family who have suffered losses.

 

To myself on this night, I say to my Jude, I love you, sweetheart. I can’t believe you’re two. You’re growing so beautifully, and you’re helping my faith so much. I couldn’t ask for a greater blessing than you, Jude. Please, darling, continue blessing us and the world and your sisters with your guidance. Please touch your sisters with your presence and the love of God.  Bless you my son; I do miss you so much. I pray these wishes are granted. Amen.

Hey Jude – Coping with Loss

Dear readers…this piece was difficult for me to decide to share. Please understand that I am not making a political statement nor am I making light of anyone’s feelings. I am expressing a genuine concern for the generation that walks behind me. Following the presidential election, which was easily the most polarizing election of my lifetime, I heard and witnessed (via Internet) instances where young people were unable to cope. I heard a video where a girl (20-something, maybe?) wept that someone needed to “fix this” (election results) or she was going to kill herself. I heard that young people were given coloring books and puppies by major universities to “cope” with their disappointment and loss.

 

While I respectfully understand the soothing and meditative merits of coloring (and other artistic pursuits), I am also very concerned with the frailty of this generation, and so, as is the nature of my second year of writing my Letters to Jude, I must say this, and I implore you to listen with an open mind and an open soul because I want you, person who feels damaged and destroyed right now (regardless as to why), to feel my strength and resilience and to take what I have and to make it your own and to let it give you the confidence that I have, which is that there is nothing that I cannot accomplish and that there is nothing that will destroy or defeat me.

 

Suicide…

 

The world was distorted as I drove down Cottage Hill Road. A poppy ‘80s tune pulsed on the radio as I rolled to a stop at a looming red light. The air was stiff and stifled as if I was a one-woman dirge. Who are these other people, going about their normal day, as if the universe hadn’t just shifted? How can this song be on? This isn’t appropriate. This song should not be on. This shouldn’t be happening. He would’ve heard this song as a kid. He would’ve known this song. Possibly danced around to it. I replayed the events over and over in my mind. He left his home at some point in the day with his gun. He was off on his ATV. They found him at around 2 a.m. The police found him. The aftermath was and is irreversible. The last time I saw him was a year ago. Should I have helped? Yes. Would anything be different. No idea…I’ll never know if even the slightest effort could’ve helped a kind-hearted family member avoid the irreversible. I wish I’d tried. And thus, disappointment doesn’t cover this…the devastation, the trauma.

 

There were no puppies or coloring books to make it all better.

 

9/11…

 

In 2001, the Top ’40 station, WABB, was filled with static and talking and news as I drove the negligible distance from my cultural anthropology class to my art history II class..  I changed the station. More news. I listened for a minute and tried to understand what in the world was going on.

 

World Trade Center.

Pentagon.

Hit by an airplane?

 

I got out of my car disgusted with myself. I was 115 lbs that morning. Did you get that? One hundred. And fifteen. Fat. Disgusting. Pounds. My pants, size zero, mind you, weren’t even loose anymore. I couldn’t grab at the sagging fabric at the back of my thighs. My XS Banana Republic tie-dye tank…practically clingy at the bodice. Pathetic. I took a seat in my freshman art history class and quickly journaled about what I heard on the radio (though, I had no sense of what it meant); then class started, and I was swept a the world of Byzantine art..

 

Dr. Seuss canceled psychology that day, which really wasn’t that uncommon. He canceled class roughly 50% of the time, so, woo hoo! I went to Mom’s school up the road to see her. The kids would be at recess. Mrs. Christopher was in tears. Ten year olds, who would now be 26 year-olds (dear Lord), were playing on the playground so innocently oblivious to what would ultimately be the new world order. Mom explained that what I thought was a tragic accident was no accident. Someone or many some ones had intentionally flown 747s into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon and killed people. A lot of people.

 

My fifth class of the day started at 3:15 p.m. Mr. Monotone made our test optional, but I took it anyway. I was so far removed from reality. I was this twerpy narcissistic kid who literally mostly remembered my weight from 9/11. I was 115 lbs. Oh, and 9/11 happened, and I was 18 years old.
That night, I started to hear new words. Terrorism. Al-Qaeda. Osama Bin Laden.

 

Guess what? No one gave me a therapy puppy or a coloring book to make it all better for me. Come to think of it, no one gave me that crap for my eating disorder either. I never thought I needed nor deserved them; though, I will say, there were times, when I truly thought I would die from my eating disorder that I prayed. Hard. I prayed that I would wake up the next day. I prayed that I wouldn’t die…that I wouldn’t be found dead on the bathroom floor in the wake of my shame. I faced my fear, and I fought it…and eight years later, I won.

 

My Jude…

 

And then, on December 26, 2014…I grew up. Like really, grew up. I lost my son. He was fine all day on Christmas Eve. I noticed he wasn’t moving as much late Christmas Day. On December 26, we checked in to the doctor’s office. The baby had a heartbeat. We were put on the monitor at the hospital and within hours, he was gone.

 

“There’s no heartbeat.”

 

He’d just moved…literally just moved…and so we rushed into an emergency C-section. When I came out, I asked my husband, “How’s my baby?” and I knew from the look on his face.

 

“I named him Jude. Jude David. Is that okay?” he said brokenly.

 

“Yeah. Hey Jude…” I started to sing in a still medically-induced state, and Sean took up the chorus.

 

We were rolled back toward my room, and like a manifestation from God, our Priest was standing there. Father David accompanied us to our room, and prayed with us. As he started to leave, I, still in a pitiable state between life and anesthesia, began to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” and Father David turned around and returned to my bedside, and Sean joined him in sacred prayer. Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven….. My speech was slurred, and I stumbled over words. I’ve never felt so empty or broken than in the days where my healing and my life truly began.

 

No one brought me a puppy or a coloring book, and in those frail, fragile moments that severed my ties between adolescence and reality, I didn’t care. Those things wouldn’t have made it all better. You know what did make it better? God.

 

At some point during Jude’s funeral, I found peace. I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t seeking it. I was open to a grief journey. I was open to having a bottomless hole of pain and loss and suffering in my life, but God fill the void with something intangible yet so real I could almost touch it.

 

It was faith. Faith. I can’t describe how much my son and the agony of losing him transformed me.

 

To those who think that their latest devastation is the end of the world…it’s not unless you choose to let it be. I could’ve gone off of a ledge and died inside and out at many points in my life. I could’ve never said to my eating disorder, “I will not let you kill me,” and then called on God for help. I could’ve never done the thing I said I couldn’t do, which is lose a child and live, if not for God.

 

What I’m saying is life is challenging, hard, sometimes unfair, and sometimes unbearable. You will bleed. You will break. You will be decimated at times. And then…you can either curl up in a ball and die, or you can get stronger and smarter and better and wiser and assert yourself.

 

For those who don’t believe in God, let me tell you, God is real. My faith is real. If all you have are coloring books and puppies and free passes, I feel sorry for you. You can literally destroy my body, but you won’t kill me. I mean that. I’m not afraid of losing or disappointment or tragedy or devastation. I don’t welcome it, but it cannot and will not break me because of my God. I encourage you to have what I’m having.

 

Afterthought: Dear readers…I am not trying to force my faith on you, but I am trying to implore you to recognize that life will never get easier. It’s the trials and how we handle them that define us. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to cry, but we must all always reassemble ourselves and find strength through tragedy and adversity. There are many worse things to happen than losing a political election (or other things). Losing hope and losing faith are two of those things.

 

You cannot rely on superficial crutches to get you through the things that will challenge your hope and faith. If you do, then you will surely lose them. Instead, find something within yourself that is there and that has always been there that is truly worth fighting for and that imbues you with an unbreakable fortitude (for believers, that is God, and truly, it is the valuable quality one could possess).

 

I pray for you, gentle reader, whoever you are and whatever you’re fighting with and for. I pray you rely on the right things.

 

 

ASIDE

 

For Dear America:

 

I pray for this country. I pray for our leader to seek wisdom and guidance from God and that regardless of our leadership, that God intercede through that leader to guide us all to greater glory. Remember that there is always light in darkness if we look to it, gentle reader. The light is always there, and it is in times in which we seek light during periods of darkness that we are most brave and most faithful.

Hey Jude- 22 Months

I have continually agonized over how to write the complexities of being a PAL because one year ago, I carried Jude’s sister who –thanks to him, is here now.

I’ve agonized over telling the stories I know I need to tell. I’ve become frail, fragile, fragmented, and fearful…so many things that you, Jude, rescued me from.

Then I heard your song, and I remembered you wanted me to be rave, to be an adult, to be inspired through every fiber of my being.

I’m slowly returning to where we started and to where you want me to be. I know I’ve embraced some things you’ve imparted to me, but I know I’ve allowed myself to fear when I know I shouldn’t.

I love you, Jude. I know I’ve got nothing to fear because you’re in me and with me. I’ll always be a nerd. I’ll always be offbeat. I’ll always be oblivious. I’ll always be with you. You’ll keep me forever young and forever with you.

I’ll always be 31 years old. There will ne a viable part of me that is always living in December 26, 2014. 

I love you. I’m happy to be forever young with you my love. Happy 22 months. May you always live in me and through me and -I through you.  You’re my heart.

Hey Jude – Just a Note

My darling boy. I miss you and love you so much, I just needed to tell you. I’ve cried more for you lately than I have in quite a while. Certain songs that I know I should turn off but don’t make me see your face and cry.

The idea that you’d be 21-months today and would be so very close to the darling age of two causes me to pause. You. Two. You’d be so darling, darling.

I have so much to say but even more to ask. Thank you for dear Eilie; look after her  always. Help give Lillianne peace. She’s such a nut; she needs you.

Really, thank you. You ground me as well. I miss you so much and my heart is sad for what we can’t have. I’ve seen your face more lately. I’m okay with that because the pain is worth the memory. You’re my heart and my world, Jude. I miss you, sweetheart. I love you so much. You’re my baby boy.

I love you and your sisters forever.

Hey Jude — Regrets of Those Left Behind

Recently, I spoke to someone who’d lost her brother in a truly tragic way. Our conversation was surprisingly candid giving the sensitive nature of his loss; he took his own life following a struggle with “issues”. Pained, she said that she regretted not doing more…not forcing the issue, not insisting he get lock-and-key treatment, for a moment, I really didn’t know what to say.
My instinct was to comfort her with clichés such as, “Oh, no dear, there’s nothing you could’ve done,” and, “You did your best,” …the kind of stuff I heard after we lost Jude 19 months ago today. Did I do my best? Was there nothing I could’ve done? Are we truly victims of cosmic design? No, we aren’t.

At the same time, I could understand how and why she felt the way she felt. When someone we love passes away in a tragic manner, we inevitably feel some kind of culpability; the question of “what if I had” ever looming in our minds. Certainly, I don’t think there’s anything she could’ve done that would’ve changed anything, but I can understand that there will always be the question of “if I had”….

When my inadequate response to her reflection was, “I can understand how you’d feel that way, but…” she lobbed the question back to me and asked, “Well, don’t you feel that way about Jude?”

I considered the question, and the answer is yes, I do. Even though by all accounts, I did the “best” I could, was it enough? Did it change anything?

A significant aspect of my reconciliation and coping with Jude’s loss has been the conviction that Jude’s loss was an act of God; as a human, I cannot overpower acts of God. And so I cope. I realize, it’s a little more technical than that. Jude was a brilliantly healthy pregnancy. He was active –so active, that Christmas Eve before Christmas Day and then Boxing Day when he left us. We were on the monitor at the hospital when his heart stopped; they weren’t worried…at least not so worried that I wasn’t shuttled to USA Women’s & Children’s to deliver a preemie who would have obstacles but who would be born alive.

A little less than a year ago, I uncovered evidence that supports that possibly low blood pressure among other factors (read, the perfect storm) led to Jude’s passing. Scientifically, I attribute his loss to a nearly undetectable yet possible phenomenon in which the fetus doesn’t receive adequate nutrition and oxygen through the cord and well, you get the idea. I don’t want to think about it.

Anyway, I digress. I do have questions, regrets…things I’d have done differently had I known then what I know now.

–I’d have gone to USA Women’s & Children’s on the way back into town on 12/26, bypassing my doctor’s office visit and the related hospital that is, while fine, doesn’t have the resources of the University’s hospital.

–I’d have slept on my back less frequently. After having had Lillianne and followed all advice to a T, I realized much of the pregnant mommy rhetoric that’s out there is overly-cautious. The occasional back sleeping wouldn’t hurt anyone, but now I’ll always wonder…with my low blood pressure (I’m hypotensive while pregnant) and the occasional back sleeping, which inhibits cord flow…what if…?

–I’d have sat less often. I’d already determined to quit traditional work to work from home and stay with the kids after we had Jude. I was working full-time, taking care of Lillianne during my lunch hour, and then burning the midnight oil to establish enough of an income as a writer and part-time college professor to make the shift. I sat a LOT.

–I’d have gained less weight. As a result of all of the sitting and the total lack of personal time, I also gained more weight, and I was less fit. At best, I walked a few miles early in the pregnancy. After daylight savings, the most I walked was from my car to my office. I wasn’t fat comparatively, but I was 155 lbs by the time we lost Jude at 33 weeks, which was over my delivery weight for Lillianne.

–I’d have gone in on Christmas. I’d have pushed the issue when I was at my in-laws and doing things I never do to get the baby to move…drink a soft drink, eat a sandwich, lay on my side, lay on my other side…look, when you’re scouring the Internet for advice on how to get the baby to move and the baby’s not moving, go directly to the best ER with a NICU. Just…go. I realize that had I done this, chances are, I’d have been sent home and Jude’s heart would’ve quietly stopped without me hearing it. As it is, I did hear it, and I’ll always wonder if I’d have gone sooner to the more advanced hospital…what if….?

I could live in bitter regret for all of these things, but I don’t because I can’t resent what I didn’t know then. Did I really think that Jude was in danger of passing away? Well, not at first, but then when I thought he might have his cord wrapped around his neck, of course I was very scared and moderately comforted by his occasional movements. These were my anxieties when we were already driving back to town, so at that point, I guess it was moot. Also, he’d scared me earlier in the pregnancy, toward the end of the second trimester, when he went almost a day without moving only to start kicking up a storm at about 10:00 p.m. when I started working on some assignments I was anxious to finish.

So, did I do the best I could? Perhaps at the time I did. In hindsight? No, of course not. Jude’s not here; he’s in heaven. The same can be said to the girl who’s brother took his own life. Did she really think that he was on the course he was on or did she perhaps just think that he had some issues but he’d get through it? I’m inclined to think the latter as the response when it did happen nearly five months ago this August 8 was that nobody could’ve expected…or believed…nobody really thought it would happen. Will she always rack her brain for what she could’ve done differently? Probably, but who wouldn’t?

Regret and wishing is a casualty of tragic loss, and for those of us who survive it, we really shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, even though I know part of us always will be.

 

Dear Jude, 

I’m sometimes so conflicted not only because I’ll always wonder if I’d acted differently if things wouldn’t be different, but also because I’m so thankful to you for giving us Eilie, and as you know, I truly believe I wouldn’t have Eilie if not for you. She’s so happy…a radiant little ball of cuddles and joy. I know you meant for her to make us happy, and she does, but I want you to know that I’d have been so overjoyed to have you here, too. I miss you so much, and I feel bad when I don’t get to write to you as often as I think of you, which is daily. You’re my baby boy…my special boy. I love you, sweet boy. Give our family in heaven a hug for me and keep an eye out for us on Earth.

You’re my shining son.

Love,

Mommy

Hey Jude — Billie Jean

The women of my grandmothers’ generation were iron clad. These women endured under the direst of straits and in the worst of times and emerged 70-plus years later smiling and most likely wondering what we were so upset about with our video games and our Lisa Frank notebooks and our Saturday morning cartoons.

My father’s mother, full German, was raised in Ulm and Berlin during and after WWII. She and her family were not Nazis. In fact, they were sympathizers to war victims and often gave away food and resource to help those without. Tried for treason among other things, her parents suffered substantially during the war. Post-war, well, it’s likely to assume that my Oma’s elementary school days were consumed just being thankful you had food and a roof.

My mother’s mother, full southerner, was born in Tupelo and lived throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee before settling in Mobile. I knew her as Memaw. Her name was Vonnie Lillian Opsal. She had dark, auburn hair and blue-grey eyes, plump cheeks and thin lips, and a figure for days. The plaque over her grave says she was born in 1912, but that’s a lie. She was born in 1915; I have the erased and re-scrawled documentation to prove it. No, she lied about being born in 1912 so she could marry at a scandalously ripe teen age to a guy named Curtis.

I like to envision she and Curtis were young lovers…full of innocence and stupidity, like most sweet first love. They were kids playing house and the reality of adulthood swooped in like a thunder strike. Shortly after marriage, Vonnie got pregnant. She was a married ingénue in the late 1920s, and she was pregnant. Curtis had a job with the railroad. It wasn’t much, but life was good. At least they had real love.

When he left for work in the morning, Vonnie was already in the kitchen, barefoot, swollen with child, her flush belly swaddled tightly with an apron. She and Curtis kissed. She smiled warmly as her dear husband left for work, already anticipating his return, as brides do.

He never returned. Curtis was killed in an accident at the train yard. The news he was dead was more damaging than if she’d been clubbed. The oxygen in her lungs compressed, and she couldn’t breathe. He would never come home. She was dizzy. Never would she hug or hold or kiss him again. Lights flashed. Gone forever; dead. A bright light and then nothing.

Time elapsed like a dirge and, then, it was time. The baby. She was there, at the hospital. Then came the twilight sleep, and when she awoke, “I’m sorry ma’am but your baby was born still.” No, she heard the baby cry, but years later, she swore she did. It was a girl, she was told. She never saw or held her baby girl, who she called Billie Jean, and she never believed –not fully—that the baby had died.

I grew up with a wisp of the story of Billie Jean in my ear, and it was never from my Memaw. This story descended to me through my mother. Memaw was a woman of her generation. You didn’t dwell on these losses. You didn’t let them cripple you. You sucked it up. You had…responsibilities. Except, really, she didn’t. She was on her own, bound by loss, my Memaw, at such a young age. A dead husband and a still baby. I regret that I was never able to ask her and to hear her side of this (likely) defining aspect of her life. My grandmother, Vonnie, was my favorite person, truly. The woman effervesced; she lived, and was she ever inspiring.

Her other two children, mom and Aunt Linda, came nearly 13 years after Billie Jean. Their father was an alcoholic and an abusive husband, and Vonnie went toe to toe with him like it was her job. She worked in a restaurant on Mobile’s Dauphin Street that she later purchased. It was called The Home Kitchen. Yet still later, she remarried a seaman who was often deployed. Unconventionally, not only was she a divorce, but she also never begged or groveled or needed a man. My mom’s stepdad never paid child support, and Memaw never sought it. The woman had scars as deep as gashes, but you’d never have known it. The only indication I ever got was when I was a toddler, and she persistently advised to “never let a man take advantage of you.” She was like a ship, ironclad. Made of steel. She deftly sliced through turbulent waters, and if it compromised her an iota to do so, only God would know it.

Having lost Jude, I realize that being destroyed from the inside-out doesn’t defeat you. It imbues you with resolve, a fervor to thrive and survive. I’ve been reduced to ashes on more than one occasion; though, losing Jude was and is still the most significant trauma of my life. Sometimes I wonder if I fully “get it”, but I can’t worry about if I do or don’t or if I’ll have a nervous breakdown one day. All I can do is polish my armor and be a fighter like our grandmothers were. That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Of course, it does more than that. It defines us. I miss Jude with a passion every day, and lately, I’ve talked about him to many people. I still have my time that I’m cry and when I’m sad, but when I talk about him…I’m just happy. How does such a harrowing loss become a source of joy and strength? I mean it when I say that only God knows and that God is indeed mysterious in his wonderful ways

Aside:

My Memaw was a blessing to me. When I was born in 1983, “Billie Jean” was the number one song in the nation. It’s really more of an irony, but it’s sentimental to think that my departed Aunt Billie Jean was already looking down on me from heaven and that she is holding my Jude and singing in his ear, “Hey Jude….”

 

Jude,

It’s been 17 months since you left me, and you’re still so much a part of me and so real to me. I’m sad that I don’t have new pictures to share of you or to see how you’d look at Eilie’s age. She’ll be four months tomorrow. Four months. Hard to believe. She’s such a happy baby. She smiles all of the time, and boy, I bet you’d have smiled, too. Like a champ. I saw a baby at the park today. He smiled at Eilie. He had brown eyes, too. All I could think was how much he reminded me of you. You’re so loved, darling, and you’re so missed every day. I love you now as much as I loved you the day you were born. I love you forever and for always. You’re always my baby, and you’re always with me. You’re my joy, my baby boy. Keep heaven warm for me.

Love, Mommy