This is something I struggled to write one month after we had our last baby, Lucia, on 12/21/17. I couldn’t put my heart into words because I hadn’t arrived at the right understanding, and it’s possible that I still haven’t. Along the way, there have been many events that have forced me to reflect on my situation.
First, a little background. On 12/26/14, we lost our son Jude at 33 weeks. Jude’s heart stopped while he was on the monitor in the hospital. We don’t know what happened. After years of reading and investigation, I speculate that had Jude been delivered and cared for in the NICU, he might have lived; however, this is pure speculation, and I will literally never know. My burden to bear, right?
After Jude physically came into my life (i.e., was born sleeping), he did everything I’d hoped he would. As it turns out, life has a way of getting you down, of making you hard, and of making you bitter (worse than Alanis’ jagged little pill). I wasn’t in a happy place when I was expecting Jude (I will always wonder if my stress / discontentment didn’t contribute to his loss). Jude was my first choice for Jude’s name, and when I really listened to the lyrics of “Hey Jude” during a Beatles Tribute concert, all I could think about was how much I wanted the baby inside of me to help me feel and to be brazen, emotional, passionate…all of the things that I felt so distant from at that time. I felt like an emotional stone, and I didn’t like it, but I had no idea how to get back to feeling. And then, I lost my son. I came out of anesthesia following an emergency C-section in which the baby could not be saved, and I started to feel again. And it hurt. Jude brought me to life and took me to places I never knew were possible. I understood the depth of grief. I looked over the precipice of the abyss of absolute devastation, and I—thankfully—didn’t topple over, but I could feel what it felt like to go in. It was wondrous and terrifying.
Just like that, Jude gave me the gift of empathy. Since then, he’s made me more compassionate. I’ve cried for people I’ll never meet. His life has influenced mine so positively that it’s a little sad that I can’t hug him and tell him thank you. Likewise, if not for Jude, his siblings wouldn’t be alive.
When we had our first “rainbow”—the baby after him, she was born via unscheduled Cesarean delivery because I was having contractions that I couldn’t feel and because I was dilated. I was almost 37 weeks—technically, she was preterm at the time. When they delivered they said I had a ‘window’, which meant two of the three layers of tissue that make up the uterus were ripped away; they could see the baby through the “window” in the thinned area of the lining. Had those phantom contractions continued and had we not had extra monitoring, it’s doubtful I would’ve made it to 39 weeks without rupturing, something likely fatal to the baby and potentially fatal to me. Instead, on January 27, 2016, I delivered my biggest baby, Eilie, at 7 lbs and 7 ½ ounces, and above all other consideration, she was alive and healthy.
Even before Eilie, we’d always talked about “one more”. We never tried for a boy (I’m not sure how you do that…do you do it standing up or eating beer cheese because I honestly don’t know); we just wanted one more. Actually, we were planning to wait a couple of more months when we found out we were pregnant with baby four, i.e., last baby. I was beyond ready to end the anxiety of pregnancy. At Sean’s request, we chose to not find out the gender of baby four. The baby, dubbed Mystery Baby, was scheduled for delivery at 37 weeks, which happened to be on a Saturday (12/23), and because no one does that kind of thing on a Saturday (hello, last minute gift shopping, people), we were scheduled for a Thursday delivery (ultimately) on 12/21. The “window” from Eilie’s delivery was the reason for the preterm decision.
For the better part of eight months, I knew in my mom bones that Mystery Baby was a boy. The baby carried low. The baby’s heart rate during NSTs was in the 130s / 140s. I had these awful migraines like I did with Jude. Everyone in the City of Mobile except for one weird girl at the park was 100% convinced it was a boy. I waddled onto the elevator after one checkup to stand next to a venerable African-American woman who asked about the baby. After she realized I didn’t know the gender, she said as confident as an ultrasound, “Oh, it’s a boy. I can feel it it’s a boy,” as I made to assure her we’d be happy no matter what, she cut in, “That baby is a boy.” Yes ma’am, I thought, smiling at her enthusiasm. People are nuts, but yeah…I kind of think it’s a boy, too.
And then, there we were…the day of 12/21.
It was 5:00 a.m., and I hadn’t slept. No one sleeps when they know they’re going to have a baby the next day. It’s impossible. It’s like saying, “Just so you know, tomorrow, when you wake up, your life will change for ever. Get some rest.”
Instead, I woke up shortly after 2, finished some work, and then wrote a letter to Jude that really did need to be written. I’ll call it the ‘before’ because in it I had the conviction of a woman who was going to have a son and of who was getting her tubes tied and that was the absolute thing she wanted.
On the way to the hospital, I talked about how much I loved the name Maxim, the name I’d name my son. Maxim Emil. I was so excited to tell the story to the world about his name. For one, I’d have a baby named after a literary character, Maxim DeWinter from Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, one of my favorite novels and movies of all time. (It was Hitchcock’s first film.) Maxim was also in honor of the great grandfather I never met, a man named Maximillian who lived in Germany during WWII and who was put into a camp for being outspoken against Hitler, refusing to salute Nazi generals, and for inciting a riot. I said, “I want my son to have that kind of legacy…to have the courage to stand up against wrong regardless of consequence.”
We arrived at the hospital at 5:30, right on schedule. I was vacillating between exhilarated awaked-ness and total and utter exhaustion. I wanted to fall asleep, but then I couldn’t even as I settled into our room to await the start of the scheduled delivery–the first time we’d ever scheduled a delivery and it had gone according to plan. My rest was disrupted by the disappointment Sean and I had after getting into a room was the realization that we weren’t going to be in the big rooms. Springhill Memorial Hospital has a fantastic maternity ward with glorious postpartum suites; however, C-sections, like me, were in super small rooms (though, the beds were fantastic, and it’s a shame my insurance wouldn’t let me take it home with me). Sean was crushed. He’d been gushing to our families about the big rooms and the USB plugins in the maternity wards for months. At least our toilet seat was heated. That was pretty swanky.
Cut to…the moment before the big cut. Sean was had to clear the room while they did the spinal tap. I had a great moment where I got to clapback on the anesthesiologist who told me that my spinal headache after I’d had Eilie was “not really a thing”. My throbbing brain from circa two years earlier begged to differ.
So, as he was going in to do the spinal tap, he said, “You’ve got a nice, thin back. I like a thin back,” and I quipped, “Hey, everybody’s got a thing,” which caused the OR staff and my OB to giggle. I’m not sure if people laughing is the best for major surgery prep, but there we were…a room full of adults giggling over bony-back fetishes. (Note, he didn’t puncture my spine resulting in a spinal headache, so many thanks to him.)
Surgery was about to begin, and Sean came in. He stood next to me behind a partition. I felt pushes and pulls. It was announced that there was another window, or rather, the same window that had been there with Eilie was still there; it never healed.
“Thank God we decided to deliver early,” someone –probably my doctor—said. Push. Pull. Nudge. Tug. I felt a familiar wrenching, and then Sean said, “It’s a little girl.”
He didn’t say another, but in my mind, I feel like the word is there. The partition dropped. There it was, a baby body. She looked just like Eilie, arched, covered in white goo, and screaming. Fwip. The partition was back up. My body below the partition was tugged and pulled and vroooom, vacuumed. A baby wailed in the background.
At my encouragement, Sean rushed over to see the baby. Our new baby girl. I laid there alone with my mind, everything below the chest numb. Numbness trickled into my mind. It’s over. It’s a girl. It’s over. It’s a girl. I cried. I shook as the doctor maneuvered. I felt nudges through the anesthesia. It’s over. It was over. I wanted to scream, “Stop! Wait!” because I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I’d been pregnant since September 2012. I was stopping something that had come so naturally to me, getting pregnant (something I never once took for granted). And it was over. I cried. Not crocodile tears…but dry, quaking sobs that come from the depths of being so fatigued and overwhelmed and so damn confused that the only recourse is ludicrous sobbing.
The baby, who we named Lucia Susanne, was 6lbs 7oz and perfect. Thank God.
After we came home from the hospital, I looked around the corner and stole my only glimpse into postpartum depression. I was in our bedroom and holding the baby. The room spun. Whose baby is this? This isn’t my baby. I haven’t had my baby yet. I’m supposed to have a boy. It’s all wrong. This is not my baby. Logical brain intervened. This is your baby. You had a little girl. You will never have a little boy.
And there it was. The thing that I really did come to terms with when we were expecting Eilie, the possibility that we might not ever have a son to raise on Earth. Of course, when it’s a reality, it’s a whole different experience.
Jude turned three on 12/26/17, five days after we had Lucia. I went into Hobby Lobby to get silk flowers for Jude’s gravesite. I’m buying flowers for my son’s third birthday instead of planning a party, I thought, selecting the hydrangeas. On the way to the register, I picked up a little stuffed turtle with big, shining brown eyes. “How are you doing?” asked the cashier. I shook my head and then I cried at Hobby Lobby.
Sean was waiting next to the truck when I got to the parking lot. I buried my head in his shoulder as he hugged me. I wept. “It just doesn’t get any easier.”
When we placed Jude’s flowers in his vase at the cemetery, Sean carefully put Jude’s turtle in the middle of the arrangement. He looked into the eyes of the turtle and no doubt pictured the eyes of his son and the sweetness and excitement they would hold if we were giving him that turtle as a gift on this third birthday, and for the first time in almost three years that I’m aware of, he cried because it doesn’t get any easier.
Regarding my husband, there is something that I will never fully understand because I have daughters to raise. I have little girls, little people who are my gender, to share the things that are uniquely female with. Respectfully, I’ve always said I wanted boys like Jo March in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, but I have girls, and I’m very thankful for them. Sean, though, when we had Lucia and when my tubes were tied, lost something that cannot be replaced. While he loves his little girl –all of his girls—there is a loss in realizing that he will never fulfill his boyhood dreams of teaching his son how to change the oil in a car or how to properly treat women. The loss is something undefinable. When you’ve envisioned the thing your entire life because that’s how things are supposed to be, it’s devastating. I felt his pain. One day, when we were getting ready and he was tying his tie, I started crying because I understood. He will never teach his son to tie a tie.
The pain of this aspect of loss frustrated me because none of my babies were relegated to a gender. I truly had always wanted boys. I’m not sorry I have girls. I wasn’t trying for a boy when we got pregnant with Lucia. We just wanted three babies. I don’t want to untie my tubes to have “another baby”. Even if I’d had two boys after we lost Jude, I’d still feel the pain of his loss. I disliked feeling so confused.
I’ve finally reconciled that the immense pain. I felt was simply the agony of grief. It was stronger than it had been in the past two years, and I wasn’t prepared. It was also a period of massive change. I had postpartum hormones at the time my only son would’ve turned three, and I’d made the (appropriate) decision to medically ensure I couldn’t have any more children. With two windows, this was the smartest and safest thing I could do. I don’t know how many times a woman’s body can endure pregnancy with a “window” and not experience a tragedy, but I think I was right to cash in my chips when I did. Also, I think I’d have been kind of a nut if I’d had more than the number of babies that I have.
After all, I love writing, and I love the idea of growing and moving forward with life—life post-pregnancy years. I want to spend time with my career, that thing I’m so passionate about it sometimes takes my breath away. I want to have the ability to focus on my marriage, that thing I look at like a weird little pet as I try to understand all of its messes and wonders. I want to be able to start making really fun memories with my children as we all experience things together—vacations, camping trips, summers, marathons, and whatever else we can get into. For ages, we put the brakes on things like camping or just doing more because I was pregnant, or we had an infant. I’m sure that wasn’t necessary, but we did it.
At any rate, now, here we are. It’s over…and it’s also just beginning.
I’ll never not wonder ‘what if’. I’ll always miss you. I’ll always think about what could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. I’ll always appreciate what you do for me, and I’ll always be open to the ebb and flow of grief no matter how difficult it is. This year was so hard, but I’m glad it was hard because it reminds me of how much I love you. I hope heaven is lovely this time of year. You’ll have to tell me all about it someday.
I love you forever,
your adoring mommy,