Hey Jude — In Our Boats

You’re standing on the edge of a low stone precipice overlooking a raging sea of brackish brine. To live, you must go forward, to step off the cliff and trust that the boat will break your fall; however, you are terrified of this ocean. In fact, entering this ocean in any capacity is one of your lifelong fears. You look around hoping for ideas on how to avoid it. Behind you, the landscape is being drained of color as the clouds of time roll ever onward. This is the past. It has no future, no vitality. To return to it means no oxygen and death within minutes. Going left or right is an option, but ultimately, the past will catch up and destroy you for remaining in a present that will become your past.

Of course, you consider, there is a caveat to moving forward. The boat. Someone–you can’t remember who, said there’d be a boat; however, the boat only exists if you believe it exists. If you stop believing the boat exists, it will cease to carry your weight, and you will plummet into the tumult. If you resume believing in the boat, it will appear, and you will be rescued. If you cannot, you will drown or will have to swim to safety; though, your chances of making it and of still being a whole person are not in your favor.

I believe there is a boat. Three years and 10 months ago, I was in that boat. At this exact time, which would be nearly 24 hours after Jude left us, that boat was literally a hospital bed, and there were only two people in the world on it—Sean and me. We spent night after night together in that tiny hospital bed so close in our grief that it seemed there was room to spare.

Jude’s funeral was on New Year’s Eve, and recently, Sean reminded me of our earthly goodbye to Jude. Our minds are repositories for memories. To get to certain memories, I have to deliberately open a door and walk through it. Then, I go to a shelf, take a box off the shelf, and open it. Like Harry Potter entering a pensive, I can relive vivid memories if I allow myself to. I almost cried remembering the funeral parlor that day.

Rather than perpetually replaying the fine details of Jude’s goodbye, I instead remember the feeling of the moment I stepped off the cliff and landed in the boat. Because at some point that day, I stopped feeling like the ocean would or could devour me. Instead, I felt oddly placid. It was the first time I realized the power of faith.

Losing Jude was one of two things I said I could never survive. The other was my husband leaving me. Now, when I said that, I meant it in the way that my husband meets someone with a much better personality and temperament, possibly someone who knows how to clean and who is just tickled pink to do laundry and to potter around the house dusting things in high heels. I’m kidding. He’s not that shallow. He just would prefer I ask him to listen to fewer audiobooks.

At any rate, I know I have a husband who values the institution of marriage and whose proclivities don’t lean toward infidelity. I still let him know that I would react like a proper crazy person if anything ever did happen because…insurance. More kidding. I didn’t consider the possibility that there even could be a possibility that he might leave in some other way.

This past week, Sean had a biopsy on a mass in the mediastinum to look for whatever was causing his now 4+ weeks of ill health. The doctor, a straight-shooter and a smart man, said he suspected lymphoma; however, he was optimistic that lymphoma was very treatable. Ever since Sean’s biopsy on the 12th when they said, “You know what this (needing to biopsy) means, right?” that they were looking for cancer. I am optimistic about whatever is to come, but before I stepped into the boat, I toed the water in the ocean.

I imagined the worst as our psyches tend to force us to do. Would our daughters remember their daddy? I pictured Eilie waking up at night crying for a daddy who’d never come. I pictured Lucia not being able to remember a daddy who loved her so much. I pictured Lillianne angry, broken, and sulky. I’d have to take them to therapy. But how does one do the job of both? How does one love enough for two? I pictured, too, living the rest of my life being the only other person who cared about and loved Jude the way that we did.

And then, I stopped. Sometimes when he took his motorcycle to work and it was rainy, or just because I knew he sometimes drove a little too fast, I would lay there and scare the stew out of myself with the picture reel of “what-ifs”.

Instead of torturing myself with a deluge of “what-if” scenarios, I’m choosing to get on the boat. Because of Jude, I know it exists. I know it will carry us. When I said the other day in my ask for prayers prior to Sean’s biopsy, I know God has a plan. I don’t know what it is, but I know that if Sean hadn’t gotten sick when our rascals got RSV, then it’s hard to say when we’d have found this thing, whatever it is—whether it’s cancer or something else—and who knows if then it’d be too late? God always has a plan. As much I have expressed that Jude’s passing could possibly have been prevented, I also believe that God had a plan for Jude whether his life was lived physically or metaphysically. Jude’s life has impacted mine and Sean’s in ways there’s no way it would have had he been our normal little boy and had we been normal, happy (albeit, stressed) parents with no experience navigating the rough waters in our little boats.

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Hey Jude — Raising Your Siblings

Dear Jude,

I can only assume you’re here and you see it all. In fact, I saw a cardinal today. It flew across the road as I was about to make a right turn into the cul de sac, and I immediately thought Jude bird. I simultaneously recognized the absurdity in believing that every male cardinal that crosses my path is you sending a message or watching over me while also feeling comforted by the notion and assured in the belief that –yes, it was you.

Anyway, as you also know, Lillianne has been carrying Jude Bear around with her for over a month now. Not the white one-and-only Jude Bear I got at the hospital, the one that realistically, some emotional employee pulled from the gift-shop shelves and pulled a wooden stick that held a tiny mylar balloon with the hopeful “Congratulations” message on out of his neck (there’s always been a hole in my Jude Bear’s neck, and this is why I think it’s there). Then, they carted the white bear upstairs to become part of the hospital’s bereavement kit. Something to give me as an agonizing consolation for the fact that you weren’t there. That you couldn’t be there. That no amount of drug-induced sleep would lead to me waking up and finding that it had indeed all been a bad dream and that you could and would open your eyes and suck air into your lungs. In moments like this, when I remember, the pain of it is overwhelming, and I’m paralyzed by the unfairness of not having you here.

I digress, lest I get lost in memory. The bear Lillianne carries is the birthday gift I got for myself last year. With a handy donation, I was able to procure a Molly Bear. I placed the order on my birthday, the day I turned 35, the day I felt sure would lead to a (somehow) better, more successful me. This Jude Bear weighs exactly 4.2 lbs, the same weight you were when your soul left this earth, darling. I cried the first time I held him because it was like holding you again. It was so bittersweet. Too soon, that Jude Bear came to rest on a shelf until recently when Lillianne started to cry about you.

I’m not sure what has provoked your very dramatic sister’s emotional torrent as it pertains to you. She is conflicted about life and heaven and all of the things that must have transpired for you to be there and not here. I assure her your leaving us was peaceful, as peaceful a death can be. I assure her that you’re with her–I know you are, darling, I know you are, and I assure her that one day, she’ll see you. I promise her that you wouldn’t want her to be sad. Life is for the present, not the past nor the future. We live now.

I sometimes wonder what I should do differently or better to help your sisters accept and understand our unique family dynamic; however, I can think of nothing better than the truth. No sugar-coating. No needless sensation. Just…the truth, which is that for some reason, you are there and we are here, but despite that, we are together. I think it sends a beautiful message that there is wonder and greatness just beyond the veil fo what we can see and experience in this life. These sufferings give us strength to help others. That we are in it together means that we can grow and learn together, and one day, as we each go through the veil in our own time, those who remain can be at peace knowing that in that moment, all is right and as it should be, even as we weep and even as we mourn what we must ultimately wait for.


I love you, sweetheart. Thank you for this understanding and growth and experience. I’m selfish, and I’d rather have you here in a literal way. But, I live now, not then nor in what has yet to come, so all I know is my love and gratitude for you the way you are to me. My perfect, beautiful boy. I miss you, Jude.

Until forever,

Mom

Hey Jude — Making the Most of This Life

Dear Jude,

Hey you. I’m sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written. Sometimes, I try too hard to think of what to say or of saying it the right way when what I should do is just talk to you, the way I talk to your sisters. In fact, I should probably think before I speak with them…some of the time, anyway.

In four months, you’ll be four-years-old. I’ve been looking at our friend’s children who are turning four and thinking, “Oh wow, he’d be such a little person right now.” Specifically, I watched little Catherine at her birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese as she wandered around seemingly lost but also quite self-assured in the way that only preschoolers can be. She was wearing a Bat Girl costume just ‘cause. What would you like? Dinosaurs? Trucks? Space? Bugs? Balls? Cars? Costumes? I told Sean that I bet you’d love to watch the Earth program on Netflix that he likes to turn on and watch with the girls in the evenings.

What would you like to eat? I’d like to think you’d be somewhere between Lillianne and Eilie…a little finicky but not so much that your entire diet is comprised of goldfish crackers and organic milk (like Eilie’s does).

I imagine you playing with the gusto of a little boy. You were by far the busiest baby. Your movements had no rhyme or reason—you just wanted to be on the go.

As I visualize the happier aspects of what your life would be like, I neglect to imagine the challenges, like getting you to listen. Would you be a good listener? I kind of feel like you’d be Lillianne made over and maybe a little wilder…less imagination, but more action-packed. I really would give anything to be able to fuss at you when you’re naughty or when you wake the baby or fight with your sisters over toys. I’d give anything to be able to feel like I was suffering from simultaneous rage strokes and heart-attacks because I’m so overwhelmed.

I’m sure every parent who lost a baby before she ever met them feels this way just like I’m sure every parent who lost a baby after meeting them—and perhaps fussing at them or feeling frustrated because of lack of time or sleep or whatever felt ashamed and possibly tortured with guilt.

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The emotions that come from losing a baby or a child at any age are so nuanced they defy logic. The perspective, too, shifts paradigms.

To begin, you realize how unimportant everything else is compared to those little lives. Money. Work. Legacy. House. Status…whatever, is completely irrelevant. You’d give it all away and never ask to have it back just to have that person back. The irony is that no one is standing around wheeling and dealing and willing to make that offer.

Then, you learn to live with what happened, with the pain of the loss or the grief. I won’t speak for everyone, but I know that in our / my case, the faith that I didn’t even realize I had enabled me to grow in ways that I never imagined. While I wouldn’t wish our loss on anyone, I also wouldn’t begrudge anyone experiencing the absolute love and comfort and peace that we were given after losing Jude…in the weeks, months, and years.

To begin, Jude helped me realize one of the hardest lessons of all, which is that we are not in control. I still struggle with that one, to be honest, but I also know that the things that make me hit the emergency brake on my brain—like when I imagine a freak-accident, our child running across someone’s driveway as they’re backing out, a car wreck, choking on a grape—are things I can’t control just as are the medical maladies that paralyze me with fear.

Last week, a little girl who suddenly developed a deadly brain tumor lost her life.  I look at my vibrant and healthy little girls and take it for granted. I take for granted that none of my children were born with some other kind of cancer or allergy or genetic disorder that at any moment could cause them to cross beyond the veil; however, I have friends who have babies with these problems, and I’m perpetually awed by their faith and resilience. I know that it’s ironic given what happened with Jude, but I can’t imagine.

But then I realize that the fear isn’t what God want us to feel. These challenges, these terrifying, awful, challenges have purpose if we allow them to, and they can transform us in ways that we never realized.

To begin, one of the most remarkable things I learned when I realized how little control I had was that…that’s actually quite okay. Someone else is in control, and I can only do my very best.

Another thing is that one of the most beautiful aspects of tragedy is when you’re able to use what happened to you to help others. This, too, is a Biblical precept as Paul advised in his letters for people to take their struggles and to help those who struggle similarly. Sometimes, I allow myself to revisit Jude’s funeral in my mind, and the people who stand out the most are the ones who came because they’d also lost children or suffered a traumatic loss.

Finally, I understand why suffering is important. In nearly four years, I’ve grown so much emotionally and mentally. I’m more understanding, loving, and compassionate. I’m not perfect, but I want to do better all of the time for my family and my babies. In our Sunday School class a few weeks ago, we talked about why suffering is necessary or why God allows bad things to happen.

I think about things like that a lot because for people who find people like me, people who have faith, to be tedious is that we often can’t explain why suffering is allowed…natural disasters, pedophiles, hatred, evil, etc. I won’t go back to Genesis to explain that, but I will say I started to think of a story idea one day (a total non-starter) about a world where there was no pain, no suffering, no bad, etc. While I realize that Christians believe that is the very definition of heaven, I also cannot imagine being as grateful or as compassionate as I am now if not for suffering. I tried to picture what the conflict would be in this story, and there wouldn’t be. How would the characters grow? Without conflict, how would they evolve into a better version of themselves? So, I believe suffering is allowed in part because it allows us to behave in a way that shows our courage, our love, our compassion, our patience, and our forgiveness for our fellow man…all virtues that God shows to us on a regular basis.

As I look ahead, I know my future will include more suffering, more trials, more challenges to the aspects of my person that I am sometimes too afraid to relinquish. I don’t fear the unknown nor the unexpected. I don’t allow myself to worry about what may or may not happen. I don’t worry about what suffering life will bring. I believe in taking each day as it comes and in doing my best every day and in being kind to myself because sometimes, I think we forget to be kind to ourselves, especially when we are dealing with something that aggrieves us, when we think perhaps we could have done better or had we acted differently, things would have been different.

So, my Jude, thank you for all of that. I love to imagine what kind of little boy you’d be if you were here, but I know that’s only ever going to be fiction. The reality is that the little boy you are now is more than I ever could have conceived or hoped for.

One day, I’ll see you again. For now, you’re in my life, and you’re in my heart. You sweet, beautiful boy. Mommy misses you.

PS: I love that today was one of “your” days because I feel like you were there with our family and your dad this morning. Big hugs.

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Hey Jude — It’s Over

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 overIt’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.

 

Dear Jude,

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,

Me

 

 

Hey Jude — Changing Seasons

My dear, sweet boy,

In less than two hours, I’ll take your sisters to your Emie & Daddy Joe’s house and will drop them off and will head to the hospital to have your last little sibling who we still only know as Mystery Baby.

Today is December 21, 2017.  It’s the first day of winter.  It’s the start of a new season.  In 2012, I began my stumbling (and somewhat unsteady and unwilling, at least at first) foray into motherhood.  For the past five-and-a-half years, spare five months, I have been keeping another person alive with my own body; after today, I’ll have another year to go, God-willing.

I’m not complaining. God knows I’d give anything to have been able to be part of the group of women who–rightfully deserve to–complain about the challenges of motherhood and womanhood as they nurse, feed, love, cradle, coddle, and fret over their cherubic, growing babies.  I’d give anything to not know what it was like to have to say goodbye before I said hello.

But, here we are–there you are in heaven; here I am on Earth.  Losing you nearly three years ago (how are you only five days away from being three?) initiated a season within a season, one in which pregnancy and childbirth were characterized by fear and anxiety, but also one in which I–as a person and a woman, grew up immeasurably.  I didn’t realize how young I was until I lost you.  I also didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about peace and faith or myself.  I would rather have you here and have learned those lessons the hard way, but my goodness, you’ve done more for me than anyone has, and you do it unceasingly.

I’m a 34-year-old woman, getting ready to have her last C-section, her last baby.  I’m about to bid my childbearing years goodbye and to look ahead toward the future, a future in which I am a mother to four children, no matter whether I can only relate to them spiritually and emotionally or physically as well.  Today truly ends and begins a season of my life.

I only came to the realization of the parallel between the actually day–December 21–and the symbolism last night, but before that, something else that represents the way life comes full circle happened.

We’d walked to your Emie & Daddy Joe’s house yesterday evening. We stood at the end of the long driveway, and I asked my dad if I could take one of his oranges.  He grows a huge variety of citrus in the front and back yards. He consented and led me toward the backyard.  I followed, surprised and a little confused that he didn’t want to give me one of the sweet oranges that were hanging on the tree nearest to us.

As I waddled down the driveway, I thought about December 2014.  I thought about Dad’s grapefruits. He has a mammoth and prolific tree in his backyard that for years has produced hundreds–hundreds–of grapefruit.  After I lost you, when I was numb and had no taste or zest for life whatsoever, Dad kept bringing me grapefruit from his tree. He brought grapefruits to me in the hospital.  Other people brought food, and usually, by the time a visitor left or I’d stopped crying, the food was spoiled, and so when I could and would eat, I would peel into a grapefruit and eat the juicy, tart-sweet spoils.  It was like comfort food from God.

Of course, in 2015, as I wrote about here, the tree sustained trauma due to a bitterly cold frost that early winter.  The tree barely produced.  It was a metaphor for me…for what I’d gone through, for what I was going through.

The following season, the tree produced again; though, its nature had changed.  This year, I couldn’t recall if the tree was producing a single fruit.  A downed branch earlier in the summer and some other issues led me to believe that the special tree might not live much longer…let along produce fruit.

Dad opened the metal gate leading to the pool area behind which stands the tree.  He reached into the tree and pulled a large, low-hanging grapefruit from the branches.  “Oh wow, Dad. This means so much,” I said, hugging him.

“I grew that one especially for you.  I thought that one’s for my Amy,” he replied as we turned to go.

I don’t believe in luck or charming one’s fate with rituals, but the simplicity behind my dad’s thoughtfulness and the timing of the situation, could not have been more profound for me in that moment or more comforting.  I realized, too, that my dad’s gesture symbolized something else, the ability to overcome a past.

Growing up, Dad and I weren’t particularly close. Too similar, we clashed. I was emotional and high strung; he was pragmatic yet high strung in his own ways. Both of us were intense and clever and determinedly right.  It was really stressful for both of us.  In my teens and 20s, I was bothered by the reality that if something were to happen to my dad, he’d have been a person I loved but never knew.

After I grew up some more, got married, and learned a thing or two about life, Dad and I started talking more and more and more.  I don’t know his whole story; he still surprises me with aspects of his past that I am intrigued and entertained by.  I do know, though, the story he and I share, and the fact that we have that shows me how much it’s possible to grow and to blossom even after the hardest of seasons.

My darling Jude.  I should probably go start getting ready.  It’s almost time.  No matter what happens today, you, your sisters, and this last little baby are all my darlings.  I’m thankful for the past five-and-a-half years.  They made me who I am, but I’m also thankful to turn the page and to look toward a future shaped by my past but not ruled by it.

 

As always, I love you forever, I like you for always. As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.

Love,

Mommy

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Hey Jude – Why the Truth Matters

Dear Jude,

In one month, you’ll turn three. Three-years-old. I remember Lillianne’s third birthday party. It was at the park, on the playground. Eilie was only just four-months-old and just hung on to whoever was holding her like a sweet little koala nugget. Lillianne was so cute. She wore a blue dress with white polka dots and her little yellow “heeled” sandals. We set up tables and even though it was 9:00 that June morning, it was swelteringly hot. Lillianne laughed and ran around, sliding and swinging. She didn’t even care that her friends weren’t there yet; if you’d have been there, you’d have been a year and a half and no doubt, hot on her heels, sliding and swinging a few steps behind her with shouts of, “Yee-yan,” because you couldn’t say Lillianne.

By now, those wobbly steps and funny baby talks would’ve turned into running at full tilt and chattering in full sentences…we’d know what your favorite foods and colors and characters are. We’d have fussed at you for rule-breaking, worried if we were raising you “okay”, thought about your future…all of the things parents do. I’d be planning your birthday party, of course, and, of course, complaining about how “hard” it is to do things during the holidays.

 

The reality is that I’m doing none of those things. I’m expecting your baby brother or sister to be delivered at 36 weeks and 5 days in three weeks and three days (but who’s counting?) on December 21. I’m anxiously anticipating the arrival of your last sibling five days before your birthday.

The day before yesterday, Mystery Baby turned 33 weeks; for you, 33 weeks was the last day of your life with us. We only had you with us for 33 weeks. If I’d known I had to form a lifetime of memories in 33 weeks, I wonder how much I’d have done differently?

 

Yesterday, you’d have been 35 months. We went to Atlanta over the holiday weekend to get Mystery Baby’s little animal from the Georgia Aquarium, an accidental tradition that now means so much. Your Jude Whale, by the way, is much loved and is passed around by your sisters. We got your last little sibling a Harbor Seal. I meant to get a sea lion, but oh well. It’s a cute and soft little thing, and I think Mystery Baby will like it. You’d have loved Jude Whale. It’s kind of ironic that your little whale was pure white, completely innocent and angelic, like you. I always think of you when I see the belugas now. They’re so docile and gentle and ethereal, like you.

I digress. Saturday night, I had a hard time going to sleep. I felt unwell. It was probably fatigue or just un-actualized anxiety. Thirty-three weeks. I had a few cramps and mentally plotted exactly what we’d do if I went into labor or if there was an emergency. Thankfully, there wasn’t.

I woke up at 4 a.m. and thought about the night we lost you. I thought about the things that happened and about how recently, I’ve read about other moms whose babies were having decels and other issues like you were. Those babies were delivered, and those babies lived. Your dad and I have assuaged our grief over and over by telling ourselves that something else might have been wrong. I’ve consoled myself with the idea that you at least were in a safe, warm place full of love when your life left this Earth. But I do wonder…and wonder…and wonder…time and time again, for nearly three years now, what if. If they’d have delivered you, would you have lived? There are plenty of pre-term babies born every day who are sustained in NICUs and who live as perfectly healthy and happy children.

Being the skeptic that I am, I wonder and continue to wonder if someone really knows what happened or who has an idea of what happened, and they’re not saying because they’d rather protect people within the institution (Providence Hospital in Mobile, AL) or the institution itself. The thing is, I’m well outside the statute of limitations for any legal action, and honestly, I don’t want anyone’s money. There is on amount of money on this Earth that can possibly make up for you not being here.

The reality is that I just want to know everything. I want to know why if there’s a why. I want to know how if someone knows how. I want to know if someone made a mistake. I want to hear, “I’m sorry,” if they did. I want to know that because of you, someone has changed everything about the way they practice medicine and has made the right decision and has saved so many baby’s lives. I’d like to know that. I just want to know the truth, whatever it is, because I’d like to think it would take some of the burden from my grief.

 

Yesterday, one month before you turned three, we drove home from Atlanta. Having slept poorly, I was tired and uncharacteristically emotional. Irrationally, I engaged your dad in a lengthy conversation about past pains that really don’t impact our marriage now. After all, when better to trap someone in an emotional argument about the past than on a four-and-a-half hour car ride.

I cried three times yesterday. Once was in a Hardee’s bathroom (we’ll call this a “low point”), once at home while I was unpacking. We’ll call this a “revelation moment” because it was when I took my Jude Bear (the one I got at the hospital nearly three years ago when I lost you) out of my suitcase that I started crying all over again. It’s also when it became clear that the real reason I was upset was because of you. It’s because I miss you. I love you so much, and I miss you, and I really just want some kind of closure. I just want to know the truth about what happened. I realize no one can assure me that your outcome would or wouldn’t have been different had the doctor read the ultrasound correctly; had she decided to deliver; had they rushed us straight to the Children’s & Women’s hospital with the NICU, etc. However, I feel someone can tell us if—in hindsight, they made a mistake. They made a bad call. They weren’t as attentive as they should have been. I have no idea. Did they do everything correctly?

I don’t want someone to blame because that won’t change anything. I just want closure. Is that too much to ask? There’s that line that goes, “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!” I can handle the truth. I don’t think it’s fair for me to have anything but the truth.

I think that’s true for all moms who’ve suffered a loss. We deserve the truth. After all, I had a healthy pregnancy with Lillianne. I had a healthy pregnancy with Eilie. Mystery Baby is thus far very healthy. In these final three and a half weeks of me ever being pregnant again, I’m absolutely gripped with anxiety and paranoia because I don’t know what happened or if your passing was ultimately the result of human error (i.e., the choice of inaction) or if it was truly something completely mysterious. Is it normal for babies with decelerations, severe tachycardia and bradycardia to not be delivered immediately? Or rather, more importantly, how much of the heartbeats being read were mine, and how many were yours? What happened?

 

Most days, I’m not a crazy person. Most days, I don’t cry. Most days, I don’t rehash painful topics with your father. Yesterday just wasn’t most days. I’m sorry for days like that, that I have to have days like that. I’m sorry that I hate being pregnant because of the constant anxiety. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was never a fan of being pregnant, but after losing to “causes unknown”, pregnancy is terrorizing. I’ve visited the hospital three times during this pregnancy for legitimate concerns (of course, everything is fine; everything is always fine) for $125 a pop (shout out to my sponsor, Visa). I’m more afraid of getting a steroid shot and of Mystery Baby needing NICU time than I am excited to meet Mystery Baby in three weeks. Your dad cannot stand when I’m pregnant because I’m so high strung. It’s truly unfortunate. I feel so alone so often because being the one who’s pregnant, I’m literally the only one who can determine if there’s a problem or whatever. I’ve spent six months wondering if this weird little pain in my leg is a blood clot; it’s been checked twice. It’s not. It keeps getting worse, like the anxiety.

 

I wish above all things that I could hug you and tell you in your sweet ear the story about what happened. Instead, I’ll spend the rest of my life wishing. Wishing I knew. Wishing I could hug you. Wishing that I didn’t have two potential realities: the one where you live and the one where we have Eilie because I know that had life not taken the course it did, we wouldn’t have Eilie. The little seeds that made her wouldn’t have been there when and if we ever made baby three. It would be different seeds, a different life. A different kid. A different everything.

But, alas, that’s not this reality. In this reality, you are with me in spirit. I cannot hug you or hold you. We have Eilie, who is so sweet and fun and funny, and we have Mystery Baby, who I hope we get to raise on Earth. I guess we’ll see. As the weeks, days, and hours crawl by, I become more and more anxious and despondent. I lessen my grip on hope just in case it happens again. I do this because I don’t know what happened. That’s the price of not knowing the whole and absolute truth.

I love you and miss you, sweet boy. In my heart, I’m always hugging you and smiling at your laughing eyes. 

Love,

Mommy

Hey Jude — Ending a Chapter

Today, Jude is two years and 10 months old. In exactly eight weeks, we’ll (okay, I’ll because let’s be honest about who’s doing the ‘heavy lifting’ here) hopefully deliver our fourth and final baby via scheduled C-section on December 21 at approximately 37 weeks.

I don’t know if it’s the sleep deprivation that’s –this time—come from excess work or the reality that this is it, but I’ve been so much more emotional in the past few months than I have been in the past year when I think about and talk about my Jude.

If you’ve ever lost someone, first, I’m very sorry. Second, you know that most of the time…you’re okay. You mourn privately and usually on anniversary days, perhaps their birthday or the day they passed away, but otherwise, you don’t walk around with your emotions bubbling below the surface (that’s not to say you’re not always thinking about your that you don’t still love the person you lost, of course).

I’ll admit that I thought I was past the point of spontaneous tears, but it seems I’m not. Because we don’t know the gender of this “mystery baby”, I ordered a very cute “Baby’s First Christmas” outfit in the newborn size. As soon as I did, I thought about the what ifs…a great thing for when I’m writing fiction; not so much for when I’m thinking about what could happen between now and December 21 and even afterward (I’m very anxious about delivering at 37ish weeks and about possibly having to have a steroid shot to develop the baby’s lungs prior to; I’m also anxious about the baby having medical complications due to being delivered so early.).

But, the what ifs…they come whether you want them to or not. Before I could hit stop and eject on the thought process, my mind was at Jude’s funeral, and I was standing in front of that little teeny satin box, and his teeny body was in it and dressed in his little blue outfit, and he was there, but he wasn’t, and …just thinking about it, it makes me cry. I miss him so much. I’m so afraid of going through that again. The thing is, it’s okay that no one can say anything to make it ‘okay’ because it’s just not okay.

There are some things, some circumstances in life that are too complicated for words to make right. I think about my friend who brought coffee the next day at like, 6:00 in the morning before her shift at the hospital. It was coffee. That stuff most of us drink every day so our facial muscles function properly (I might be over-sharing here.) But, you know, it was so much more than coffee. It was just…showing up and wanting to help and bringing that one little comfort that I couldn’t get. It was her tact in not trying to say the “right” thing because there really is no right thing you can say.

I’ve observed more and more people put their foot in it trying to say the right thing instead of just keeping their mouth shut. I’m still a member of the Pregnancy after Loss group, and what some of these women endure is surreal. One pregnant “friend” asked a mom two months after her loss if she could buy or have her baby things since she wouldn’t need them. Other times, people suggest that the women can always have more babies, or they suggest that if they already have one child, “At least you have (first child / children).” They don’t understand why the women don’t celebrate when and if they can / do get pregnant again.

I know I’m not as sensitive to some stimuli as other PALs, but I get being pregnant again not necessarily being a cause to celebrate. It’s like walking across one of those broken wooden rope bridges in an Indiana Jones film. Maybe you’ve made it once, maybe you haven’t, but there was that one time where the board beneath your feet broke and you fell. You almost died, and it took every ounce of hope and humanity that you possessed to get up and to climb back to the top of the cliff and to start walking again. The walk is never the same. Every step, every board looks nefarious. It doesn’t matter that a team of engineers are encouraging you and assuring you that everything looks great with this bridge. There’s no reason for you to not make it to the other side. You want to believe them. You want to enjoy the scenery on the walk, but there’s no foregoing the trauma from “the fall.”

Eight weeks, especially the last eight weeks are the most treacherous part of my pregnancy journey. I’m trying really hard to hold it together as I cross the bridge, but I’m scared of heights, and I don’t like pain if I can avoid it.

I don’t want to fall again. I want to make it to the other side just one more time because this is the last time. No matter what happens on this journey, this is it. It’s not that I couldn’t try “one more time” if the unthinkable what if happens. It’s just…I don’t want to. It’s too much on me and on Sean and on our family. Being able to have children is and has been a blessing to us, but the emotional and physical burden isn’t healthy.

At the same time, closing this door somehow causes me to feel like I’ll lose a little piece of Jude. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt kicks or had headaches or experienced some other nuance that reminded me of Jude’s pregnancy. I’m going to miss that. I don’t want to let go of feelings that make me feel more connected to him, even if those are the same feelings that make me cry uncontrollably when I hear about someone else’s trauma or when I think about the “what ifs”.

Like all endings, this will be bittersweet. Right now, the hope of just having a healthy baby in eight weeks fully overshadows the gravity of this life transition, but I know that once it sinks in, I’ll (hopefully) be complete in a sense and can celebrate starting a new chapter while reflecting more meaningfully on the one that I’m about to turn the page on.

***

Dear Jude,

I don’t know what to say other than I love you, and I miss you. I wish I could remember you better. A PAL was asking if other moms looked at their baby’s tummy or patted their little bottoms, the kinds of things that moms do when their baby is alive. I’m sorry that I never saw what color eyes you had or changed your little diaper or gave you a bath. I remember your feet and hands; I love your feet and hands. I love the way it kind of felt like you held our hands. There’s a part of me that’s not in this world because you’re not here. I appreciate that you make me a stronger, better person in so many ways. I wouldn’t be who or where I am if not for you, and that’s not something I can necessarily say to your sisters or to mystery baby, so you’re very special to me. I just miss you, and there’s a selfish part of me who wishes she could have you here. I wish I was planning a little third birthday party right now and perhaps complaining about how hard it is to plan a birthday party at Christmas time and just be completely unaware of how nice it is to have that problem. I don’t mean that people who have that take their precious babies for granted because I know that they don’t, but I just wish…that was the most of my problems.

Anyway, I love you so much my beautiful boy. I’ll see you one day –sooner than later in the grand scheme of things.

You’re in my heart.

Love,
Mommy

Hey Jude — The Hardest 500 Words

We lost Jude on December 26, 2014, and I never went back to “work”. I really couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t stand the idea of going back to that office where –when I last left, I was pregnant—and sit at that desk again and sit at that lovely dual monitor computer screen and do my job. I didn’t want to endure that for another month or two or three or however long it was before I ultimately couldn’t do it anymore, so instead, I quit.

For the year and a half prior to that moment, I’d slowly been establishing myself as a freelance writer and editor, so I wasn’t quitting to the detriment of my family; I had a good side income. No, I was quitting because it seemed absurd to stick around and to sit in that spot and think about my sweet boy and how much he used to kick me when that would have been emotional flagellation. So, while I had a sense of how to take care of myself in one regard, I still had much to learn in areas of faith.

As it turns out, grief and loss don’t come with instruction manuals. One of the worst and hardest things about losing our Jude was telling people what happened. In some cases, I couldn’t do it. It seemed like way too much to e-mail my editor in Arizona and tell him that I had been pregnant but that I was at the hospital and that I’d lost my son and could he please find someone else to write the article?

Instead, I was –still—very afraid of not having the work. I worried that by letting my editors down, they wouldn’t hire me. I also just couldn’t find the right words for what happened; I was so close to the grief spiral’s abyss. Instead I said, “There’s been a family emergency; can I get an extension?” or something to that effect. He added a few days to the deadline, so it was due on December 29. I went home from the hospital on December 28; Jude’s funeral was December 31.

I remember sitting in bed late the night of December 29 trying to understand what I was supposed to write about. The client was an app developer, and I was supposed to write 500 words about app development services or trends in app development or something; I couldn’t focus. I may as well have had to write the article in alien French, too, while I was at it.

Thankfully, the assignment was in English, and it was by the grace of God the assignment was only 500 words instead of the usual 900 or 1,200. I wouldn’t have made it if it was any longer. So, there I was, along in my bleary-eyed wakefulness as Sean and Lillianne slept beside me. I didn’t understand a word I was writing, but I pushed and grinded and slogged my way through a passable article on app development (or trends or whatever). I gave it a quick proofread and sent it in three days after Jude was born still.

That night, I was not ready to come back to life; I was not ready to fully embrace my new world. I regret not having the nerve to explain what happened to my editor and to accept that if that company didn’t want to hire me again, God would somehow have it all worked out.

I did learn to put my faith in God more, though, thanks to Jude. As a freelancer, I’ve had many ups and downs, but God has always shown up. I’ve learned to stop worrying.

The most poignant example of this happened in early spring of 2015. Someone I was bringing home about $1000+ a month from decided to move my work in-house. That was a huge pay cut; however, that kind of thing happens all of the time. I responded to the e-mail that I understood and was genuinely grateful for everything this person had done for me. Three hours later, while I was running with Lillianne, my phone rang and from out of the blue, an editor (who I’d never met) for a company I did some travel writing with (Compass Media) wanted to see if I’d be interested in driving to their office and meeting. We ended up negotiating a contract that lasted for about a year, and I wrote three travel guides (two for the City of Mobile and one for Gulf Shores and Orange Beach). It was a huge lesson in faith, one that I started learning during Jude’s funeral.

On December 31, Sean and I seemingly simultaneously found peace after losing Jude. I cannot explain the peace that I felt, but I know Sean and I both talked about feeling it that day. At some point, there was a moment for both of us during Jude’s funeral where we felt…serenity and clarity. It was like the combined love, energy, spirit, and prayers of everyone who came to Jude’s funeral came together as a force of invisible nature. God literally answered the hearts of everyone who was there for us and for Jude because that was a transformative moment for Sean and for me.

That peace has kept me steady in the life I’m living now. Without Jude, I don’t know that I would’ve found that, so I am beyond grateful to my little boy, who will turn three in December, for this precious gift.

After Jude’s funeral, when I was ready to sit down at my computer again, I explained what happened to my editor. He said it was the saddest thing he’d ever heard. I appreciated that. Of course, at that point, I didn’t need any deadline extensions because I had chosen to live. Jude and those prayerful spirits at his funeral helped me make that decision as opposed to falling into the spiraling grief abyss. I would be able to work and to write and to meet deadlines again. Some things would be harder than others, but so far, nothing has been harder than those 500 words that I wrote that long, lonely night between death and life.

 

Dear Jude,

 It’s weird to feel your 20-week-old little sibling kicking me while I’m writing to you. It’s also weird to miss you so much but to be so thankful for you being you just the way you are. I only wish I could hug you, as any mother wishes. I will always wonder what happened and why, but that doesn’t disrupt the peace and faith I have because of you. I’m impressed, of course, at the way that in 33 short weeks, you accomplished more in my life than I have. You are precious, and you are wonderful. I love you and miss you.

Love,

Mommy

 

“The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree

are of equal duration.” –T.S. Elliot

 

Indeed. They are.

Hey Jude – My Little Gidding

Dear Jude,

Today you’d be 2 1/2 if….

Previously I thought I wouldn’t think of the age you’d be or visualize how you’d be growing. But, I remember Lillianne at 2 1/2, and I can picture you. You’d almost be out of toddlerhood, and you’d no doubt be giving your sister a run for her money in terms of the pending threenage years. It’s incredible how different our life’s dynamic would be if….

As you know, of course, I don’t dwell in “if” because so much would be different, I wouldn’t recognize the world I live in or the one I would live in. All I can do is appreciate what I have, what memories, what moments, and what I’ve become for what those things are.

There’s a line from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” that was in a book I’ve read a few times recently. It reminds me of you, which compelled me to read the poem. The line reads,

The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree

Are of equal duration.

A rose and a yew have very different life spans, but each are lives fully lived. You and I have very different life spans, but that doesn’t mean your life is any less full, precious, or important than mine. In fact, I believe you’ve had a bigger impact on my life than I have.

It’s interesting that one of Eliot’s themes is that suffering is essential before life can begin. The poem contains images of something being burned down before it is rebuilt. There are themes of past, present, and future in the poem all of which are unavoidably comparable to birth and to life and death.

Both your father and I have felt that the suffering we endured and still endure as well as the lessons we learn have had the transformative effect that’s can only come from being utterly destroyed and reconstructed. It is remarkable and even miraculous that such a powerful rebirth can come from something so small and brief and delicate as your perfect little life.

Though I know you’re not here for me to hug, I’m holding you close to my heart all of the time. As long as I live, so do you for we are of equal duration. I love you very much, always and forever, my Little Gidding, my Jude, my rose, my little hero.

 

 

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