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

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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

Hey Jude – One Second

For two months, I’ve neglected to post something on Jude’s site. I assure you, it’s not for lack of love or remembrance of my baby boy. I think about him all of the time; Jude Bear still shares our bed at night. In fact last night, I put him between Lillianne and Eilie who were snuggled in our big bed with us and thought that Jude Bear is about the size of my baby boy who would never grow or age another second. The idea of a second is one that I’ve thought of a lot in the past two months of being unable to properly put my feelings into words.

 

It was an unassuming Tuesday when at 7:24 I woke to a missed call from Sean; the call came in at 7:22. He never calls. I thought and pushed to redial.

The story spilled out and I was drawn into what can only literally be described as a living nightmare. Someone close to Sean had taken his own life only a handful of hours before. My nerves pricked, and I repeated, “Oh my God, oh my God,” as if the mantra would somehow reverse the reality and I could wake up for real.

This man, someone I admittedly barely knew, is someone’s son, husband, father, and brother. He was expecting a son. He was so much to so many, and in one moment, one second, his saga on Earth ended.

 

My mind swirled around the circle of grief as I thought of his mother, wife, and sisters. I imagined their pain. His mother, I could somewhat relate to; it’s an inexplicable phenomenon of loss and grief when your baby precedes you in death. There’s nothing that can prepare nor is there anything that can explain how and why you can wake up each morning afterward and step out of bed.

Her loss, I felt, was the more substantial for many reasons because even though I could relate, I couldn’t imagine. After 36 years, you feel like you’re safe. After your baby is born, you feel life your baby is safe. Your baby will do what babies are supposed to do…they’ll live their life, find happiness and fulfillment…their smile will be the last thing you hopefully see before your own life ends one day.

Of course, with Jude I learned that there’s no such thing as a safe time. You’re guaranteed nothing…not after the first trimester…not after the second…not even after that baby is born or can no longer stumble into sharp corners or can no longer choke on grapes…. It’s not a reason to be fearful, but it’s the truth. I’m sure at no point when in 1979 she looked at his gummy baby grin and dark eyes that she envisioned that baby would only have 36 short years to be heard and to be embraced. I’ll admit that even though Jude’s loss was so much less painful, the fact that I don’t have any memories to sustain on makes me feel sad and empty. Respectfully, none of it’s fair.

His wife…I could only imagine. I’ve woken up to a text from Sean almost every day since 2008. He’s the reason I look forward to 5 p.m. I get excited about the weekends because he’s usually here. The idea of not looking forward to those things is painful. More agonizing, I think of my babies asking for daddy…missing daddy…wondering when daddy will get home. Lillianne is almost three. Most mornings, the first words out of her mouth are, “Where’s Daddy?” and I get to say, “He’s at work, but he’ll be home soon.” Of course, then I think of us with Eilie; how many times have I said, “Look! Look!” because she smiled or lifted her head up or was making a cute face? I text Sean dozens of photos almost every day because our kids do something funny or adorable. I would miss sharing those sharable moments with the only person who cared about them as much as I did. So for his wife, my heart continually breaks.

When I thought of his sisters, I thought of my brother…the only person who uniquely shared my lifetime of memories and secrets. He’s the only other person who truly understands what life was like in our house. They were supposed to be able to raise their own children together, support each other through life’s pains and triumphs as they had when they were younger. The sibling bond is special, which is why I hurt so much for Lillianne after we lost Jude. She lost the best friend she never knew she had. Even though Adam (my brother) and I aren’t as close as we used to be nor do we talk as often as we should given our proximity to each other, I wouldn’t be complete without him. I mean, we shared more than a house and parents for the most formative years of our lives….we shared a womb; we share DNA. We’re (in some ways) the same person. If he’s not here, part of me isn’t here, which is how I feel about Jude as well, and it’s why I’m often sad for Lillanne and Eilie.

 

We drove out of state to attend the funeral…showing up felt like the least we could do and at the same time, it was the only thing we could think to do. A friend suggested that we do or say what we wanted when we lost Jude. For me, the answer was nothing. I didn’t want anything. I didn’t want to make conversation. I didn’t care about food. I was shell-shocked, but in hindsight, I appreciated the people who showed up one way or the other (physically or with calls, cards, and flowers).

 

I looked at him before the funeral Mass started. He looked peaceful. Surreal. A clip show of photos played on the other side of the room. A lifetime was being conveyed in a series of photos. He was athletic. Spent summers with his family at the beach. Posed for the camera in tee shirts and shorts like every other dorky kid from the ‘90s. He smiled infectiously in every image; he was harmless. Sweet. I met a person I hardly knew in a series of photos…probably the person his mom and sisters remembered best.

Too soon, the slideshow ended, and the Mass began. The finality of the closed coffin seemed to make it more real. I’m never ready for the coffin to close; I wasn’t ready for Jude’s coffin to close. During Jude’s wake, Sean was by his side, holding his little hand; I was only a few steps away, but I wasn’t next to my son. I somewhat regret that. I also regret never seeing his eyes or dressing him. I honestly wasn’t sure what I was allowed to do with him; he was mine, after all, and at the time, when we were in the hospital, holding him and brushing my hand across his cold cheek seemed like enough.

The guests took their seats at his Mass. His daughter’s attire was entirely apropos for the sad occasion; her innocence was highlighted profoundly by her purse. It was a little pink toy-like purse as though it wasn’t really her father’s funeral…just a morbid game of dress-up. I started to cry.

As children will often do during church, mine became restless, and I slipped out with Lillianne; we heard the rest of the Mass from the foyer. Sean soon joined us as Eilie was also getting restless, and we heard the remainder of the Mass from there.

After, we stood and watched –almost intrusively, like voyeurs of grief—as the family entered the foyer. He came first followed by his very pregnant wife then daughter and mom and grandma and sisters in turn; arms tenderly outstretched to one another, providing support and simultaneously reaching for it. A cloth was ceremoniously draped over his coffin. I clutched at Sean’s elbow, weeping for them…for him…for them.

 

During the procession to the cemetery, I flash-backed to Jude’s procession and had an outburst of emotion. I cried unrelentingly for a few moments. I was reminded of that chasm of pain that literally engulfs you when you have a loss so significant that you can’t even fathom it. It’s the kind of loss that your mind has to do absolutely wondrous and incomprehensible things to facilitate coping. It’s the kind of phenomenon that reminds you that there’s a higher power and a purpose. It’s the kind of thing that you realize, wow… I can…survive this un-survivable devastation and life can…have purpose.

Within the past year, I recalled reading a fascinating piece about a survivor of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima. It was riveting to say the least. Regardless of how you feel about the war, the first-person narrative of what they experienced was profound to hear of. And it reminds me that I’m not the only one who’s loved and lost so deeply. It’s something I’m reminded of often; in fact, just as with the story of this very important and wonderful and special person, I’m the least-suffering of anyone who has ever suffered, I feel.

Perhaps that’s because I know such mercy and grace, and I’m really thankful for that. Maybe I don’t know how badly I could or should have it, but I just…don’t. I don’t have it bad. I tell people all of the time that I’m blessed. I know I’m blessed. It’s not because Eilie is here, either. I’m blessed because I’m a child of a loving God.

Yes, I suffer, and I know pain. The world suffers, but there’s something beyond that. Have you ever seen people rise up in the face of pain and adversity? Band together? Overcome hatred and anxiety and stereotypes because they just had to help someone? I feel like that’s the point of pain…it helps us to be human and to become our best selves while having faith that it really will somehow all be okay.

To this family who suffered such a loss, I love you all so much. I don’t know where you are as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but know that we love you. Know that I love you. Know that your boy is holding mine in heaven, and that they are bringing one another joy. Know that we are here to bring you love and joy and peace and hope and prayers. Life isn’t always fair, but at least we can say there’s always love. We love you.

 

Related: On March 9…a day after (wow) a blogger shared this piece via Mental Health America: ”Open Suicide Letter.” I read it March 21, and it was –still is—profound insight.

 

Hey Jude – Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I’ve always liked the expression that life is stranger than fiction because it is. In fiction, scenarios are contrived. If you want it to, love conquers all; the boy gets the girl; the bad guy gets what’s coming to him, and the good guy wins in the end. In reality, life is dirtier and messier. Bad things happen to good people; some bad people never get their just desserts. Life can seem unfocused and random at times, which is why many people believe that events in life are purposeless.

Without saying that everything happens for a reason, I believe it’s possible to find meaning in most things. Losing a baby, losing Jude, wasn’t one of those things I was going to try to find meaning in beyond what joy Jude had, has, and continues to bring to my life. You see, when someone suggests to a grieving mother that she lost her baby for a reason, there are very few conclusions she can and will arrive at that don’t lead her to conclude that she’s a terrible person.

After we lost Jude, some very well-intended people suggested that perhaps it was a wake-up call for us, which I reasoned if I needed such a powerful “wake-up” call as losing a baby that I must be a terrible, horrible human being completely unfit to so much as breathe the same air as everyone else; however, I realized that though well-intended the suggestion (as it aimed to give some purpose to the nightmare of suddenly and without explanation losing Jude), it wasn’t accurate. Pain and punishment aren’t doled out to bad people just like riches and rewards aren’t doled out to good ones; this was something that our priest talked about during church on Sunday and is something that we –humans—struggle to understand.

Thus, I was content to accept that no special meaning or greater purpose had to be attached to Jude’s perfect life. He was pure, innocent, and he was love; there didn’t need to be more to it.

When we became pregnant with Eilie five months after losing Jude, I knew their due dates (Jude and Eilie’s) would be close; you’d think it would’ve been difficult when I found out that Eilie’s gestational due date was February 11, 2016 one day and one year off of Jude’s gestational due date of February 12, 2015. It was even more ironic since Jude’s scheduled C-section would have been February 11 as it’s my mom’s birthday. I took the situational irony with a raised eyebrow and a grain of salt.

After all, Eilie and Jude wouldn’t come close to sharing an actual birthday; Jude was born still on December 26, 2014; Eilie would hopefully spend at least six more weeks in utero to be born on February 4, 2016 at 39 weeks.

Like her brother, Eilie was scheduled to be delivered via C-section. Other than my copious anxiety during her pregnancy, everything relative to Eilie’s development and pregnancy was perfect (this is the actual word that my doctors used). I did a weekly non-stress test with my regular OB and a weekly biophysical profile with my high-risk doctor. Toward the end of the pregnancy, I sheepishly told Dr. B. that, “I felt bad seeing a high-risk doctor with such a healthy pregnancy when there were women out there (with losses) with real problems (in their pregnancies).” He kindly told me I was right where I needed to be.

On Tuesday, January 26, 2016, thirteen months after losing Jude, I wrote my monthly letter to Jude. That afternoon, I went to see my regular OB. Like clockwork, I was hooked up for the non-stress test. After a while, my doctor’s nurse came in and said, “Now, I don’t want you to freak out….”

“I know,” I cut in. I smiled wryly. I’d had a feeling something wasn’t right; Eilie hadn’t done her usual gymnastics during the non-stress test. So, just like I’d done with Jude, 13 months and almost to the hour before, I allowed myself to be escorted to ultrasound for a biophysical profile of my baby. I was surprisingly calm. I texted my mother who would call my aunt who was watching Lillianne to tell them I’d probably be late and to have my dad pick up Lillianne when it was time for my aunt to leave. I called Sean who was leaving work an hour out of town right to tell him not to panic or to rush but that we were doing a biophysical profile…that I was sure everything was fine (even though I wasn’t completely sure).

My doctor, Dr. T., sat through the biophysical profile with me. Everything was gradually checking off of the list of requisite things for them to observe. Fluid levels and Eilie taking a breath were the two things I was most concerned about; those were two abnormalities in Jude’s biophysical profile. It felt like an eternity, but Eilie finally took a breath. And after roughly 20 minutes, the BBP concluded with Eilie hitting all of her points. During the test, I tried to envision myself going home that night, going to bed, and sleeping. It was so conceptually absurd. I mean, there was just no way I’d sleep.

We walked back to the office, and instead of being checked for dilation (typical at 37-38 weeks) as we were planning, Dr. T took me into her private office. “So, I don’t know how you feel about this, but I’d like to send you to the hospital for a couple of hours to sit on the monitor. It would just make me feel better.”

“Yes, I think that’s a good idea,” I concurred without hesitation.

Soon, I was on the monitor, and Sean was there. “Did you know you’re having contractions?” a nurse who fluttered in asked.

“Really? No, I had no idea,” I said, amused at the phantom contractions. I’d had some great inner thigh cramps because of how low Eilie sat in my uterus throughout the pregnancy, but I certainly hadn’t had any contractions I was aware of (other than Braxton-Hicks). Because Eilie had resumed her usual level of movement, I was at ease.

A few hours after we’d been checked in, there was no indication we were leaving anytime soon. Dr. T came back to the hospital and checked me. I was 2-3 cm dilated…something else I wasn’t aware of. The “wait and see” game was thus extended to morning.

Given that we were one day away from being full term (38 weeks), I rationalized that Dr. T would want to wait until at least Thursday if we were going to deliver early…maybe longer because women dilate all of the time and aren’t necessarily in labor. I mean, I wasn’t in labor; I had labor contractions with Lillianne, and believe me, I know what labor feels like. So, needless to say, it felt like the air had been sucked out of my lungs when Dr. T came into our room, sat down, and candidly said, “I think we’re going to have a baby today.”

For the first time in the past 24 hours, I was so flooded with emotion that I nearly cried. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, just a little shocked…and overwhelmed. Why now? Why today?”

“You’re having contractions that are about 7-10 minutes apart, so rather than send you home knowing you’ll be back, I’d rather go ahead and deliver you.”

Having lost Jude, I wasn’t up for taking risks; I trusted Dr. T implicitly, so the next question was, “When?”

Half an hour later, I was in the OR getting the spinal tap while nurses and other medical staff requisitely prepped for a C-section delivery. I laid down; the partition was raised, and Sean came in wearing his yellow “husband scrubs”. Unlike Lillianne’s C-section, I was attentive to every detail of this delivery. I was aware of the cover over me. I was aware of the numbing sensation that was gradually overtaking my lower extremities. I was aware that the procedure was starting. I must’ve been oddly quiet because the anesthesiologist kept asking if I was okay. I was fine. I was occasionally vacillating between wanting to burst in to tears and to laugh out loud…but mostly to cry…but I was fine.

“Oh wow, you can see her face,” someone said. I looked up at Sean who was peering over the partition with a look of absolute wonderment.

“You can see her face,” he confirmed. I wasn’t quite sure what was so impressive about this other than the fact that Eilie had been sitting incredibly low in the birth position for the better part of the last two and a half months, so perhaps they were marveling that the face was the first thing they saw in lieu of a back end or something like that.

As the procedure progressed, I overheard a few whispered words among the medical team on the other side of the partition, “…that was really thin….” Were they talking about my c-section scar? Because Jude and Eilie were so close, I worried constantly that I would experience dehiscence or rupture.

Finally, the unmistakable sputtering wail of a newborn pierced the air. And suddenly, there she was. At 7 lbs, 71/2 oz, Eilie Colette was born…one year, one month, and one day after Jude.

The next day, Dr. T came to check my recovery, and I inquired about the procedure, “I overheard someone say something was thin. Was it the scar?”

“Actually, it was the area below the previous scar; it was like a window.”

Oh. “Do you think that if we’d have proceeded with waiting the outcome might have been different?”

“It’s a possibility.”

“I know you know we want to maybe try to have one more….”

The uterus, she explained, will thicken as it heals. She believed that this thinning most likely occurred because Eilie was sitting so low and because I’d been having contractions for such a long period of time (during a “panic” visit in later November, I was told while hooked up to the monitors at the high risk hospital that I’d had a couple of contractions; I couldn’t feel them either.).

I was unable to ignore the fact that had it not been for Jude, Dr. T most likely never would’ve chosen to deliver when she did. After all, had it not been for Jude, Eilie’s pregnancy wouldn’t have been regarded as high risk. I never would’ve had a non-stress test that day; had it not been for Jude, Dr. T wouldn’t have made the cautious call to get on the hospital’s monitor after a normal BBP. We would’ve never known about the contractions, and well, the outcome may have been very different for Eilie.

When I recounted this story to another mom, she suggested that the outcome could’ve been different for me, too. “You could’ve died,” she said. “He was looking you, so you could be here for your family.” While I agreed, as maternal morbidity is a possibility with uterine rupture, I never felt like my life was in danger (ignorance is bliss?). I have more than once looked at Eilie and seen Jude. Especially when she’s sleeping, she looks like Jude when we buried him, and it’s absolutely jarring.

After all of this transpired, I recalled a much earlier conversation with a friend in that I pointed out that without having lost Jude, I wouldn’t have (then been expecting) Eilie. Had Jude survived or made it to his due date, Sean and I would’ve never conceived another baby in May of the following year. My friend said she felt that her babies were her babies and would be no matter when she had them. While I understand what she means, technically, that’s impossible. The genetic material that created each of my babies was unique and wouldn’t have been in existence at another time of conception; that baby would be and is a different person entirely than Jude or Eilie.

That said, I do believe that both of these babies were meant to be my babies. We chose both of their names –Eilie and Jude- when we were expecting Lillianne. Eilie was an uncommon Irish name. Jude was a name that we really liked. Lillianne ended up being Lillianne, but I already felt that I’d one day have a Jude and an Eilie. These babies were meant to be mine, and I think there’s a reason their tiny lives and beginnings have played out thusly.

While Jude’s purpose is far from through, I believe that part of his reason for being was to save his sister’s life. I support this belief with the unplannable “stranger than fiction” reality that they were due one year and one day apart (2/11/16 and 2/12/15) and were impossibly born one year, one month, and one day apart (12/26/14 & 1/27/16) after I was hospitalized under nearly identical conditions with both pregnancies (a non-stress test, a biophysical profile, hospitalized gestational monitoring, unscheduled Cesarean delivery).

Yes, life…it’s stranger than fiction, but it has purpose. Every drop of it, and it’s by no means random; rather, it’s being orchestrated in such a beautiful and fine way that we can’t always make sense of it; at times it’s like like jazz. Other times, such as in Jude and Eilie’s case, it’s a classical composition in which we can see how the notes connect and interact, and we can make sense of the music.

 

Hey Jude,

 I know that somewhere over my rainbow, there’s an angel looking down on us, and it’s you.

Thank you, my baby. I love you, and I miss you, and I keep you in my heart. Always.

(Left: Jude 12/26/14; Right: Eilie: 1/27/16)

Hey Jude — Everybody Hurts

Hi, Sweetie.

It’s really hard to believe that today and for four hours now, it’s been New Year’s Eve. Last year, I was also awake after a relatively sleepless night.

I remember waking up while the morning was still dark and finding your obituary online.

I remember deliberating for roughly an hour before deciding if and how to share it on social media.

I remember reading it and weeping.

I remember how beautiful and perfect you were because I look at your photo every day.

This year, I’m awake because the phantom monster that is prenatal anxiety came back. Your sister has moved her position or is moving differently, whichever; regardless, I haven’t been satisfied with her level of activity to allow myself to rest, so here we are. (Thankfully, we have a doctor’s appointment today.)

 

Everybody Hurts

After your funeral last year, your father and I talked as we both had different experiences during your wake and afterward at home with the family; we had different interactions and conversations. One thing that your daddy’s uncle said that still stands out and has resonated harder and harder lately is that, “There’s more than one way to lose a son.”

Some people might find this comment selfish given the circumstances, but I didn’t (particularly because I know his situation). After all, I find writing these love letters to you to be an inherently selfish and somewhat narcissistic activity…as though I’m the only person who’s suffered a painful loss. I cannot even begin to count the number of people who’ve suffered significant, life-changing losses –many harder to bear than mine—with a quieter dignity; however, we all cope differently (and I like to stay in touch with you).

What this comment and my reflection of it inspired is the realization that everybody hurts. Thus, I’ve started trying to take the journey others have endured.

Last night, I was thinking of my doctor who I know delivered a still baby on Mother’s Day last year. I wondered what it must be like to do that, to bring a non-living baby into the world, then to have to “do your job” at the same time. How taxing that must be on a person’s soul. I have another doctor friend who said that patients and patient families can be…well, not understanding. So, then I imagined the doctor who, while inwardly mourning an innocent loss, is simultaneously on the receiving end of a wounded person’s vitriol? The anger quickly becomes blame, and the doctor, who is certainly more than just someone doing their job, has to take it. Not only do they have to take it, they have to take it home; they internalize it; they analyze every step and moment to determine if and how the circumstances could’ve been different.

My doctor has told me numerous times how often she has revisited your life in her care in the hopes of finding something to answer the question of why or how…and there’s nothing. You –like your sisters—were perfect; you were perfect until you weren’t. None of her colleagues (including my high risk doctor) had answers either, which I hope eased her soul at least where we’re concerned; however, I know she hurt for us.

A week after your funeral last year, the bug guy came around to do his job. I kept the appointment on January 7 because…well, I just did. J arrived on time, and because we were in a fog and had forgotten the appointment, we were still in our pajamas and were rather unmade. J didn’t mind; he came in, and perhaps feeling it necessary to explain our appearances or all of the flowers, we told him about Jude.

J told us about his second baby, a little girl, born with a trifecta of genetic defects that meant she could cry but couldn’t produce sound, that she lacked the proper anatomical cavity for going to the bathroom, and that her heart had issues. For eight months, J and his wife endured…they endured surgeries, their baby’s quiet yet obvious suffering, and endless what-ifs and God-knows what else. At the end of eight long months, it became obvious that there was little more modern medicine could do to sustain their baby’s life, and they had to decide to allow their infant daughter’s suffering to end naturally.

His story filled me with sympathy and gratitude (I was appreciative that we never had to make those kinds of decisions for you, Jude…that you never knew Earthly pain and suffering or even the sensation of cold; I felt very blessed that my baby had only ever known warmth, love, and comfort). What J and his wife endured would have turned me into human road kill; I can’t fathom where my strength would’ve come from to be the people he and his wife had to be those eight months. In telling us this, he wasn’t trying to diminish the significance of our loss; rather, he was a person with pain sharing a story. But they survived; they had two more children after losing their second. J was among the first people who helped me to realize that everybody hurts.

 

Everybody Copes

Last year, just after we lost you I wrote what would be my first letter to you. I wrote about how we decided on your name, how during a tribute concert with friends where “Hey Jude” was played, I felt that was what I wanted your name to be because I wanted you to be able to make me a better person, to have a more open heart, and to be more hopeful. After a long couple of years of home renovations, struggles to advance financial, and marital and familial growing pains, I was rather guarded, which I didn’t like.

You, in your tiny and infinite perfection, have enabled me to let go of all of those burdens. One year later, because of you, the stresses of those damaging growing pains have been lessened. Your father and I are happier and healthier together; your sister is, well, she’s always been a little light, but she talks now. As you can see, I’ve just had the best year as a freelance writer and editor, and this was only year one.

It’s very odd to reflect and to say that so much about this past year has been good when it’s also been so painful, when missing you has been so hard; however, one emotion I couldn’t find relative to losing you was anger. I never got angry. You were and are too beautiful; you’re too perfect. Anger is ugly, negative, and generally ignorant as far as emotions go. You deserve better, and so I’ve only reserved the best for you.

I think this (or something similar) is whatever most who suffer a tragic loss comes around to…a pacifying acceptance that they can cope with and live with and maybe even grow from. Yes, they walk closer to the veil the separates life from death; they stop to look at it as they contemplate its larger significance. Somehow, seeing the veil flutter carelessly in the wind, walking alongside it, and realizing its significance, they find that life is too brief, too fragile, too precious to do anything less than to live (and what’s more, to live a little extra for those just beyond the veil).

I love you, sweet Jude. Thank you for everything this past year; you’ve given me so much…so much more than I could’ve anticipated when you and I started this unanticipated journey last year. Thank you for living through me and for giving me more to live for. You are and will always be my perfect middle child.

PS: I miss you.

Hey Jude – Thanks to You

Hi, Sweetheart.

It will be Thanksgiving in one and a half hours. You’ll be 11 months old. It’s really hard to believe that I should be planning your birthday party right now…perhaps bemoaning (while smiling as I wouldn’t really be bothered) that I’m planning a one-year-old’s birthday party while also doing Christmas. I wonder if you’d be walking by now. I’m sure you would; you were so busy…those little legs never stopped when you lived inside of mommy.

I can just see you now puttering after your sister; you might still use a walker; I’m sure you’d terrorize the cats (it’s okay; after what they did to the furniture, they’d have it coming). I think I would secretly be worried that no one would come to a birthday party the day after Christmas, but I’m sure they would…surely.

I bet your smile would light up a room. I bet you’d have a funny giggle…something weird, perhaps overly effusive…something that would make everyone laugh when you did. I’m sure we’d have nicknamed you 100 times over by now; I bet I’d call you my Joy Boy because you’d fill us with so much joy.

When we’d pray with the family tomorrow, we would say thanks for you along with Lillianne, and there’d be a moment in Daddy Joe’s prayer where perhaps he’d mention you were nearly one and how thankful we were for that. Yes, you’d have been a preemie, so we’d be very thankful for your health.

I wish with all of my heart that I was eagerly counting down one more month before we reached a year on nursing. I wish with all of my heart that I wasn’t here writing this…that I was in bed, perhaps still awake, thinking of things for tomorrow like when I would start braising the cabbage and where my popover pan was.

I miss you.

I miss the weight of where you should be on my hip as I try to do things like be a good mom for Lillianne and cook food and keep the house reasonably clean.

I miss you when I look at your photos and am forcibly reminded that we celebrated your birthday and every birthday that you’ll never have on December 31 last year.

I miss getting to hold you even though the few times I did hold you, you weren’t there.

I miss that you were warm the first time we held you.

I miss that you didn’t look quite like yourself again after that.

I miss you so much, and your daddy does, too.

After we let you go last December, your daddy said he wanted to get you back and to hold you one last time. I think I understand that better now than I did then…at least now, I can think of what it felt like to hold you, and I wish so much that I could cradle you to my chest again…just one more time…and kiss your beautiful, innocent little face and imagine what it’d look like with a smile one it.

I know you’re smiling at us all of the time. You do make me so happy. You make me so much a better person, and I’d be lost without you.

Please know that I’m thankful for you; I’m thankful for everything you do. I wouldn’t be me without you…none of us would. So, thank you my baby. I’m so happy and so blessed that you’re mine.

 

Hey Jude – Flying Again

I am thankful; I’m more thankful than I’ve ever been in my life. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case considering my son, perhaps the only son I’ll ever have, isn’t here; he was only here for a fleeting 33 weeks before he was taken on December 26, 2014. Those weeks he spent kicking…he was so vital, so funny. It still doesn’t seem possible that he’s gone or that he was taken in a way that fragments the foundation of any confidences I ever had in anything.

 

Anxiety without Fear

After all, a seemingly perfectly healthy baby in a pain and issue-free pregnancy simply lost his heartbeat. I do have a theory on how that took place, but that theory does nothing to strengthen by belief in the probability that history won’t repeat itself. If anything it makes it that much worse. I won’t pretend I’m full of bravado, that I haven’t spent countless nights laying awake jostling a sleeping fetus so that she’ll kick me just to prove she’s alive for at least 10 more minutes. I won’t pretend I haven’t talked about it to my doctors like they’re therapists each and every time I visit. I won’t pretend I don’t think about it. I sleep with a teddy bear. I won’t pretend that I would much rather pretend that I’m not obviously pregnant. I won’t pretend that I want to talk about it. I’m sure people who don’t know or who think I should act more grateful think I’m a…well, it rhymes with peach, but I don’t care. Losing Jude wounded me to the core.

 

Flying Again

I have an ultrasound to see Ocean Baby every time I go see my high-risk specialist. I always start the visit very present, but I zone out quickly…I barely pay attention to the growing baby on the screen. Instead, I talk.

A disembodied hand moved a wand around on my jelly-coated abdomen while I stared unseeing at the screen. “It’s like being in a plane crash,” I said during a recent visit. “You’re in a plane that crashes on landing, and then the next time you fly again, everyone tells you just to be cool on the descent because it probably won’t happen again. I realize that statistically that’s unlikely, but that doesn’t make it any less anxious-making.”

My doctor nodded understandingly. We can all understand how terrified we’d be to fly again. Yet, here I am, exactly one year later; the plane is getting ready to make its descent. The gate knows we’re coming; we’re so close to the ground that if something were to go wrong, we should be able to salvage all of the passengers; of course, we should have been able to last time (perhaps); though, it’s hard to say what happened. We didn’t; there were casualties. I wasn’t one of them. I made it out. I was broken, bruised, burned, damaged, and changed forever, but I crawled away from the plane crash with my husband.

We never once considered not flying again. We knew we’d want to, but we were given a boarding pass and were taking our seats before we knew what was happening. This trip wasn’t planned. I’ve had some moments of anxiety including a recent visit to the Women’s & Children’s clinic because I felt a painful pea-sized lump under my arm that I thought might be a clot or something (an incident I shall henceforth remember as “The Preggo and the Pea”) (I should add that the doctors who inspected me did say they felt swelling, so I wasn’t being completely paranoid.).

That said, I’m not afraid of the crash even if I’m anticipating it. I’ve become unafraid of so much in the past year. Jude has given me so much strength and peace and courage…I can’t explain it. I truly don’t want to lose another baby ever, ever again. I pray with all of my heart that it never happens again, but I’m so proud of my baby boy for doing everything I ever could’ve asked him to do; he constantly makes me a better person.

 

A New Foundation of Faith

Ironically, losing Jude has made me realize just how much I have to be thankful for…I have so much love in my life. I have my incredible, beautiful little girl. I have my perfect angel boy. I have a good, faithful, hardworking husband who not only puts up with me but seems to genuinely like me most of the time. I have a safe, warm home. I have jobs that I love.

Most of all, I have faith that when the foundation of everything else was shaken, I was able to look to a higher power and let go. I was able to walk on air because I’d lost everything; there was nothing holding me to the ground any more. Suddenly, I was liberated by the reality that I can’t control anything. I finally understood what was meant by “I can do all things through Christ that strengthens me.”

Losing Jude by all accounts should’ve killed me. I’ve always said there are two things that would destroy me. One is my husband choosing to be unfaithful; the other –more terrifying prospect—is losing one of my children. In being forced to face my worst fear, I showed strength I never knew I possessed; I was surprised by my own faith. I truly had no idea who much of it I had in me; not once did I blame God or ask why (sure, I tried to find answers medically-speaking), but I never got angry…I never asked or wondered why. I just held fast to belief that there’s a reason and that perhaps I’m not meant to know that reason.

 

Jude’s Purpose

I know not everyone believes that events in life are purposeful. I am one of those people who believes there’s purpose. Jude’s already serving a great purpose; he’s helping me become a stronger, braver, and more fearless a person than I ever would or could’ve been without him.

I’ve imagined my life and marriage if we’d never lost Jude. Sean and I were in the midst of very stressful times. We’d recently moved into a house that we’d had fully renovated. Our finances were still tight but we were working on it; still, there was no excess. Our tense squabbles were typical of a working married couple with a young child: no personal time, no time to get things done, and money was tight as we worked to pay off student loans, pay our mortgage and other household expenses, etc. We both felt alienated and overworked and misunderstood for different yet equally valid reasons. Though some times were better than others, we were a structure under immense pressure and were a structure preparing to sustain more pressure. Jude was planned and we were excited about having him, but I think we both wondered just how much more we could take. Of course, we’ll never know.

The night we lost Jude and the nights after, Sean slept next to me in that hospital bed. I physically craved having him close to me; I felt things that I hadn’t felt toward him in a long time, which is sad to say considering how short of a time we’d been married. We lay intertwined, holding each other like human life preservers for two nights. We fell asleep here and there; I held him while he shook with sobs, and later when it was my turn, he cradled me as I broke apart. I never want to be without him, I thought. I never want to be away from the only other person who knows what this feels like. I never wanted to leave that hospital bed, our haven of security and intimacy away from the world alone with the pain of losing our son.

In much the same way having a living, healthy baby forges a bond between a couple, losing a baby does, too. In much the same way that raising a living, healthy baby can drive a wedge between a couple, losing a baby can, too. Of course, the stress of changing and adjusting to becoming a parent doesn’t have to be a wedge; a baby can also be a bookend.

I won’t say our sweet then-18-month-old Lillianne was a wedge because we’ve always both been involved and engaged parents; neither of us are selfish with our time (we were definitely both stressed to the nth degree more often than not, though, and very starved for personal time), but we were still adjusting to parenthood when we lost Jude.

Jude was a bookend; he slammed us back together and while we’ve had our moments this past year, Jude’s presence has been a quiet reminder that we’re in this together. My son’s life had and has purpose, which is why I’m not so afraid to fly or to land that I won’t ever stop boarding airplanes.

I’ll Love You Forever — The Story of What Happened

DSC_0644 AMY MATERNITYwSeven months ago today on December 31, 2014, Sean and I buried our son. Like approximately 159 other babies, Jude was stillborn that year. He was 32 weeks and 5 days old by the doctor’s estimation. He was 4 lb, 2oz. He looked very healthy.

I talk about “what happened” all of the time, and I’ve started writing about it several; though, I’ve always ended up not completing the story. Most stillbirth tragedies start when the mother notices her baby has stopped moving; she goes into the hospital to be informed by someone with a grim expression and sympathetic eyes that, “There’s no heartbeat.” Labor is induced, and the mother delivers her baby who she then has to bury. I can’t imagine what that must be like because that wasn’t my experience.

Jude’s pregnancy was much like Lillianne’s –healthy, easy, comfortable (for a pregnancy). In fact, I often said that I felt guilty for having such easy pregnancies given the number of women I knew who had extremely complicated, dangerous, high risk, pregnancies…of women I knew who were incapacitated by illness throughout their pregnancies. I mean, I was one of the lucky ones.

All of Jude’s check-ups were great; I was in and out of the Ob-GYN’s office in half an hour provided there wasn’t a wait with each visit. “Any problems? How do you feel? Everything okay?”

“Great, super. Never better. See you in a month.”

 ***

The months wore on, and my belly and baby boy grew. He was very active –more so than his sister had been. We feigned concern, laughing over having another little monkey –how would we handle it! Eek! In reality, I was in love with the idea of having another animated, active, playful, imaginative baby.

***

December 24

On December 24, we went in for an early morning check-up – this would be our last checkup before we started doing weekly monitoring in January; our scheduled delivery date was February 11. Jude was to be delivered via c-section; I was in labor with our daughter for nearly 16 hours and while I was having contractions the likes of which only Pitocin can induce, I hadn’t dilated more than an inch. My water didn’t break that I know of, and it wasn’t until I’d been in labor for hours that my daughter dropped. The decision to deliver her via surgery was made because the contractions weren’t giving her heart rate time to come back up.

Just after I had Lillianne, a woman in my mom’s shop – clearly still stricken with agony over her niece’s trauma, told us a story about how her niece had been pregnant with her third baby. Very close to the due date, she went into labor. On the way to the hospital, her uterus ripped from the pressure of the contractions. Within half an hour, the baby was out, but it was too late. Not only did she lose her baby, but she also lost her ability to naturally have any more children.

Though I know V-Bacs can be successful under the right circumstances, I decided I’d plan for a C-section. If I magically dilated and everything happened naturally, super. In the meantime, I’d plan for a C-section. Despite the fact that what happened to that woman’s niece was rare, I didn’t want to take chances; I would never forgive myself.

***

December 25

Christmas started as a wonderful day; Lillianne was 18 months old. She basked in the glow of all of the lights and was very enthusiastic about everything. It was so much fun to see her open her presents and squeal at the puzzles and the Elmo toys. “Just think, next year, we’ll have a 10 month-old, too.” And who knew? We might even be trying for a third baby then.

After presents, I went to the kitchen to fix a macaroni and cheese that would be taken to my Oma’s house in Biloxi for lunch. My uterus was tight from having postponed using the restroom; once relieved, the feeling subsided.   We drove to Biloxi and later to Mandeville to spend Christmas with my husband’s family. I noticed that when I needed to use the restroom, my uterus would be tight and after, it’d be fine. Braxton-Hicks contractions, I was sure. I’d never really had them, and they weren’t consistent, so it wasn’t like I was in actual labor.

As the day wore on, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed all day –my son wasn’t moving as much as usual. He was normally incredibly active, so when I realized he wasn’t, I made a conscious effort to pay more attention to him. He’d been calm once earlier in the end of the second trimester. I had a lot of deadlines piled up, and the stress was getting to me. I was very close to calling it in and going to see the doctor just in case, but at 10:00 that night when I sat down to work, he started moving again, back to his usual firefly self.

So, now, on Christmas, I rationalized, perhaps he’s just reacting to my stress. Once again, I had a heap of deadlines and with the holiday, little time to address them. Christmas night at my in-laws’ in Picayune, I was unable to relax. Lillianne delighted in what felt like endless gifts, and while I enjoyed watching her, I couldn’t help the growing anxiety over my son’s diminished movements. I tried sitting and standing and eating and drinking…something hot, something cold. Nothing worked and though, he was still moving some, it wasn’t the same.

***

December 26

The next day, we left Mississippi and headed home to the doctor. I called to advise we were coming, and they said to come in when we got there. Just as we got off the interstate and were within miles of the hospital, he started moving a good bit. There you are! Relief trickled through me. Maybe it was a false alarm.  While there was no way I wasn’t going to get checked out, I was hopeful.

The doctor on call was a new doctor to the group. She was young; she couldn’t have been five years older than I am. The stress test went well; there was a nice heartbeat. It was steady, and I reveled in laying on the table staring at the ceiling listening to his life. He has a heartbeat. He’ll be okay.

Our stress test was followed up by a half-hour ultrasound. Lillianne was getting restless and acting on a feeling, I asked Sean to call Mom and Dad to come get her. We might be a while.

During the ultrasound, they weren’t able to see our son take a breath; while this isn’t abnormal per say, we were concerned. They also had trouble visualizing one of his veins in the cord; though, his other vein and his artery in the cord looked fine.

Mom and Dad arrived as we were in the doctor’s patient room awaiting her assessment. She had a tight smile as she greeted us and explained what the ultrasound showed.

“There’s also some acute polyhydraminos,” she said, which in my case meant that I had 25 cm of amniotic fluid instead of 24. This excess fluid might explain why I wasn’t feeling him move.

“He’s also very small,” she advised quietly.

“How small?” My head was spinning.

“Out 100 babies, he’d be a 5.”

Yes, that was small. Dangerously small. Medical problems small.   I clenched my teeth and nodded, grinding back tears.

“We’re going to check you in for monitoring. You’ll get a steroid shot to develop his lungs in case he needs to come early. I’ll do another ultrasound in the morning.”

I nodded again.

Heavily, tearfully, we hugged my parents and our sweet Lilllianne, and they walked away down the hallway one-way and we the other. Hand-clasped with Sean, I looked over my shoulder watching Lillianne toddle away with my parents.

***

We settled into our room in labor and delivery. Heart monitors were once again strapped around my belly. Occasionally, Katie, the nurse, would come in and have me flip onto one side or the other and would adjust the straps and monitors. I sent Sean home to get a pillow, a few affects, and some food –I hadn’t eaten more than a bite all day.

While Sean was gone, I Googled everything I could about polyhydraminos; I needed to know what I was facing. The information yielded concerning results. At best, he’d probably have some kind of chromosomal issues despite the fact that there was no other evidence to support such.   The fact that he was small seemed to indicate he’d have medical issues. Fearful, I prayed that he’d be healthy.  I just wanted him to be okay. We’d deal with whatever when we had to.

A different nurse came in and put me on fluids. “I thought since I had the polyhydraminos, the doctor said I wouldn’t be on fluids?” I asked. She shrugged by way of response.

Katie came in to administer the steroid shot. Nervously, I said, “If there’s a chance that he might come early, I want us to be transferred to USA (the hospital where my baby would go if he were to come early), so we can stay together.”

“Okay. Once you’re stable, we’ll work on that.” I took that to mean there was a chance he would come early. At least we wouldn’t be separated.

***

Sean came back, and I ate, after which I was allowed up to use the restroom.  I laid back in bed, and Katie came to re-set the heart monitors. While Katie worked, I felt the baby move. Reassured, I took Sean’s hand, “I just felt him move!”

Katie continued fussing with the monitors. “He must have rolled over,” she said. A heart monitor was placed on my finger as the belly monitors occasionally confused the baby’s and my heartbeats. Another nurse came in. And then another. I started trembling.

“Try to calm down,” suggested the nurse who’d put me on fluids.

“Sorry,” I said, still shaking. “I sometimes shake when I get nervous.” I think I even told her about when I was in college and was dating someone new and pretend I was cold because I couldn’t stop shaking with nerves.

I was put on oxygen. Katie was on her phone. The monitors were being moved around on my stomach. I was trembling harder than ever. The doctor came in wearing a university sweatshirt over her scrubs; she clearly hadn’t been planning for much action during her call shift. In with her rolled a little machine.

Hurriedly, gel was squirted onto my stomach, and the doctor held the wand to my stomach. We could see our son on his back, his head and profile outlined against the machine’s black background. She moved the wand around. There was no sound and no movement.

“Guys,” she said quietly, “there’s no heartbeat.”

What do you mean there’s no heartbeat? He just had a heartbeat. Your machine isn’t on. You’re doing it wrong.

I didn’t react. How am I supposed to react? Am I supposed to burst into tears? No, I didn’t feel a flood of tears coming on. This was a mistake. This was a mistake. Something was wrong.

“He just moved,” I said absurdly.

“What do we do?” asked my husband, and we looked at one another. No heartbeat? It didn’t compute.

In a small, soft voice, the doctor replied, “Usually we induce labor.”

“What does that mean?” Sean asked.

It means giving up!

“No,” I interrupted, “he was just here. He have to do something. Can we do a C-section?” Yes, get him out as quickly as possible. Then they can save him. He’s only been without a heartbeat for a minute. They can bring him back. Miracles happen!

“Are you sure you felt him move?” the doctor asked, uncertainly.

“Yes,” I demanded now stricken with urgency. Get him out of me NOW. “I even said something.” I looked to Sean and Katie for support.

“Are you sure you want to do this…you know the chances…”

Yes.” Sean and I cut in, both of us in full agreement that this was what we needed to do.

“Okay, let’s go.” Someone bustled off to call the anesthesiologist. Tubes were ripped away and within moments my bed was being pushed quickly toward the operating room.

***

 The trembling had escalated to quaking; my body was violently vibrating on the bed. I’d just written about mantras and repeated, The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, in my head while mumbling, “Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God.” We wheeled past a man and his young daughter, and I wondered if they thought I was going in to labor and was just scared. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

“We need to move you to this table,” Katie said gently as my “bed” stopped next to the operating table. “And we need to get your underwear off.” Racing, I divested myself of my underwear –a childish pair of red boy-short panties that I’d purchased a American Eagle around Valentine’s during undergrad. They had two mice on the back of the right cheek and a heart. I threw them and leapt unassisted to the adjacent operating table and lay down.

My knees were knocking; my thighs clapped together; I forcibly pressed my legs to the table to silence the slapping as I continued to convulse.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall, I shall….

The anesthesiologist was almost there.   A curtain was drawn; my head, shoulders, and arms were above it. I felt pinpricks along my C-section scar. “Ouch!”

I looked into the bright, silver dome that lit the operating table. It was like the interrogation spotlight from a crime drama only larger and brighter. What if this is the last thing I ever see? In the impulse to save my son, I hadn’t considered any of the risks of this surgery, like the possibility of never waking up. Oh, God, please don’t let me die. Lillianne needs me. Sean needs me. “God, please be with these doctors….”

The anesthesiologist arrived as pinpricks continued tracing along my scar. “We’re ready,” I heard someone behind the curtain say.

“Wait, I’m still awake,” I yelped into the mask and then gulped the gas as though it would save me from drowning.

***

Gradually, I came to. Sean was next to me. “How’s my baby?” I asked weakly.

“He didn’t make it,” Sean choked. “I named him Jude. Jude David. Is that okay?”

“Hey Jude,” I quietly sang. Sean picked up the verse. “Don’t make it bad. Take a sad song, and make it better….”

I faded back out, Hey Jude still humming in my head; someone rolled the bed toward the room, and I opened my eyes. Like an angel in his own right, Father David, our priest was there. The sheer impossibility of how and so quickly was mind-boggling. His presence was comforting; though, I don’t remember much because I was still waking up. The only thing I recall with clarity apart from him standing there when I opened my eyes was that as he was leaving, I started to say the “Our Father” prayer, and he stopped, came back to the bedside next to Sean, and finished the prayer, even as I started to lose the ability to speak toward the end.

In the hours that followed, we called our parents; mine came to see us, and Sean’s would be there in the morning. We waited a little while to tell the world. When we did, I put one small, whispered message on social media, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”

Later, Sean shared a less subtle message with a photo of our beautiful angel Jude, who we did get to hold and who was not too small but who was perfect. Our beautiful baby boy who we never got to hear laugh or cry or to see open his eyes or to watch root for his mother’s nourishment.

In the early days and now still, I soothe my pain with the thought that my baby never had to suffer. He left the warmest, happiest, safest home a baby could have and went to an eternity of joyful pleasure.

We still miss him so much, though. We always will, and I’m thankful for that as well.

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

Jude 009 Jude 026 Jude 036 Jude 033

Peace and Pleasure in Pain

Hey, Jude.

I think about you a lot…especially when I see cardinals.  I love that Lillianne says, “Jude bird,” or like today, when she called her / your blue bear, “Big Jude,” (because little Jude is the white bear that I sleep with).  Thinking of you is such a tender act.  I usually smile inwardly whether I’m looking at a young family with babies roughly two years apart or I see Lillianne playing with one of the toys that was meant for you.  Certainly, I know that telltale sadness, that curtain of pain and longing overshadows my gazes, but for the most part, when I think of you, I feel peaceful and full.

I feel full because I’ve read about so many people who are empty, literally and figuratively.  I read about a woman who has a nest that was emptied too soon; in the course of 11 years, she had nine miscarriages and stillbirths including one full-term stillbirth; she is now post-menopausal.  How can I feel sorry for me other than to miss you so much?  I feel so blessed that we had as much time together as we did, sweetheart, 33 weeks.  You were so active in mommy, and I know you recall how we’d laugh thinking of how you’d out-monkey your sister.  As much as we joked about being nervous about our little acrobat, I know that I for one was excited to have another animated little angel.  And you will always be my busiest baby.  I love you so much, my heart.

Another reason I feel full is because I’ve read about so many mommies and daddies who had to watch their pure, innocent babies suffer before they were taken to heaven, often before one year of age, sometimes later.  We may never know what happened to you, darling, but one thing that I am so thankful for is that you didn’t suffer.  While you’ll never know the pleasures we’re allowed in this world, you’ll never know the horrors.  Also, and perhaps selfishly, I know you never suffered.  You and I were together, and you were in a cocoon of warmth and undying love and the only home you ever knew when you slipped quietly away despite the chaos that was going on around you and despite the efforts to save you.  So, as painful as it is, and as selfishly as I wanted to see you take a breath and to hear you scream from your lungs, I’m so thankful that you were warm, safe, and happy with me when God chose you.

Most of all, I’m thankful for the times when I feel pain.  I’ve finally understood what it means to feel pleasure in pain.  In the immediate aftermath of losing you, I cried so deeply and hollowly that I thought I would fall into an abyss.  The agony was consuming, and it was terrifying.  Eventually, the crippling pain abated to the extent that it came in doses, like a terrifying medicine that I both craved and abhorred.  I can only assume the human body does this as a means for us to continue to function and adapt because without this survival mechanism, I’m not sure I would have been able to be functional for the sake of your sister and your father.  So, the bouts of pain where I felt the wind knocked out of me and the ground open below my feet decreased in frequency (though, never intensity), and now, we are nearly six months away from December 26, 2014, and those periods of agony come randomly yet still, less frequently (though I think of you every day).

What has changed is that I don’t fear the pain anymore; I welcome it.  I love feeling so much longing and love for you that I feel as though I could die from the overwhelming pressure of it all.  It’s such a pleasureful pain because it makes me feel close to you.  It makes me feel like I’m holding you again.  It makes me feel like I’m touching your hands or your feet or kissing your face.  It’s like a memory personified, and it reminds me that I’m not okay, even though I seem okay day to day.  I’m not ready to be “okay”; I’ll never be okay. I never want to be okay.  I never want for life to be so distracting that I cannot access these feelings.  So, when I miss you, and it cuts like a knife, and I cry without breathing, I get to spend special time missing you and loving you, my sweet second child, my middle angel.  I get to mourn and grieve the birthdays, the graduations, the questions, the discoveries, the wedding, the first car, the anxiety, and the hugs, laughter, kisses, and smiles that we will never share.  I get to imagine what those would have been like, and revel in the chasm of missing you.

It’s a rare pleasure, and it makes up for all of those times I wanly smile and try to be unselfish and remember that others suffered more than you and I did.  I feel it’s one of the lessons that you’ve taught me, sweetheart.  I should be thankful even at times where it seems there’s little or nothing to be thankful for.  I appreciate you understanding and allowing me my painful indulgences; I hope you understand, and I promise, I’m learning peace from you, my perfect little angel Jude.

Hey Jude — Thinking of You

Hi, Sweetheart.

Today was four months since we first brought you into this world in a most unconventional way.  Your little life was lived in such a strange place compared to most, but I refuse to believe it was any less significant.  You’re so very special, darling.

Today at church, Father David gave us a hand-woven blanket shawl made to comfort us when we are lonely for you.  We decided to get a paver stone for the church in memory of you, too.  I hope others will see it and wonder about the life of Jude Delcambre.  I often do.

Today, Lillianne pointed to a photo of you and your daddy that sits on our bookshelf, and she said Jude.  Your sister is so smart and special, darling.  It amazes me how delightful she is, and it hurts my heart so much to think of how special you and she would have been together.  Mommy doesn’t blame God nor is mommy upset with God, but mommy can’t help but wonder why….especially while she sees everyone else having babies and babies close in age and such.  That’s not to say Mommy isn’t happy for the other babies and families; it’s just to say that mommy feels sad because she misses you so very, very much.

I can’t help but think hard of you sometimes, Jude.  When I say hard, I mean that I think of you in the kind of way that makes me feel like I’m being vacuumed into a pit.  The depths of my pain and despair and loss of you are boundless.  I want to scream and cry and write and run and paint and hurt and float away for the misery that wells within.  There’s a depth of suffering that I know that I don’t know how I contain other than the hours in the day in which to feel and to have steam expire and I simply fall asleep on principle.  If It weren’t for that, I think I could go crazy for pain.

Of course, because i love you, and I know you want and deserve a well mommy, I don’t, and i won’t go crazy.  I’ll keep trying and I’ll keep hoping.  I’ll keep being good to daddy, and I’ll keep being good to Lillianne.  I’ll hold you in my heart.  I hope that we will have more siblings to know about you and to be impacted by you, sweetie.  I want you to know how special you are.  Even though I can’t hug you with my arms, I hug you every day in my heart, and you know it’s a big, tight squeeze.  I wish I could hug you with my arms and kiss you and feel your warmth and your smile beneath my cheek.  I wish I could hear your giggle.  I can’t even imagine it, but I imagine you love me as much as I love you.

Every time I see a red bird, I say your name, Jude; I say it out loud. Our neighbor told me that red birds were our loved ones coming from heaven to check on us.  I like to think that’s so, and if so, thank you for coming so often.  My baby boy, I need you, and I miss you, so thank you for the birds.  Thank you for the sun and the wind.  Thank you for being you, exactly as you are.  Wait for mommy and daddy in Heaven.  I love you and miss you.  Happy four month birthday, darling.  You’re my little world.