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 – 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

Just Now, 5 Months Ago

Five months ago today, at this time, you were still alive in me.  You’re always alive in me, but five months ago, there were still moments where I would feel you move and have hope of meeting you.  Five months ago today, at this time, I wasn’t scared yet.  I didn’t realize you were in danger.  It doesn’t make me feel worse nor does it make me feel better that no one knows what happened to you.  By all accounts, you should be here.  You’re rare and special.  I’m sure that’s why God chose you to come with Him so quickly.

***

Today, I was holding Lillianne, and we walked past your photo on the wall.  She said, “Baby, boy.”  I said, “That’s Jude.”  She said, “Awe, Jude.” … “Sad Jude.”  My darling, are you sad?  I hope you’re not.  I hope you’re not sad for us or for your sister.  You’re a beacon of hope and a continual source of joy and comfort.  Because of you, I have a person, a presence in my life that is eternally innocent.  In the world we live in, I don’t think you know how rare that is.  To have you and the presence of your purity is a constant reminder that I can be a better person, that there’s a reason to be happy and thankful, and that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.

***

Hey, Jude.  Thanks to you, I do take sad songs and make them better, and while I’m not always eternally optimistic because I’m not perfect, I can’t possible describe what your life has done to me.  You’re in my core, little angel, and I love you.  Daddy loves you.  Lillianne loves you.  You are love, and you are loved.  My son.

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.

All Inside My Head

I fully acknowledge that I’m not a sane being. Admittedly, I also wonder if any of us are ever sane, so there we are, am I right?

 

Lillianne turned 22 months today; on Saturday, Jude would have turned two months. The precipices of my mind are constantly obsessed with “what ifs”. No, I don’t wonder what I would be doing if I were trying to nurse a two month old instead of running from life itself (literally). I wonder about the mistakes still.

 

The first mistake I must give consideration to are my own stress levels. Was I too stressed? Did I kill my baby with stress? I didn’t feel stressed, but perhaps I was stressed. I once had a massage therapist tell me that my levels of stress tension would kill me. Perhaps this was a way to drum up business; regardless, now, it haunts me.

 

Am I so very tense and stressed that I simply don’t know it? Could I have been –between the constancy of work and work and work and home life been stressed to the extent that my body destroyed the only good thing about it? God, I cannot fathom such a thought. It’s too horrifying to comprehend because if it were me, and it were my fault…what right do I have to even live? Other than to be Lillianne’s mother, why should I even live? I should just die because I inadvertently did the worst thing anyone could ever do. I know I wouldn’t; I would probably live a long life, forced to constantly relive my own horror and my own demons.

 

Even though I’m only speculating, I run, literally run, from this idea every day. If I can run, I can exhaust myself of stress, and then, I can be sure that I am not destroying anything good my body might conceive due to stress. God help me.

 

The other mistake I ponder is the hospital. If I had gone to Women’s and Children’s, would things have transpired differently? Specifically, I ponder the healthcare provided. I was checked in with concerns. The MD said I wouldn’t get fluids; the nurses gave me fluids. I asked them about it, and they were like, “Eh, we’re giving you fluids because that’s what we do.” Should I have been more challenging? Perhaps.

 

Then, they gave me the steroid shot. Then, things started to go downhill, and then, my baby died. That was the sequence of events. Was there relevance to that sequence? It’s hard to say; sadly, there’s not medical or even blogging evidence to support that a steroid shot led to a stillbirth. Actually, I’m not sad because then I would have to lose Jude all over again. Right now, it’s deemed an act of God; if it were deemed an act of human stupidity, well, I can’t imagine.

 

Except that I do. I imagine all of the damn time. I imagine the scenario, finding out that it was someone’s fault. I imagine the rage and the pain and the anger. What I’m sure this is –is actually, displacement. I’m refusing to feel rage and anger at the situation, so I elaborate these scenarios where anger and rage are appropriately placed.   Yes, that’s what’s happening. All inside my head. Every day.

 

And so I run. I run until I cannot run anymore and even then, I keep running. Because running feels good. Getting back in shape helps but more so, the burn and the mind numbing distraction of pushing myself just one more tenth of a mile helps. It helps.

 

I’m neither running backward nor running forward; I’m just running, and it helps.

 

**Note, I’m not mentally unhealthy; I’m both physically and mentally healthy, as much as someone in my position can be. I’m running because it’s good for me. I think often about my son and his loss, and I don’t think any of the speculations or thoughts I have are unhealthy. I often run with my son; the Mobile Memorial Gardens site where he is buried is flat and is a lovely place to run. Running with Jude is special and it helps. I miss my son so much. I don’t understand why this has to be me. I don’t. I don’t like it. It hurts, and it’s hard. And I don’t like it. The only good thing is that I’m the statistic, and someone else isn’t. But everything else is hard.

 

My baby. (And I’m done because I can’t stop crying.)

If Heaven Had Visiting Hours

Recently, within the past three months, someone posted on Facebook a meme that reflected the desire for heaven to have visiting hours. As time trudges onward past December 26 (how is it that tomorrow will be three months since we lost you?), I find myself wishing more and more than heaven indeed had visiting hours.

 

If heaven had visiting hours, I think I would explode with joy. I don’t think I would be able to withstand the thrill of the ride to heaven. I would have to go alone that first trip without your father or Lillianne because though I have other loves in heaven (Memaw and PaPa), you would be all I could see to see. Even in heaven, I wouldn’t have the capacity to be selfless enough to share you (after all, I’m still a sinful human).

 

I would run harder than I’ve ever run in my life when I saw you. I would catch you in my arms and hug you so close. I would hold you and kiss the top of your head. You would be a little boy, not much older than Lillianne is now. At a year and a half, you would still have your babyish features, but you would look like you, and you would be you…an exuberant toddler glimpsing at the child and the man you would become.

 

You would have your father’s warm, brown eyes; they would be pools of dark chocolate (which, as you know, your sister is obsessed with). You would have his dark hair –it may even be black. You would be energetic and lively (as your behavior in my womb would indicate). I like to think that you would love to sing and that you wouldn’t be embarrassed by my bad singing.

 

I would like to think that when I could stop hugging you, and when I could look at you, and when I could speak, we would sing, “You Are My Sunshine.” Except, I would mean it to say son shine, because you’re my shining son. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’ve sang that to you before. I would ask you that, though, given your age, I wouldn’t expect you to really understand what I meant. I would like to think you would hug me when I asked if you heard me singing to you in heaven.

 

I suppose after I got myself together, I would lift you onto my hip and kiss you cheek, and we would go say hello to other family in heaven. I would make sure you were well cared for. You deserve your mother’s hugs and kisses every day; all babies deserve their mother’s love. Even in heaven, you shouldn’t be without us. I would tell you how much your daddy and Lillianne loved you and couldn’t wait to hug you.

 

Oh, Jude. If you ever got to meet your sister on Earth, you couldn’t ask for a better protector. She always shares her toys, and she loves to give hugs and kisses. She hugs the baby that would have been your friend, Cate, all of the time, and Cate loves it. She passes around toys during story hour, and she is quick to laugh. On the playground, she fears nothing. I know if you were here now like my God you should be, you would be watching her, little one and half month old, itching to move, and she would be more than ready to show you the ropes when you were ready.

 

Oh, my son. I know you should be in heaven because that’s what God chose for you, but it doesn’t help much sometimes when I miss you so much, and when I see how much love your sister has to give. When I know how much your father misses “his boy.”

 

You will show me the splendor of our maker’s kingdom, which I believe is more like a feeling than something we can conceivably see. I think that perhaps more than it looks like the sun rising over a dew kissed Swiss meadow, heaven gives us the feeling of such…where anything is possible. It will feel like a basket of kittens, a crackling fire, or a wave of warm seawater all at the same time. I imagine ever glorious emotion will meld itself into one in heaven, and it will be truly amazing. I won’t want to go home.

 

I will promise you that even though on Earth, you father and I seem okay to the outsider’s perspective, we are broken on the inside. Our depression lacks convention in terms of what most people understand, but it’s real, so very real. Moving onward is like walking on spiked ground. I suffer inside; my work suffers. You father suffers inside. Our minds and bodies suffer for longing for you.   I don’t want you to feel guilty or saddened by this as your ascension was nothing we could control….I just want you to know that outward appearances are only just that, which I feel is probably true for most people.

 

When it comes time to depart, as we must as visiting hours are what they are, I will hug you the same as when I saw you. I will hug you closely and kiss you on the cheeks and the mouth and the neck and the shoulders and then the cheeks and mouth again. I will press you into my embrace so tightly that I think if you were on Earth, I might break you. I’m pressing the memory of your little body into me because I want to remember you and feel you everyday.

 

I’m not afraid to be happy nor am I afraid to forget you, but I am afraid to lose the tingle of your touch and the feel of your little body held tightly and –if only for a moment—protected in my arms.

 

I would leave heaven, my heart heaving with a gaping, open wound. You live so far away from me, and it will –most likely—be so very long before I can come live with you (and that’s only if I’m good enough, which I try to be). It would feel like the day I lost you all over again. I would feel like I was gashed open and left to die for pain and misery because that’s how Earth is. Where you are, darling, there’s none of that.

 

I think that’s why heaven doesn’t have visiting hours. Discovering the bliss of where you are would make returning to Earth –despite its occasional strong points, completely and utterly grey. You have all of the colors, darling, and I’m happy for that because if you cannot have mommy and daddy and Lillianne’s hugs and kisses ever day, at least you have the Son, my son.