Hey Jude – Coping with Loss

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

 

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

 

Suicide…

 

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

 

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

 

9/11…

 

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

 

World Trade Center.

Pentagon.

Hit by an airplane?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

My Jude…

 

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

 

“There’s no heartbeat.”

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

ASIDE

 

For Dear America:

 

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

Advertisements

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.

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.

Hey Jude – “Would Be Birthday”

Hi, Sweetheart. Today was February 10, 2015, which means that tomorrow is your “should-be” birthday. Today I spent the morning with your sister, I let her spend time with Emie and Aunt Ding Ding while I worked for a bit, then she and I napped, and then we did Mellow Milers with some close friends (their daughter turned 6 months today; she would have been your friend, darling).

 

I know it doesn’t sound like I had much downtime, and perhaps I didn’t. In my spare time, my thoughts were with you. I thought about how “normally” today, I would be savoring my last day with your sister as an “only” child because I knew that life would change beyond my comprehension once you arrived. I know it’s so silly, but I worried about her once we had you. Truthfully, I worried about both of you. Would you receive enough attention? Would she feel neglected and abandoned? What would happen to you when and if we had a third baby? Would I make mistakes relegating you to a life as the classic “middle child”? Would you have retentive issues as a result of that predicament?

 

Frivolously, I worried endlessly about those things –in the back of my mind; rarely at the forefront, that is. And then, on December 26, your birthday came early. I remember sitting in the hospital bed feeling utterly ridiculous for worrying that Lillianne would somehow be missing something when our attention wasn’t solely devoted to her. Never was it more poignant or obvious to me that what she will miss will always be you. She won’t even truly know it, but I will. I will always miss you, sweetheart.

 

It also occurred to me that I will never have a “middle child”. Even if you have two or three more siblings (let’s be realistic –it will probably be two), no one will be a “middle child.” As intuitively as I knew that something was going to happen to you (certainly, I never expected you would ascend immediately into heaven), I also recognize that I will never have a “middle child.” That concern –the one where I might ruin a baby by sandwiching it between two others—was turned over to God when you were. Like everything associated with losing you, it’s a bittersweet revelation.

 

So, tomorrow is not your birthday. I’m not packing a bag or getting one more night’s rest before the much-anticipated moment of meeting you. I’m not giving mom, your Emie, the gift I hoped to give her (a perfect new grandbaby, you) for her birthday, which you two would have shared. Your father and I aren’t cuddling Lillianne knowing how much life will change. We didn’t spend the last week hurriedly getting the essentials together for your arrival. We did none of that.

 

I refuse to say we “should” be doing those things because what happened, happened. You are in heaven by God’s own will for I know I did everything to keep you on Earth and with me. God knows how much I love you and how much I would have cared for you. So, I am placating all of this with the firm belief that what “should” have happened is what happened and that tomorrow, your would-be birthday is actually a day like any other day (other than the special feature of it being my mother’s birthday).

 

Tomorrow, I intend to spend time with your sister and visit your Emie and seek comfort from your father. I intend to spend time with our family, darling, and we will think about you. In my heart, I’ll be sad for love and longing of you, but I’ll trust that you want us to be happy together and to be “okay” (a subjective concept).

 

I miss you, Jude. If it’s not too much trouble, please feel free to visit me in my dreams and tell me how heaven is for you. It will surely be a while before I get to see you there. Please know how much your father and I love you and miss you. Please be with us in our hearts and help your daddy and me sustain in these turbulent times of what should be and what is.

 

I love you, Jude David Delcambre. Happy Would Be Birthday, darling angel.

IMG_7637

Hey Jude – “Should & Would”

February 7, 2015

My darling Jude. Since Wednesday, I’ve been preoccupied with the fact that in one week February 11 should be your birthday. I’ve thought about all of the things I was anticipating for this time. I would be getting ready to take a leave from work. I would be preparing to spend some precious time alone with your sister. Your father would be taking his last drill weekend just before your birth. How exciting that we would miss the charade of Valentine’s Day this year because we would be indulging in the greatest love of all –our love for our baby boy, for you, sweetheart. We were so looking forward to doing nothing more than pouring out our love for you and devoting our time to loving you.

 

Yes, that is what we should be doing. Today, on February 7th, your sister turned 20 months. I should be feeling bittersweet sentiments because Lillianne is about to share the limelight with another little family star, the one who would become her best friend, who would beat up anyone who would speak ill of her and the one she would fight like a tiger for. Mommy should know, for that’s how mommy and Uncle Adam were. That’s how Mommy thought you and Lillianne would be. Jude, I feel like Lillianne lost the best friend she should have had when you went to heaven.

 

In my mind, I’ve replaced should with would because faith knows that what should have happened is what happened. God took you home on December 26. That is your birthday, not February 11. It would have been your day. You would have shared a birthday with your Emie, your grandmother.

 

As the days pass since your actual birthday (December 26), I feel like things should get easier (of course, I feel ashamed for this). The opposite is true. As days pass and we get closer to your should and would date, I find that the weight of missing your is crushing my heart like a raisin. I feel like I’m being sat upon a little harder every day and it gets harder and harder to breathe. I want to scream and to be buried all at the same time. I want to be cradled and beaten to within an inch of my life all in the same emotion. I have no recourse for expressing what I’m feeling. I just know that I miss you, and I shouldn’t have to, but I do. I have to for reasons that I may never know, and I both feel and accept the unfairness of that all at once.

 

I’ve already realized how amazing you are, Jude. Without taking a breath on this Earth, your little life has touched more people on behalf of Jesus than I ever will. In the interest of being noble and virtuous, I’m glad that I could somehow be a part of that. You are, I believe, both my and your father’s salvation; however, what a sacrifice you were.

 

Before we lost you, I thought about the sacrifice that God made for us, giving up his son. I readily acknowledged that I could never deliberately be so selfless as to give up my son for the sake of all mankind. (Sorry, mankind.) I would want there to be another way, somehow, whatever that way might be. The only thought I had that possibly changed that notion would be for the thought of your children and your children’s children; however, if you were sacrificed like Jesus, then how could your children and children’s children exist, yes?

 

Those were my thoughts, and I’d forgotten them until now. Of course, now my only hope is that you accomplish all that I would have selfishly chosen not for you as I would have greedily wanted you all to myself. I still do. If I woke up tomorrow and this were all a nightmare, I would be so happy I would be beside myself.

 

I know it’s not a nightmare. I know it’s real. I know that every day, morning comes, and I’m just a fat and flat woman. I have no baby growing inside of me anymore. I know that God determined that I shouldn’t, which is why that as your would-be birthday approaches, I’m not thinking about what should be happening, at least not in a way that is unhealthy. I’m only thinking of you and that I love you and I miss you.

 

I don’t intend to spend either of our lives speculating about what could or should or would be had you been here because what could and should and would happen did happen. I can only miss you. I won’t exhaust my time on Earth speculating about the alternative. I do want you to know how much I miss you and how much I want to kiss you and hold you and nurture you. You’re my darling ‘son’shine, and you and your sister make me happy though these skies are grey.

 

You never know, dear, how much I love you, so don’t take my sunshine away.

1.26.2015 — “Further Proof of God”

 

Today has been one calendar month since we lost Jude. Almost to the minute that I am writing this at 10:29 p.m., he was stillborn; I was unconscious under general anesthesia, and my husband was sitting alone…waiting in what I feel was the most horrific position of all of us (my heart hurts for the loneliness and fear he must have felt during that hour). I fully intended to devote my thoughts today to writing the story of “what happened” –how we ended up at the hospital and of Jude’s last moments; however, in the perpetual analysis of the events that took place a month ago, I have realized there’s something more pressing for me to talk about today.

 

As Sean and I muddle through our new status quo, which is wrought with grief, shock, confusion, pain, guilt (guilt at being able to have a “normal” day), sadness, and peace (among other things, I’m sure), we often hear that we are “brave” or “so strong.” Rest assured we are both and we are neither.

 

We are brave and strong by virtue of our characters; in the face of losing our son, we are broken and frightened little children, and it is solely by the grace of God that we are able to look at the world and see happiness and hope. We have a beautiful toddler who we love and love being present for. We have faith that we will have more babies when the time is right. We are happy for others who have the joy of babies and children in their lives. I was in church on Sunday behind a family with infant twins (I have always wanted twins and still do (I’m possibly insane)); sure, seeing babies strikes a chord, but it doesn’t make me upset for those aren’t my babies; that’s not my Jude. If I see your baby or if you’re expecting, I’ll only pray that you have nothing but joy in your childbearing and rearing.

 

Losing Jude has not made me bitter nor has it my husband. Jude has filled us with love if nothing else. I don’t know that these feelings would be possible without God.

 

Despite my faith, I have been looking for answers to the unsolvable puzzle. To put it in nerd terms, I have a Hermione Granger complex in which I constantly seek answers to questions. I have researched every aspect of my otherwise normal pregnancy and disconcertingly abnormal loss.

 

There is no rhyme or reason as to why one calendar month ago, at this moment, Father David was standing in a Providence Hospital room on floor seven to provide comfort to my aggrieved husband and to a still somewhat-drugged me. But then, there we were. I will probably write more about this in a later reflection, but I must admit, I don’t recall much from Father’s visit. I remember being filled with gratitude when I was rolled into the room and saw him standing there. A man of God was there to pray over us.

 

I’m not sure why, but it feels important to note that I’m not Catholic; I was raised Protestant, and I am very much a Christian. I don’t believe that any one denomination is the right or wrong pathway to Heaven; rather, I believe that our personal relationship with God and our faith and acts of faith are more important. Whether you achieve salvation via Mass or some other means is immaterial (at least to me) compared to the quality of the relationship. I’m sure theologians would consider me woefully ignorant (and in many ways, I am), but that is a very basic explanation of my beliefs.

 

So, Father David was there, and I was truly, truly comforted. As I said, too, I was still recovering from anesthesia, and I don’t remember much. I do remember one thing. As Father was leaving, I started praying the Our Father. My husband held my hand and prayed with me, and Father was at his shoulder and prayed with us.

 

What preceded and what immediately followed is subject matter for another reflection. I soon began a silent quest –something conducted at the wee hours of any given morning when sleep was elusive and my iPhone was fully charged—to find answers. What happened? Why? Why me? Was it preventable?

 

The last question was the worst. Was it a virus? Was it that time I sneezed and had a cramp? Was it too much grapefruit juice? Was it …. The questions went on and on. Some questions were more metaphysical. Why me? Why us? Are we such horrible people that God had to get our attention in such a fashion? Why our baby? Why 32 weeks? Why not sooner or never? Couldn’t a near car crash have “gotten our attention”? Was that even it? Was it my horrible humanity that killed our baby?

 

I know that the answer is probably not. I have no idea what the reality or truth is. I know that God is not cruel; while He allows things to happen to us –sometimes things that are “random” and sometimes things that are the product of our own deliberately stubborn humanity—He always loves us, and He is always there for us. I realize that He wants us to come to him –I also realize how “cultish” that might sound to nonbelievers; I promise, this is anything but that. It’s truly the greatest comfort that nothing on this Earth can provide.

 

The axiom is that “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” In this case, my faith has become stronger. As a Christian, my faith was never challenged before (though, I now really do understand the verse that states, “I can do all things through Christ that strengthen me,” as all of my strength in this is granted through Christ); I grew up as a Christian and never was motivated to question my faith (despite being a rational, critical thinking, analytical person). Here’s why.

 

When I was very little –perhaps not much older than my daughter who is 19 months is now—I pondered the origins of the universe. I recall being between two and three, which is consistent with when I formed my first memories; because of the cognition involved in this memory, it’s highly likely I was between three and four. Anyway, I was told that God created the universe and the heavens and then the Earth. My small mind understood this, but I was utterly plagued by the conceptual crisis of what preceded that? What came before God? Something had to come before God. God had to come to be somehow; before there was nothing, there had to be something, correct, for there cannot be nothing without something to make it nothing, if that makes sense. It’s conceptually abstract. It bothered me greatly.

 

I can only assume that God recognized this conundrum as something that could easily shake one’s faith in Him. I don’t recall when, but shortly after this pondering began, I had a dream in which God answered my question. I woke up feeling renewed, light, and fresh with remnants of the dream still fresh on my mind; in the first few seconds, I believe I could’ve recalled the dream’s content; however, very quickly, the dream faded, and I remembered nothing other than the very important fact that my question was answered. God explained things to me, and I understood them. I understood, too, that I was not meant to understand the universe’s origins. This was the day faith was born to me. I never questioned God again, and having faith was never something that I found to be shakable.

 

That was the first intangible proof I received of God’s existence and hand in my life.

 

The second proof came more recently. I don’t remember the date –perhaps somewhere between December 17 and December 19….I was at work talking to a colleague. The Christmas holidays were forthcoming. Almost absentmindedly, I told her that it was odd, but I “had a feeling that I wouldn’t be pregnant after the New Year.” But, what an absurd thought. I wasn’t due until February 11. I attributed the thought to the concept that the New Year symbolizes starting over and rebirth; however, the feeling I had when I made the statement was something I felt in my core.

 

If you’ve ever had a premonition or déjà vu, then you understand. Speaking of déjà vu, I recall I had it during the initial stress test; though, I don’t know why (I can’t remember what previous memory prompted that, but I do recall that when I had the déjà vu, I had a strong feeling things wouldn’t end well. I did quickly banish the thought when I had it during the stress test).

 

Anyway, I digress. As I was saying, anyone who has ever had a premonition knows the feeling. It’s a certainty that lacks logical support; you just know though you have no idea why. Such was the case in this instance; however, obviously, I had no reason to remember that odd statement or moment until God called Jude home.

 

This part of my story is where some may disagree. Some might say that it was a premonition brought on by a woman’s instinct and a woman’s bond with her child; that may also be true; however, I attribute the premonition (for lack of a better word) to suffice as proof that God had a plan for Jude and that He was preparing me, somehow, for the imminent suffering that I would experience as a result of losing Jude.

 

Oddly enough, this faith provides comfort. Allow me to explain. In believing that it was God’s intention to take Jude when he did (as evidenced by the premonition), then there was nothing I could have done to prevent my son’s death. I couldn’t have gone to a better hospital. I couldn’t have arrived earlier. I couldn’t have exercised more or drank less grapefruit juice. I couldn’t have been less stressed. It simply wasn’t part of God’s plan, and God knows just like the mysteries of His origins, I don’t understand, but He also knows that I have the faith to accept that.