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

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Hey Jude – Somewhere Over the Rainbow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a possibility.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hey Jude,

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

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

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

Hey Jude – Thanks to You

Hi, Sweetheart.

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

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

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

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

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

I miss you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hey Jude – Flying Again

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

 

Anxiety without Fear

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

 

Flying Again

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

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

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

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

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

 

A New Foundation of Faith

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

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

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

 

Jude’s Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Jude — Finding Answers without Solutions: How and Why We Lost You

For most of us becoming a mother forces a change of chemistry; we have a natural urge to protect and to nurture our children. Losing a child –no matter faultless we are—is also transformative and is damaging.

When Jude died, there were no early warning signs. Jude had been active like any health baby in utero should be. I didn’t have gestational diabetes. At our 20-week ultrasound, he measured fantastically. I’d been well on the way to deliver another healthy baby. In the afternoon of December 25, 2014 I noticed Jude wasn’t moving as much. After giving it some time and making every effort in the book to get him to start his usual patter of kicking, we went to the doctor on December 26.

Jude had a good, steady heartbeat; the only reason they checked me in for additional monitoring was because of slight polyhydraminos (25 cm instead of 24; women can have as much as 40-something centimeters of excess amniotic fluid and never know and everything be fine). The fact that our baby hadn’t taken a breath during the half-hour ultrasound that confirmed the poly was (or at least could be) considered not a cause for concern.

At around 6:30 p.m., we were led to the hospital where the baby and I would be monitored overnight, given a steroid shot, and monitored twice a week until we were due. It was all very standard and not a reason to be seriously worried. Within hours, Jude’s heart stopped and he couldn’t be saved.

The doctor on call and our nurses cried; they had no idea what happened. It didn’t make sense, this perfectly healthy woman with a perfectly health pregnancy to have suddenly lost her baby while she was being monitored (no less). Our efforts to save Jude (an emergency C-section) meant staying in the hospital for an additional few days during which time my regular OB came in to see us. She held me and cried with me and expressed her disbelief at our loss.

The months after Jude’s death yielded many sleepless nights of wondering and searching. I laid in bed surfing Safari on my iPhone looking for answers. There were none to be had; each of my suggestions for what might have happened were rejected due to medical evidence that they weren’t viable scenarios.

There was a slight possibility I had a C-Protein deficiency, which could cause blood clots, but even that was proven unlikely when a follow-up blood test (though I was already pregnant again) yielded negative results. Ultimately, I accepted what happened and stopped looking for answers.

 

Finding Answers Part 1: Pieces to the Puzzle

Fast forward to August of 2015. We were getting close to being able to find out the gender of our third baby. I looked at a photo on our refrigerator of Lillianne revealing Jude’s gender at the exact same time one year before and felt very sad. Jude and his sister (yes, our third baby is going to be a girl) are one day apart on their gestational timeline. Jude’s gestational due date was February 12; his C-section was scheduled for February 11, my mom’s birthday. This baby, Ocean Baby, as Lillianne has nicknamed her, is due on February 11; her C-section delivery will be scheduled for February 3. We didn’t intend to have these pregnancies mirror one another or to be so close.

One night as we approached the gender reveal, I decided to Google some right side pain that came and went. It was in the area of my liver, but I didn’t have any signs of liver or gall bladder problems. I searched “causes of polyhydraminos” and high blood pressure was listed as a culprit. I made a note to look more into it the following day and headed to bed.

Halfway down the hall, I remembered that I didn’t have high blood pressure; I have low blood pressure, something I only recently found out because I spent the first couple of weeks of what technically counted as my third pregnancy’s first month in the hospital with pasteurella from a cat bite, and the doctor’s and nurses were concerned. “Is your blood pressure usually really low?” I didn’t have a clue; I called my OB’s office as they’d been the last group of healthcare professionals to monitor my BP and yes –I did have low BP.

I began searching low BP and polyhydraminos and soon found limited yet important research that validated that low blood pressure can be a factor leading to stillbirth.

 

Finding Answers Part II: How Low Blood Pressure Plays a Role in Stillbirth

The more I researched, the more convinced I became that my low BP was a critical factor in Jude’s death. Australian researcher Jane Warland has done some of the more recent studies that shows a relationship between a patient’s low or borderline low diastolic pressure and stillbirth. Warland’s studies remove systolic pressure as an indicator of risk of stillbirth.

Specifically, Warland’s studies show that stillbirth is more likely among women with “borderline” low pressure, which is diastolic pressure between 60 and 70; anything lower is considered hypotensive or extremely hypotensive. Warland also conducts a mean arterial pressure (MAP) calculation in one of her studies that shows that a MAP of 83 or less has a much higher likelihood of an occurrence of stillbirth.

Unlike a typical MAP, Warland’s MAP places double emphasis on the diastolic pressure. Warland’s MAP is calculated as thus: [(2x diastolic) + systolic] / 3. Per an article by Warland, a MAP of less than 83 carries “almost double the risk of stillbirth.”

It took a week and $165 to get my medical records from my entire hospitalization with Jude. I recovered my BPs from my pregnancy with Lillianne as well from the doctor’s office. I contacted Warland. While she didn’t respond to my inquiry regarding my MAPs, all of which were lower than 83 (the highest was 81; the lowest was 64), she did state that the rationale for assuming a borderline woman was at a higher risk is because “I THINK that this is probably related to what happens during sleep. The woman who has borderline BP during the day probably has a significant drop when she sleeps where as if it is already low during the day, it physical can’t actually drop much lower during sleep.”

While I understand this logic, I also tend to think that having a low BP can be problematic given that the issue with having low BP is that there’s not enough pressure to push nutrient-rich oxygenated blood through the placenta and to the baby.

I do concur with Warland in that there are –and must be—a variety of factors present for low BP to be a contributor to stillbirth. Warland strongly believes that back sleeping versus left side sleeping can be detrimental particularly if the woman already has low BP. Importantly, in a follow-up communication, Warland stated, “So, in my research women with borderline BP were at twice the risk. Let’s say the background risk for stillbirth is 1:100; this means that if your BP is borderline, your risk would be 1:50. That still means that 49 of 50 women with borderline BP are going to have a perfectly happy baby. Similarly with sleeping on your back, the risk for stillbirth is approximately doubled. That still means 49 of 50 mums who lie on their back will get away with doing that. This is where the triple risk model comes in as it shows what might happen with a number of converging risk factors and a vulnerable baby.”

What I infer this to mean is that a stillbirth with variables related to low BP is the perfect storm. What I also interpret this to mean is that if you can try to address one or more of those variables, it could make a difference in fetal outcomes.

 

A Medical Theory of What Happened to Jude

Looking at my BPs with Lillianne and those with Jude, Lillianne should have been the baby at a double risk of stillbirth as all of my BPs with her were borderline. While Warland said, “I don’t think we have any evidence that less exercise puts you at risk,” I disagree. If a pregnant woman with high BP is discouraged from exercise because it elevates her pressure, than a woman with low BP should exercise to keep her blood moving. When I was expecting Lillianne, more out of vanity than anything, I ran or walked 5 to 7 days a week. In the third trimester, when running with the extra weight became harder, I started doing leg lifts with ankle weights to strengthen my muscles. I did this before bed every night for the majority of the third trimester.

With Jude, I’d never gotten back into shape; I walked some at the beginning of the pregnancy but after daylights savings time and when it got cold, I more or less stopped. I also started working more often at night, which meant I sat at a desk to work during the day and I sat to work at night. I was more or less sedentary. My BPs were what Warland’s research would classify as “hypotensive” or “extreme hypotensive”.

During my pregnancy with Jude, I wasn’t concerned about fitness. I also probably rolled onto my back during sleep more often than I should have; I’d been lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that many pregnancy advisories are overdramatized. For me, back sleeping during pregnancy is much more comfortable, so it happened sometimes. Whether or not that was a factor, we’ll never know.

My theory, which my high-risk specialist said had merit, is that Jude suffered from placental insufficiency and then failure. Placental insufficiency occurs during the late second and early third trimester. Typically, babies who suffer from placental insufficiency are small. Jude was born at a healthy 4 lb 2 oz; however, they don’t have to be (small).

I speculate that my low BP combined with other factors led to a diminished supply of oxygenated blood being pushed through the placenta over the course of several weeks. On December 25, Jude wasn’t moving as much; the following day, I was diagnosed with acute polyhydraminos and Jude didn’t take a breath on ultrasound.

Without oxygen, the brain cannot grow; with enough oxygen deprivation, the brain dies. If Jude had suffered from placental insufficiency, then this would explain why he still have a steady heartbeat when we went in for monitoring; it would also explain the slight polyhydraminos; he was neurologically no longer capable of breathing in the amniotic fluid critical for his development and survival. This is why, too, then, that within hours of being checked in for monitoring, Jude’s heart stopped.

 

Significance

Of course, this is all theory; even if we were able to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is how Jude died, it would change nothing for my pregnancy with Jude’s little sister or any of his future siblings. Placental insufficiency isn’t visible; it’s only evident when the baby starts to show signs of troubled development.

No doctor is going to put a woman with low BP –even with BP as low as mine (my most recent was 80/50) on medication to raise BP.

Additionally, had I not had a loss, even if I presented this information to my doctors, they probably wouldn’t be very concerned as I don’t have any “trouble” signs of low BP. I don’t faint or get dizzy or have trouble concentrating. I do get headaches easily, and lately, I’ve noticed some tingling in my legs (occasionally) when I sit to work, but there’s no indication that being hypotensive causes me any distress. That’s not to say that it doesn’t; my BPs are definitely lower during pregnancy than normal.

So, all that we are doing is additional monitoring; I’m trying to walk at least 5 days a week, and I’ve started wearing compression socks to bed to keep my blood flow up at night. As I told my doctor, I realize that most of this is psychological; it helps me to feel like I’m in some modicum of control even though I recognize the reality of this predicament.

I allow myself to believe that there is nothing I could have done to help Jude; even if I’d been armed with more knowledge at the time, it’s highly likely we’d have had the same tragic and traumatic outcome. This, at the very least, means that I don’t blame myself or anyone else for what happened. On the other hand, it also means that I have no control over what happens with Ocean Baby, Jude’s sister. It’s a catch-22 of sorts because nothing changes…only the amount of knowledge that one has and that we now have a prospective theory of what happened to Jude.

Today marks 10 months since we lost Jude. He would have been 10 months old today. I don’t dwell on what he would have looked like or anything like that. I do think, sometimes, that he might be walking now and he’d be eating solids and following Lillianne around. I feel his presence all of the time; it’s like he’s just out of reach; he’s a warm shadow who stays close. I know he’s just beyond the veil and I know it will be a long time before I reach him. I know he knows I miss him, and even though I value every second of life here, I also appreciate that every second forward brings us closer.

 

Resource Links:

http://m.aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/153/7/642.full

https://books.google.com/books?id=5uB5DHPHwFwC&pg=PA205&lpg=PA205&dq=jane+warland+low+blood+pressure+stillbirth&source=bl&ots=LRR_f0YZIZ&sig=M4fAoawOtv5k8vONlZ6iLMWG_Q4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCsQ6AEwA2oVChMIn-rP5enfxwIVCRceCh3T7QVk#v=onepage&q=jane%20warland%20low%20blood%20pressure%20stillbirth&f=false

http://www.starlegacyfoundation.org/files/Maternal%20Blood%20Pressure%20in%20Pregnancy%20and%20Stillbirth.PDF

http://starlegacyfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Does-low-blood-pressure-increase-the-risk-of-stillbirth.pdf

http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2393/12/S1/A9

http://www.pubfacts.com/author/Jane+Warland

http://starlegacyfoundation.org/published-research/

http://lib.ajaums.ac.ir/booklist/American%20Journal%20of%20Obstetrics%20&%20Gynecology%20(%20AJOG%20)-Dec05.pdf

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

Hey Jude…Thinking of You

Hey, Jude.

Today is the six-month anniversary of the day you left us.  In fact, right now, exactly six months ago, I was in surgery, and we were holding out with our last ounce of hope for a miracle.  I’ve thought about you all day today.  I thought about how you looked.  I thought about how we lost you.  I started writing about the “what happened,” which I want to share with the other families soon.

This was nice…I liked remembering how excited I was to find out about you and then to tell your daddy.

I liked remembering when we found out you were a little boy; I cried a little thinking about that sweet, beautiful moment.

I sat still while I remembered how much you liked to kick.  Oh, you little rascal.  You were so busy in there. I miss your flutters.

I regretted not knowing something was wrong sooner, and I wondered –as I will wonder for the rest of my life– if there was something (anything) I could do to have saved you.

I truly believe that losing you was something that God wanted and that perhaps there was really nothing that would have made a difference; however, I believe that God is deliberate and purposeful, so I do think that there was a medical explanation for your sudden passing as well.  I still struggle with wanting and not wanting answers.

Part of me wants to know so if it can be prevented for the future “rainbow” baby, then we can do something.  On the other hand, even if we knew and there was nothing we could have done, what’s the point in knowing other than having knowledge (which is generally good)?

Speaking of rainbows, I wanted to tell you that as far as I’m concerned, you’re also my rainbow.  I say so because you’re as bright and beautiful as a rainbow.  You bring a smile to my heart all of the time.  You’re so wonderful.  You give me this strength that I never knew I had…I have more faith, and I don’t worry about little things.  I’m more easy going.  I’m more confident.  Losing you made me grow up completely.  Yes, I was already an adult and a responsible one, but losing you lifted the veil and stripped away any remaining vestiges of childish fear that I once held regarding life, other people, dreams, the universe, fear in general, the unknown.  You liberated me, darling, which is why you’re so very much my rainbow baby.  My only qualm is that I wish I could give something to you…do something for you.

The only thing I can do for you is love you endlessly and try every day to be a better more loving and more tolerant person.  I still cannot look at other baby bumps, and sometimes, other peoples babies hurt me because they make me miss you.  I wonder what you’d be like.  I miss the things I won’t get to see you do, and I feel a bit guilty for saying that I look forward more to seeing your smiling face and running into your little arms and holding you and kissing you than any other when I go to heaven one day.

I love you, sweetheart.  You’ll always be my baby boy.  You’ll always be my first son.  When you have younger siblings, you’ll always be my perfect middle child.  You’ll always be part of our family; you’ll always be special, so special.  I pray that you sometimes visit Lillianne’s dreams and that when you feel like it, you visit Mommy and Daddy’s dreams.  I know we would love to dream about you, honey.

It’s been six months, and in another six months, it will be one year.  Time flies when your heart is aching and you wish you could rewind the clock, I guess.

Peace and Pleasure in Pain

Hey, Jude.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hey Jude — Thinking of You

Hi, Sweetheart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.)