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.

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Hey Jude — Regrets of Those Left Behind

Recently, I spoke to someone who’d lost her brother in a truly tragic way. Our conversation was surprisingly candid giving the sensitive nature of his loss; he took his own life following a struggle with “issues”. Pained, she said that she regretted not doing more…not forcing the issue, not insisting he get lock-and-key treatment, for a moment, I really didn’t know what to say.
My instinct was to comfort her with clichés such as, “Oh, no dear, there’s nothing you could’ve done,” and, “You did your best,” …the kind of stuff I heard after we lost Jude 19 months ago today. Did I do my best? Was there nothing I could’ve done? Are we truly victims of cosmic design? No, we aren’t.

At the same time, I could understand how and why she felt the way she felt. When someone we love passes away in a tragic manner, we inevitably feel some kind of culpability; the question of “what if I had” ever looming in our minds. Certainly, I don’t think there’s anything she could’ve done that would’ve changed anything, but I can understand that there will always be the question of “if I had”….

When my inadequate response to her reflection was, “I can understand how you’d feel that way, but…” she lobbed the question back to me and asked, “Well, don’t you feel that way about Jude?”

I considered the question, and the answer is yes, I do. Even though by all accounts, I did the “best” I could, was it enough? Did it change anything?

A significant aspect of my reconciliation and coping with Jude’s loss has been the conviction that Jude’s loss was an act of God; as a human, I cannot overpower acts of God. And so I cope. I realize, it’s a little more technical than that. Jude was a brilliantly healthy pregnancy. He was active –so active, that Christmas Eve before Christmas Day and then Boxing Day when he left us. We were on the monitor at the hospital when his heart stopped; they weren’t worried…at least not so worried that I wasn’t shuttled to USA Women’s & Children’s to deliver a preemie who would have obstacles but who would be born alive.

A little less than a year ago, I uncovered evidence that supports that possibly low blood pressure among other factors (read, the perfect storm) led to Jude’s passing. Scientifically, I attribute his loss to a nearly undetectable yet possible phenomenon in which the fetus doesn’t receive adequate nutrition and oxygen through the cord and well, you get the idea. I don’t want to think about it.

Anyway, I digress. I do have questions, regrets…things I’d have done differently had I known then what I know now.

–I’d have gone to USA Women’s & Children’s on the way back into town on 12/26, bypassing my doctor’s office visit and the related hospital that is, while fine, doesn’t have the resources of the University’s hospital.

–I’d have slept on my back less frequently. After having had Lillianne and followed all advice to a T, I realized much of the pregnant mommy rhetoric that’s out there is overly-cautious. The occasional back sleeping wouldn’t hurt anyone, but now I’ll always wonder…with my low blood pressure (I’m hypotensive while pregnant) and the occasional back sleeping, which inhibits cord flow…what if…?

–I’d have sat less often. I’d already determined to quit traditional work to work from home and stay with the kids after we had Jude. I was working full-time, taking care of Lillianne during my lunch hour, and then burning the midnight oil to establish enough of an income as a writer and part-time college professor to make the shift. I sat a LOT.

–I’d have gained less weight. As a result of all of the sitting and the total lack of personal time, I also gained more weight, and I was less fit. At best, I walked a few miles early in the pregnancy. After daylight savings, the most I walked was from my car to my office. I wasn’t fat comparatively, but I was 155 lbs by the time we lost Jude at 33 weeks, which was over my delivery weight for Lillianne.

–I’d have gone in on Christmas. I’d have pushed the issue when I was at my in-laws and doing things I never do to get the baby to move…drink a soft drink, eat a sandwich, lay on my side, lay on my other side…look, when you’re scouring the Internet for advice on how to get the baby to move and the baby’s not moving, go directly to the best ER with a NICU. Just…go. I realize that had I done this, chances are, I’d have been sent home and Jude’s heart would’ve quietly stopped without me hearing it. As it is, I did hear it, and I’ll always wonder if I’d have gone sooner to the more advanced hospital…what if….?

I could live in bitter regret for all of these things, but I don’t because I can’t resent what I didn’t know then. Did I really think that Jude was in danger of passing away? Well, not at first, but then when I thought he might have his cord wrapped around his neck, of course I was very scared and moderately comforted by his occasional movements. These were my anxieties when we were already driving back to town, so at that point, I guess it was moot. Also, he’d scared me earlier in the pregnancy, toward the end of the second trimester, when he went almost a day without moving only to start kicking up a storm at about 10:00 p.m. when I started working on some assignments I was anxious to finish.

So, did I do the best I could? Perhaps at the time I did. In hindsight? No, of course not. Jude’s not here; he’s in heaven. The same can be said to the girl who’s brother took his own life. Did she really think that he was on the course he was on or did she perhaps just think that he had some issues but he’d get through it? I’m inclined to think the latter as the response when it did happen nearly five months ago this August 8 was that nobody could’ve expected…or believed…nobody really thought it would happen. Will she always rack her brain for what she could’ve done differently? Probably, but who wouldn’t?

Regret and wishing is a casualty of tragic loss, and for those of us who survive it, we really shouldn’t be so hard on ourselves, even though I know part of us always will be.

 

Dear Jude, 

I’m sometimes so conflicted not only because I’ll always wonder if I’d acted differently if things wouldn’t be different, but also because I’m so thankful to you for giving us Eilie, and as you know, I truly believe I wouldn’t have Eilie if not for you. She’s so happy…a radiant little ball of cuddles and joy. I know you meant for her to make us happy, and she does, but I want you to know that I’d have been so overjoyed to have you here, too. I miss you so much, and I feel bad when I don’t get to write to you as often as I think of you, which is daily. You’re my baby boy…my special boy. I love you, sweet boy. Give our family in heaven a hug for me and keep an eye out for us on Earth.

You’re my shining son.

Love,

Mommy

Hey Jude — Billie Jean

The women of my grandmothers’ generation were iron clad. These women endured under the direst of straits and in the worst of times and emerged 70-plus years later smiling and most likely wondering what we were so upset about with our video games and our Lisa Frank notebooks and our Saturday morning cartoons.

My father’s mother, full German, was raised in Ulm and Berlin during and after WWII. She and her family were not Nazis. In fact, they were sympathizers to war victims and often gave away food and resource to help those without. Tried for treason among other things, her parents suffered substantially during the war. Post-war, well, it’s likely to assume that my Oma’s elementary school days were consumed just being thankful you had food and a roof.

My mother’s mother, full southerner, was born in Tupelo and lived throughout Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee before settling in Mobile. I knew her as Memaw. Her name was Vonnie Lillian Opsal. She had dark, auburn hair and blue-grey eyes, plump cheeks and thin lips, and a figure for days. The plaque over her grave says she was born in 1912, but that’s a lie. She was born in 1915; I have the erased and re-scrawled documentation to prove it. No, she lied about being born in 1912 so she could marry at a scandalously ripe teen age to a guy named Curtis.

I like to envision she and Curtis were young lovers…full of innocence and stupidity, like most sweet first love. They were kids playing house and the reality of adulthood swooped in like a thunder strike. Shortly after marriage, Vonnie got pregnant. She was a married ingénue in the late 1920s, and she was pregnant. Curtis had a job with the railroad. It wasn’t much, but life was good. At least they had real love.

When he left for work in the morning, Vonnie was already in the kitchen, barefoot, swollen with child, her flush belly swaddled tightly with an apron. She and Curtis kissed. She smiled warmly as her dear husband left for work, already anticipating his return, as brides do.

He never returned. Curtis was killed in an accident at the train yard. The news he was dead was more damaging than if she’d been clubbed. The oxygen in her lungs compressed, and she couldn’t breathe. He would never come home. She was dizzy. Never would she hug or hold or kiss him again. Lights flashed. Gone forever; dead. A bright light and then nothing.

Time elapsed like a dirge and, then, it was time. The baby. She was there, at the hospital. Then came the twilight sleep, and when she awoke, “I’m sorry ma’am but your baby was born still.” No, she heard the baby cry, but years later, she swore she did. It was a girl, she was told. She never saw or held her baby girl, who she called Billie Jean, and she never believed –not fully—that the baby had died.

I grew up with a wisp of the story of Billie Jean in my ear, and it was never from my Memaw. This story descended to me through my mother. Memaw was a woman of her generation. You didn’t dwell on these losses. You didn’t let them cripple you. You sucked it up. You had…responsibilities. Except, really, she didn’t. She was on her own, bound by loss, my Memaw, at such a young age. A dead husband and a still baby. I regret that I was never able to ask her and to hear her side of this (likely) defining aspect of her life. My grandmother, Vonnie, was my favorite person, truly. The woman effervesced; she lived, and was she ever inspiring.

Her other two children, mom and Aunt Linda, came nearly 13 years after Billie Jean. Their father was an alcoholic and an abusive husband, and Vonnie went toe to toe with him like it was her job. She worked in a restaurant on Mobile’s Dauphin Street that she later purchased. It was called The Home Kitchen. Yet still later, she remarried a seaman who was often deployed. Unconventionally, not only was she a divorce, but she also never begged or groveled or needed a man. My mom’s stepdad never paid child support, and Memaw never sought it. The woman had scars as deep as gashes, but you’d never have known it. The only indication I ever got was when I was a toddler, and she persistently advised to “never let a man take advantage of you.” She was like a ship, ironclad. Made of steel. She deftly sliced through turbulent waters, and if it compromised her an iota to do so, only God would know it.

Having lost Jude, I realize that being destroyed from the inside-out doesn’t defeat you. It imbues you with resolve, a fervor to thrive and survive. I’ve been reduced to ashes on more than one occasion; though, losing Jude was and is still the most significant trauma of my life. Sometimes I wonder if I fully “get it”, but I can’t worry about if I do or don’t or if I’ll have a nervous breakdown one day. All I can do is polish my armor and be a fighter like our grandmothers were. That which does not kill us makes us stronger. Of course, it does more than that. It defines us. I miss Jude with a passion every day, and lately, I’ve talked about him to many people. I still have my time that I’m cry and when I’m sad, but when I talk about him…I’m just happy. How does such a harrowing loss become a source of joy and strength? I mean it when I say that only God knows and that God is indeed mysterious in his wonderful ways

Aside:

My Memaw was a blessing to me. When I was born in 1983, “Billie Jean” was the number one song in the nation. It’s really more of an irony, but it’s sentimental to think that my departed Aunt Billie Jean was already looking down on me from heaven and that she is holding my Jude and singing in his ear, “Hey Jude….”

 

Jude,

It’s been 17 months since you left me, and you’re still so much a part of me and so real to me. I’m sad that I don’t have new pictures to share of you or to see how you’d look at Eilie’s age. She’ll be four months tomorrow. Four months. Hard to believe. She’s such a happy baby. She smiles all of the time, and boy, I bet you’d have smiled, too. Like a champ. I saw a baby at the park today. He smiled at Eilie. He had brown eyes, too. All I could think was how much he reminded me of you. You’re so loved, darling, and you’re so missed every day. I love you now as much as I loved you the day you were born. I love you forever and for always. You’re always my baby, and you’re always with me. You’re my joy, my baby boy. Keep heaven warm for me.

Love, Mommy

Hey Jude – 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 – A Tree of Life

Author’s note: Please keep in mind that the contents of this piece are a reflection of my observation and of events and relationships as I perceive them; others may feel differently; however, these are my perceptions and thus my reality just as another who observed these events may have different perspectives. As Albus Dumbledore once said, “Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” Thus, this forum for expression reflects my reality as wells as of how I’ve managed certain important relationships.

I feel that promoting certain food items as “foods that heal” is propagandizing Mother Nature. Of course there are foods that heal; there are foods that inherently battle cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and a plethora of other disorders all of the time. Rather than just eating naturally and healthy, I feel the majority of our society has become enslaved to trends. For example, at what point did it become sensible to obsess over kale and its many uses and properties versus just, you know, treating it like any other leafy green? Obviously, kale, spinach, endive, collards, arugula, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, Swiss chard and any other green / green variant can “heal”.

 

Making Memories with Cereal & M&Ms

Of course, in addition to their nutritional value and ability to defend against physical ailments, I’ve found that, more importantly, food can act as a balm on emotional wounds, which is why comfort sweets are most often sought when people go through a breakup (not to be cliché) or when they get home from work and are tired (it’s no secret that Sean has an M&M jar that he beelines for when he gets home each day (though, he does usually have a small bowl of whole-grain cereal with Lillianne when he gets home, too, which is a little tradition that I find to be very charming). That said, while food can soothe emotional wounds, it can also trigger them.

 

Pineapples

Years ago, my dad got into a habit of buying a fresh pineapple for me at the grocery store when they were in season. I love fresh fruit and pineapple has always been a favorite; though, I found the gesture to be incredibly random because at the time, I was in my mid-20s; I was living on my own, and I hadn’t knowingly revealed that I really liked pineapple…dad just started buying them.

The routine of being gifted a pineapple whenever I saw my dad got to the point that I once half-joked to a friend that one day, when my dad wasn’t here, a breakdown in front of the pineapples at the grocery store was imminent. I say half-joked because I really did think that if something were to happen to my dad at that time, pineapples would’ve triggered an emotional crisis

This was at a point in my life where I would sometimes lay in bed and think about that inevitable time when my dad would only be alive in my memory, and I would cry for the 22 years spent living with someone I didn’t know…for the 22 years of time wasted not getting along.

 

Disciplinary Roots

Some have suggested that the reason dad and I didn’t get along is because we’re “so similar” (it’s a common misconception for many who don’t see eye-to-eye); however, that’s not why we didn’t get along. Truth be told, I had a craven desire to be a “daddy’s girl” and to feel approved of and emotionally validated by my dad as a child and young adult, and it took a long time for me to understand why our relationship was so full of static.

Dad was raised by two people who –by today’s standards—would be considered abusive parents. I love my dad’s biological parents, but they were both products of their hard life-circumstances and (I believe) often too self-involved to have better-prioritized their only son’s emotional well-being. Dad labored on the family farm at a very young age…he was capable of driving a tractor at age 5; even though he was an extremely well-behaved child, his parents were fast to blame him for any kind of disruption and even quicker to physically punish him. In addition to this hard-knock approach to child rearing, his parents never supported or nourished his individuality or talents throughout his childhood and young adulthood.

Thus, the product of their “parenting”, my dad, was a Red Foreman-type (That ‘70s Show). He was a hard, manly man who knew how to work hard. Period.

Children in dad’s world were to be seen and not heard. We did as we were told or we were yelled at…or spanked…or both. To this day, the sound of vacuum cleaners agitates me because I only remember being yelled at for the way I vacuumed and the arguments that ensued. We had an industrial-strength Kenmore; it could’ve sucked the wallpaper off of the walls (pity it didn’t). It left visible lines in the carpet; you could clearly see where you’d cleaned. This is the gist of an exchange as I remember it:

Dad: “Vacuum like this.” (Demonstrates uniform lines as one would mow the lawn)

Me: “Why? I can see where I vacuumed.” (Gestures to vacuum lines)

Dad: (annoyed) “Because I said so.”

Me: (genuinely curious) “But why is that better.”

Dad: (irate) “Don’t smart-mouth me. Just do as your told.”

Further “challenges to his authority” as he perceived them would merit a quickly-administered spanking (there weren’t second, third, and fifth chances or mere threats of spankings; if a spanking was promised, it was delivered without hesitation). The thing is, I wasn’t being a smart mouth; I was a really inquisitive kid; I truly wanted to understand why in the name of all things sacred it was vital to only vacuum a certain way. Was it better…did the floor get cleaner? Did it matter that it might have been more expedient if I didn’t necessarily care about being the fastest I could be? Of course, the answer was no. The floor wasn’t any cleaner nor did it matter if it was the fastest way, but it was what he wanted. Questioning that incited a reaction.

Once when I was in elementary school, I made the mistake of asking if our neighbor could stay for dinner in front of her. We’d been advised to not do that. We understood there wasn’t always enough food for a guest and that it was impolite to ask in front of the guest lest the answer need to be no. In my childish exuberance, I brashly asked if our neighbor, K, could stay for dinner in front of her. And dad punished me in front of her. I tried to run, but he grabbed me; I tried to get away, but this made it much worse. I ended up in the air, suspended by my ankle, being spanked and humiliated in front of my friend who consequently remembered the incident (and reminded me of it) at our 8th grade “graduation”.

Despite this southern-fried style discipline, I want to assert that Dad wasn’t cruel or abusive. He never berated or insulted us; he didn’t not love us; he was who he was… a product of his ignorant parents’ emotionless and harsh “parenting” methodology.  Again, while I love both of my grandparents for reasons that are very detached from who they were as parents, I realize that it was their fault that Dad was the way he was during my formative years; it was their selfish preoccupations with their addictions and with their dysfunctional marriage above being loving and supportive parents to the person they were designated to protect.

This actualization alone made it possible for me to forgive my dad for “wanting to break” my inquisitive, left-handed creative, expressionistic spirit for the entirety of my life under his roof. (While I can’t remember the context of the argument, he did once say verbatim that he ‘tried to break me’, I assume like you would a horse; oddly, I’m very proud of this because as a woman, if your own dad can’t break you, it’s a certainty no one else can.)

 

A Relationship Re-Rooted

Dad and I hit a wall in my mid-20s, and between my ability to look past the past and the fact that I was maturing as a human being, we were able to form an actual relationship. Today I see my dad as calmer. I’ve gotten to know him as a wise, reserved, and reflective individual. He’s a really good person who is highly intelligent and who has overcome a lot (more than I realized or have communicated here); I understand him a lot more and find it very easy to love him and to advocate for him. I can also understand why he had a lot of anger and frustration for so many years.

Admittedly, I wish this version of my dad was the version I had known as a child. I didn’t need the McGoo namby-pamby, pleated-khakis, feel-good heartfelt emotional lessons with the sappy music Danny Tanner dad (shudder) ; heck, even though I was a Clarissa in a Babysitter’s Club world, I didn’t even need (or want) an artsy Marshall Darling dad.

What I needed and wanted was a dad who wanted to spend real time with me. Perhaps, if our relationship hadn’t been tainted with perpetual discipline and resentment, I would’ve cultivated some of our similar interests sooner. Perhaps I would have learned how to discern weeds, to plant a garden, and to work in a flowerbed sooner. I love gardening; my dad is an excellent and skilled gardener who always has beautiful lawns and flowerbeds that look professionally landscaped. I could’ve also learned about some of the mistakes he made before I also made them…and maybe I could’ve avoided them all together (maybe not, but there’s no way to know).

 

Surviving the Winter

Alas, none of that happened, and dwelling on it and wishing it did is frivolous. Holding onto it is also silly because it threatens any new growth we’ve cultivated.

A (now former) student who, one year ago this January, lost his 21 year-old daughter to illness made all of this even more poignant; the only time he had with his daughter was roughly the exact amount of time dad and I wasted. I couldn’t help but wonder, What if that had been us? And then I was just thankful that it wasn’t.

My student has a son in his mid-20s who suffers a similar illness to his daughter. Before acknowledging what’s kept us going after losing Jude, I thought, “Why waste your time with school when what’s important is so obvious?” However, I quickly remembered that we keep going because that’s what we do. We keep going because when our only options are to lie down and to die or to keep moving forward, we just keep going…harder and stronger. We don’t let the things that try to break us break us.

That’s what this man (my student) did. That’s what Sean and I did after we lost our beautiful Jude. That’s what dad and I did after we didn’t get the first 25 years right.

 

The Grapefruit Tree

I started reflecting on all of this (foods that heal, grapefruits, pineapples, and my relationship with my dad) on Dec. 26, 2015 when I ate the first grapefruit I’d had that year from my dad’s tree. Often prolific, the tree produced only a handful of the nourishing fruit because it sustained a lot of damage during last year’s hard and harsh freezes. For me, my dad’s grapefruits are not only most delicious, but they also hold powerful emotionally soothing properties for me.

When Jude died, when we were at the hospital, in addition to his tears of grief for his only grandson and emotional support for Sean and me, Dad brought a bag of grapefruit, and I sustained on nothing but the fruit for least a week. Though other food was brought for me to eat while I numbly “recovered” in the hospital, it usually ended up uneaten either because a sympathetic visitor would arrive and it would be cold by the time they were gone; or because I was sleeping when it arrived, and it was unappetizing by the time I woke up.

Instead, the only activity that I could manage in my shattered state that held any peace was the satisfying labor of pulling away the grapefruit’s skin, then peeling away thick layers of pith before pulling the fruit apart and quietly eating the pieces at my leisure. Nothing spoiled. It was never cold or unappetizing; it was, in fact, the only thing that had any flavor to me.

A year later, it was very important for me to have a grapefruit from my dad’s tree. I had a total of six this growing season. As I said, it was a hard year for the grapefruit tree; it had such a brutal winter last year…it was lucky to have survived, but it had a strong foundation and was well established. And, like the people its fruit nourishes in every sense of the word, it kept moving forward when confronted by the option to give up; it, like me and like my dad, refused to be broken when life’s winters were harsh.

Hey Jude — Loved Boys & Everland

Finding Everland

A few days ago, I got into the shower and was inexplicably thinking of the 90s movie Hook starring Robin Williams as an adult Peter Pan who must rediscover his identity as Peter Pan in order to rescue his children and their childhoods, which he’d thus far been missing.

My thoughts then slid to focus on Robin Williams and his untimely death due to suicide. How fitting for Robin to play Peter, a character who was frozen in time in Neverland. At the moment one’s final bell tolls, we all trespass from Earth to Neverland. We never grow older. We never give the world new memories of our former selves. We pause. Thus, we will only ever remember or know Robin Williams to a point.

I then recalled that Sean recently told me that Peter Pan’s origins were darker than Disney’s buttered-up animated film made them seem. Predictable. Thinking about Neverland and Peter Pan’s irreversible fate to never grow older, I determined Peter Pan must be about a child who died.

While the nature of James Barrie’s adult life and proclivities are subject to scrutiny and debate, the character of Peter Pan was indeed inspired by a child’s death. One day when he was 13, the “golden” son of the Barrie family, David, was ice-skating when a fellow skater hit him; he fell, cracked his skull, and died. David was 13. The boys’ mother was consumed by grief. She fixated on the death of her most beloved son to the extent that young James began to adopt his brother’s mannerisms. Perhaps this was done to comfort his mother or himself or to receive affection from her; I don’t know. When he turned 13, James stopped growing. He never grew taller than 5’, and his voice never fully matured. He, like his brother David, froze in time; except, James’ heart kept beating, and he kept aging (though, I doubt he grew much older in other ways given the subsequent chapters of his life).

In the early 1900s, the character of Peter Pan was first introduced in a story titled The Little White Bird. In this story, Peter was a baby who at seven days old flew away when he to live with fairies as all babies are born as birds (per the story); however, he soon forgot how to fly, so he returned home only to peer in through his nursery window and to find that his mother had a new baby and had forgotten him. The public’s curiosity and intrigue in baby Peter prompted the successful writer James Barrie to pen the play (Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up) that became the Peter Pan story (Peter Pan and Wendy) we know today.

Nothing about Barrie’s story or the lives touched by his story or the real people who inspired the story is without tragedy or irony. As I reflected on all of this, Jude and his own permanent pause were forefront in my thoughts.

Lost boys…forgotten boys.

Neverland.

My baby isn’t lost nor is he forgotten, I thought. He is a loved boy. He’s in heaven, not a lonely place where he believes he’s unloved and unmissed; he’s in Everland. After all, to believers, heaven is a place of eternal life. That’s where my baby is.

In the past year, I’ve joined a culture of moms who also experienced a third-trimester loss. I’ve also joined a group for people who use the blood thinner Lovenox during pregnancy. These two online social media support groups have been equally heartbreaking and inspiring. All of these parents have one thing in common next to their losses: they all love and miss their babies. They’re all scared and anxious and lost at times, like me. At no point would they not jump out the nursery window to retrieve their baby who flew away if they were to come back.

“You’re missed! I love you! Please don’t leave me again!” I would shout to Jude if I thought he would hear me. I would hug him and hold him and swaddle him with love and bathe him with tears. This past year wouldn’t have happened. It all would have been the nightmare that I kept hoping that it was a year ago.

 

One Year Ago…

One year ago. How has it been a year that it was Christmas and that we were growing ever-closer to February 11, the date that would be Jude’s birthday? I still remember waking up time to time during that first post-op night between the day he died, December 26 and the wee hours of December 27, groggy, bleary-eyed, and disoriented in a twin hospital bed with Sean curled next to me. Please let this be a bad dream. It was a nightmare. It didn’t happen. Oh God, please don’t let this be real.

It did. My flabby, deflating belly was evidence of that. The tender, angry, puffy incision between my hips verified it. Tears welled. I pushed the button in my left hand, dosing myself with Dilaudid before falling back to exhausted sleep only to repeat the cycle every couple of hours.

I understood how Harry Potter felt each time he awoke from a dreamless sleeping drought after yet another loss in his young life. The pain and emptiness starts over every time you come out of that deepest medically-induced sleep. You want to return to it and run from it at the same time.

We left the hospital on December 28, and I was sorry to go. I was leaving the place where Jude had flown out the world’s window far too soon. I was leaving the place where for two uninterrupted days, time stood still, and Sean and I were mostly alone with our grief, holding each other as though our lives depended on it, as though we were lost children. Time and days and hours and nights didn’t exist in that hospital bed and in that room. The world and its oppressive weight of decisions and responsibilities and expectations were concepts, not real things. We were briefly allowed to heal at our own pace.

At first, my physical recovery from the C-section and my emotional recovery were paced at an even keel; I was utterly helpless on both forefronts. Sean led me take my first shower after the surgery, and he gently bathed me because he knew I didn’t have the strength or the ability.

He literally helped me walk again. Together, we shuffled around L&D. I held his arm, and he escorted me to the window and then the vending machines and then around the nurse’s station. Then, while we were still as fragile and as unsteady as my shaky steps, it was time to go; I was physically well enough to go home, but I wasn’t ready…my heart and my emotions were still fragmented. I wasn’t ready for it to be real; I wasn’t ready for the clock to start ticking again.

After that, only excerpts of moments stand out in my memory. Jude’s funeral was on New Years Eve. It was a clear, bright blue, icy cold day; it was so perfect. My best friend heroically flew down from Virginia to hold my hand. The night she arrived, she and I sat on my couch, and I reflected on Jude’s life…on all of the things I’d never see my son do. I would never hear his voice. I would never hear him say, “I love you.” I would never see him fall in love or get married. I would never be able to throw him a birthday party. I would never know what characters and stories he would like. I would never get to see him smile. This –his funeral, would be his only birthday party; a lifetime of memories that would never transpire flashed before my eyes. And then all of the things that nobody knows how to say passed between us as we held each other and cried for my loved boy.

Sean’s brother also dropped everything and came down to support us and to see and to say goodbye to his nephew. So many special and beautiful people came to show us they cared or sent flowers and plants or loving cards. It was the only party we would ever get to have for Jude, his only birthday party, and everyone came.

 

One Year Later…

One year later, nothing and everything have changed. A year ago, I didn’t sleep with a teddy bear named Jude Bear. A year ago, by best friend revealed she and her husband were “trying.” A year ago, I wrote “Research Administration” on the job title line of important forms. One year ago, I had no reason to doubt that I was going to have a little boy to watch grow up. I had a writhing, active baby boy inside of me; he was 33 weeks old on Christmas Day.

This year, I have a writhing, active baby girl inside of me. She will be 33 weeks old on Christmas Eve. This year, my best friend’s first baby will be due just after the New Year. This year, I put “Freelance Writer” or “Exhausted Toddler Mom” or “Trying to Have It All” on the job title line of important forms. This year, I have every reason to doubt that I will have another little girl to watch grow up.

This year, I have anxiety attacks that have grown increasingly frequent and intense as the clock ticks away the moments to December 26, a date on which I’ve mentally superimposed the end of the world. When and if the sun comes up on December 27 and if I still have Jude’s little sister kicking and wiggling and living inside of me, a shred of time that froze last year will have thawed and will tick forward. It won’t undo the pain and aching emptiness I feel at Jude’s absence, but it will signify there is life beyond December 26 and maybe even beyond 33 weeks.

Until then, until three days from now, I’m on edge, shadowboxing with my biggest fear…waiting for it to all go wrong again, constantly looking for “the problem”, buying time with biweekly doctor’s visits to ensure that everything is still “perfect” and to stave off major panic attacks. If I can catch the problem this time, then I can save this baby, and it’ll be like I’m saving Jude. I realize how crazy that sounds, but I have to wonder if that’s not why I panic when the logical side of me knows there’s nothing to worry about.

 

Jude’s Birthday GIft

One year ago, time stopped. Jude took part of me with him when he ascended into Everland as a Loved Boy. He took my fear. He took some of my filter. He took some of my reserve. He took things that kept me from fully living. He took the veneer of strength and dignity and left a raw strip of humanity in his tender little wake.

By doing this, he’s made me stronger and better. I have more faith because of him. I tell people that I care more. I don’t just “like” someone’s pain or pleasure to show love and support. I comment. I text. I call. I confront. I don’t worry about money and things. God will provide; He always has, he always does. Why worry? What will that do? I’ll manage. Even if times are tough, it will be fine. I don’t worry about the mean and ugly things in the world. About hatred. And terrorists. I feel sorry for people consumed by those destroyers of happiness. I’m not afraid to stand up to them if they come for me.

Losing a child was my biggest fear –and it still terrifies me as evidenced by the uncontrollable anxiety attacks this pregnancy has brought, but I don’t live a life of fear (there is a difference between being afraid and living in fear; one means you’re aware; the other means you’re petrified).

One year ago, I unexpectedly and unwillingly faced my biggest fear. I survived. I hope I never have to survive it again, but my son’s perfect life was beautiful and is meaningful. He has made such a difference in my life in the short time he’s been gone from it. This is how I know time hasn’t stopped for me, and in a way, it also hasn’t stopped for him because while he took part of me with him, he left part of himself with me. Through the phenomenon of microchimerism, Jude’s DNA is still living in me. He’s shown me I have nothing to fear and no reason to stop in time despite irony and parallels. He can’t be replicated or replaced nor can what he does in and for my life. Because of this, Jude will never be a forgotten Lost Boy; he will only be a Loved One.

 

Happy first birthday, sweetheart. Thank you for the gifts you give us today and everyday until forever.

Love, Mommy

IMG_7436 IMG_7441 IMG_7446 IMG_7448 IMG_7450 IMG_7457 IMG_7464

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

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 — When a Mother Loses a Baby

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about other moms and dads who have lost babies by miscarriage or stillbirth. I used to think that the distant look of intense sadness and longing was a hallmark of cliché writing and not something that actually happened until I saw it. The first person I saw it in was a really sweet person who has one daughter but no other children even though I know she very much wanted them (though I don’t know what her journey to concluding that her one baby would be all entailed). I saw that look when I told her I was expecting you, Jude.

She smiled, but the expression didn’t reach her eyes. Her eyes looked heavy and haunted, as if she were suddenly remembering something very painful. I have no idea what that looks like in me, but I know what it feels like. Nearly every time I see a birth announcement or a pregnancy announcement or a mom and her toddler and her belly at Target, the gnawing starts. It took ages to pinpoint my feeling. It wasn’t jealousy; no, I didn’t want their lives. I like mine just fine. It wasn’t anger or resentment; how could I begrudge anyone a healthy, happy baby? No. It was something else. It was an aching sadness, a reminder of you…of the fact that you’re not here, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Today marks eight months since you were born still, and I think the anesthesia is starting to wear off. The reality that I can’t hold you is sometimes more painful to bear; where my emotions didn’t previously bubble to the surface so quickly, they do more so now. Last night, I was reading a post by another mother who’d lost her child about her family portrait, and I realize that ours will always have a space filled by a little angel. Some families take photos with stuffed animals to symbolize their little angel baby, and I’ve thought of this…of taking a photo with Jude Bear, so that you’re “there” in a way. I try to not get too attached to that little white bear because I know it’s not you, but when I go to bed at night, it makes me feel better to hold it close to my stomach. I don’t know why, but it does.

Oh, my little Jude. It’s hard to believe that today, you could be eight months old, crawling…babbling…eating baby food, and maybe even pulling up. You’d be scooting around in the Joovy Spoon walker; I can’t even imagine what Lillianne would be doing with you or to you. I’d like to think she’d be a generous big sister to you and would take care of you and love on you in spite of her own needs, which as you know are many given she’s only two and still very much a baby herself.

I know you know this, but I need to say it out loud: you will always be my perfect middle child, my son, and no matter what happens, you cannot and will not be replaced. No one has dared to suggest that to me, ever, but I wanted to say it. I wanted to say it for you and for me and for anyone who might disagree. Life happens so quickly, and I’m thankful for all that does and will filter through the prism of life.

I think it’s okay to be happy and sad at the same time. I think it’s okay to ache for my own sorrow during times of others’ joys…while also being truly happy for them and prayerful that they never (please God), never know my grief. I can’t speak for all mothers whose babies are in heaven or whose miracles never came, but I know that’s how I feel. I also think it’s okay to go to bed at night clutching a little white teddy bear that was given to me with a box of brief memories at the hospital instead of my baby boy warm in a blanket.

Though I’m thankful, I am sorry that I have a stuffed animal to cuddle instead of you and that you never got to know your sister (or rather, that she never got to know you…it’s my assumption that you’re all-seeing now and that you watch over us). I’m sorry that your father is so distraught in his own way over losing you. You complete us, you see. It’s not your fault you’re not here, and it’s not our fault or anyone’s fault. It’s just that our lives on Earth aren’t complete, and they never will be. A huge part of my soul lives in Heaven with you, and though I can wait, I’ll be so happy when I can feel complete again. I love you. Happy eight-month birthday, my Jude.

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.