Hey Jude – Golden Rainbows

Today is 1.26.17. Jude is 26 months old. It’s a golden day for tomorrow, our rainbow, Eilie, will be one-year old. Without Jude, we wouldn’t have our rainbow. Without what happened a year ago, which was extra monitoring because of Jude, we wouldn’t have Eilie. While today has been an otherwise ordinary day, I feel like in heaven, rainbows were spun of gold for my boy and all of the joy and the blessings he brings to us each and every day…and especially, his sister Eilie.

I’ve mentioned this many times, but when we lost Jude, my best friend, Becca, flew in as fast as she could buy a plane ticket to be with me. I didn’t ask, and neither did she. She just showed up.

This past January, Becca’s beloved GaGa, (Etta) passed away. Becca and I met in middle school. We quickly bonded over the awkwardness of being adolescent outcasts and the absurdity of changing socks for gym class. The year after sixth grade, Becca moved, and I was alone in every sense of the word. My only solace was the letters I wrote to Becca and that I received (and that I still have). It was a blessing to me that Becca had family living in Mobile: her GaGa, aunts, uncles, and father. Becca was a military child and was neither born nor settled in Mobile; it was truly an act of God that she had reason to return when she left in the mid-90s.

Thus, a few times a year, Becca came home to see family. There were many times I spent the night at GaGa’s house with her. I remember watching movies, eating dinners, and always, always being greeted with a wide smile, an exclamation of joy, and a big hug when GaGa answered the door.

That was the GaGa I knew, but I learned even more about her at her funeral. I bit my teeth to hold back tears as the service started. Part of me was thinking of Jude’s service; part of me was thinking of the grandmother who accepted me as a second granddaughter because I was best friends with her beloved Becca; she was a woman so full of love.

I soon learned through beautiful stories shared by her children that she was a woman of sass and celebration. She took care of people…she had the world’s greatest sense for laundry needing to be done, and don’t get me started on the gold stilettos. Grandma had game!

Of course, she was also a beautiful heart. She was a prayerful woman and a compassionate woman. She did things to and for people that most of us could only dream of doing, and as her eulogy continued, I realized that I was less than half the woman she was.

After the funeral, we went to the cemetery, the same one where Jude lies next to my beloved Memaw, who passed roughly 20 years ahead of GaGa when I was 13 on January 2, 1997.

On the drive, I learned that Becca’s oldest brother, Charlie, was laid to rest near his grandparents (or rather, they were laid to rest near him). This I hadn’t known; Jude was lain to rest next to my grandmother, and my parents will be next to them, and Sean and I, above them.

Though it was indeed GaGa’s day, nothing could prepare me for seeing where Charlie, a beautiful young man whose life ended far too soon my sophomore year of high school and his freshman year of college, was buried.

Perhaps it’s something that a mother and a parent feels that can’t be explained; perhaps it’s something that only a traumatic loss…one that’s too sudden and too soon that shakes our core, can be related to…I don’t know. I wasn’t able to focus on anything other than Charlie.

When Charlie passed away, he was a freshman at FSU. It was during Mardi Gras that he passed away. I remember most distinctly “being there” with Becca (but not being there in the best of ways because I was truly too naïve to be there the way I now wish I could’ve been) with her dad and Ann at the Civic Center on the lawn near the arena. It was night. No one was particularly celebratory.

I didn’t know Charlie well. He was a nice guy and a fun, funny guy. He loved animals. He wanted to be vet…I knew that much. His obituary was particularly long as he was survived by many beloved pets in it. It was printed in Mobile’s paper. My 10th grade English teacher mentioned it in class, and I, despite my extreme shyness, raised my hand and said that was my best friend’s brother. I’m not sure what her reason for mentioning it was…she wasn’t being disrespectful, but I thought it was important for people to know more about Charlie…that he loved his animals and that he had a family and a sister who missed him.

I’m honestly not sure why we try to remain composed at funerals. I’ve noticed this as I’ve gotten older. People try so hard not to show their grief in front of others. Though I felt like crying several times during GaGa’s funeral (it was that laundry story, if you must know…poignant yet so telling), I held it together until Ms. Donna, Becca’s mom, stooped to brush her fingers across the raised bronze of her son’s name on his headstone.

All mothers must do that. It was a gesture I recognized because from the day Jude had a headstone, I would kneel and brush my fingers across his name and think of how much I missed him and just saying his name aloud.

Becca knelt beside her mother, and the two wept. I put my hand on Becca’s shoulder to “be there”…to be there for the years and years of grief and sorrow where I wasn’t for proximity or ignorance. I cried for and with them, for there are times where tears can express what words cannot, which is that I cannot and will not ever understand, and in equal measure, I understand, and I feel your pain. I wasn’t thinking of Jude, but he was giving me the power to feel…it’s a gift I’m thankful for.

When she rose, Becca and I hugged, and she painted a beautiful picture of little Jude in heaven, delighting both Charlie and GaGa, and vice versa. I know they are all together and dancing and playing and laughing.

As we idled back to our cars, the sun broke through the clouds, and I realized that Becca and I would have many more years of holding each other’s hands. I know God gave me this person for a reason. By all accounts, it’s miracle she has family here; it’s a miracle she had reason to visit. My strongest friendship is one that’s persisted since I was 11 years old but is one that hasn’t had a physical presence for 22 years. She’s a sister to me, and I know one day, our goodbyes and hellos will come with heavier prices as we say goodbye to parents and more grandparents…as we endure life lessons and hardships I can only imagine, but you know what? I’m thankful to God that she’s the one who’ll hold my hand, and I’ll always be there to hold hers.

There may not be golden rainbows every day, but there are pots of gold at the end of rainbows, and I feel like Becca’s mine.

May golden rainbows shine down on you all.

Dear Jude… 

Thank you for everything. Thank you for giving Dr. T the intuition to deliver your sister a year ago tomorrow. Thank you for giving me the ability to feel more than I’ve ever felt in my life. Thank you for being my boy. You’re my boy. Happy golden day to you, dear heart. You’re 26 months on the 26th! Kisses and hugs. I can’t wait to see you in heaven. Dance and play and celebrate the glory for mommy, my darling. I miss you.

Love,

Mommy

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Hey Jude – What It Means to be Pregnant after Loss (PAL)

Two years ago today, we lost our second baby, Jude, at 33 weeks. One year ago today, we were nursing a tender wound while also thanking God that Jude’s little sister, Eilie, our third baby, who was also 33 weeks, happened to choose December 26 to be active and to help assuage our “pregnancy after loss” anxieties.

If you’ve read Letters to Jude in the past, you may know that following Jude’s loss, I found a Facebook support group called PAL, which stands for pregnancy after loss. In this group, I joined a niche group called PAL – Third Trimester. Some of these women had similar stories to mine; others had more harrowing tales of multiple late losses or a combination of both.

 

We got pregnant with Eilie five months after we lost Jude. We weren’t trying; it just happened because well, biology, and negligent natural family planning. Speaking of biology, I run like a Swiss clock. I’m on time, all the time, every time. So, I was due for a “time” and on a whim, that Sunday morning after a particularly enjoyable night out with Sean, I took a test. I know it’s cliché, but you really could’ve knocked me over with a feather when two pink lines showed up on the First Response test.

 

My head swam. I grinned stupidly. After all, we planned to get pregnant again as soon as we could. We’d wanted our children to be very close in age. We didn’t consider any kind of emotional healing or coping, and I still maintain that there’s no amount of time that will permit you to be “ready” after a loss. Those scars will burn whether it’s been five months or five years between your loss and your rainbow pregnancy. The only thing that you need to know is if you’re “ready” to become pregnant again and to hope again. You’ll never be the same after a loss, and you’ll never be “ready” for a baby (even if you’ve never had a loss, honestly).

 

I took the test in to show a very tired Sean, who was making a sandwich.

 

“Are you freaking kidding me?” He was elated.

 

Like kids on Christmas morning, we couldn’t wait to share our joy. I texted one special friend who’d been with us the night we lost Jude, and then we told our parents…immediately. Stupid, I know. Everyone was prayerfully excited. We even told the family we were expecting (but were very early) a week later after Lillianne’s second birthday party. Consequently, we’d told them we were pregnant with Jude following Lillianne’s first birthday party. I realized that this was possibly an ominous thing to do, but we wanted prayers.

 

We talked about sharing the news on Facebook and social media early; however, we soon learned that the very real trauma of being pregnant after loss came with a lot of internal conflicts that aren’t rational or easy to resolve.

 

From my observation as well as my experience, there are many traumas and anxieties associated with being pregnant after a loss whether it’s a single miscarriage or stillbirth or multiple losses. Every time, no matter the situation, there is the highest hope paralleled by the most crippling fear. If you are newly pregnant after loss or have a friend who is pregnant after a loss, these are some of the realities.

 

You won’t know how to tell people you’re pregnant again.

We wanted to tell everyone early to ask for prayers. We thought 13 weeks was an appropriate “early” time to make an announcement about our rainbow baby. We ended up announcing at around 20 weeks, and the best way I could do it was to take a photo of Lillianne holding a pair of knitted pink baby booties (like the grey ones I’d gotten for Jude and accidentally buried with him in my grief) with a little message. We’d had so much support from everyone after we lost Jude. I felt like I owed it to them to ask for their prayers for Jude’s sister. Despite this, I couldn’t find the way or the words for over a month and a half after my originally intended announcement date.

 

Other pregnant women will upset you even when / if you’re pregnant again.

After we lost Jude, I should’ve abstained from going to Target because it’s like the Capital of Mom. It’s almost required that you have a baby or be expecting a baby to enter. I would go with Lillianne feeling raw, emotional, and listless, and I would see bumps everywhere. I was irrationally upset and resentful, and I felt terrible because having suffered what I suffered, I never wanted to begrudge another woman her baby; in fact, one of my most sincere prayers was that if statistically so many people had a stillbirth that I would be the ONLY one of my friends and acquaintances in their childbearing years to suffer the loss. Let me be the statistic, I prayed. Still, it upset me to see other pregnant women…especially very pregnant women as I looked right before I lost Jude. I averted my gaze and cried on the inside and thought they were naïve because they didn’t know how blessed they were while realizing that some of them knew just how blessed they were.

 

Previously innocent questions about your family will seem cruel.

If you have one child, many ask, “Will you have another?”

 

If you have no children, many ask, “Are you planning to have children?”

 

If you have two children of the same gender, many ask (as we’ve now experienced), “Are you trying for a (gender) baby?”

 

This ruffles a lot of PALs’ feathers. I mostly take it with a grain of salt. Of course, I was caught off-guard when I was first asked if Lillianne was my only one. I was checking out at Target (because, Capital of Mom) when the cashier conversationally asked the poisonous question. We’d just lost Jude. I froze, said yes, and felt so painfully guilty on the way out of the store. Sean, who was with me, who’d taken the month off after we lost Jude to cope and to heal with Lillianne and me as a family, assured me it was okay to tell the truth…that no, what wasn’t my only one.

 

After that, I readily told anyone who asked that I had two…one here and one in heaven. Reactions to this honesty varied. Some people were crushed on my behalf. Others shared their own losses. Still others acted completely unaffected (“Oh, I’m sorry,” (checks nails)) and would probably have been more upset if I said I lost my iPhone.

 

I also felt weird –after telling people I’d lost a baby—not being super emotional. First, I don’t get publically emotional often. Second, I’ve accepted what happened. Third, I have faith that’s helped make losing Jude something that’s made me stronger and more joyful as a person; he’s still with me. He’s not here, but he’s with me. I can’t explain this other than to say it’s part of God’s power and mystery. So, I can speak with calm about my son without falling apart.

 

Anyway, I digress…the questions come often. Now that we have Eilie, a lot of people seem to think that my life won’t be complete until I have a boy (mind, these are strangers). I have a boy, thank you. I’ve also reconciled that I may never have a son on Earth to raise, and honestly, I’m okay with that. Really. I’m okay with it. I was disappointed when we found out that Eilie was a girl because I really wanted a boy. It was irrational, but I did. I knew he wouldn’t replace Jude, but if the baby was a boy…then I wouldn’t have a box of baby boy clothes and hopes and dreams to quietly collect dust in a closet for the rest of my natural life. Alas, though, the baby was a girl, and she’s a joy.

 

You will constantly worry about the worst thing happening.

When we lost Jude, it was after diminished fetal movement. There were no other signs or indications of problems. He just…wasn’t as active. Before I could feel the baby move, I took pregnancy tests because I wasn’t nauseated (other than that one day), didn’t have swollen painful breasts, didn’t feel crappy, etc. like other women in their first trimesters. I was tired, sure, but I also worked until one or two in the morning and woke up when Lillianne woke up. I was already tired. How could I tell the difference?

 

Eventually, I started to have a bump, and eventually, I started to feel movement. I was obsessed with the movement. I knew Eilie’s patterns like the back of my hand. She was super active, which was very reassuring. Then, there were times where she wasn’t super active or where she wasn’t as active, and I nearly lost my mind. My chest tightened, my breathing was restricted. I poked and prodded and panicked. There were countless nights at 3 a.m. when I was awake obsessing over baby movements, fastidiously ensuring I was laying on my side, and praying the baby would move, so I could go back to sleep.

 

One day in late November, Eilie was conspicuously still. I finally, calmly yet fearfully, called and asked to be seen by the high risk doctor. They suggested I call my regular OB and go get put on the monitor there. After what happened with Jude, I flatly said ‘no’. Jude’s ultrasound had been misread. Jude died at that hospital. If he’d have been born, he’d have been rushed to USA Women’s and Children, away from me for days. If I went in and lost this baby…or if she was born and taken away from me…. No. Just. No.

 

I advised the high risk clinic receptionist I’d be checking in at W&C ER and going from there. I texted my regular OB who I have the utmost respect and appreciation for and let her know what was going on (she wasn’t the OB on call when we lost Jude, and honestly, she had no signs…I don’t fault her an iota).

 

We arrived and were checked in. My dad stayed with Lillianne for over two hours while I was monitored. An ultrasound and non-stress test showed a “perfect” baby but that I was having contractions (though, they eventually said perhaps it was just the baby moving as late November was very early for contractions).

 

Your loss date will be a milestone, but it won’t make the anxiety stop.

I had a unique (though not exclusive) experience in that Jude and Eilie were both the same age on Jude’s loss date. For most PALs, the date of their baby’s loss is a significant date, and the date in which their rainbow is the age of their angel baby is a significant date. These are very hard days for a PAL because we are reminded so much of what is missing and what is at stake on these days.

 

What’s more, there’s always the fear of the same occurring again. While I shadowboxed my way through Eilie’s pregnancy (guessed at what was wrong, tried to do everything differently during Eilie’s pregnancy from wearing compressing socks to exercise obsessively), there are many PALs who know why they lost their rainbows (cord complications being a top cause). Here’s what sucks. There are literally tons of things that can go awry with a pregnancy. PALs will look out for the thing that went wrong like hawks. I was OCD about diminished fetal movement even though I realized that anything could’ve gone wrong, and if you read the first story from Eilie’s birth, you’ll know it almost did.

 

I had such a thin uterus that it was admitted after Eilie was born that had we persisted in the pregnancy before the spontaneously decided delivery date, rupture and possibly tragedy would’ve been eminent.

 

Against all logic, we plan to “try for another one” and when I say “try”, I mean we will just become really bad at NFP again. With Jude, we tried with deliberation to get pregnant. Eilie and Lillianne were happy accidents. I recognize that I’m already taking psychological steps to avoid taboos.

 

No PAL wants to repeat anything they did with their losses. They also don’t want plucky encouragement. They don’t want you to tell them to be happy they can be or get pregnant again.

 

As one who is quite capable of becoming pregnant, I respect that there are many women who can’t or for whom this journey is much harder. Please don’t diminish a loss by telling a pregnant woman to be happy she is pregnant. You don’t know how hard she struggled to get there or what it cost her emotionally. There are some women who are softer than I am, and for these gentle creatures, they bleed with all their hearts. Questions about their families or fertility, lack of sympathy, neglect over the special days by family members and grandparents….that cuts these women to the core.

 

For me, we remember Jude all of the time. I think Eilie looks the way he’d have looked in many ways. Sean is my partner in this journey. His grandparents miss him. My beautiful friend, Rachel, who was there the night I lost Jude, who learned of Jude’s passing in the wee hours of a Saturday morning and who visited me every day, and who I first told of our rainbow bird’s expectancy, has sent flowers for two years in love and honor of our son. My precious friend Courtney sent thoughtful gifts on holidays for a year for Lillianne and Jude (obviously, for me, but for him) (and Eilie shortly before we had her) (the lanterns we have were from her, and I think of her whenever we send one to heaven for Jude). My best friend who dropped all to come hold my hand when we lost Jude and who never fails to contact me on the important days. I have so much love. I still think fondly of everyone who came to Jude’s funeral that New Year’s Eve…of Laura who not only gave me the opportunity to work from home (whether she realizes it or not) but whose beautiful offering of sympathy was the first thing to greet me on the doorstep when I came home from the hospital, of my dear friend Jeremy, who brought food and compassion, and Kat, who also brought food and her love, and to others who sent flowers again…who showed up.

 

Sometimes, just showing up and trying to understand is all a PAL needs. As a mom who’s lost a baby I pray that you never experience this if you’re reading it, but if you have, please know that there are communities of fellow parents out there who do understand and who can help to hold your hand. Please know that when your parents or in-laws or others say stupid and rude things, they don’t mean to be rude and stupid. They just don’t understand.

 

Here’s what I think we, as PALs, can and should do for others. We should help educate them.

  1. Please do not ask a PAL if they want a certain gender of baby.
  2. Please do not ask a PAL to be happy with what they have. They are happy, but one can be happy and grieve at the same time. It’s not our fault you’re uncomfortable with grief. Maybe you should see a therapist to figure out why you have that problem.
  3. Please do not be offended if a PAL cannot or does not want to host or attend your baby shower. (I attended one shower after I lost Jude…my best friend’s. She was having her first baby, and she was like my sister. It was an honor to do her shower, and consequently, that shower took place on the 26th of September, and I missed Jude’s story that month; however, it was a joy to do that and to be there for her. If it wouldn’t have been or if I couldn’t have done it, I know she would have understood it had nothing to do with her or her beautiful baby.)
  4. Please understand if they don’t or cannot have a shower (or do not want one). (I never dealt with this as my first was born living, and I’m a firm stickler for one shower. I never saw a need to have a shower for every baby I had, so I didn’t have one for Jude nor did I have one for his sister; however, some women lose their first and the idea of a shower for their rainbow is agonizing. Please respect their anxieties and wishes. It’s VERY hard to prepare for a baby and to celebrate hope after a loss.)
  5. Please understand how staggering it is to set up a nursery or to take one down. We never set up Jude’s nursery. It was on the to-do list, but it never happened. I had a closet of clothes to box up (I wept as I did so), but I didn’t have an entire room to change. When we found out Eilie was a girl, we painted the beige room yellow and I pulled some of my favorite sleep sacks that were to be Jude’s for Eilie’s. I still have one outfit that was to be Jude’s hanging in her closet.

 

Honestly, I don’t have any more rules. I just have my experience. I’ll always miss my Jude. I’ll cry at weird times over him (or so it seems). Some women are more emotional (from what I’ve read) than I am. Some women are more easily wounded by questions and comments than I am. I sometimes wish very much that I could cry and let my emotions bleed from my eyes more readily and often. I think it would help, to be honest. Alas, I can’t, and I don’t. I cry over commercials or moments in shows that remind me of Jude. I miss him.

 

At the end of the day, what I’d like to suggest if you have a friend who is childless, who has miscarried (many, many women miscarry in complete secret), or who has suffered a stillbirth or God-forbid, a later loss, please keep in mind that we all have grief or pain. These are hard times and questions. Please just show love and compassion and sensitivity to the best of your ability. Respectfully, I know you can’t please everyone, but do try to keep in mind that the lady who works at the grocery checkout has a baby who died after a few days old or the lady you’re sitting next to at Barnes and Noble while your kid plays with the Thomas the Tank train set had a stillbirth right before her due date. Oh…you didn’t know that? No…I didn’t either until I shared my story, but if you don’t have my story, then you may never know theirs. So, I implore you now of two things:

  • If you’ve had a loss, please share it. Mothers of miscarried babies, please stop hiding behind statistics. You deserve to air your grief. You hide too much. You’ll find so much support if you just step outside of your bindings.
  • If you’ve not had a loss, please let others know you’re open to hearing their stories. Few things are more agonizing than sharing our stories to be dismissed or hushed because others are uncomfortable with our truth. We aren’t looking for shoulders to cry on; we’re just telling you about our family; it so happens, our families have angels in them.

So, I pray you all have nothing but health, love, and happiness in your families. I pray you show love and tenderness and understanding to your friends and family who have suffered losses.

 

To myself on this night, I say to my Jude, I love you, sweetheart. I can’t believe you’re two. You’re growing so beautifully, and you’re helping my faith so much. I couldn’t ask for a greater blessing than you, Jude. Please, darling, continue blessing us and the world and your sisters with your guidance. Please touch your sisters with your presence and the love of God.  Bless you my son; I do miss you so much. I pray these wishes are granted. Amen.

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.

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.