Disclaimer: This post is the second of four in a series about one ACMB Team Member’s experience with infant loss. (Click here to read “Our Firstborn: A Journal [Part One].”) We understand that this post may include language and ideas that are difficult or traumatizing to some readers and urge you to stop reading if you feel triggered in any way. As always, ACMB aims to provide a platform for our Team Members to share their experiences honestly in hopes of helping other moms, and we are very grateful to Jennifer for sharing her story with us.
In the months and years that followed the death of my oldest child, I found such incredible solace and comfort in hearing the stories of others. Just knowing that other people had survived what I was living through brought me hope and helped me feel a little less crazy. I have been continually grateful for the bravery and willingness of those parents who shared their worst nightmares in support of my own grief and healing.
In that same spirit and in honor of Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, I am sharing mine.
(continued from “Our Firstborn: A Journal [Part One]“)
They had taken you back fairly quickly from my chest. My health was still a “grave concern,” and there were issues they needed to tend to. Our sweet angel-nurse gave you a bath right there in the room with us. I watched her as if I were watching a very strange scene from a play with bad lighting and no sound. I remember how incredibly careful she was, so gentle, smiling at you and talking to you the whole time. It was easy to pretend that you were going to wake up and start crying at any moment. I wondered about that, too: crying. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t yet. Such shock and fear for my own life. Everything was suddenly so surreal. We were more than 24 hours into this ordeal, and I still had no point of reference for appropriate things to say, do, ask, or even feel… It was like I was levitating above myself watching everything from a distance.
Your bath was finished. She wrapped you in a blanket and laid you in the warming bassinet, though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t turned on. She explained to us that she was going to take you for at least a few minutes, but we could ask for you to be brought back in at any time, once they were finished with me and I was “out of the woods.” With a teary smile, she rolled you out of the room.
I think your father then made some impossible phone calls.
I probably have not thanked him enough for the superhuman things he has been doing in this process—and all with such grace and protectiveness for me.
You are so lucky to have him as a dad. I can’t believe you are going to miss out on it.
We talked about having you brought back in: an idea both terrifying and completely natural.
You are our first; remember, we have no idea what we are doing.
But I did feel, deep in a place in my soul that I didn’t even know I had, that I needed to hold you for as long as I could. I feared the regret of it more than I was scared of how hard it would be. Your father nodded and told me about his phone call to your grandmother, who was many states away, while he was on his way to the hospital. He told her, “I guess something is wrong. They can’t find the heartbeat. I’m headed to the hospital now. I’ll let you know more when I do.” There was quiet for just a moment and then she simply said, “No matter what, you make sure she holds that baby. Promise me.” And so, your father concurred, as unbearable as it was to imagine, yes, of course, we needed to.
Minutes later, they brought you in.
You smelled exactly as a baby should.
They had dressed you in a yellow onesie that was covered in little stars. You were wrapped in a white blanket, topped with a white hat and bundled under a tiny, yellow, flannel quilt.
Your little lips were dark, almost like bruises, which I imagine has something to do with the way you died: lack of oxygen and other things I don’t know about yet. Your nose was perfectly adorable—an exact replica of your great-grandfather’s. How he would have loved that. Under the hat we found dark brown, wavy hair and teeny tiny ears. Your fingers, all so perfect, sadly lay limp with a little purple under your nails. But I could see you—your precious face as if you had never been without oxygen—and even in my despair, I could see peace there.
Your father held you. The very first baby he had held in as long as he could remember—he wanted it to be that way—for you, his firstborn, to be so special.
I won’t speak for him.
I’ll just say I was so relieved he did it, and that watching him endure it is one of the hardest and bravest things I’ve ever witnessed.
I felt such an urge to talk to you while you were in my arms—to tell you a million things you certainly needed to know—but, it was so clear you were not actually there in that little body. You had moved on. And, it turned out, no words felt significant enough anyway. I don’t know how long we had you there with us—maybe 45 minutes, maybe many hours—but it was mostly silent. I do remember the sun starting to descend and the room gradually getting warmer while you were there, fingers of light falling in through the blinds, brightening up your quilt as the rays of sunset slowly made their way across all of us. However long that gorgeous, brutal, finite universe of just the three of us existed on your birthday, I will never forget it and I will never stop being grateful that I got to have it.
And then the nurse was there.
And we told her she could take you.
And that is when I recall my tears finally began.
Because to say “hello” and “goodbye” to you, my precious son, in nearly the same breath, was just too much.
But that is exactly what we did.
Jennifer’s story will continue next week in the second installment of this series, “Our Firstborn: A Journal (Part Three).” We hope that her experience will help others who have suffered infant or pregnancy loss to know they are not alone.