Disclaimer: This post is the third of four in a series about one ACMB Team Member’s experience with infant loss. (Click here to read “Our Firstborn: A Journal [Part Two].”) 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 Two])
From the moment you left us, all I wanted was to go home. But there were still complications, and that wouldn’t happen for another 24 hours.
When I did finally leave that hospital, I was not carrying a baby, carseat, or diaper bag. I was carrying a plastic bag full of clothes I’d been wearing many days prior and cradling a small, delicate box covered in handmade paper and tied with yellow ribbon. When the angel-nurse had handed that box to me she said, “This memory box is full of several things: the clothes and blankets your son was wrapped in, photographs we took of him, his handprints and footprints, a tiny snip of his hair, your hospital bracelets, and the stuffed animal that stayed with him while he was here. You can take this home and never, ever open it—that will be just fine. But, if at some point in the future you do want to open it, I promise you will be very glad you have it.”
And with that we headed home.
When we pulled into the driveway, I just sat there. Still uncertain about what was supposed to happen next, other than an immediate shower in my own bathroom, of course.
Your dad said, “Hey…just give me a few minutes, OK?”
He dashed inside and was out again in no time to help me into the house.
I would realize later that he had cleared the entire house of gifts, packages, baby furniture, clothes, bottles, pacifiers, diapers…all the things scattered about that had accumulated from baby showers, care packages, and shopping trips. He had piled them in the nursery and mercifully closed the door.
In spite of my exhaustion, there was not much sleep in those first few nights. So strange to go from feeling like we would never be ready and had a million things to do to having absolutely nothing to do at all.
Every morning when I wake up, I re-remember that I am not pregnant anymore, but there is no baby in the house. Then I negotiate with myself for those precious few pre-lucid moments about whether it is a nightmare or if it has actually happened. I’m not sure when I will stop expecting there to be a baby.
I had no idea I could feel so incredibly hollow.
There will be an autopsy. I cannot even think about that.
And then you will go to the funeral home, and we will have to give them some kind of instructions. More things I cannot imagine. Your grandparents will be here by then. Maybe they will know what to do.
I know it’s time to stop writing this. It’s over.
I miss you so much that I can’t even explain it. I think that if I just keep writing maybe I will figure it out. Mostly, I worry about you… Are you OK? Are you scared? How can a baby be without his mother? I hope with every fiber of my being that you are warm and safe and held constantly. I like to picture you with our family who loves you who have also passed: Aunt B and Granny and Pop and Paw Paw. I really hope that something like that is true. (Though, I should warn you, if you listen to Paw Paw for too long, he will get you into trouble. But you do have his nose, so you might not be able to resist. I get it. He was my favorite, too.)
Someday, when we meet again, I hope you will feel proud of us and however it is that we figure out our way through this.
Until then, please be well, sweet angel…
All my love,
(Three weeks after)
People call to “check on me” a lot. I suppose they expect to find me answering the phone in hysterics and then they will rush over to…do what? I’m not sure what it is people think they would do if I was, in fact, a basket case when they called. Shouldn’t they know better? I mean, if I were in the midst of a crying episode, I probably wouldn’t bother to answer the phone, would I? It’s nice. I know. They mean well. They really care about us. I’m not complaining, it’s just curious to me. The bottom line is that there isn’t anything anyone can do or say to make it better, but Lordy, that doesn’t mean they don’t keep trying anyway. I think I’m supposed to be learning how to accept help and love and care from others more graciously. I’m pretty sure I’m not doing a very good job so far. And I will probably be sad when they aren’t calling to check on me anymore. What a mess.
It’s very quiet right now, which I like. No television, no radio, no video games, nothing. There should be new noises in this house by now—coos and cries and the sounds of spit-up—so I think it must feel even quieter than usual with their absence. Maybe just the radio wouldn’t be so bad.
I saw the nurse this morning. My blood pressure is still really high, but no one knows what else to do about it. I’ll see a neurologist on Tuesday. Woke up with an unbearable headache again today; took meds. Wash, rinse, repeat.
It was so hard to be in that waiting room today—the last place he was alive. Nearly four weeks already. Hard to believe.
Wasted day today. Just want to cry. So, so sick of crying.
Need to pay bills, feed dogs, do laundry, blah, blah, blah. Life keeps going, the world keeps turning, no matter how often you ask it to please slow down just a little. Or stop.
I really want to just get off this ride.
(One month down)
The first of many significant milestones, as they say. One month. Four weeks. Twenty-eight days.
Yesterday wasn’t a particularly easy day. Emotionally, I was definitely up and down. My mood changes like whip cracks.
But last night, when the lights went out, like a flood, the last remnants of denial must be leaving. That protective varnish of surrealism has been worn down. Like having the air sucked out of me, I felt dizzy as this new heaviness settled in, and I heard a cool whisper in my ear, “This is it. This is how you are going to feel for a long time, and there isn’t anything you can do about it. Meet your cross and get comfortable.”
I wanted to disappear.
I wanted to scream.
I wanted to pass out.
Instead, I cried and cried and tried really hard not to shake the bed, not to wake him up.
Finally, I had to get up and go into the other room…the box.
I went through his things: pictures, prints, teddy bear, the softest hair I’ve ever felt, the little cap he wore—it smells just like it’s supposed to—a new stab with each whiff. I became very aware that the physical reality of him is slipping away: the agony of milk is finally slowing, and the bleeding has ceased. Part of the aching last night was for something real, something I could hold. Those little clips of hair were like gold, and the smell… I began frantically calculating how to preserve a scent. I meticulously examined the photos so I could figure out exactly where his head and cheeks had touched the quilt. I beat myself up for not holding him longer, for not talking to him more, which led to beating myself up for not paying closer attention near the end, not being more vigilant and demanding with the doctor, for all the things I didn’t even know I didn’t know. There is a mountain of tissue on the floor in there. With a good two-hour cry under my belt, I tried to go to bed again.
The force with which the headache raged this morning was knee-weakening. Thank the good Lord for Relpax.
There is some solace in the really hard days: not as much guilt. The days that are outwardly more carefree and productive, the days that contain even a smile or an enjoyable moment, those nights are plagued by insurmountable guilt. It’s paralyzing. It’s a no-man’s-land: you either give in and cry until you think you will break or you shove it down, try to distract yourself, and wind up exhausted and overwhelmed with guilt, which just makes you cry anyway.
“You will never ‘get over it,’ as people say, and you should not expect to. You will just slowly grow accustomed to this deep sadness now within you, and the more time that passes, the more capable you will be to manage it. God will help you find a place to keep it so it isn’t always in the way, but it will never be far from you.” These were my mother’s teary words about her same experience 35 years ago. Not a very sunny forecast, but probably the most true.
The easiest death is most certainly your own.
Jennifer’s story will conclude next week in the final installment of this series, “Our Firstborn: A Journal (Part Four).” We hope that her experience will help others who have suffered infant or pregnancy loss to know they are not alone.