It has been 38 years, one month, seven days. 457 months. 13,807 days. 333,637 hours. Over 20 million minutes. Over a billion seconds. The time since my life changed. Forever. Never to be the same.
Jaime was born healthy. She was beautiful and happy. She had a brother and grandparents and aunts and an uncle who loved her.
But I was in a particularly bad place. I had just turned 24. My husband had left for greener pastures when I was about five months pregnant with Jaime. I had a 3-year-old and an infant to take care of. I had moved from Virginia, where all of my friends were, to Montana, where I had family. The child support my husband was supposed to be sending had not come, so I had to apply for food stamps to feed my children. I was going back to school on the GI Bill (I was a former Marine), but the income from that wouldn’t start coming in until about two months later. And I remember saying, “Things can’t get any worse!”
I had wanted to knit a beautiful lacy christening gown for Jaime, but as I got further into the pattern, I realized I did not have the skills to accomplish the knitting quickly enough, so I ripped it out, and started over – and crocheted a christening gown that I finished two days before her baptism – just in time to have her pictures taken in it the day before she was baptized. And the day after her baptism, I started at a vocational school to learn a skill that I might be able to use to support my children.
Four days later came the horror of waking to find she was gone. Dead. Cold. My father heard my screams and came running down the stairs, scooping her up and trying to do mouth to mouth resuscitation. I remember my mother calling the police and saying, “We have a dead baby here.” They wrapped her in a blanket. I wasn’t really there. I just waited. For the ambulance to come and take her. For the police to come and investigate. There was a crusty old cop who sat with me while the detectives looked at the place where she died. He told me it looked like that “crib death thing”.
Jaime was buried in her christening gown. In a small cemetery in a small town in Montana.
The wait began for the death certificate. They said she was a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It didn’t help me to feel any less guilty for failing her.
After a while, no one wanted to hear her name – it was time to be over it and move on. So I was silent.
It was almost four years before I spoke with another SIDS parent. By then, I was remarried, and I was expecting my “subsequent” child. I was terrified, and the SIDS Foundation group I found was incredibly supportive.
I believed that nothing would happen again. God wouldn’t do that to me again after I had already suffered so much!
It has been 33 years, two months. 398 months. 12,104 days. 290,492 hours. Over 17 million minutes. Over a billion seconds. The second time life changed. Forever. Never to be the same. Again.
Sean should have come into the world kicking and screaming. Instead, he was born via emergency c-section with no heartbeat. Zero Apgars. They were able to resuscitate him, and after waiting for me to awaken from anesthesia so that I could see him, he was whisked across the city to a NICU. Ten days later, the neurologists gave us the bad news. He had no suck or swallow reflex. He had only brainstem function. The sutures in his head had fused. He would probably not survive early childhood.
Amazingly, we took Sean home from the NICU after four weeks – with a tube in his stomach so that we could feed him, and a suction machine so that we could keep him from drowning in his own secretions. It would be six weeks before we heard him make a sound. We fed him thru his tube, and he grew. We took him with us wherever we went. And we loved him with everything we had in us.
Again, I crocheted a beautiful christening gown. And while Sean was baptized in the NICU, he was also part of a christening ceremony a few months later, wearing his gown while his loving family and godparents looked on. And again, pictures were taken of a beautiful child.
We started to see Sean’s body break down. Subtle things. Skin peeling like it had been burned. Projectile vomiting when it should have been impossible. Weight loss. Aspiration pneumonia. Stays in the hospital. And then one night when he was in the hospital, the nurses checked on him and he was gone. Free of the body that held him prisoner.
Sean was buried in his christening gown. In a small cemetery in a small town in Montana. In the same plot as his sister.
And after a while, no one wanted to hear his name – it was time to be over it and move on. So I was silent.
I had two more children – a girl and a boy, now 32 and almost 30. And I made two more christening gowns – including the knitted one that I couldn’t complete for Jaime. And I prayed every day that they would be safe and grow up to be adults. And they did.
Today, I NEVER allow myself to even THINK that things can’t get any worse. They can. Just because something happened once – or twice – I don’t allow myself to think something can’t happen again. If I hadn’t lost those two beautiful children, I wouldn’t have the fourth and fifth beautiful children. And my life wouldn’t be what it is. Everything that has happened has gone into making me who I am. Every person who has touched my life has shaped who I am. And at the top of that list are those two tiny souls.
I talk about my children – all of them. I used to say that I had three, and only my closest friends would find out about the two that were missing. Now, I say I have five – three loving, caring adults, and two who died in infancy. I say their names – Jaime and Sean. But no longer just to myself.
I no longer live in Montana, so my visits to the small cemetery in the small town in Montana are few and far between, and I have accepted that there may not be many more visits as I no longer have near the cemetery to visit. But I will never forget those tiny children in their christening gowns. And I will always measure the time.
It has been 38 years………the time since my life changed………forever………