Our son was born 7 weeks ago tonight. It’s not possible to convey in words the feeling when I heard that cry. The feeling when the doctors from the PICU, the same ones that had been paged minutes before to be there to receive our son from my wife’s OB when he decided to proceed with an emergency C-section, looked at me and said “looks great”, upon competing their battery of inspections. Despite being, nearly 3 weeks early, he was born 7 lbs 1oz and 20.5 inches long…ready to take over our lives. My wife, Lauren, and I had been praying, wishing, hoping he would just get here. The longer we got into the 3rd trimester, the harder it got. Once making it through the first trimester, we thought we’d peaked at the stress level. The second trimester brought successful tests and ultrasounds, finding out that we were having a boy, talking about names, and ultimately planning for the final 13 weeks. What we didn’t expect was the stress peak we thought we’d hit in week 12 was about to be surpassed as we got closer to that planned induction date.
It seemed at week 30, the clock stopped….every day was longer, every minute seemed to drag on…we just wanted him here NOW. At Lauren’s 36 week appointment, she told the doctor “we are ready now”….he laughed (we weren’t joking) saying we needed to wait another 2 weeks until the planned induction date. The boy wouldn’t wait…or we stressed him out…37 weeks and 2 days, an emergency C-section, and he was here. Wednesday at 9:00pm is forever etched in our lives….the day our boy saved us.
Wednesday….we hadn’t considered Wednesday, as we had that Monday, just 5 days later, circled for 6 months…..Monday at week 38. But Wednesday made a lot more sense….it was Wednesday at 7:20pm, exactly 13 months, 1 hour, and 40 minutes earlier that our first child, his big sister had been born 2 days before her scheduled 40 week due date. She was a bit longer, a little more slender….6 lbs 6 oz and 21 inches long. Our little “super model” baby as we nicknamed her. She was born 10 hours after Lauren’s call to the doctor that her contractions were now about 5 minutes apart….9 hours after throwing the packed bags in the car and rushing to the hospital to receive our baby Girl, 8 hours after excitedly making that walk to labor and delivery we waited years to make, 8 hours after getting checked into our room and meeting the nurses that would help bring our Girl into our lives…..7 and ½ hours after the doctor looked at the screen, turned to us and said the words that forever changed us….”I’m sorry, we’ve lost her heartbeat.”
We are lucky….we had an incredible team of nurses, doctors, family and support. We got to spend the night with our baby Girl. Our close family pastor arrived in our hospital room at 7:00am the next morning to perform the private Baptism I had spoken with him about on the phone a mere 7 hours earlier. We had another couple hours after our Girl was Baptized to spend with her before the funeral director walked through that door to remove her from our arms. You only know the feeling if you’ve been there.
We met a lot of great people in those 13 months. We attended a few group, grief counseling sessions that the hospital offered for infant loss. We tried a non-profit grief counseling center that had a special class on Saturday mornings for infant loss. We ultimately found what worked best for us… private therapy with a wonderful therapist who probably saved both our lives. Someone with the skills, knowledge and compassion to know that she couldn’t feel what we were feeling because she’d never been in our shoes….but was able to give us tools and advice on how to deal with the everyday challenges that we never in our wildest dreams expected to encounter.
Lauren succesfully got pregnant again, we survived 8+ months of stress, worry and anticipation. We survived the deep, dark thoughts about what could happen if things went wrong….we had survived and we had our perfect baby boy in our arms. Everyone we met in our group therapy and grief counseling sessions….everyone we encountered that had survived a loss like ours, they all told us the same thing….having your next child is the best therapy you can receive. They were right….looking into his eyes, seeing him grow up so fast in just seven weeks, seeing what a perfect little boy he is…you are reminded that we have plenty of love to give…both to his big sister, to him and to our future children.
There is, however, one thing that no one ever told us…something I never had considered….something that has knocked us back many times in the past seven weeks and it appears likely will continue to do so for the rest of our lives: We’ve entered into the next phase of mourning for our little Girl. The next phase of mourning is one that I had not expected. It’s a bit hard to describe….again, if you haven’t been there it’s not able to be fully understood. With it comes a whole new wave of emotions, new conflicts with friends and family, and a new perspective on almost everything around you.
The first thing that you realize is that everyone around you is relieved. Even those closest to you…..the few that you could stand to be around after your loss, the few that were your rocks during that time…they breath a sigh of relief. There is a weight off of their shoulders…you have your child now….you will be happy again. This is not, by any means, an indictment on them….they kept you breathing, they were there for you no matter what, they did whatever you needed…they were at your disposal for anything at all and asked for nothing in return. You are forever grateful for them….but they are tired. They can’t help but let their guard down slightly….you now have your baby, they helped get you here….they naturally take a step back to breathe too. You may be blindsided by some of things that come from this small group of rocks you’ve relied on since your loss….they don’t realize it but you still need them now to be there for you, in some ways even more than ever. And here’s why……to help protect you from “Everyone Else”.
Everyone Else: family and friends that thought we should have been “over it” when Lauren got pregnant with our son. Those people who stopped calling a few months after our Girl passed away, either because they gave up when we didn’t return their calls right away….or they grew tired hearing us talk about our little Girl and not being able to cope with it. Everyone Else….you still needed help from your rocks, helping you deal with everyone else and being there no matter what…a shoulder to cry on, a dinner night when you felt up for it, or a late night phone call or text conversation when the sleep wouldn’t come. You needed them more than ever. Because Everyone Else is so relieved you now have a baby in your arms, you can now return to the person you were before your loss….and they are free to treat and act towards you like you are back to normal.
Another thing hit us in the face…..that stress we felt during the pregnancy, the stress we thought had been lifted off our shoulders when we heard that cry at 9:00pm 7 weeks ago….that stress is still here. It now manifests itself in new ways we never imagined. After trying for 2 hours, 3 diapers, and multiple feedings, our boy falls into a sleep and you think “maybe I can get a couple hours of sleep.” Sometime, not too far into that sleep, you sit straight up in a complete panic. You look over….is he breathing? I can’t see him move. You launch out of bed, stare for 5 seconds, put your ear down, and ultimately touch his little hand until it moves….waking him up out of his sound sleep. Surly, this will subside too…..and maybe it will. We don’t know yet. What I think we know is this….we will forever live with this new stress….constantly worrying about his safety, his well-being….and that nagging fear that something terrible could happen. Do most parents have this? I have to believe they do. There is, however, one very big difference: those other parents don’t actually know what it feels like when that beautiful life IS actually taken from you. You do know how that feels and what that can do to you. Your stress is not only over the safety and well-being of your new child…you fear that within a single breath, you could return to that unimaginable state again. This is a stress…a fear…a thought that you have never considered before.
This final thought, I’m sure you expected….I sort of did, but it still is overwhelming when it happens. I long to hold my daughter, to hear her cry, to see her open her eyes, to give her that first bath……I long for that now more than I ever thought I could. Our son has brought so much joy into our lives, has changed us forever, and he is the most precious gift we could have received. And all of this makes you realize the boundless amount of love you have to give…..and that strong desire to give that to both our children is even more present now. Last Saturday morning, our son was being a little fussy, starting to cry, as Lauren was trying to quickly eat her breakfast. I picked him up, starting singing to him and walking him around….he was fighting his tiredness…it but I could see, slowly, this might be working and he was starting to settle down. So I started slowly dancing with him, rocking him back and forth, singing whatever 80’s love ballad song had just come on Pandora. I smile as I stare at our precious boy….and as I continue to sing to him, I start to cry. At that very moment, I have a vision of us in the future…the three of us, his Mom and I, dancing in a little circle at his wedding. We are singing his “sister’s song”….laughing, talking about her….a glimpse some 20, 30 years in the future. Snapped back in that moment on Saturday morning, he looks at me….as if to say “Dad, now why are you crying??? Boy, you and Mom sure do cry a lot….” That quickly…you are knocked back on your heels…when you least expect it.
What you should be prepared for? To be the happiest you have felt since the day…the moment…the second that doctor had to look you in the eyes and utter the most unspeakable words that are forever etched in your mind. You will never forget that moment for the rest of your life.
I can also assure you that….you also will never, ever forget the moment when the doctor looks at you and says “he looks great….come hold your son.”
Our Story of Petunia and her little brother Calvin…