He would have been 8 this year. He would have been ending his soccer season, playing with other boys in the 3rd grade, and probably leaving multiple messes for me to clean up. He would have been one more forehead to kiss goodnight, another body to cuddle on family movie nights, and another kid to remind that he needs to brush his teeth. Instead, he is remembered as a fairly easy pregnancy that ended unexpectedly in the 7th month, suddenly making me grow up to a different reality of life as I knew it.
Stillbirth. It’s not a topic that is easy to talk about for anyone. In fact, I was ashamed to mention the word for years after it happened, afraid of making others feel uncomfortable or plaguing them with the curse I bore. It caused me confusion in how to answer “How many kids do you have?” I have three kids. Just one of them is in Heaven. But I never actually knew who he was.
But that wasn’t true. I did know him. I knew him before I even felt his first kick. He was living and breathing inside of me, through me. I knew him by the little flutter of a heartbeat that was heard through the Doppler, the rhythmic beat that danced around the slightly slower beat of my own heart, working its way into the very crevices that held the love of my children. And when I did finally feel him, it was like he was saying, “Hey mom, here I am,” with every single nudge of his foot. I lost my shape in favor of a larger belly. And though he was unplanned, my growing belly brought me joy as I anticipated his arrival in November, caressing the roundness he created. The nursery was set up, the rocking chair next to the same crib his sister and brother had slept in so that I could rock him to sleep while reading him “Goodnight Moon”. The reality of another couple years of diapers was accepted as the new norm. And all I had left to do was wait until I could meet him.
I just didn’t know I would meet him so soon, and under such circumstances.
It was September 20th when I felt a series of sharp, fluttering kicks to my abdomen. The movement alarmed me, and I stood still for a few moments. Something was wrong. A friend asked if I was ok, and I quickly brushed the fear aside, figuring it was nothing. It wasn’t until 2 days later when I realized those fluttering kicks were the last time I had felt him move. A few calls back and forth with the nurse in the ER, and I was on my way to the hospital. I still felt that it was nothing, and figured it was better to be a neurotic mom-to-be than not worried enough. But I didn’t expect for them to tell me that the baby’s heart was not beating.
His cord had twisted shut, lacking enough Wharton’s jelly to keep it full to allow enough nutrients and fluids to his body. He had starved to death inside of me. My very first thoughts were that my body had failed him – that I had failed him – even though there was nothing I could have done differently to change the circumstances. The next was my insistence that I did not want to go through another C-Section. For the first time ever, I experienced childbirth. But instead of a healthy 8 pound baby, I gave birth to a 2 pound, 12 ounce body. He was stillborn on September 23rd, 2002.
Stillbirth happens. Miscarriage happens. Infant death happens. It’s an unimaginable tragedy that can’t truly be comprehended until it is experienced firsthand. No one wants to think about a baby dying. No one can imagine the pain that follows the tragedy. And it’s hard to believe that life can go on afterwards.
But it does.
The very first week after my son was gone, a neighbor told me about her own experience with stillbirth. And she told me that eventually there comes a day when you realize you haven’t thought about your lost baby all day long. And then a week goes by. And then a month. I couldn’t believe it, and was almost offended by the mere mention that I would actually forget about my deceased baby. I spent the first year after his death remembering him in everything I did. I grew angry and depressed. My two living children grew up right in front of my eyes, and I barely saw them. I was so consumed with the son that would never be that life itself stopped existing for me.
But eventually it did happen. I started waking up from the world of darkness and death, and I started seeing the light. And over time, I moved back into the land of the living, recognizing the world that was already here and that housed my living children who needed me. Sure, I felt guilty at first, as if I was denying the son who would never grow up. But now I can think of him without feeling sad.
October 9th – 15th has been designated Babyloss Awareness week. It is a week dedicated to mothers and families who have lost babies – from miscarriage to stillbirth to losing an infant that once lived and breathed. It is a week when we remember those babies, knowing in our hearts that they will always be counted as one of our own. It is when we move through the various stages of our grief, from the very first moments of disbelief to the reality that life will always be different, but we just learn to keep moving through it. If you have lost a child, you are in my thoughts, and in the thoughts of other mothers who know your pain firsthand.
I leave you with a poem that I wrote several years later in memory of my son.
A Poem by Crissi Dillon
It is in the golden brown of brittle leaves
that I think of you most.
in a cloud of warmth against the crisp air,
expanding from its small containment
and reaching to the earth and sky,
breathes for you.
You exist between each click of the second hand,
when time momentarily stops
and all that can be heard
is the deafening roar
in the silence of a stilled heart.
The mornings are darker, the days shorter,
the hours precious as time slips by….
I wonder if I had only loved you more
would you still be here today?
The dates set in stone
that I have traced my fingers over
again and again
are etched in my mind
much more complete
than the memory of your face
that has faded with time.
Yet I know you by heart.
It was in the golden brown of brittle leaves
where you said your goodbyes
in a moment only we shared,
when the world around us
disappeared for a time,
leaving us floating in suspended reality
where all I felt was you
fluttering faintly from my grasp.
Yet with each setting of the summer moon
and rising of the autumn sun,
when the leaves turn from green
to a golden brown,
I smile at your spirit
that exists in the laughter of a child
and floats in the wind
with the remnants of trees.
Peace has melted together
the broken figments
of my injured heart,
revealing the beauty in leaves of golden brown,
gently holding them before letting them drift away,
watching them stay strong in the wind
while knowing they could shatter in an instant,
setting you free with a delicate prayer
of love for an autumn’s child.