We all know that the possibility of death is always there. We understand that, but somehow we just never combine that possibility with the death of a child. We’re thinking in terms of other people than children — grandparents, an aunt who lived to be nearly a hundred, or the neighbor we knew who lived in the nursing home for the past twenty years.
Never, ever do we think death is going to touch us in the form of child loss! And, when it does, our first reaction is often, “This is not real! It can’t be! My child is alive. This is some kind of mistake.” We freeze and won’t allow reality to enter our minds just yet because it’s just too painful. The thought of our child being gone forever is more than our hearts can bear to imagine! The monthly doctor’s appointment was in the evening and I drove myself as usual. It was in late April on a warm spring evening. I had an ominous feeling surrounding me — the kind when you know something is wrong, but you don’t want to reach out to that feeling and deal with it. I brushed off the fact that I had not felt the baby moving for a while. This was a routine check, and I told myself over and over in the waiting room that everything was going to be okay. The baby was just hiding in a position inside of me where I couldn’t feel his movements right now.
When I walked into the doctor’s office, I acted as though all was just fine. I didn’t plan on telling the doctor about not feeling movement for almost two days. I was too afraid. Facing the truth is often the most scary thing we will ever be called on to do!
As he placed the Doppler on my stomach, I waited to hear the rhythmic swoosh-swoosh of the baby’s heart beating, but the room was filled instead with a cold, dark silence. I sucked in my breath and held it as the doctor tried again and again to find the heartbeat. Finally he said, “Let’s see if we can look at the baby. I’m not able to hear his heart beating right now.” The doctor was calm. I was trembling. As I lay on the table, the room began spinning wildly out of control while the monitor was being wheeled beside me.
I had come face-to-face with the moment of truth. In seconds I would know if my baby was alive. “Yes, of course this baby is alive. Babies don’t just die inside of their mother.” My mind was wild with thoughts and my own heart was racing so hard I thought it would jump outside of my chest. “Babies don’t die! Babies never die! My baby is just fine!”
Time seemed to stand still and be racing wild all at the same time. I didn’t want to move beyond this moment. I didn’t want to hear what I knew was the inevitable.
As the doctor hooked me up to the monitor he asked me to look away. I turned my head with hot tears streaming down my face. I remember thinking, “God, I’ll never live. I can’t live without this child. Please don’t take this baby of mine.”
How could I pray for this child’s life when it had already ended?
I don’t remember much of anything after the doctor asking me if I wanted to look at my baby on the monitor. I didn’t let out with any loud wails. I said nothing. I simply stared and allowed the tears to quietly fall. In my mind the same words kept repeating, “This is not real. This is not real. This is not real.” It felt as though this was happening to someone else — like this was a very bad dream and when I awoke from it life was going to be normal and good!
Only, this wasn’t a dream. It was for real. My baby died.
I’m not sure how I did it, but I managed to drive myself home that evening. In thinking back, the doctor never should have allowed me to leave the office alone. I was in shock — total shock! I felt numb. My ears were ringing. My head was spinning. All I could think about was getting home where it was safe and good and all would be okay.
When I walked through the door, I remember hearing the kids in the other room. They were watching tv with my husband. He was sitting in the blue chair with his feet propped up on the ottoman. He had white socks on. Isn’t it amazing what details stick in your mind? The kids were engrossed in their show, and my husband looked up and simply said, “Well, did everything go okay?”
I just stared ahead. “I guess. There’s something I need to talk to you about, though. It can wait until after the kids go to bed.”
When the kids went to bed and we were alone, I was sitting in the dimly lit room with my husband. “My appointment didn’t go so well tonight.” He looked waiting to hear more.
“The doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat.” The words slid out of my mouth so easily. It was as though someone else was speaking. I had my hands rubbing my belly waiting to feel the thumps of my baby moving around.
All I can remember is silence for a very long time. No crying. No screaming. No sobbing. Just silence. We were frozen in a wall of disbelief.
I’ve replayed this scene over a million and one times in my mind over the years. My son was twenty-eight weeks old when I delivered him — his little heart had stopped beating and it was for real. He was dead. Child loss had entered our lives unexpectedly, without invitation, and the pain and suffering that followed was cruel.
It was months later when the full impact of the grief hit, and that’s so often how it is with the loss of a child. The pain is simply too much to bear all at once, so we stay frozen — numb to the realness of it all — and it isn’t until we begin to thaw that the realness settles in.
Many people don’t understand how a parent can suffer so much from the loss of a baby they never met. I will tell you that I firmly and fully believe that a child is joined to a mother on more than a physical level. Yes, a mother carries that baby inside of her body nurturing that child with her own, but that child is also joined to the soul of a mother and that bond is strong and alive and a mother’s heart never beats the same after she is joined spiritually to her child.
When my son Samuel died, a part of me went away, too. I will always have a place in my heart reserved “for Samuel only” and nothing or no one will ever fill that space!
I love you sweet child of mine!