There’s no “right” way to deal with the loss of a child. For some, the room that was his or hers becomes a space frozen in time. For others, changing that room as soon as possible is the best path forward. I can’t offer advice on the right thing to do; but, I can share our experience, before and after his stillbirth at the end of a healthy pregnancy.
8 Months Before: We laid on the floor in a warm rectangle of light. The sunshine from the window framed us as we daydreamed about the happy exhaustion we’d feel from waking up in the middle of the night to check on our little guy. Genevieve and I had just decided that this would be the room for his nursery. Freshly painted and recently vacated of the old guest bed, we had big plans for our life, his future, and this space.
The First Day After: It must have been cold, but I don’t remember. That February morning, I walked from the car and–before my wife came into the house–I ran upstairs to close the nursery door. I didn’t know what we needed, but looking into that room felt insurmountably hard in that moment. We had been up for days. Heading to bed, weary beyond reason, we walked past and touched the door to his room, crying. I should probably call someone to come and clean it out for us, I thought, and hated myself for what felt like “getting rid” of him.
6 Months Before: As the pregnancy continued, we started getting serious about our preparations. I got the drill out and installed a new light fixture, and we fumbled through building the hand-me-down crib that had held his cousins. We lugged the new dresser drawers upstairs, on top of which the changing pad would fit nicely. I smiled at the motherly act of Genevieve folding the first of his tiny shirts–about as big as my out-stretched hand–and placing them in the drawer. We installed a smoke detector, and positioned the crib so we could best hear him cry out at night. We joked about how overprotective we’d be as new parents.
The First Week After: Sometimes it was me, and sometimes it was Genevieve. One of us would wake up alone in bed, and hear sobs from the next room over. She would find me sitting in the rocker, feeling the soft cotton of his tiny clothes. I’d come in and hug her from behind as she stood over the crib, dark splotches marking where tears had fallen on his empty bed. We found ourselves inextricably drawn to his nursery. It was sad, but nice to have a connection to him. We decided to keep it up, for now.
4 Months Before: Slowly, the room began to take shape. We didn’t go Pinterest crazy with an elaborate nursery world, but Genevieve selected colors to complement the quilt our friend Marilyn had made, and a loose theme emerged. She chose a series of decorative rugs that I happily hauled from the store (and then would happily return) as we made up our minds about which would look best. It needed a few small touches to really be “done,” but we were pleasantly surprised at how well it had all turned out.
The First Month After: Slowly, we emerged from the shock. We’d sometimes sit in his room and write to him. Or, just sit there. The sympathy cards and miscellany from the hospital gathered in a box by his rocking horse, our collection of memories. A few photos I had planned to hang in his room–the final touches–arrived in the mail the week after he died. It seemed a cruel twist of fate for those happily-ordered items to arrive afterwards, underscoring how terribly our plans had unravelled, but after a few weeks it seemed fitting to put up those final decorations to finish the room for him.
One Month Before: We were really getting serious. It was around the 8-month mark and–though far from ideal–we knew that Simon could plausibly be born at any time now. We were preparing in earnest. We stowed away the diapers that we had excitedly bought earlier, and debated about the most convenient location for the shockingly complex diaper pail that had been given to us. The tiny nail clippers and assorted baby-health items were put in one drawer, and tiny socks in another. Clothes ranging from NB to 3m to 6m and on up were correspondingly hung with care, next to the books and toys stacked on the nearby shelf.
4 Months After: We decided to try getting pregnant again. Why box up everything–we reasoned–if in less than a year’s time we’d need a nursery for kiddo #2? With no storage space for everything, and since we still liked having a connection to him from the nursery, it just became normal for the nursery to be there. And, as others began forgetting Simon or not mentioning him as frequently, it felt nice to be in his room, with his things, proof that he was and is real.
1 Week Before: It. Is. Go time! Any day now! We spent the last few days cleaning and practicing the driving route to the hospital. Genevieve’s sister threw her a baby shower a few months back, but our family and friends in Kansas wanted to throw her a virtual shower, too. That day, a package of decorations, gifts, and baby-themed treats arrived. I was happily dragged along since it’d be weird for Genevieve to be alone with a group of folks on the other end of the line. We set up Skype on the laptop in the nursery, and played games about guessing his name and due date. We carried around the laptop for a tour of his room, and they clapped and laughed as we opened up the presents.
22 Months After: For awhile, whenever anyone would come to visit, we’d show the nursery to them if they seemed to be open to talking about what happened. But, as time would wear on, we’d do so less frequently. After over a year of trying to get pregnant–graduating from natural to IUI to IVF–and feeling generally stuck in a rut, we decide to make a big change and sell the place. The day we decided to start boxing things up, we began with Simon’s room. We lingered on other small things throughout the day, but eventually grabbed a few broken-down boxes and slowly walked into his dark room. We took in the mobile above his bed. The rocker. The books he’d never read, and quilts that’d never comforted him. We broke down sobbing, crying for everything this room would never be, for the pain and joy it embodied, and for the life it would never shelter.
A Few Days Before: Dad (nearly grandad!) gave us a little camcorder, since they wanted as much video of their first grandchild that we could shoot. Picking it up on a whim, I thumbed the record button, and Genevieve–in the rocker, holding her tummy–came into focus. “[Embarrassed laughing] Hi Simon! I’m your mommy. This is what your room looks like. This is where I’ll sit with you…I don’t know what to say…Your daddy put in the light. We’re excited to meet you. Me and your dad love you, and we can’t wait to meet you! [camera spins] Hi Simon. This is your dad. You’ll probably make fun of this video later but we wanted you to see what your room is like…. You’re coming any day now, and we can’t wait! We love you.”
Diana is owner and editor-in-chief of Still Standing Magazine and blogs her own life story at Diana Wrote. She and her military retired husband have two girls and three sons who passed away after birth; Preston and Julian, identical twin boys who were born at 20 weeks, and Kaden, who unexpectedly had cardiomyopathy due to a rare virus called ciHHV-6. He died in her arms at 3 weeks old.
In 2014 she traveled with World Vision to learn about maternal health and infant mortality in Zimbabwe, and later with them to Ecuador. She is working on a Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. You can also find her work on Babble, Liberating Working Moms, She Reads Truth, The New York Times, and The Huffington Post.