The words fell heavy in my ears and even heavier on my heart. I had heard them before. The only thing worse than hearing them once was hearing them again.
“Your baby has lethal abnormalities. There is nothing we can do …”
Before we left this appointment where we learned that our fourth baby would have the same fate as our first girl, I wanted to know the gender. I wanted to know as much about this sweet one as I possibly could because the next four months were all we had. But the lack of amniotic fluid complicated the transmission of the ultrasound image. The best the ultrasound technician could offer was that she was pretty sure this baby was a girl.
Pretty sure did not provide the stamp of certainty I was searching for.
Each ultrasound I made a point to ask about the baby’s gender. I wanted so desperately to know just a little more about this child. But out of six or seven ultrasounds, all but one reported that this baby was most likely a girl. Only one said that it might be a boy. Again, the lack of amniotic fluid combined with the baby’s breach position complicated visibility.
We told everyone our baby was a girl and even picked out a unique name for her. I thought it was important, given our fragile situation, for friends and family to be able to call her by name. But something deep inside of me felt like I needed to hang onto that chance that I might be carrying a son, not a daughter.
When we went to the hospital to have our baby I had carefully packed an outfit for both a girl and a boy, a gender-neutral white fleece blanket to wrap, and I was armed with a name for a son.
Four months after learning of this baby’s fatal diagnosis, I was back in the hospital to give birth. In mere minutes, labor went from steady at 5cm dilated to a frantic frenzy of gloved hands reaching to help deliver my breech baby.
The intensity of delivery died down to a more controlled hum of recovery activity. I snuggled and kissed the beautiful, fragile child I had just delivered.
“Hi baby,” I whispered in between kisses, “Hi sweet girl.”
Suddenly I remembered we hadn’t been sure. Was this baby a girl?
I asked the nurse to check and she chuckled as she reported that we had a baby boy! My husband and I laughed and kissed the son we would never really know until Heaven.
Sometimes I feel guilty about not knowing the gender of my son. I wish I had known so that we could have called him by his own name and honored him as the little boy that he was. But that was not my reality.
Instead, I gave birth to a boy that I only learned was a boy mere minutes before he passed away. He will always be the child I never really got to know, but because his gender had remained a mystery, it feels even more so.
Related: A Heartbreaking Choice
Even though I did not know my son was indeed a son until delivery, it does not change how much I love him and am committed to preserving his memory. His name is forever etched into my skin and his legacy, forever in my heart.
I may not have known he was a boy, but every day I know that he is mine. And being the woman entrusted to his soul is an incredibly precious privilege.
Sarah Rieke is a wife and mother who has walked the impossible road of infant loss twice. The existence of her two sweet babies, Evie and Charlie, are the heartbeat behind Sarah’s desire to extend genuine compassion, empathy, and emotional support to mothers who have experienced loss.