The summer before our second child was born, I taught extended school year at an elementary school for special education students. All my students that summer had severe cognitive, physical, or emotional difficulties (sometimes the trifecta), necessitating extra instruction and supports. I had a lot of worries throughout my second pregnancy about the health and well-being of my baby. What pregnant woman doesn’t? But to witness, in real-time, exactly how severely handicapped or impaired a child can be… well, let’s just say it probably wasn’t the best gig for a pregnant woman.
But the fear I felt throughout my entire second pregnancy had little to do with my students. Our first baby, a boy we named Samuel (“Sammy”), was stillborn 39 weeks at term. Cord accident during active labor. Doctors said the odds were 1 in 1,000 of that happening. We came out on the losing end. I will never be reassured by statistics again. All moms have anxiety. But loss moms feel a different kind of fear. I know the unthinkable is possible because I have experienced it. My husband and I are “those people.”
Those unlucky people to whom bad things happen for no reason.
I remember checking into the hospital the day of Sammy’s birth quite clearly. A mix of nervous anticipation, I joked to our admitting nurse that I considered an epidural natural childbirth. It is natural to avoid pain, right? The nurse studied my ultrasound intently, too intently I thought. Couldn’t find a heartbeat. A hush came over our hospital room. The nurse called for a resident. The resident paged the second doctor. But I didn’t need another doctor to confirm the worst. I saw the horrified look on the resident’s face, and I knew my boy had died.
“Arrah lost the baby,” people said. “A cord accident,” doctors said. They didn’t say I had health issues to place me in a “high risk” category. Or that the autopsy found nothing wrong with our baby. They didn’t ask if he was a beautiful baby. But he was. The feature I remember best, was Sammy’s full, rich, very darkly shaded lips (because he was dead). I myself have full, darkish lips. But mostly, Sammy’s lips were so prominent and dark – because he was dead.
If I could convey one sentiment to other loss moms it is this: I am with you, even though I don’t know you.
Because I have been where you are and felt what you feel. You might believe you will never feel happy or sorted out again, but that is a mistake. You will feel happiness again; you have a purpose. But you will never, ever, ever, ever stop wondering who that lost child would have been. And it will always be that way.
A coworker of mine had a healthy son born a month prior to Sammy. “I cannot know this baby,” I thought. I went to great lengths to avoid him. I walked out of the homecoming football game. I stopped attending high school basketball games because “the baby” might be attending (his dad was the coach). It pained me to hear the child’s name. The baby’s parents did nothing wrong or even insensitive towards me – I do not mean to imply that. But at that point, I would have appreciated a state law requiring all male babies to be kept out of sight. “Keep baby inside for a year – maybe two,” the governor would say. “We’ll let you know when the coast is clear.” But seeing that little boy now, I find that my heart can take it.
I do feel sadness. But mostly I am curious.
Would my boy have been so tall, that athletic? A chatterbox or a man of few words?
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A girlfriend of mine has a daughter the same age as our baby would have been. Holding her in my lap now I say to the little girl, “I don’t have a big girl to hold. Can we pretend you are my big girl? Just for one day?” Loss moms who tell jokes like that aren’t always kidding.
Two and a half years after Sammy died, my husband and I had a daughter we named Claire Samantha. A baby here to stay. I do not like to think of who I would be, where I would be; if Claire hadn’t happened. She doesn’t replace Sammy, but when you lose an only child you have no identity as a parent. Now I do. I still think of Sammy of course, and when I do, I feel a sad smile cross my lips. I kiss my living daughter, and I tuck him back into my memory where he belongs.
Zikhronó liv’rakhá, reads Hebrew on his tombstone. May his memory be a blessing.
Photo Credit: Photo by Karl Magnuson on Unsplash
Arrah Massimini is a high school teacher turned at home mom Wichita, KS. She and her husband lost a baby boy in 2015. Their daughter Claire was born in 2017. She writes for a libertarian think tank called The Independent Women’s Forum, where she formerly interned as a junior fellow in Washington, D.C.