Something I’ve learned over the last ten months is that people have absolutely no idea how to respond to the death of a baby.
How can we even live comfortably in a world where an innocent baby, kicking vigilantly and rosy-cheeked, who needs nothing more than snuggles and milk, can die?
Before Aubrey died, I had never heard of a baby dying, with the exception of miscarriage, which honestly was a far-away concept to me.
I saw mothers holding chubby little babies with amazingly tiny feet and I thought, a brand-new person! A brand-new person with an entire life ahead of them.
So, when Aubrey began to grow in my belly and I started to understand the incredible feeling of a mother loving a child they hadn’t even met yet, I never imagined that less than six months later I would be attending a funeral with a miniature pink casket that could fit a tiny doll- and that casket would hold my daughter.
When your child dies, it feels like more than simply death. It’s an unnatural phenomenon that never completely seems true; they’re supposed to go after you- way after you. You still want to protect them; you still want to know where they are and if they’re being treated well.
Where is she? Will she always be as little as she was with me, on Earth? Is she nowhere at all? Will I see her again, and if I do, will she recognize me if I’m old?
The not knowing feels like it could kill you, and sometimes you want it to.
I’ve learned to not talk about her very much. People become very uncomfortable when talking about a dead baby. Every now and then, someone will bring up her name and I want to cry but I want to thank them too, for remembering that my little girl existed.
When I became pregnant again and strangers asked me over and over, “Is this your first?” I learned to lie to protect myself.
Then, I learned to live with the guilt of lying.
I’ve wanted to share my story in order to help others who might go through the same thing, although it seems impossible that there are other people feeling the pain that I’ve felt.
Aubrey’s life started off unconventional, but happy. She was born nearly six weeks early and had to start her life in the NICU, where I spent twelve hours a day holding her to my chest and forgetting that I needed food or water.
We lived five long, tiring, but wonderful months together before I woke up on a Saturday that would change my life forever.
I spent my days waking up before the sun, feeding her, usually forgetting to brush my teeth, racing to daycare, racing to work, picking her up, and spending our precious two hours before bedtime giggling and sitting on the fluffy rug that sat in the tiny living room of our one-bedroom apartment.
To an outsider, it might not sound like the most appealing life, but I miss it every single day.
I was extraordinarily tired from the shuffle of the work week. I had put Aubrey to sleep like any other night, and I had fallen asleep on the couch while watching movies. My monitor battery died- a minute detail that would ironically change the path of my future.
I woke abruptly at 6:30, startled because Aubrey never slept that “late.” I ran into my bedroom, where I saw Aubrey lying face down in her crib.
I had never seen Aubrey roll from her back to her belly before; I hadn’t even seen her attempt it. In that moment, standing in the doorway to our shared bedroom, I knew.
I could feel it in the air that Aubrey was gone.
The next few hours are a blur. I remember rushing to her, dialing 911, and being talked through the motions of CPR.
I remember her eyelashes being squished down to her face.
I remember that she didn’t look like my little girl anymore.
I remember performing CPR but saying to the operator, “She’s gone. She’s gone. She’s gone.”
I remember the taste of formula on her little cold lips.
I remember police arriving, not allowing me to leave in the ambulance with her, and I remember being asked to recreate what happened only hours before with a doll for the police.
I remember saying goodbye to a tiny gray body under a white knit blanket on a stretcher at the hospital; I tried to wrap her tiny hand around my finger like I always did, but I remember being shocked that her hand was already as still as stone.
I remember prayers.
I remember not wanting them to take her wherever they take bodies to preserve her- she’s mine, I thought, please don’t take my baby away from me. I stayed in a hotel for a week waiting for her body to be moved to my hometown, having no idea where she was but knowing that I didn’t want to be more than a few miles from her.
Since then, I’ve tried to accept my situation, to forgive myself, and to process my feelings, but all have proved impossible.
Aubrey’s death was ruled as “undetermined,” a slap in the face to a parent desperately searching for answers. All I know is what I saw in her room.
I know she was sick with RSV, a respiratory tract infection that dwindled for months. I know there was a small stain of formula on the sheets in the crib. That’s all I know.
I bring myself back to that night often, and I imagine plugging my monitor in to charge. I imagine waking up moments before it happened to bring myself to bed, where I could have flipped her over.
I imagine if I slept with her in my arms as I did almost every single night, except that one, that I could have saved her.
I imagine having a late afternoon coffee to get myself through the work day that would keep me awake into the wee hours of the night.
While I’ve learned to live with my grief and pain while trying to be a good mother, friend, girlfriend, sister… there are times when I feel incomprehensibly angry at everyone in the world. There are days when I have breakdowns.
There are days when I think to myself, “I don’t deserve to be a mother.”
There are many moments that I replay those last moments in my head incessantly, keeping myself awake into the late hours of the night. I imagine how she would look now, crawling or even walking and shining her beautiful smile at me while kicking her legs.
Specific dates and times have become monumental to me; Saturday mornings don’t have the same sweet, slow start that they used to. Birthdays, holidays, and sunrises bring me to a dark place.
And I’m always, always, looking for signs that she could still exist- in some other place or time. I hear our songs and think, “Can you feel me thinking of you? Do you know how much I love you?” and I pray that I’ll see her again one day.
I pray that she doesn’t blame me. I pray for the ability to forgive myself, even if I couldn’t have done anything to save her. I pray for the wellbeing of her little sister, Ava.
And I pray for all the other mothers who have silently shared the same pain.
Despite the pain that I’ve faced since Aubrey left this world, I have learned to see happiness in things that would have passed me by before. The giggle of a young child. Friends who don’t know how to help but reach out just to say “I’m here.” A smile from a stranger. A sunny day when you’re feeling blue.
My second daughter’s birth brought me joy that I didn’t know would be possible again.
I urge anyone reading this to hold their children tight, to encourage others and lift them up, to speak with kindness and patience, to let go of that grudge; you never know what battle someone is facing.
Oftentimes, the most painful battles are kept silent, and your thoughtfulness could be exactly what someone needs to get through that moment in time.