On Losing A Child: A Birth Story About Love, Loss and A Heartbreaking Choice (Part 2)
(This story is part two of a two-part series documenting our experience of losing a child and ending a wanted pregnancy for medical reasons. Read part one here).
Labour and delivery
One of the nurses returned to the room and offered her condolences. She gave me a pill and said I could take it and go back to the hotel for the night. I didn’t have to stay at the hospital. The next morning morning I was scheduled to come back and be fully induced.
I thanked her and we left. I was numb. I couldn’t speak. Couldn’t feel. Couldn’t wrap my head around what had just happened. But worst of all, I couldn’t feel any tiny movements in my belly anymore. I was still carrying my child. I was still physically connected to him and nourishing his body with mine. But he was gone. How could this be?
We spent the night at the hotel and I fell asleep holding my daughter in bed. I could barely let her go that night. I needed to love and to physically hold a child of mine. I needed reassurance that I was a good mother who would do anything for her children. I needed her at that moment more than she needed me.
The next morning came, and we took our time getting to the hospital. Luckily the nursing staff were great about it and told us there was no rush. We could take as much time as we needed. So we did. Truth be told, I was trying to drag out every last moment with this baby. I didn’t want to let go. But I felt my body letting go already. My body intuitively knew it was time to let go soon. But my heart wasn’t ready.
We arrived at the hospital at 10:30 in the morning. We checked in at the desk in the maternity ward and the nurses behind the counter went from laughing and joking together to solemn and quiet when I said my name. Clearly they were expecting me.
I was hurried to the antepartum ward into my own private room, around the corner and far enough away from the maternity ward full of joyous families and excited parents about to birth their living children. Far enough away that I wouldn’t have to hear the cries of new babies at the start of their hopefully long and happy lives.
A nurse came in to comfort me and to get me ready to begin the process of induction. I was given another pill and told to wait a few hours to see if anything started to happen.
My first labour with Evelyn was not an easy one. I was induced with her too because I went past my due date and had gestational diabetes, so the doctors were worried about her getting too big. Labour took around 10 hours until ending in a c-section shortly after midnight. I asked how long this labour would take, and was told anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Somehow I knew mine would be somewhere in between.
Sure enough, hours went by and still no active labour. Then, at around 6 p.m. I started contractions. The process ticked along slowly from there and by about 11:00 I was in a fair amount of pain but still declined any drugs. I wanted to feel the pain. I wanted that connection to and experience with my child. I wanted to feel the pain so that he wouldn’t have to. I needed a physical reminder of why I was doing this: So that my child would never have to experience pain.
I kept repeating in my mind “I would endure any amount of pain so that my children won’t suffer.” That kept me going for a while, but when the nurse said “don’t be a hero,” I started to consider some painkillers.
I was given some morphine around midnight, which helped to calm the pain of contractions and let me get a long enough break to regain some strength. But by 2 a.m. I was writhing in pain again. I had an epidural which really helped to ease the pain and give me a chance to get some sleep. I slept for about 2 or 3 hours and awoke at 5 a.m. to the nurse standing over me telling me I was fully dilated and it was time to push.
I tried pushing for an hour as the doctor, the nurse and my husband stood over me staring. I felt like I was under pressure to deliver this baby, and I could barely even feel anything below the waist. I made the connection to my child having no feeling in his own lower body, and found it ironic.
I had never pushed before since I’d had a c-section with Evelyn, so I really wasn’t quite sure what to do. After about an hour of trying, I finally got the hang of it and knew that I was ready to deliver the baby. Still I held on. I knew that once he was out, that was it. I would get to hold his body for a few hours and then it was goodbye forever. I wasn’t ready to let go, but my body said “it’s time,” and with a couple pushes he was out, and everything was quiet.
There were no cries. No chatter from the nurse or doctor. No happy congratulations. Just quiet.
The nurse handed us our baby all wrapped up. He looked so peaceful. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open just a little bit. His tiny hands had all five fingers and his face had both ears, eyes and a mouth and nose. He looked angelic and perfect and like nothing at all was wrong with him. But as we slowly unwrapped his blanket to take a look at his legs, we knew without a doubt that we had made the right decision.
His legs were crossed over each other and his lower leg and calf was scrawny and lacking any meat. The doctor told us the umbilical cord had been wrapped around his leg, and unable to kick it off, it seemed to have restricted the growth of his leg. We didn’t look at his back. I couldn’t bear to get a closer look. I wanted to remember him wrapped up and perfect.
I asked the nurse what the gender was because we still couldn’t see under his crossed little legs. She checked carefully and was able to confirm it was a boy.
“It’s a boy, Ry,” I said to Ryan as tears welled in my eyes. And as I did, he started crying too.
We were given as much time as we needed to hold him and be with him before it was time to go. I put him down on the bed between Ryan and I and we played beautiful, sad music on our iPhones and fell asleep together for about an hour. It was the best hour of this entire experience, and I felt very much at peace.
Finally a nurse came in to ask us the necessary questions, including what we were naming our baby boy. We decided to name him Phoenix Rain: Phoenix to rise from the ashes and Rain for the sadness we felt in losing him.
I felt very at peace during the hours immediately following Phoenix’s birth. I knew we had made the right choice. The hardest parts were over with. His soul was free. We had experienced what I believe we were meant to experience. And now our healing could begin.
I looked at my son and at his tiny body and I knew that he wasn’t in there. It was just his body; His vessel. And I was glad I was able to free him from that vessel which wasn’t built to serve him in his life, and to give him a chance at a better one.
Then again, sometimes I wonder if our son was an angel from the beginning. Did he come to us to teach us a lesson about love and life? Or maybe even to give another soul who is meant to come into our lives the opportunity to do so when the time is right? Maybe he was never meant to be born at all, but was merely an angel meant to visit us for a short while to help us along our own spiritual journey.
On faith, destiny, purpose and unconditional love
I believe very strongly that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, and while I don’t know the reasons why life unfolds as it does, I do believe it is meant to unfold exactly as it should. I believe all things happen for a reason, and that our purpose in life is for our souls to experience the things necessary for them to grow and fulfill their full potential. I don’t understand it, but I believe it.
And so I take comfort in believing that my son was able to fulfill his own soul’s purpose before he was even born. Most of us take decades to fulfill ours, if we do at all while we’re here, so it’s a pretty special thing for him to have been able to leave a legacy like he did in only 24 weeks of gestation.
As we sat in the delivery room with him by our side, family members filed in to offer love, comfort and condolences. We sat together and told stories and laughed and cried and smiled. Phoenix got to be part of his first and last family get together, and it was as happy as it could be in that moment.
My daughter came into the room bright-eyed and yelled “mommy!” as she ran to my bed and I lifted her onto my lap. Seeing her brought me great joy but also made me feel sad beyond words that I would never get to hear my son say “mommy” as I lifted him onto my lap and held him tight.
A hospital worker came in and brought us a round, blue box with a heart painted on it. In it was Phoenix’s hospital bracelet, the measuring tape used to measure him with his measurements and weight scrolled on it, and a card with his hand and footprints stamped in it.
It was a beautiful gesture and I’m so happy I have this much of my son to remember him by, but still I was in disbelief that while other mothers were leaving with their babies, I was leaving with a box.
The nurses wrapped our boy up in a blue knitted blanket that somebody obviously handmade for a baby like him, and put a tiny knitted toque on his head. They told us we could keep them both as mementos.
I took the blanket when we were about to leave as he was still wrapped in another blanket underneath that one. But I couldn’t take the hat. His forehead had started to shrivel up as he lay there and I didn’t want to remember him that way. I couldn’t bring myself to strip him of the few things that were his. We left the hat on him, and we kissed him and said goodbye. And that was it.
When we returned home that day, I had that strange feeling you often get when someone close to you dies: The feeling of wondering “how is time still ticking and life still going on when this beautiful, amazing, unique life just ended? When our life is forever changed? How will things ever be the same?”
And the truth is, they won’t. Life won’t ever be the same for us, just as it’s not the same for anyone when a loved one dies. But life does go on. Death is an inherent part of life, and just like we cannot know joy without sadness, we cannot know life without death. It makes us aware of our own mortality in this world, and hopefully of our soul’s immortality and our infinite connection with all that is, was or ever will be.
I know that Phoenix is with me all the time. I’m not sure of what form he is in, but I know that our souls will always be connected and probably always have been. I know that he can hear me when I talk to him, even if I don’t say the words out loud. When I read my daughter a story before bed, I read it to my son too. I know that when I cuddle his blanket at night, that he can feel me holding him. And I know that he forgives me for the choice I had to make, because he knows I did it out of nothing but love and compassion.
It’s been three weeks now since I lost my baby boy. We brought his urn home yesterday, and when we did, Evelyn, our not-quite-two-year-old daughter said out of the blue, “there’s my brother! My brother’s here!” Ryan and I looked at each other in bewilderment. How did she know that? A question neither one of us could answer. But it reaffirmed my faith that Phoenix is here with us in spirit, and I’m glad our daughter can perceive him and feel him here too.
Not a day goes by when I don’t think of our sweet boy. But I worry sometimes that I will forget. That one day when I’m old and grey, if I make it that long on Earth, that I’ll have trouble remembering my second child. I’ll forget what his tiny punches felt like in my womb. I’ll forget what he looked like. I’ll forget the pain of this experience.
I confided this in a dear friend of mine who also lost a child at birth. She reassured me that the mind might forget, but the heart will always remember, and I know she’s right.
Because regardless of how many healthy, living children I have in my life, my second child will always be the one I lost. I will always be his mother. He will always be my son.
Now at night when I hold his blanket in my arms and the thought of him in my heart, I remind him of that when I repeat the famous lines from the Robert Munsch book, “Love You Forever”:
I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be.
I love you beyond words my son. You’ve inspired me to be a better person and a more grateful, appreciative, compassionate human being. You’ll always be with me in my heart wherever I go.
Be at peace my sweet child, for now you are free.
** Recommended Reading: If you or someone you now has faced or is facing a situation like ours, I highly recommend the following book, Our Heartbreaking Choices: Forty-Six Women Share Their Stories Of Interrupting A Much-Wanted Pregnancy
This book is written by real people who have face the choice of ending a wanted pregnancy for medical reasons. It has helped me to know that I am not alone as I go through this process and I sincerely hope it can do the same for someone else as well.
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