This is for anyone who has lost their baby, through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. I want to speak directly to you because I am one of you, twenty-nine years into the future. I want you to know what you can expect, sort of like a “What to Expect When You’re No Longer Expecting and Your Baby is Gone” guide.
I lost my first son to a congenital heart defect when I was twenty-six years old and he was ten days old. He was born by C-section four days after my due date, after a placental abruption, and weighed in at 8 pounds 14 ounces. Sonograms were less sophisticated than they are today and his heart defect was not detected on the one sonogram I had. When I went into labor I was completely unaware of how my life was about to change, which I guess pretty much sums up most catastrophes which befall us.
After his death, there was the heartbreaking funeral with his tiny casket and subsequent mourning period. There was no baby stuff to return because we hadn’t purchased anything other than a car seat—in the Jewish tradition baby showers are not allowed in case something goes wrong. But what happened after that?
The obstetrician who delivered my son, and who was a wonderful and caring person, assured me that after I had more kids, the death of my first son would merely be a footnote in my life. And while I did go on to have three more beautiful and healthy sons, I can unequivocally state that he was incorrect. My son’s death changed me in profound ways and taught me a lot of lessons. I learned that people don’t always deal with death well, especially those who have not yet experienced a loss themselves. For many people it’s easier to offer platitudes or even avoid a difficult topic altogether than to confront their own discomfort. Many of my twenty-something friends were not yet in an emotional position to help me. Comfort and support may come from unexpected and even surprising sources.
I learned that the only important outcome of a pregnancy is a healthy child; not the manner in which the child arrives nor its gender. I learned that, although grief changes and life goes on, it never completely disappears. That last statement is not meant to be discouraging or depressing. Although you will miss your baby for as long as you are on this earth, you will experience tremendous joy again. I promise. And if you want to have more children, you will. And I don’t say that lightly. I do not have a crystal ball regarding your fertility but I do know that if your desire to have another child is strong enough, your baby’s death won’t stop you (I went on to have both biological and adopted children). I also know people who have fostered children, were involved in raising nieces and nephews, etc. There are many ways to nurture.
You will never forget your baby’s birthday, or his death day, and you will always be acutely aware of all the milestones he will never experience. However, you will have a richer and deeper appreciation for things others take for granted. This deeper appreciation is a gift bestowed upon you by your baby and one only you and your sisters-in-grief can understand. On the surface, you will appear to “have gotten over it” or “have moved on,” but unless you are able to erase your memory, your experience and sorrow will alter you in ways you cannot imagine right now but that are surprisingly positive and affirming.
The sadness, grief, shock, anger and bewilderment you are feeling right now will ease. But long after most people have forgotten your baby ever existed, even decades later, you will be able to remember exactly how you felt when you had to say that excruciating goodbye. Twenty-nine years later you will still cry when you think about him and then, as you wipe your tears away, you will see that the sun is shining as you close your computer and start the rest of your day.
In Memory of Jared