As I hurried down the ramp in the hospital parking garage, I could hear every step as my flip flops hit the pavement. It echoed in a muffled way, like I was underwater, drowning. And in a way I was drowning. I was drowning in fear, regret and anticipation, praying for life.
I could not get there fast enough, but was in no hurry to confirm what I already knew. I hurried in case I was wrong, in case there was a chance.
It was Sunday, June 19, 2011 – Father’s Day – and I was 25 weeks and two days pregnant. It was our third pregnancy and the furthest along I had ever been. The other two babies had been first trimester miscarriages, one resulting in a D&C and the other a natural miscarriage.
We knew this baby was a boy and I was ecstatic at the idea of having a son. I couldn’t wait to watch soccer games, make birthday cakes, take bug hunts and even do homework. I was already worried about high school, puberty and other boy things that I had no knowledge of, but I had been waiting all my life to be a mother. I had wanted it so badly, but it always seemed so far out of reach.
I don’t remember actually entering the hospital. Bits and pieces of the day are gone now. When they say time heals all wounds, it’s because with time the memories start to become fuzzy, like an old film strip you might find in some dusty, salvage shop. But, not even time has erased the pain of this day.
I do remember the look on the ultrasound tech’s face when he confirmed what I already knew. He looked over at the nurse, speechless. She gave a small nod and bit her upper lip before she told me he was gone. She didn’t need to say it though. I had known something wasn’t right. Everyone told me it was probably fine, including a doctor. My husband was sure of it.
In a split second my husband processed what the nurse said, he made some sort of pained noise and then the tears came. We had argued that morning. I was screaming at him through tears. I wanted to go to the hospital, he was telling me that I needed to relax and everything was fine – we had heard the baby’s heartbeat on an at home Doppler. It didn’t help me. He hadn’t been moving. I hadn’t felt him move in 24 hours. Yet, I let other people convince me I was being paranoid.
A few hours later, our son was gone. He died inside me that morning while I ate breakfast at a local pancake restaurant and went shopping for dinner at Trader Joe’s.
My husband had been so sure that this Father’s Day we had a reason to celebrate. Now the holiday is a bittersweet one for me. Since losing our son, we have been pregnant four more time and have been blessed with two, healthy children. I want to celebrate the father that my husband is because he is a good one and I know we are lucky. But even when the anniversary doesn’t fall on Father’s Day, I still have a hard time processing this hallmark holiday as a joyous occasion.
Each Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day), I think about all the mothers and fathers I have met since we have lost our son, the ones who have lost children too. We are bonded in a way others cannot understand. When you have to deliver that baby, make the hard decisions about next steps and then watch as someone takes that baby away forever, everything drains from your body and you’re an empty shell that you have to work to refill. It takes years, and in your heart, you know you will never really be complete.
When they handed my son to me, my heart burst with joy and pride. I looked at him, inspected him almost. I tried to commit every part of him to memory – each tiny crease, his big feet, his little toe, his long fingers, flimsy ears, sweet mouth and the way his forehead crinkled. He was 1 lb. 9 oz. and 12.5 inches long. He was mine. He was perfect. He was stillborn.
That small boy made me a mother and he made my husband a father.
This Father’s Day, on the five year anniversary of the day he died, I’m going to share the birth story I wrote the day we buried Alexander. It’s long. It’s complicated and it probably won’t make much sense because I wrote it through hazy, tear-filled eyes in my dark living room. But it’s his story and instead of draining myself emotionally to come up with something clever, I thought this would be better way to honor his memory half a decade later. This will give you the full circle picture. You will get a glimpse into the start of my journey to become a mom. Bring your tissues.