Tuesday, October 15, 2013


It's taken me two years to write this down and share it.  Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day and I think it's time to maybe let go just a little bit.

“Oh.  Was he an oops?”
“Wow.  That’s quite an age difference.  Intentional?”
“Are you insane?”

More often than not, those are some of the many classy responses I get when I tell people I have more than 15 years between my oldest and youngest children.  

How should I answer that?  I’ve spent the last year struggling to come up with a good response.   If I had the time, I’d tell them this:

In the fall of 2010, I tripped over a scooter while cleaning the garage.  In August of 2012, our youngest child was born.  There was a fair bit of heartache in between. 

I’m not known for my graceful nature.  When I tripped that time I managed to screw up my back in the process.  A week later, I landed in the ER with a sharp, stabbing pain in my back, right over my kidney.  During the 8 hours it took to rule out kidney stones, I had several different scans.  One of them came back showing a shadow on my ovary.  The ER doc called ob/gyn and as we waited, he told us we needed to take a deep breath.  Shadows and pain, according to Dr. Doom & Gloom, were often cancer symptoms.


I was 36.

Several stressful hours later, I was sent home with muscle relaxants, pain killers, and the promise that there was no sign of cancer.  But in the hours between the first mention of the C-word and my smiley happy trip home, I suddenly realized our family of five wasn’t complete.  David, my husband of 16 years, agreed.

The following spring I discovered I was pregnant and there was much rejoicing.  We waited until I was 12 weeks to tell the big kids.  Mixed reactions were to be expected, but over the months following, they grew to be more excited.  

On September 3, 2011 I went to the Boy Scout Store with David and then-7 year old Graham.  We were looking at Pinewood Derby supplies and picking up pins and patches .  It was a fun morning and I was enjoying the thought of having another Cub Scout in a few years.  In the middle of our shopping, I had a pain that told me something was wrong.  

We went straight to the labor hall where we met my doctor.  An ultrasound showed no heartbeat.  Our baby had died. 

I don’t know how I kept breathing.  Graham was in the waiting room, expecting us to take him out to lunch.  Our daughters were at home, waiting for us to walk through the door.  And I couldn’t breathe.  

Two days later, Andrew Charles was born.  He was almost 20 weeks early.  I hadn’t done anything wrong, although I’m not sure I’ll ever fully believe that.  He had wrapped himself up in his umbilical cord.  I like to imagine he just drifted off to sleep and never felt anything, but I have no way of knowing.

My doctor was incredible.  I was a mess.  I imagine most doctors would have just drugged me to high heaven to get me through delivering.  Instead, Dr. Lawrence talked to me.  He told me someday I would want these memories.  I would need these memories to heal.  He was right.  Of all the horrible things that happened during the 72 hours I was hospitalized, being blessed with the wisdom, gentleness, and talent of my doctor was the single greatest experience I took away from it all.

From Andrew's memory box.  The leaf card, the blanket my
sister made him, the tiny blanket they wrapped him in before
she arrived, and dozens of cards from people I love. 
Once I had delivered Andrew, the doctor gave me something for my anxiety. After a surgery I don't remember, I was wheeled into a recovery room where the nurses taped a postcard to my door.  The leaf on the postcard told the whole hospital there had been a loss. When they handed me my tiny baby I remember thinking that he wasn’t any bigger than a leaf himself.  He had fingers and toes.  His eyes were closed like he was sleeping.  He was perfect.

David called our priest who referred us to a funeral home.  Andrew was cremated and placed in a tiny acorn shaped urn.  My doctor assured us we could still have another child, but it might take up to a year to get pregnant.  At that point, I couldn’t imagine ever trying again.

The weeks following Andrew’s death are a blur.  I returned to my job with the Catholic Church in October.  Social services is among the most emotionally draining fields to be in under the best of circumstances.  I could tell my heart wasn’t in it any more.  I was struggling to connect with people. My patience wore thin quickly and I just wasn’t myself.  Part of me was missing and I didn’t know how to fill it.  

By Christmas, we knew we were pregnant again.  I was terrified.  The pregnancy was surprisingly easy.  No morning sickness.  Lots of exhaustion, but that was to be expected given  I was of “advanced maternal age”.  We told the kids at the halfway point.  Again, mixed reactions, but mostly concern mixed with fear.  Katie, who was 12 at the time, was the first to show signs of excitement.  

Connell, 8 hours old. 8lbs 2 oz of
snuggly baby goodness wearing a
hat my sister made.
Connell was born in August of 2012. I'm not sure which of us was louder; his newborn cries mixed with my sobs of relief made the nurses nearly yell to talk over the two of us.  The same doctor who delivered Andrew calmly listened to my blubbering happiness and told me my baby was healthy and alive and I'd done everything just right.  David gently brought Connell to me, all bundled up, sweet little eyes peeking over the swaddle.  

During the first few months of Connell's life I often slipped and called him Andrew.  I don’t think anyone noticed or if they did, they didn’t correct me.  I was afraid, in a lot of ways, that having another baby boy would some how make Andrew less real.  What I’ve come to realize is that Andrew is always going to be real.  I’m always going to miss him.  It’s been more than two years and I still have teary moments when I think about him.  Connell didn’t replace Andrew.  Connell reminded me how to feel happy again.

Pure joy.  14 months old.
So was Connell an oops?  No.  Not even a little bit.  Was he intentional?  Absolutely.  Am I insane?  No. (My mother had me tested.)  

Every year, when the leaves start to change and squirrels litter our yard with acorns, I think about what my life would have been like had Andrew lived.  And I think about how grateful I am that Connell is here and healthy, helping me find joy when I wasn’t sure there was any left.  I don't know why I lost Andrew and I know I never will.  But occasionally I see changes in all of us because of Andrew and I know, as a family, we are better because we loved him.  And I know he loved us.

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