Eleven years ago, I was pregnant with my first child. Once we saw the heartbeat, I was forever in love and felt I was in the clear. I went along with my pregnancy blissfully looking forward to meeting my child and watching him or her grow. My pregnancy ended with a severely premature birth at 24 weeks. I went into labor at 23 weeks and my son was born 5 days later. The odds for a baby born so early are not good, and we said goodbye to our son on the 9th day of his life. Complications from a double brain hemorrhage were too much for his little body and just like that, my dreams of watching my child grow up were gone and buried.
The first year of grief after losing a baby for me was the worst. I have never felt so sad, and the tears, oh so many huge tears, would roll out of my eyes down my face and I felt the force of each one hitting my chest. I questioned everything I did in my pregnancy and tried to find a reason why my body failed my son. After rounds of tests, we ruled out many things, but in the end, we just didn’t know what caused my preterm labor, and we never will. It took a while for me to accept that, certainly over a year. I was wracked with guilt that I did something wrong – yet my doctors assured me that since I didn’t smoke or do drugs I did nothing wrong.
The year after Caleb was born was a baby boom in our neighborhood. So many boys too. With each “Its a Boy” yard sign, I would wonder “Why Me? Why didn’t I get to put a sign out in my yard and bring home a healthy baby boy?” I was so grateful to my support groups both online and in person who would listen to my rants of “Another one of those damn signs is up and there is no way I can avoid it when I drive out of my neighborhood”.
One of the secondary losses associated with losing Caleb was that joy for others in their sweet little baby boys was gone, it hurt me to see those signs. I did not like being around babies either, I could not hold one that first year. Time passed and as I worked through the many facets of grief, things did get easier overall and I became more of my old self before the loss. Grief is work, and I worked it because I just wanted to stop being so sad and feeling like a failure. Thanks to my husband who was on his own grief journey, my family and friends, my support groups and my grief counselor, I survived that first year.
The years have passed and recovery from the loss is certainly not linear; sometimes something will take me back to that day I said goodbye, or went into labor, or was blissfully pregnant. Some days its hard to imagine Caleb would be in fifth grade now, a big year at our school. I feel Caleb with me when I see the group of fifth grade boys walking home from school when I go pick up Sarah.
That baby boom of boys after we lost Caleb, I see them now without jealousy or depression. I see those fifth grade boys with a sense of admiration in how tight that group is. I wonder how Caleb would have fit in with this group. Would be be introverted or social? Would he be leading the pack or in the midst of the ranks? Would he be exploring the neighborhood each day on his walk home?
And what would have been Caleb’s last year at our school, as I see photos of field trips, fundraisers and those fifth graders at school, I wonder academically, socially and what his interests would be? Would he like to read? Would he like science, music, art? Who would his favorite super hero be? Would he fight with his sister or would they get along? Would he be fearless? Would he be into Star Wars and Disney like the rest of us? While its interesting I have noticed I question what Caleb would be like as if he had been a full term baby most of the time, I also wonder had he lived after being born 16 weeks early how complicated his life would have been or what health issues he would have suffered and if he would even be able to have gone to our school.
What I know from Caleb’s 9 days with us, he was a fighter and someone who defied the odds up until the end. The doctors did not think he would make it as long as he did. He was strong and I believe he did not want to leave us. I know he loved us from how he would look at us from NICU bed when we talked to him, sang to him and gently touched him. When Andy put his finger next to Caleb, he grabbed it with his tiny fingers without hesitation and held on. I am grateful for the time we had with Caleb, it gave me a glimpse of the fifth grader he would be today.
I will be very sad to see these fifth grade boys head off to middle school in the spring. These boys who I cursed at their homecoming from the hospital, now help me keep Caleb alive in my heart. I see photos of Nerf wars and school field trips and smile. Had Caleb survived, I have been given glimpses of how wonderful his life would have been. I can’t help but think about the could have been – which I think is the lifelong grief that many will never understand which comes with the loss of a child. And for me its not a grief of sadness or anger or jealousy anymore, which surprises me, its seeing life as it has moved on.
And while life has moved on, as I watch those fifth grade boys walking home from school, I think of my son who will forever be in my heart and on my mind. My hope this October 15th is that people will maybe understand the loss of a pregnancy or infant is not a one time it happened kind of thing that we can “get over”. The loss is something that will never really fully leave. And that is OK, because in that loss, there is love that stays with us.
October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, a day of remembrance for pregnancy loss and infant death, which includes but is not limited to miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS or newborn death.
To Caleb and to JP the baby whose heartbeat we never saw on the screen, you are with me always. I especially remember you today and will light a candle at 7pm tonight.
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