Whenever I walk by the clothing section, I usually notice the baby clothes. It doesn’t really bother me, I expect them to be there and I still admire the cuteness. Yesterday though, this little brother outfit was hanging out in front, and sure enough it was size 6-9 months. I can’t not notice it and pretend it has no connection to my life, to my son who should be almost 9 months old. So I stop, took in the size of the shirt and pants, and tried to imagine what Finn might look like now wearing it. I don’t know if the overall feeling is sad in this case, but more so full of wonder about what might have been, that which can now only exist in the realm of my imagination. It’s like that feeling when someone tells you make a wish and you dream without the confines of reality. I have glimpses of his matured face in my mind often and I wish I could somehow photocopy them and fill the empty frames with smiling pictures of him staring back at me.
This week is World Breastfeeding Week, and while I cherished 20 months of nursing my first child, Jaxton, that experience is not what I’d like to bring to light this year.
Instead, I’d like to give a shout out to all of the moms who long to be feeding their babies right now. To the mom who sobbed a few days postpartum because her breasts were full of milk her body made for a baby who would never need its nourishment. To the mom who suffered silently through physical pain of engorgement and the raw emotional pain of grieving her child, all while still recovering from birth. To the mom with a nursing pillow and breast pump sitting unused in the closet of an empty nursery. To the mom who made the brave choice to pump and donate milk following her baby’s death. To the mom who has never had the chance to nurse a living child. To the mom who doesn’t know if she’ll ever get to nurse another baby.
I should be a nursing mom with a six month old baby right now, but my baby boy Finn never took a breath. I wish I could say my situation is rare, but I have met too many moms who have suffered this same trauma. 1/160 pregnancies in the U.S. end in stillbirth. The mothers who make up the “one” in that statistic are real, like me, and their pain often goes unseen.
To the moms who are currently nursing little ones, I know it can be tough to wake up multiple times in the middle of the night because you’re the 24-hour milk buffet and you’re the only one who can feed your baby. I know it can be stressful to worry if your baby is getting enough milk. I know it can be difficult to nurse in public. I know that pumping isn’t fun. I’ve been there and done that. But I also know the reward of seeing a happy, growing, milk-drunk little person and knowing you contributed to that. When breastfeeding gets tough, I hope my story will give you encouragement to keep going. Breastfeeding is such a special bond, and the ability to provide any amount of your milk for any amount of time is a priceless gift to be able to give your child.
One year ago today, we saw our first ultrasound of baby Finn at 7.5 weeks. Even that early on, we could clearly see a head with two little eyes looking back at us, and the beginnings of arms and legs. The two sides of his heart flickered on the screen as he bounced around in the womb. His heart looked like a little bow tie in the sonogram picture, so I always imagined him wearing a bow tie in the womb. In fact, that was the inspiration behind requesting our Finn Bear to have a bow tie. We zoomed in on his heart and the beautiful sound of his strong, fast heartbeat filled the room, a sound we had waited so long to hear.
Little did we know that six months later, at this same hospital, we would see a sonogram of our baby at 35 weeks. His dark silhouette and lack of activity was obvious before we even zoomed in on his heart. I don’t need a picture to remember how his heart looked then, its two halves motionless and silent as the technician confirmed, “It’s not moving. I’m so sorry.” It is forever burned into my memory. We heard the deafening silence that was my body without his heartbeat. However, despite the ending, I also like to remember my little Finn at his beginning, strong and seemingly playful, with a little class in the form of a bow tie.
Before my baby died, I have to admit that I didn’t know a lot about infant loss or grief. Despite experiencing primary and secondary infertility, I had never miscarried, and my first pregnancy was uneventful until the arrival of my healthy baby boy at 41 weeks. I had heard of a few families who lost a baby, but I thought it was very rare beyond the first trimester. I heard about a couple of infant losses during my second pregnancy. I was saddened by the news and clutched my belly protectively, hoping and praying my baby would make it into the world safe and sound. Before my loss, I knew that when a baby died they wouldn’t be here on earth anymore. I thought about the fact that they lost their baby at that point in time, but not about their grieving process and what it felt like not having their baby there with them.
I didn’t think about how the parents had to tell their extended family and other children that the baby wouldn’t be coming home. I didn’t think about how they gave birth in the maternity wing of the hospital, surrounded by celebrating families on the worst day of their life. I didn’t think about the silence in the room as their baby entered the world without a cry, how they never moved or opened their eyes. I didn’t think about how they held their dead child in their arms with just as much love, gentleness, and admiration as if he was still alive, saying hello and goodbye at the same time. They took pictures, rocked their baby, maybe even bathed and dresses them. They stroked their hair, counted fingers and toes, talked and sang to them. I didn’t realize their child grew colder and more purple with every passing hour. I didn’t think about how they gazed upon, kissed, and touched their child for the last time before walking out of the hospital without them. They resisted every parental instinct to run back into the hospital and get their baby as they heard the cries of healthy newborns around them. They anticipated the arrival of their child for months and instead only held a box of memories.
I didn’t think about how the mother’s body would still produce milk for a baby it couldn’t feed. She would long to hide her maternity clothes from view bit not fit into her pre-pregnancy clothes. She would go to her postpartum check-up and sit in a waiting room full of expectant parents discussing upcoming ultrasounds with excitement, when the last ultrasound she saw was of her baby’s heart not moving.
I didn’t think about how the parents would see babies and constantly think about how theirs was missing. I didn’t think about how the parents would long to hold babies or even change diapers. I didn’t think about how the parents would long to talk about their child, but hardly get a chance to mention their name. They would deal with people who pretended their child never existed. I didn’t think about how well-intentioned people who were unaware would ask, “How’s the new baby?”. I didn’t know that “How many children do you have?” would become one of the hardest questions to answer. I didn’t realize…
Today as I celebrate four months since Finn’s birth and mourn the 4-month old baby who isn’t here with me, I looked back at Jaxton as a 4-month-old, and I see what I am missing out on right now. I have a video of Jaxton, a chubby baby with arm and leg rolls, his face lighting up as Phillip tickled him. I have another video of him sleeping peacefully with a full belly, occasionally peeking through one eye to make sure he wasn’t missing anything. Now I watch as Jaxton talks, sings, plays, and grows into a smart and independent little boy. I will only ever be able to imagine what it would be like to see Finn grow up, only guess who he would look like and act like. I’m not just idealizing; I also think about the sleepless nights, numerous diaper changes, tantrums and messes. Last week after Jaxton flooded our bathroom, I actually felt sad that Finn would never be able to do that. Even as I think about what I am missing with him, I know that in his death he is more alive than I will ever be here on Earth, and by heaven’s standards he is experiencing far more than I could ever imagine. Here’s to 4 months of missing Finn, and 4 months closer to being with him again.