July 7, 2016
07/07/06. It’s that date in my head, like 9/11 or something else memorable and traumatic that just kinda hangs out there.
While it’s the date that our son Jacob was born and died on, the weeks in advance of that are always heavy in my heart as well.
We had tried for years to get pregnant and have a child. We started when I was 35, because I didn’t want to be a 40-year-old new mother – but of course that’s exactly how it went down.
But the goodness of Nora’s birth didn’t come before three other early miscarriages in 2002-2005, and before Jacob on July 7, 2006, in the 6th month of pregnancy.
My pregnancy with Jacob began as a surprise, and we got past the 12-week mark where we had an ultrasound with a baby and a heartbeat in it, so we thought we were good. As Jon, our NP at the OB/GYN clinic in Denver told us, “Once you get to 12 weeks, you’re pretty much having a baby.”
But “pretty much” didn’t happen for us. I was worried about his growth early on, and I had that intuition was right on. We found out we were going to lose him shortly after our 20 week ultrasound, when the discovery was made of his severe Spina Bifida, his three-chambered heart, clubbed feet, underdeveloped limbs, and 2-vessel umbilical cord, “all signs of a chromosomal abnormality”, the newly-out-of-med-school OB/GYN doctor told me, who didn’t have a clue how to break bad news.
Jacob’s ultimate sentence of a diagnosis Trisomy 18, would come to be what would be the cause of all those problems, and his ultimate demise. You see, you don’t know anyone with Trisomy 18 because it is “Incompatible with Life.” Another term I would learn to understand in our meeting with the geneticist at the perinatologist’s office.
On July 5, late in the day, we went to the hospital in Lafayette, Colorado, to induce labor. I labored for 30 hours, into the wee hours of July 7, before I would finally give birth to our stillborn son. We held him for hours, and the nurses never pushed us to leave. We took a few pictures, and cried a lot.
I will never forget the kindness of the nurses, who stayed with us and helped Brian and me in ways beyond measure to get through those darkest hours of our lives. My sister Jill came to be with us, along with my Mom and a friend from Denver, and Shiela baptized Jacob shortly after he was born.
As grieving parents who didn’t get to take her baby from the hospital, the nurses provided us with a pillow that held some items from his birth, including a blanket we held him in, and a plaster cast of his little clubbed feet.
We have his ashes in a tiny heart-shaped silver urn that sits in a blue velvet box with his name on it, that the wonderful people at the funeral home provided for us.
We grieved. Oh God, how we grieved. I wanted to die, that’s how much it hurt. But in the depths of that despair, I also knew I had to move forward, if not for any reason than Jacob wouldn’t want my life to fall apart because of his loss. Those thoughts were all that got me through.
As those of you who know us well, and for that long, our lives have changed so drastically since then.
Six months later, in a cliché of a Denver snowstorm, a pool game at Ziggy’s in West Denver and a few too many beers, we would end up pregnant with our daughter Nora, who would show up a little early, but in every other way perfect 8 months later. Brian and I both love her with the kind of ferocity and care you only have when you can’t take parenthood for granted.
This day marks 10 years since the loss of our son Jacob. I held him in my arms, cried what felt like a lifetime’s worth of tears in the months and years that followed. I had dreams of him, and I still do. We talk. He tells me he’s okay and that he loves me.
Tears can still stream down my face when I think of those days. How much my life changed because of our struggles.
And while I can dwell on the sadness, I can also dwell on the path it’s taken me. I have become a nurse, and meet women in pregnancy crises on occasion in the ER where I work. I have reassured them, told them it’s okay to be heartbroken, and offered what support I can, and encouraged them to talk about their losses and join support groups and other places to express their pain. I had one patient I had helped a few months earlier, return with a family member one day, and throw her arms around me and hug me and tell me how much her life had changed because I had validated her feelings of loss, and tell me about the help she was getting. The woman was barely recognizable because the weight was lifted.
I don’t like to think that I had to suffer so much to become someone who could offer that kind of help, but I also know my losses changed me on a molecular level. It deepened many relationships, and showed me the flaws in others, and I’ve accepted all of it as best I can.
I resist strongly the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” In fact, I prefer to think that my suffering is random, just as everyone else’s is. It’s not a product of being a bad person, or being a good person who “didn’t deserve that.” Instead, I look at the inner strength I was pre-wired with and developed more fully as a result of my losses, and bask in the friendships and relationships that have stood the test of that difficult and deeply emotional time.
And as I sit on the Coast tomorrow night, I will take Jacob’s ashes with me, and hold them in my hand, and just tell him I love him, miss him, and wish he could be there with me.
Thanks to everyone who has been there.
Thanks to everyone who is here with us now.