Beauty From Ashes

Six months. Today, we celebrate six months of life. It’s your little brother’s half birthday. As I type this, he’s cuddled close to me, sucking on his pacifier, while his softie is nestled into his neck and lullabies lull him to sleep.  It’s beautiful. But it stings. It’s bittersweet.

Six months after losing you, it was November. I was 15 weeks pregnant for your brother, and we had just found out we were having a boy.  It was also your Daddy and I’s anniversary, and we went on a trip to the beach together. And it was Thanksgiving, and my first holiday without you.  My emotions were all over the place.  Gratitude and sorrow battled within me, while joy attempted to break through my despair.

I’m home with him today, and I’m missing you deeply.  The damp, overcast weather is not doing me any favors. 

I’m overcome with love for him and the joy he brings me to the point that I’m overwhelmed and brought to tears.  His breaths fall heavily on my arm, while you remained so still.  His little life, in my arms, because your life slipped through my hands.  Death literally passed through me, so a new life could be planted. Could grow. Could resurrect from the darkness and bring to fruition a redemption I had not thought possible.  There’s so much guilt.  But there’s so much love.  And grief, it still remains.

His life.

Your little brother. Your Irish twin. My living baby. 

I’m looking back at pictures of the final days of my pregnancy for him. I didn’t know they were the final days. He came nearly a month early. I have belly shots, ultrasound scans, and images of the baby clothes I finally allowed myself to buy for him, now knowing he came just ten days later. It’s hard to look at those pictures.  Just like with you, I had no idea what was coming. I didn’t know what the next day would bring.  

When I see those photos, I remember the anxiety. The debilitating fear. Would he make it?  Would he survive?  Would he come out alive?  Would he come home?   

There were so many weekend visits to labor and delivery just to verify that he was in fact still alive. That his heart was still beating. It’s hard to think about those days. My fear was paralyzing. I could not trust in a positive outcome. I wanted to believe that “all things work for good for those who trust HIM.”  But how do you that when a child was taken from you?  When you delivered death, instead of life, just months before?  I have felt ashamed.

It was a Monday evening, and I went for a quick walk before dinner.  I remember talking to a friend on the phone, a fellow loss mom, who was also expecting her rainbow baby.  I cut a pineapple and put a movie on to watch with the kids and drank some red raspberry leaf tea.  I was crampy, and my back was hurting. I had thought for sure your brother had dropped further down.   Then, we all went to bed.

I awoke at 2 AM, Tuesday, April 17, with a hard contraction that began in my back, then wrapped around.  I panicked. NO WAY, I thought. This can’t be happening. For all the times I thought I was ready for him, in that moment, I felt I was NOT ready.  I tried to go back to sleep, but fifteen minutes later I had another contraction. And they continued...fifteen minutes apart, then ten, then eight.  After two hours of consistent contractions I thought, This might really be it.  But it was really hard to allow myself to “go there.”

At 4 AM, I arose from the bed and adrenaline began propelling me. I put baby clothes washing and decided to soak in the tub to see if the contractions would subside.  Your Daddy heard the bath water, and he got out of bed and came into the bathroom. He knew, too.

Semi panicked, we both looked at each other as to what we should do next. Nothing was packed. Nothing was cleaned. I could not allow myself to prepare for his arrival. I did that for you, and it was time wasted.  Suddenly, we were in GO MODE.  In between contractions I fixed my hair, did more laundry, packed our hospital bag, cleaned the kitchen, and swept the floors.

We woke your siblings up for school, preparing them for the reality that your brother might actually be on his way. They were so nervous. Anxious. Excited. But they were also scared. Surely they were wondering what the outcome would be this time. Would they walk into a hospital and meet their little brother, alive and healthy?  Would it be so different than it was eleven months prior?   There was no way for any of us to know for sure.

Your Sitti arrived sometime during the 6 AM hour to take your brothers and sisters to school.  Your Daddy and I had decided we should at least go to the hospital to see if anything was actually happening. If I truly was in labor, I wanted to be monitored immediately.   After they left, the contractions slowed a bit, and I was so confused. They weren’t consistent. They weren’t necessarily getting stronger and closer together.  They were actually pretty manageable to the point that I wondered if I was really in labor. 

If I learned anything from all of the trips to the hospital for monitoring, I learned that I just needed to make a decision. If I was going to go, then I just needed to go.  So we left. 

I don’t remember much of the drive, but I do remember that it was a beautiful, cool spring day. A “blue bird” kind of day as your Nanny described it—not a cloud in the sky.  Looking back now, it was perfect, and the complete opposite of the dark, dreary, rainy weather we had on the day of your delivery. 

We went up that elevator once more, but this time heavily pregnant and in pain, while still being able to feel your brother moving inside of me. We walked past the crowd in the waiting room and up to the labor and delivery window for the last and final time.  “What’s going on?,” they asked. “I think I might be in labor,” I said. Not, I haven’t felt my baby moving.

Your Daddy got us checked in, and I went to the bathroom as the contractions continued. A friend of ours was on shift, and she brought us to the triage room for monitoring. The nurse checked for dilation, and told me I was 6 centimeters and 80% effaced.  Oh my gosh, we are having a baby today.     His heartbeat continued to beat strongly, and the contractions persisted.  Tears ran down my face. I was so thankful. The rigorous journey of pregnancy after loss was finally coming to an end, and surprisingly, an entire month early.  Your Daddy said, “God is being merciful to you.”  Merciful? , I thought.  Could this be possible?

A huge part of me didn’t feel ready to move forward. My body would not allow otherwise, but my head and my heart were conflicted.  As I waited to be brought to a delivery room, the tears continued to fall, and I grieved losing you.  My mind went back to May 22, discovering your heart had stopped beating, and seeing your lifeless little body.  My heart broke once more, and I begged for you to be present to me.  I begged for your prayers for your brother’s delivery.

All I can say is that, in a moment, I was overcome with a grace that was not of my own.   There was a peace that was beyond me and a strength that allowed me to embrace his delivery and to enjoy it. To allow it to wash over me.  To let healing and redemption to take place. And to invite you in it.

Once we were in the delivery room, I placed your picture out so I could look at you. I needed you to be there. I needed you to motivate me to labor naturally and to be fully present to your brother’s birth.  And you know what?  I was no longer scared.  The fears that had been plaguing me for eight months dissipated. They were a memory of the past. I was not afraid anymore.  I was hopeful. And I was so ready to have your brother in my arms. I was ready to finally meet him.  

My labor continued to progress nicely, and by 10 AM, I was 9 centimeters.  My doctor checked on me periodically, and our nurse was absolutely amazing. Everyone was so incredibly sensitive to our experience with you. Your Nanny, after her check up for her baby (just 4 days behind your little brother’s), came to the hospital and remained throughout labor.  It was such a beautiful and healing and easy experience. I was really amazed how perfectly everything was going. I just knew he would come out pink and breathing and would be placed on my bare skin full of warmth. My mind envisioned the moment of his birth, and I focused on that.  Since he was early, they prepared us for the fact that a team of NICU nurses would have to be present, and that they would have to examine him before we had our skin to skin. This saddened me, as I did not have that experience with you, but I couldn’t change it. I was just so thankful that he was finally coming. I don’t think I could have taken one more day of the waiting. It was eating me alive. 

I stayed at 9 centimeters for a while, and honestly, only had about an hour of hard labor before it was time to push. The pushing didn’t last long, and I will never forget the moment of seeing him for the first time. As I recall it, my mind pans back and forth to seeing you for the first time.  

It was late and dark and somber.  There was no excitement. No rushing around.  No joy. Only quiet stillness. And I saw the knot in your cord, before I even saw you, limbs hanging limply, who had come out feet first.  They whisked you away, placing your lifeless body on a cot.  I need to hold my baby. What is it?  It’s a girl. Oh my gosh, a girl. Teresa.    I had still held onto hope for a miracle that you would come out alive. But you did not. 

Your brother...there was so much excitement. The room was lit up, and there were so many people. But this time, it wasn’t my friends crying in the hall for me when they should be asleep in their homes.   It was a staff ready to greet my baby. And I saw him, small and pink. And he didn’t cry at first. He just looked out calmly. They brought him to the warmer, and his lungs released.  The sound of his cry filled the room. His lungs were perfect. 11:49 AM.  5 lbs, 10 oz.  19.25 inches.  Dark hair. Perfection.  He looked just like your Paw Paw!

Your Daddy held your picture close to me, and we crumbled into the bed. Tears of gratitude and grace and longing. You were so present, I could almost touch you. I felt you so closely in his delivery. It was the invisible line of where death and life meet.  Of the veil being lifted once more.  Of heaven coming in close.    You were there, and I can feel it again now as I remember.  I didn’t want you to leave, and I wanted to feel you in my arms again once more. 

They checked his glucose, then gave him to me for one beautiful, sacred hour. He calmed at my touch and my voice.  Your siblings came in, and they squealed with delight.   We smiled. We laughed. The pictures are priceless. The joy was invasive.  It was so unbelievably beautiful. So holy. So as it should be.

Then, as you know, that glory hour ended, and he spent five days in the NICU, and too many nights away from me. But I’m not ready to relive that experience right now. 

Today, instead, I choose gratitude.  Gratitude for his life. Gratitude for his presence. Gratitude that he is your brother.  But, also, in the midst of the thankfulness, a sorrow that we didn’t have this milestone with you. 

I love him so much, my girl. And I’m glad I have given my heart permission to do so. Thank you for always being here. Thank you for always listening to me.  Thank you for loving us so well. I love you with all that I have—ALWAYS and forever.  

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