My heart aches tonight. Kelly just made a cake for Jackson's birthday and it wasn't until we sang "happy birthday" that it started hurting. We did a balloon release with notes attached. We did a little service in his name. We all looked at pictures of him. Some of the pictures the kids had never seen. All this was heart warming and boosted my spirits, but singing to him broke my heart. It took me back to 2 years ago and the wound is still fresh. I force myself on occasion to read my journal entries from Jackson and Claire's death. I have made it my own personal tradition to read the entries on their birthday. I just finished reading Jackson's and it really made me think and evaluate my life. I made him a promise as I held his still-warm body that day. It's very personal, but as these deaths have taught me, some things should be shared; to help others cope, to help others understand, to help others know they're not alone, to help others know they're normal, and probably, mostly to help me. The following is an excerpt from my journal that details the hours leading up to and immediately following his birth. I am also including a picture that I know is hard for some to look at. We had an anonymous friend do a beautiful touch of job of it and have used it many times to show others our sweet son. But, as my emotions are raw I wish to show him as he was when we first saw him. There are certainly imperfections in his appearance, but they were hard to notice that day.
Sept. 18, 2008 - I was terribly excited on the drive to the hospital. I kept thinking, ‘this is it’. We reminisced as we pulled into the all too familiar Scottsdale Shea hospital parking lot. We shared memories of the first two births and I remember feeling so much more in control of this situation, my parenting in general, of being in a hospital, EVERYTHING. I was excited to tell the front desk that the contractions were painful, and about three minutes apart and lasting about a minute each. They took us to a triage room where the nurse had Kelly put on a robe and get into bed, preparatory for listening to the fetal heart tones. The nurse came in and began to move the transducer over Kelly’s stomach. After about 20 seconds of moving it around and not hearing anything I began to be very nervous. At one point it picked up a slow pulse, but the nurse quickly announced that it was “mom’s” and I knew she had gone over the femoral artery. This is when I began to panic inside. I didn’t quite allow my mind to take the thought much further than ‘this is scary.' They called in the hospitalist to do an ultrasound. I was extremely worried now and knew that this would reveal something immediately and I think I started preparing myself for the worst. I have seen enough ultrasounds to know generally what I’m looking at. I remember seeing his little hand almost in a fist, but not moving. But it wasn’t until I followed the monitor’s view to the heart that I knew the worst had indeed happened. I remember seeing the heart, and one of the chambers appeared to be very subtly quivering, but not pumping. The other three were not moving at all. The hospitalist didn’t need to say it, but he said solemnly, “there’s no heart beat.” In disbelief Kelly asked what that meant and he simply repeated the statement. I don’t know if I can adequately describe what I felt at that moment. I was surely in shock. I kept thinking in my head, ‘oh my gosh, he’s dead’ over and over. But the meaning of it had not settled in at all. I expected tears to pour, but they didn’t come. My thought’s turned to Kelly who looked and seemed like she had just seen something otherworldly and was unable to process it. Her face was blank, emotionless. Susan (Kelly's mom) asked what was going on and was also in disbelief when I told her. Unexpectedly no one wept. I held Kelly’s hand and hugged her for what was probably 10 minutes. We didn’t speak. We didn’t cry. We simply processed and allowed for the complex emotions to work their way into our minds. The doctor arrived and Kelly demanded that he give her a C-section. He said he would do whatever she wanted, but advised against it for our sake monetarily and for health reasons. Kelly reluctantly agreed to deliver the baby. I don’t know how much time we spent in that room, but at some point I began to cry. It was when Susan left the room and I allowed myself to succumb to my emotions. The feelings were earth shattering, life-altering. My body lurched and quivered. Kelly still sat looking forward. I honestly don’t remember when she cried, but I’m sure she did. Once in the room, they induced her and everything seemed to progress ironically like the previous two births. I lay in bed with Kelly and Susan read a distracting book. I dozed off several times, overcome by emotion and stress. I felt so guilty every time I woke up. The doctor broke the water and commented that he expected it to have meconium and not be clear. He said this meant the baby didn’t have stress when it passed. A few hours after the epidural Kelly was ready to deliver. During this entire time I was nearly positive that I didn’t want to see the baby in fear that he would look dead or traumatized or scary or something. I didn’t want my only view and memory of my son to be a disturbing and haunting one. Until the moment of delivery I wasn’t sure I wanted to see him. I remember thinking how amazing Kelly is for going through with this. I had always been amazed at how she handled labor and this was no exception.
I remember seeing the head and his dark hair, although the darkness of his hair didn’t at that time register. It was evident by the doctor’s struggle to get out the body that he was a big baby. As soon as the baby was delivered the doctor announced, “I know what happened.” He then described a rubberband being wound from one end and at those words I saw the twisted umbilical chord. It resembled a phone cord and I knew then what he was about to say. He didn’t really need to say it. I could tell that it could not sustain life, that it was kinked, and there was no way for nutrients and oxygen to get through. I also noticed that his body was peeling and at first I thought this had something to do with his demise, but the doctor simply stated that the peeling indicated that the baby had passed one or two days prior. I must point out that the most poignant thing for me during the delivery was the peaceful silence and stillness that accompanied the moment. There was an almost celestial room-like ambiance. Later I paused to reflect on the word ‘stillborn’ and whether it was the stillness of the occasion centuries ago that caused that term to go into existence. Surely it fits. Every fear and concern I had for seeing my son was swept away and I anxiously awaited holding him and seeing him. I think several minutes went by. Then he was presented to us. HE WAS BEAUTIFUL. He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen! He looked like at any moment he would start crying. I almost expected his chest to rise and fall. He was warm and healthy looking. He actually looked strong. His hands were big. His hair was black and curly, so rare for this family. I remember several things distinctly – his red lips, his mother’s nose, his grumpy eyes, his ever so slightly sunken anterior fontanel, his peeling skin that was healthy and pink underneath, his purple nail beds. I remember his mouth would fall open when I moved him in certain positions and I would close it. Angels and God himself would have to describe the sound his tiny mouth made when I did that, for it is certainly too precious for mortal words. I kissed him repeatedly. I kissed his head, his cheeks, his lips and I remember how incredibly soft his lips felt. They felt alive. I wept. I wept a happy, but longing cry. I think at this moment I began to miss him. I didn’t want to let him go. Just as with Caidgen and Amie, I had certain distinct feelings about him. I felt, albeit cliché, that he was indeed strong. I felt he was valiant and brave. I even at one point felt he came to save me. I began to evaluate my life. I thought of his new life in heaven and realized that I had to see him again, and not just see him, but embrace him, love him, learn about him, and converse forever with him. So I took his hand in mind and with tears streaming down my face I promised him that I would live a better life, and that I would overcome my weaknesses, and would be a good person for him. It was the most solemn of promises. I have not made one like unto it in this life, though I wish I could say I have. It is in this sense that I felt he was there to save me. I have since wondered if this is entirely accurate. I don’t know if he had to die or was purposed to die only to help me, but I chose to honor his death with life. I must make this tragedy into something great and wonderful. I chose his death to be a saving grace for my soul. When at last I had decided that I couldn’t endure holding him any longer and not wanting to prolong the inevitable, I whispered in his ear, “I love you, Daddy will always love you.”
Tonight, I recommit myself to that promise. As a father, the thought that his death didn't have a purpose is immeasurably hard to bear. I believe it did have a purpose. I believe it was more than just nature running its course. If anything, it has served to make me a better person, but my wish is that it will help to make anyone who knows of him to be a better person. If his life and death have touched you in anyway, I hope you too will feel the desire to live better.