My husband, John, and I were expecting our son to arrive via c-section on September 29, 2009. It was a completely normal pregnancy. Our ultrasound looked good, and I’ll never forget the look on John’s face when we were told boy, or the way he repeated it for days after. Pregnancy, as a whole, was pretty uneventful and I was counting the days until it would be over.
If I had known it would have been the only time I would have with my son, I would have done so many things differently.
The morning of September 22, I woke up to the realization that I slept all night and had not felt our son move. I called the local clinic (the hospital is over two hours away) and made an appointment to go in later in the morning for a doppler reading. Just to check. I wasn’t really panicking at that point – I knew the last few weeks it would get tight in there, but deep down I knew something was wrong. He was just too still inside of me.
Before John went to work, he stretched out beside me in bed and put his head on my tummy to talk to our son. He said, “Hey boy, you better start moving. You’re scaring your mommy.” Each second that went by and he didn’t move told me something was terribly wrong, although I stilled the instinct to panic. John took my hand, looked into my eyes, brushed back my hair and said, “Baby, you’re going to be fine. You’re going to feel so silly when they hook you up to that machine and you hear that little whomp whomp whomp. Just wait, you’ll see.”
I didn’t have to wait long at the doctor’s office. It’s small and usually packed, but I got in within a few minutes. I stretched back on the table and lifted my shirt and waited while the doctor made small talk about babies and families, trying to sooth me because she could see I was upset. After she put the doppler on my tummy and moved it around, we both got very quiet and listened. Empty static. She moved it around. Nothing.
She excused herself, saying something about something and left the room. I already had tears streaming down my face; I knew. My baby was gone. I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how. But I felt him gone.
Another doctor came in and tried the machine with the same result. They offered me transport to the hospital, but I declined. I wanted my husband. I called him at work and tearfully told him they couldn’t find a heartbeat and we needed to get to the hospital. My next call was to a friend of mine to make arrangements for our nine year old, Nicholas, who was at school. She agreed to take him for us.
John picked me up, and minutes later we were tearing down the road to the hospital. We made a two-hour drive in under an hour. Checking in was fairly fast, and before I knew it I was once again laying on a table, this time hooked to a sonogram. On the screen before me was an image no mother ever wants to see – the unmoving form of my child.
The ultrasound tech was kind, and discreet, as she went to get a doctor for confirmation. Then that doctor got the attending physician for final confirmation. Minutes passed before we got the news that no parent should hear.
“The fetus shows no viable sign of life. There is no heartbeat.”
Not, “I’m sorry.” Not, “Your baby.” No warmth or comfort. No sympathy, just facts.
After the Nazi doctor informed us he was really and truly gone, she made arrangements for us immediately to go to surgery. I was prepped without delay. I had two nurses getting blood samples…or something…one doing a catheter and the lobotomist…who was not aware of our situation and asked me if I was excited. Seeing everyone in the room shake their heads at her in unison is something I will never forget. She felt really awful. I told her it was okay.
I opted to be knocked out. To be fair, the nurses tried their best to talk me out of it. They told me I would not be numbed, so I would wake up in severe pain. I didn’t care. I really didn’t. It couldn’t compare to what I was feeling, anyway. It was one more memory I didn’t want.
They wouldn’t let John be in the room with me. I would have preferred he be there, but I understood. So, he went to put gas in the truck and promised to be back before I woke up. I was just glad he had something to do. At that point, I couldn’t think. I was just glad if I didn’t have to.
I woke up in recovery. My stomach was on fire, like a hot knife had been imbedded in my midsection and the pain stretched throughout my whole body. I had a panic attack. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t breathe. I remember thinking I wanted John there and suddenly he was, holding my hand and brushing my hair back from my face, telling me I was okay and to breathe. No one seemed to understand that I couldn’t breathe. My body was burning with pain and I couldn’t inflate my lungs…I thought I was dying. I actually remember thinking, “Wow, I guess I’m going to die now.” And strangely, I was okay with that.
Brayden died from a cord accident. A freak, fluke of nature that snuffed out his life before it began.
After recovery began my long journey to healing. It didn’t feel like healing.
First was the shock, which began to set in pretty quickly. We were in the hospital for four or five days…I don’t remember. To be honest, my memory of that time is pretty vague. I talked a few times on the phone to people, but I couldn’t tell you who. I had quite a few visitors who made the trip to see us, but I don’t really remember who, or how long they stayed. My cousin came from 400 miles away – flew in after work and had to fly back that night. That I do remember. That was my favorite visitor, if I can claim one of those. It meant a lot to me.
We named our son Brayden. William Brayden Brown, to be exact. It took us months of negotiations to come to that name. At my baby shower, I received a diaper cake with his name on it. I still have it.
Seeing him was hard. Very hard. The first time the nurse came in with him, I cried hysterically and made her leave. I just couldn’t look at him. Because this wasn’t real. This wasn’t happening. Not to me. Me, with the uneventful pregnancy and a happiness I worked hard to achieve. This devastating truth couldn’t be my life. I didn’t want to believe it was real.
John was brave enough to look at him. I couldn’t. In fact, I got up and went across the room and looked out the window, crying the entire time. I didn’t turn around until she had left. John told me he was beautiful, and it broke my heart. He wrapped his arms around me as I sank to the floor and sobbed and sobbed.
The nurse, Gail, brought him in the next day, and I knew it was my last chance to see him. John had made the arrangements at the funeral home, and Brayden had to go. He couldn’t wait until I was ready. He couldn’t wait until I got brave. This was my last chance.
Gail sat on the couch in our room and held him as I got my first good look at his face. John was right, he was beautiful and perfect. I saw so much of John in his face. To this day, I sometimes look at John and see Brayden. He had tons of thick hair. He had my nose and my mouth. He weighed in at eight pounds, nine ounces. My perfect, still son.
I didn’t hold him, a fact that still bothers me sometimes. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t. I asked Gail if he was cold. She said yes. His perfect skin was ashen, and his lips purple. I wanted so bad to reach out and touch his cheek with my finger. Caress his silky hair. But, I didn’t. I sat beside him and cried and cried and cried. I didn’t want to feel for myself that he wasn’t there.
The last glimpse I got of him was the back of his head as Gail carried him out. I wanted to scream. I wanted him back. I wanted more time. I didn’t get any time. No time to say hello. No time for goodbye.
By the time we left the hospital (Friday, I think), three or so days before we were due to have him, we were bringing our son’s ashes home. By that time, shock and numbness were there, with horrid bouts of awareness.
When we got home, there were flowers. Lots of flowers. From friends, family and coworkers. To this day, the smell of flowers brings me back there. It was nauseating in our house, although they were sent with good intent. Families stopped by with casseroles. People I had not heard from in years were calling and sending cards. John’s work (he got laid-off the day we had Brayden) collected donations to send in a card.
We got Nicholas back that night. Telling him was hard. He took it hard. He was so excited to have a sibling. He cried, threw a few things and cried some more. I could sympathize…I wanted to do the same.
That Sunday was my son Nicholas’ birthday. We had a party with a homemade piñata. John grabbed a cake from the store. I had planned on making one. It went off without a hitch, and each second of it was torture. My nerves were raw, and even being around close friends and family was a strain. My brother brought over hotdogs and hamburgers and made it a cookout. I’m grateful he helped make it special. I couldn’t help much at that point. Smiling and taking pictures was enough to do me in.
The next few months are sketchy. I never went back to my doctor. I suppose I was angry with him for never being there during appointments (even at the time of our hospital stay he was out of state). I did speak to him over the phone, I remember him asking me lots of questions. I told him my memory wasn’t working right – I couldn’t remember anything, moment-to-moment, day-by-day. I was repeating conversations, and I felt like my brain was a sieve with everything just dumping out randomly.
I was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, with after pregnancy hormones and shock to blame, and put on Prozac. I didn’t take it for a while. I didn’t want pills to make me better. At this point, I had a very good friend who called me everyday (for MONTHS) who suggested I take it, after I confessed I’d been having some darker thoughts. Now, I don’t mean suicide thoughts. It’s more like I thought about death objectively. A lot. All of the time. I would spend the whole day just laying in bed, just thinking about death and dying. She urged me to take the Prozac, at least give it a try. I did. And I’m so glad I did.
After a few days, I felt surprisingly normal. I could get out of bed. I could make dinner for my family. I was functioning again on a level I had not been. After a month or two and several failed attempts to function without it, I was successful. My body, and mind, didn't need the help anymore.
I am now five months and two weeks post loss. The shock is gone, but the sadness will always be there. I miss Brayden every day.
I still haven’t done anything with the nursery. His things are still in there. We painted the room yellow and blue, and John built custom shelving to go up. I was worried we wouldn’t get it up before he was born.
Life has been hard, but it’s getting easier to breathe. I learned to think and talk again. I learned to smile again and with time, I learned to laugh. The first few times it felt so wrong to laugh. I felt like I was betraying my son by being happy, even for a moment.
I’m not the same person I was before this, that goes without saying. I’m learning, and getting to know, the new me. A part of me died that day with my son. That’s part of life after loss.
My goal with telling my story, which I don’t think I’ve told in it’s entirely to anyone, was to give hope. Hope to all of those lost parents out there who have had to go through this. A connection that you can only find with someone who has had this awful experience.
I have to be honest – I no longer believe life is beautiful. There are beautiful things, to be sure, but not true lasting beauty like I once thought. With beauty, there’s also harsh reality, and I’m living it. Life isn’t beautiful – it’s life. Truth and lies, up and down, beauty and pain. Two sides of the same coin. You just can’t have one without the other, and I’ve experienced both.
Maybe I’m just being pessimistic. Reliving my story was necessary, but hard. I don’t like to think of those times. The only thing that keeps me from wishing it all could be forgotten is Brayden. I can’t trade his memories in for anything. I just can’t.
I’m not sure if anyone will read this – after this long blog, who knows? What I do know is that after I got home from the hospital, I spent a lot of time searching the internet for…something. Anything. Any one thing that would make me feel like it’s okay, a reason, a divine explanation of why this happened to us. I knew I wouldn’t find it, but it didn’t stop me from looking.
Later, I’ll post some things that helped me through the tough spots. I’ll also write more about the grieving process, and how we’re getting through it.
To any readers out there, specifically mommies of losses, your story is worth telling. Your child had a story, and you can let the world know what it was. My son had a story. He was real, and he was loved. And I thank you for reading his story.