Monday, March 4, 2013

Regrets: Missing A Chance to Say Goodbye to Your Baby Together

Hold close these moments
for we shall always live
by remembering

            Chris arrived at the hospital on his way home from work, walking slowly, sadly into the room. He shuffled to my bedside, looking like a beaten man, a much older person than the one who left the hospital at three-thirty that morning. Clearly, something lay heavy on his mind and heart. He sighed first then clasped my hand. “I’ve been thinking about it all day…and I want to wait before we try again. I desperately wanted to replace her, and I can’t do that. I need time.”
            “I know. You’re right. You can’t.” Through God’s gentle mercy, Chris had come to realize that his daughter was lost to him, that another baby wouldn’t be a replacement for her. Another baby would be a new, different—unique— child. We needed time to heal and time to be with Parker, to grieve individually as well as mourn together.
            “Well, at least I wasn’t in labor for very long,” I commented, trying to lighten the conversation and eradicate the silence. “Only a couple of hours or so.”
            “What do you mean?” he questioned in a partially bewildered, amused tone.
            “I went into measurable labor around eight o’clock, then Dr. Gordon arrived at nine…and you showed up not too long after that.”
            “I spoke to him on the phone around nine, but Dr. Gordon didn’t call to tell me that I should come down until just before midnight. And that’s about the time I drove down here. You had been in labor almost four hours before he contacted me to come.”
            “Well, then it must have been soon after your arrival that I went into surgery,” I continued.
            “No, it was around two o’clock in the morning when they finally decided nothing more could be done.” He shook his head in disbelief at my confusion, appearing somewhat entertained at my erroneous time determinations.
            “Are you absolutely sure?” Chris nodded a vehement affirmation. “You mean to tell me that I was in labor for close to six hours before the C-section?”
            “Yes,” he restated. “They were working on you for that length of time before all hell broke loose around here.”
            “Wow, it certainly didn’t seem that long to me.” I settled my head against the pillow, the realization bearing down on me that Jesus had answered my beseeching prayer the night before. He’d carried my burden by removing from my senses all perception of time. The degree of pain I experienced had been a crucial symptom from which Dr. Gordon could make a diagnosis. Removing that pain might have lulled us into a feeling of complacency, masking the situation’s severity. Pain had been important to his assessment. I’d prayed for what I desired; Jesus responded immediately with what I needed.
            “What’s that?” Chris suddenly asked, pointing to the inside of my left wrist.
            “I don’t know, “ I said, shrugging my shoulders and lifting my arm to observe the deep, red indentation and rainbow of colors migrating into the area to form a large bruise. “Oh, I do know what that is! I had that wrist wrapped around the bed rail last night during labor. Before you arrived I didn’t have anyone to hang onto, and I couldn’t squeeze the rail with my fingers because of the IV in my hand, so I used my wrist!”
            “Wow, you must have been hanging on pretty hard. That looks terrible; it looks like it hurts!”
            “I guess it does,” I said, running my hand gingerly over the deep impress. It did look ghastly. “I must have been in much more pain than even I imagined myself to be. I must have clung to that bed rail the entire six hours.”
            (It took months for that wound to heal. During that time it became a poignant reminder of my suffering, and the compassion Jesus had mercifully extended to me when I appealed to Him for help. I almost regretted to see the mark heal and disappear. When it finally disappeared, it felt like the connection to the event had been severed.)
            Chris couldn’t stay long; he needed to pick up Parker from pre-school. Before leaving, he hesitated then asked if I thought he should look at Victoria again. I suggested he might not want to see her now, that he might be disappointed—with the effects of death beginning to transform her fragile body. He held her when she was new and delicate, still warm and tender. After expressing my reservations, he decided to forgo seeing her one more time.
            It’s a decision I now regret. I wanted to protect Chris, but we should have taken the opportunity to say goodbye together—as loving, grieving parents. We both said goodbye individually, and I don’t know if either of us could have uttered that word again, but in spite of our pain and fear, I suspect we should have tried. It could have been a precious, shared moment, and the experience might have added strength and understanding to our collective grieving process. Yet now I can only speculate and be content with the leave-taking we experienced individually—as a mother and as a father.
             Instead, I shared with him my goodbye experience, and he told me about his. As I wrote in an earlier post, he hadn’t wanted to see her. At least he didn’t think he did, and he was angry when the nurse midwife brought her to him immediately after her birth. But he’d held her, wept, and emerged so very thankful for the opportunity to see his baby girl; grateful for the staff who knew he’d have a lifetime of regrets if he didn’t say goodbye that way. While I had lived intimately with her for five months, Chris hadn’t been privileged to have that experience. He had been living on hopes and dreams.
            “I am so glad they did that. I needed to see her.” He nodded as he spoke.
            We should have taken one priceless moment to hold her again, to say goodbye.   

Victoria Lee's tiny feet, April 13, 1993


NEXT WEEK: Sinking into a black vacuum of grief, and Parker’s reaction to the news…

SPECIAL NOTE: On Wednesday of this week, March 6, I will add a special post dedicated to helpful ways to say goodbye to your baby, including special keepsakes to consider.

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!



(The opening quote was taken from when Hello means Goodbye: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Dies Before Birth, At Birth Or Shortly After Birth by Pat Schwieber, RN and Paul Kirk, MD, 1985.)