Written by: Natalie Morgan, a mother in The Finley Project program
This is my plea to you:
There will be times your child will scream and cry any time you try to put him or her down. Or they’ll cry even as they’re in your arms and you’ve done everything you can possibly think of to get them to stop.
There will be sleepless nights, multiple diaper changes in a matter of minutes, spit up in your hair, pee on your shirt, and poop in your hands, and again – so much screaming from the baby, and probably from you as well. Every time that happens, every time you feel frustrated and want to run away, please remember my story:
My sweet, sweet Eleanor Josephine was born sleeping September 11th. I went to bed the night of the 10th, and she was kicking away. I woke up, and she wasn’t. I couldn’t find the heartbeat on the home doppler. I knew. I just knew. I didn’t want to know…I wanted to be mistaken, but I knew.
We went to Labor and Delivery immediately, praying the whole way there. They tried the doppler – nothing. Before they put the ultrasound wand on me, they ran the heartbeat monitor over my belly – nothing. My heart was sinking fast, and I remember thinking “This can’t be happening…this is just a dream…this can’t be happening…They’ll find something on the ultrasound…just *something*.” But these were feeble hopes, because again, I knew.
I could tell they knew, too, but no one said anything until Brian (who was parking the car) got there. I could tell they were delaying, “Oh, the ultrasound machine sometimes takes a while to boot up.” “I think there’s something wrong with the wand….” Finally, Brian was there, they did the ultrasound, and there was silence as they all exchanged nervous glances. Finally one of them matter-of-factly said, “Hi Natalie, I’m Doctor ______ (I don’t remember her name, but you don’t want to know what I call her in my head). I’m sorry…there’s nothing there.”
I keep having flashbacks to that moment. It’s a crippling, all-consuming feeling of utter suffocation, and a memory that will haunt me for the rest of my life. In that moment, I felt trapped as if the ceiling was literally crashing down on top of me. I couldn’t breathe, I lashed out, I screamed, I threw things, I threw up…and then a piece of me died with her. I was helpless to change anything. My body was supposed to keep her safe, and instead it killed her. I was 40w6d.
A couple of hours later, I was induced. They offered me an epidural, but I couldn’t do it. I needed to own it. I needed the pain, the agony, and misery to mirror what I felt in my heart. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Ever.
Dealing with the unbearable contractions, the ring of fire, the tearing…knowing that all of it was for nothing. I was delivering a lifeless child. There would be no happiness at the end of it to help me forget the pain. The pain, unlike my baby girl, would live on forever.
Then finally, after those hellish hours of labor, she was placed on my chest – gorgeous, but lifeless. There was no reason to expect that first little cry from her. Instead, it was me who sobbed. I begged her through my tears to wake up: “Please wake up, baby girl…please, wake up. Why won’t you cry for mommy? Please, please, please….just wake up.”
She was beautiful. She was perfect in every way. I love her so much, and the devastation I felt, and still feel, cannot even begin to be described. We got to spend 6 hours with her. We took hundreds of photos.
A photographer from “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” came by and took even more. We bathed her, we brushed her hair, we held her, kissed her, and told her how much we loved her. And I apologized over and over again for failing her. Oh, how I failed my beautiful baby girl.
They offered to allow us to say the night, but I couldn’t stay there any longer. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my daughter, either, but I knew I was just prolonging the inevitable. As time went on, she was looking less and less like the flawless child that I brought into this world.
I couldn’t keep watching her deteriorate in my arms. I knew she couldn’t feel any pain, but I was feeling it for her, and I had reached my breaking point. I wanted to die with her.
Around 11:30pm, we said our final goodbyes. As I stood over her and spent those last few minutes with her, blood was cascading down my legs and onto the floor.
I didn’t care – my womb was crying. Everything about me was crying. Watching them wheel her away broke me. My life ended then and there. They wheeled me out of the hospital and I screamed the entire way.
Monday was the funeral, and we had to go through the whole thing again. Seeing her one last time (my legs gave out from under me at first sight), singing to her, touching her cold, lifeless face, telling her how much we loved her, and me, apologizing over and over again for not being able to protect her.
It was a small, intimate ceremony – 9 people total. Immediate family only. We all took turns blessing her. And once again, we said our goodbyes.
Everyone gave my husband and I one last moment with her, just the three of us. And when we were done, he and I walked arm in arm down the aisle, as our family held the doors open for us as the end of the room. I flashed back to our wedding day as we walked down the aisle as husband and wife and the doors were held open for us.
The memory was such a cruel juxtaposition to the current reality. Our wedding march was joyous. This was a nightmare, this was morbid, this was wrong. Everything about it was wrong. I can still see that tiny box draped in a white cloth that held her tiny body. I had to leave her there in that cold, empty room; all alone all over again. It’s a nightmare that just won’t end.
I say all that to say this: my womb, my heart, and my arms are empty. There are going to be so many of you who have babies who are going to cry every time you try to put him or her down. Or they’ll cry for no reason even if you’re holding them and you’ve fed them, burped them, changed them…everything.
And inevitably you’re going to cry too, because you will feel so helpless and so frustrated and so clueless, and you’ll want to scream, “Why won’t you stop crying?!” You’re going to be exhausted and angry and fed up and all you’re going to want in this world is just a little time to yourself so you can sleep or shower or or eat whatever.
I know, because I’ve been there with my son. But I will never be there with my daughter. And I would give anything to suffer as only a mother (or father) can in those dark moments of parenthood with her, my dear Eleanor.
But please just remember, while you’re awake at 3am because you have a baby in your arms keeping you up that late, I’m up at 3am because I don’t. And I would give anything in this world to have a baby spitting up on me, being colicky for all hours of the day and night, screaming, not letting me put her down, cracking my nipples from breastfeeding, keeping me up all night.
Instead, I have a stitched nether region, painfully engorged breasts no baby will suckle from, a flabby stomach, an empty womb, and blood that will continue to pour out of me for who knows how many more weeks. As if her death and birth wasn’t traumatic enough, I still have to live with the physical effects all these many days later.
All I ask of you is when you have your dark moments with your baby – when you’re at your wits’ end and feel like you can’t go on anymore when you’re only getting an hour or two of sleep a night – instead of begging your child to go to sleep and being swallowed up in your frustration and exhaustion, find the tiniest bit of strength within you to keep going, and say a prayer of gratitude for your child, as difficult as it may be in that moment.
And if you would, say a prayer for me and all the mothers whose children were taken from them too soon. Say a prayer for my sweet, sweet Eleanor who never got to know life outside my womb.
Please. Do it for Eleanor. And do it for her mommy who loves her and misses her beyond measure.