There is something I don’t think I have ever talked about on my blog: I had a stillborn baby. It was many years ago and it was very sad and really, what is there to say? One day I was happily six months pregnant and the next day I was having an ultrasound and being told the baby had died and I would have to deliver it that evening.
It. Him. It was a baby boy.
I was lucky enough to have him at a hospital that was very kind and helpful and considerate. The staff suggested I name him and hold him and take pictures. I was fine with their suggestions until they got to the “take pictures” part. Who in their right mind wants to take pictures? I just wanted to put the whole thing out of my head and get on with life. The nurse was adamant, “one day you will want to see pictures. So we will take them and keep them. And when you want them they will be here.” I thought the nurse was a total nutjob. But I had other things on my mind like how quiet the delivery room was without the constant “whoosh, whoosh” of the baby’s heart monitor. Or how to handle the pain of labor even though it somehow felt right to be in agony both mentally and physically. Or what would it be like to walk past the hospital nursery window with empty arms? Pictures? Those were the least of my concerns.
The baby was tiny and perfect and purplish. His body showed no clues to what went wrong. We named him Hamish. It is a name we had always liked but was a bit too outlandish even for intrepid baby-namers like us (who wants a child to spend the rest of his life saying “it’s Scottish for James. And it’s a long ‘a’, pronounced HAY-mish”). After the delivery (barely one push) we held our sweet little baby while our wonderful doctor sat in the hospital room with us for almost an hour. Just talking. And listening. He didn’t hurry out and make the nurses deal with it, as doctors are wont to do. It’s hard to say how much that meant to me.
As sad an experience as you would imagine it to be, it wasn’t. At least not at the hospital. All I can think is that my prayers and the prayers of friends and family had bouyed me up. I felt so loved. I could feel God everywhere around me. I felt calm. I felt assured. Everything was all right. Even though it was so not all right.
Once I got home I was a mess. Even something small like the funeral home calling to ask how to spell our last name sent me sobbing to my bed. I had four very young children at that point and although I must have taken care of them, I have no recollection of doing so. My fondest wish was that the nightmare would end and I would be back to normal as quickly as possible. I was glad there were no pictures to remind me of all that had happened. The milk that poured out of me mixed with tears was reminder enough.
The thing I didn’t understand about the death of someone who has been part of us or whom we have dearly loved is that there is no going back to normal. We have just cracked open and begun a new existence. In a matter of hours the survivors have metamorphosized into different creatures, never to be the same.
That moment pushed me to a crossroad of my beliefs. Would I be angry and bitter and shake my fist at God, my body or whatever else I could think of? Would I wallow in the pity and anger that I cycled between all day long? Or would I chose faith? Would I believe that a Father in Heaven–a parent who loved his children as much, even more, than I loved mine–had my best interests at heart? Would I believe that he knew me better than I knew myself and would allow me the experience of losing a child to make me a stronger, greater, more compassionate person?
I sat on my back porch one cold evening a month or so after leaving the hospital. I knew that the choice needed to be made. What would it be? Anger or faith? It had been distilled to two options.
I chose faith. I choose faith.
I don’t see pain as evidence that God doesn’t care. It’s as foolish a notion as my children seeing their vaccination shots as evidence that I don’t love them. Pain and heartache are the gifts we may use to help us grow; the invitation to become stronger. But difficult things don’t necessarily make us better; if so, there would be nothing but wise people roaming the Earth. But we are given obstacles, grief and heart-searing trials as powerful tools to make ourselves exceptional people.
I have never gotten the pictures from the hospital. I have wanted to. I have asked. But someone always says they’ll need to find out where they are being stored, blah, blah, blah. It was over eight years ago. Who knows where the files are now?
The pain has mostly gone away. The anniversary of my baby’s death passes and I forget sometimes. All I have is a little certificate with hand and footprints and that will have to do. I would like to see the photos of my little baby, though, not just to see what he looked like. To also remind me how far I’ve come on my spiritual journey. His birth is the experience that has most strongly shaped my view of God and the purpose we have on Earth. As much as I would never wish such a dreadful experience on anyone, it saved my soul. Pain can do that if we allow it.
It seems wrong to me that we only take pictures at happy times. How many birthdays we photograph but can hardly remember a few years later! But the huge, looming, world-changing things we never photograph. I think it’s wrong. I think we need to change it. Take photographs at these times when the world falls away and we are left with a scorched soul. These are the times that make us who we are–not vacations at the beach. There are professional photographers at a wedding but nobody even brings a camera to divorce proceedings. Even though the divorce will sometimes be more influential than the marriage was.
Do we believe that a photograph will prolong any experience, good or bad? It won’t, obviously. But my experience having a stillborn baby made me realize that it’s all worth remembering. Even the bad.