Another Year Has Passed: A Remembrance: The Birth/Death Day of My Son

2013….Not sure it gets easier, except one can discipline oneself to narrowing the window for ritualizing the grief. This is no small accomplishment.

2011. July 22nd is here again. Honor to all who have lost a child. My son would be 39 today.....

2010.....And now it is a year later. I could think of no better way to honor this day than to re-post this. It felt right to me to re-visit. All your comments still resonate.....Thanks and love.....

So. It's 2013. My son would be 41 today. It is also the day he died in 1972. He was 8 months in my womb and growing well. He was blue at birth and weighed 4.4 pounds, with all his fingers and toes and everything else perfectly formed. I’m quite sure he would have been saved today. I was later told by a rather clueless doctor that he drowned in my womb when the placenta abrupted. This a difficult image to carry through all the years of my life.

I do not remember what awoke me that night. I remember standing in the bathtub because the bleeding wouldn’t stop, calling for his father to come and bring more towels. I remember a seemingly endless drive to the University hospital in the Twin Cities from our country home on the banks of the Cannon River outside Northfield. We had already named him Huckleberry. Huck was to be a River Boy, loving the waters of the Midwest as much as his mother and his grandfather. My Great Aunt Hazel was going to teach me her recipe for Huckleberry jam. Romantical Notions abounded for this first of the grandbabies.

There was a tiny labor room. In 1972, there were no such amenities as “birthing rooms”. And in 1972, it had been a battle to make sure that the baby’s father could be present for the whole event.

There was a fetal monitor. It never worked right. I told the nurse that my son was dead about two hours before he was born. The stillness of a sudden was---well, undeniable. My body and my being knew. And here one can see the roots of my profound mistrust of any and all medical gadgets, including our meters.

Labor went on, no more or less difficult than many a birth. But we already knew there would be no reward at the end. Only Silence. And the hushed, nightmarish sounds of a medical team trying for the impossible.

They did not wrap him up and let me hold him. That was not done in those days. His father saw him and described his blueness and his perfection to me later. But I never got a chance to say goodbye to him in the way that I understand now to be healthiest and insist on with every single stray kitty friend we have eased into death over the last 25 years.

I remember comforting the grandparents later in the day. My mother, true to form, brought me a beautiful new robe. My sister, with her usual insight into exactly what would be needed in the coming days of hospital confinement, brought an anthology of Wonder Woman comics---it satisfied perfectly the need for distractions when one’s attention span is shortened by pain and grief and the rituals of hospital life.

After a long day of comforting everyone else, I remember sobbing through the quiet of the night and a nurse coming to hold me and talk about grief as a process.

I also remember the series of blood pressure shots. The very long needle goes in, some medicine is released, the needle is pulled part-way out, re-aimed and inserted, and the balance is injected. Several nurses who had to administer this torture wouldn’t tell me their names. I hummed nameless tunes to distract my self.

All this is one face of pre-eclampsia. Besides the obvious immediate difficulties, it pre-disposes one to diabetes and high blood pressure in later life. I had been to the doctor that day and sent home. He was thoroughly investigated later by the hospital as to just why he sent me home. We were so young and knew not enough to question a doctor’s actions. Many years later I saw an episode of ER in which a similar case was dealt with. Dr. Greene decided to save the baby and they lost the mother. It was difficult to watch.

Home after about a week was empty and oh so quiet. The first day home alone was frightening. And in the fall, when teaching began, we had to answer gently the questions of colleagues when they inquired happily as to the baby’s gender and health.

I have never dwelled on what he might have become. I’ve never felt the need. He Was, for a brief time, and then he was no more. He was complete, I’m sure.

Ten months later, almost to the day, my vibrant, radiant daughter was born. And she has given me not only a beautiful, gifted daughter-in-law, but a grandson who unfolds his phenomenal self daily. One child has fulfilled me. If poor little Huck had survived, I doubt that my beloved daughter would have been born. My life would have been very different.

Six years after his death, I choreographed a piece called, simply, Grief Suite. I set it to three selections from Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances. I distilled Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s work on the stages of grief into three movements: Denial, Acceptance, Transcendence. It was a hopeful piece. I believed acceptance wasn’t going far enough down that path. But ultimately, I have come to realize it is the best one can do. Some grief doesn’t end. One simply has to re-weave the tapestry of one’s life until the thread of Grief is fully integrated.

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Comment by shoshana27 on January 5, 2014 at 6:09am

Judith i cannot imagine what you went through but it is so good you had a daughter & you are dealing with it very well
hope all is well with you now
enjoy life

Comment by Emily Coles on January 9, 2014 at 4:26pm

Beautiful, heart-sqeezing post, Judith.  Thank you so much for sharing this important piece of yourself with us.


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