The Dreaded Question

People warn you right after you lose a baby that other people will say things that hurt despite the best of intentions.  There are TONS of things that are upsetting that make sense.  For example, “I know one day you will have lots of beautiful children.”  It’s someone sincerely hoping we one day have the baby to take home that we have always hoped for.  However, it makes me want to scream, “I ALREADY HAD A BEAUTIFUL CHILD, HIS NAME IS ISAAC.” The littlest thing can trigger me.  The thing that has triggered me the most lately, though, has been entirely unexpected. From the moment we were told that Isaac had died, people started asking us what kind of service we would have, where were we going to lay him to rest, and later where we planned to scatter his ashes.

 

We were absolutely not ready to answer that question moments after being told our baby was never going to come home with us like we had planned.  The morning after Isaac was born, my husband and I knew one thing – we wanted to have Isaac cremated.  It was an oddly easy call considering the circumstances.  We honestly did not even have to discuss it for more than the briefest moment.  I am not 100% certain how the Catholic religion handles cremation (and am not looking to do any research on the matter), but I do know that Judaism prohibits cremation.  I am not especially religious and have actually been disappointed in how my religion deals with infant loss.  Judaism doesn’t really do much for babies who do not survive at least 30 days. I know it’s a rule from a much different time and world where many more babies were lost, but it is obviously a rule developed by someone who never lost a baby.  The bottom line is that we never had any doubts on the matter.

 

After Isaac’s autopsy, he was returned to the area and cremated.  It was too hard for us to go pick him up ourselves, so my parents lovingly did so. He’s still in the tiny red velvet bag that he came home in.  We have him inside the remembrance box the hospital gave us temporarily.  People suggested that we put some of his ashes with the trees we plant, but we haven’t been able to part with him.  He was such a tiny little baby, the bag we have is painfully small.  So far the only plan is to wear a special necklace with the tiniest bit of him enclosed so I can carry him with me always.  We need to do something with him besides leave him in a bag.  He deserves so much better than that.  It turns out finding an urn for a baby is really difficult.

 

On the whole service/funeral matter – I feel like everyone asks me.  They don’t mean anything at all by it.  Well perhaps they have expectations, but they don’t mean to upset us.  At first, it was easy to say that we were simply going to honor him in a lot of varied ways.  Now I am starting to worry that  eventually I will regret not having had any traditional ceremony.  Perhaps we are depriving others of a chance to say goodbye to our baby boy.  We may feel the loss the most acutely, but it wasn’t only my husband and I that lost Isaac.  I don’t want to deprive anyone, but then I panic because I don’t want to ever say goodbye to him.  Plus, what if we pick some sort of ceremony or service and it feels wrong?

 

The truth is that I don’t know what to do.  I know there isn’t a right answer.  I also know that this isn’t supposed to be easy.  The bottom line?  People keep asking me this question and I find it so upsetting, but it is just because I realize I have no idea what the answer is.

Honoring Isaac

If there is one thing that has been helpful throughout this terrible time it has been finding ways to honor our beautiful baby boy.  From the first day we left the hospital I was consumed with an urge to commemorate the fact that we made perfect little boy named Isaac.  I think my inclination is to worry that the world will forget that this ever happened.  So below are some of the ways we’ve been remembering our baby.

  • Planting a Tree: We planted a pin oak tree in New Hampshire. IMG_0464 Some day we will put a little sign on the tree and it will always be a special place for us to feel close to Isaac.  A close family friend offered to plant one here, in Pennsylvania, as well.  My husband’s parents also hinted they might plant a similar tree in Charlotte.  This makes my heart as close to happy as it will get at the moment.
  • Jewelery: I’ve likely gone overboard here, but being able to wear things that symbolize Isaac is comforting.  So far I have a necklace.Satya  It’s actually Isaac’s sign, Cancer, with his birthstone, Ruby, mixed in.  I got mine from Satya.  I actually found myself calmer while wearing it.  We are looking for a ring that I can wear as well.  I want something small and stackable with his birthstone (and his name inside if possible).  The idea will be to put small rings with my birthstone and my husband’s around it for now.  Then, hopefully, when we have more children, we can add rings for them as well.  My mom has a stack for her kids (me and my three younger sisters).  They’re perfect, but, unfortunately the jeweler has gone out of business. Etsy has tons of rings, but it is so hard to know if they are high quality and this is one piece of jewelery I couldn’t bear to have break or not look nice. We’re going to take my mom’s rings to a local jeweler we trust to see if he knows someone who can make something similar for us.
  • Crafts: I’ve always liked crafts, but this experience has driven me to learn some new ones.  When I was much younger, I went to overnight camp.  It was a sports camp and I did not like it.  However, I did learn to use a router to carve wooden signs.  Random, right?  All of those signs are scattered around my parents’ lakehouse.  The first night I was out of the hospital, I was looking at the mantle in my bedroom and just decided it had an empty spot where an Isaac sign belonged.  My dad bought be a dremel, and after a few days of practicing I carved a sign with our baby’s name.IMG_2207
    IMG_2206

    We filled in the carved part with my husband’s favorite color, and my dad put copper around the edge.  He’s going to add a coat of varnish.  We wrote a little message to Isaac on the back.

  • Charity: While I initially had a terrible doctor in the hospital (yes – you can save someone’s life and be terrible simultaneously – another story for another time), I could not have been luckier with my second doctor and one of the most remarkable groups of women for nurses.  I was basically in the middle of nowhere in a tiny hospital with a total of 25 beds, but I received amazing medical care.  In lieu of flowers and such, we asked for people to donate to Speare Memorial Hospital’s Labor & Delivery Department.  They have received an outpouring of gifts in Isaac’s memory that I never could have imagined.  On the one hand, we’ve been able to actually see the love that existed in this world for our baby boy.  On the other hand, our loss could actually help other people in similar situations.  The hospital has two labor and delivery rooms, the one that I spent my entire visit in is going to be named in honor of Isaac.  Someday, when I’m feeling stronger, my husband and I will go and see it.IMG_2269
  • Gifts: I’m not the only one who lost Isaac.  Our family and friends lost him too.  My husband craves personal reminders of our son the same way that I do. He has asked for a subtle bracelet (this is challenging since he’s not someone I picture wearing bracelets generally).  I will find one eventually.  I did get him a keychain with Isaac’s footprints engraved on it.  The footprints we got from the hospital weren’t fantastic, and it looks like he only had 8 toes (he had 10 – we counted every one), but they are perfect to us.  My mother in law and sisters in law are also interested in something to remember Isaac.  I am searching for the perfect things for them.  Looking for the perfect gifts seems like such a trivial thing to be doing 3 weeks after our world caved in on us, but it’s simultaneously distracting and lets me remember my son. 

    I know I’m forgetting things we’ve been doing.  Also, not everything we do is something that others can see.  We’re trying to be better people every single day to honor our son.  He deserves the best.

Loss

Part of me hopes that if you have found this page, it is not because you have been through what my husband and I have gone through.  The other part hopes that if you have gone through something similar, this site might bring you some comfort.  I suppose I am getting ahead of myself.  On July 16, 2016, at 32 weeks pregnant, I gave birth to a son, Isaac, just 30 or so hours after being told he had passed away.  I had done things the right way.  I had exercised regularly, avoided cold cuts, eaten well, slept well – the works.  However, I had developed HELLP Syndrome, a dangerous pregnancy complication, related to the much more commonly known Preeclampsia.

To be clear, I had noticed the telltale symptoms of Preeclampsia weeks prior to our loss.  I’d learned about them in our Prepared Childbirth class. In fact, I had asked my OB at my recent appointment about my suddenly elevated blood pressure, rapidly worsening swelling and seeing spots in my vision.  This doctor, the man who delivered me 29 years ago and was supposed to be monitoring my high-risk pregnancy, told me everything was normal and ushered me out of his office.  I later discovered he didn’t even note the concerns in my chart. The symptoms continued, I developed a pain in my chest that radiated through to my back.  It was my arthritis, I told myself.  I gained 9 lbs in 3 weeks, but the doctor wasn’t concerned and he knew way more about pregnancy than this first-time momma to be.  My family and I joked about my feet, which no longer fit into any shoes but my flip flops.  I joked about my new superpower, the ability to see my own cheeks.  None of us realized how bad things had gotten.

The hospital apparently knew what was happening to me pretty soon after realizing Isaac had passed away.  Although, in an effort to keep me calm, my diagnosis was discussed behind closed doors.  I knew something was really wrong with me – they couldn’t get my veins to cooperate, I had to have my blood pressure constantly monitored, and some poor anesthesiologist had to explain to me that because my platelets were low, an epidural was out of the question.  At one point I insisted on executing a living will.  Despite an IV full of pain and anxiety medication and limited information, I knew something was dangerously wrong with me.

I have since filled in most of the gaps with the help of my husband, parents, and sisters, who all rushed to my side when they heard the terrible news.  I will save that for another time.  The sad and unavoidable truth is that 3 weeks and one day ago, we lost our baby boy.  We’d had huge hopes and dreams for our baby boy.  The nursery was well underway, the baby shower complete.  We were supposed to be on our last vacation as just a couple.  Instead, we were forced to say goodbye to a little boy we will never get to know.

If I haven’t lost you yet, congratulations.  The past three weeks have been a rollercoaster, and I expect things to continue on in an unpredictable and difficult manner.  I’d been thinking, though, that maybe our story could help other couples.  Maybe our story can help another couple identify a problem before a tragic loss, maybe it can comfort someone else who has lost a baby far too soon.  I’m going to be brutally honest on this blog.  I will tell our story in more depth.  I will share some, if not all, of the letters I have written nightly since leaving the hospital.  I will share the ways that we are grieving, the ways that we are choosing to remember the perfect baby we will never again hold.  If it doesn’t help someone else, it will at least help me.

 

IMG_0046

Our beautiful son, Isaac.

 

 

Day 19

Agust 5, 2016

Dearest Isaac,

Your Daddy went back to work today.  I missed him so much even though it was not a whole day.  I did OKAY.  I woke up, I took care of Mowgli and I even took my medicine.  TI took me 4 hours, but I eventually ate my breakfast (and lunch).  I didn’t feel like doing anything, so I watched TV.  I never realized how many TV episodes have pregnancy, birth or baby loss in them.  One episode featured the birth of twins.  I thought I was fine.  I thought that if I could watch, I’d get closer to being able to go places.  When the babies gave their first cries, I totally lost it.  I knew I was missing out on cuddling you, nurturing and loving you. I didn’t realize how much it hurt that you were silent and still when you were born nearly 3 weeks ago.  I guess it didn’t hit me because I was so out of it that night.  I don’t even remember what it felt like to push.  I just remember how you felt coming out (it was nothing compared to the contractions, though).  We were robbed of that happy moment when the baby finally comes out and cries.  At least it was peaceful, I suppose.

Your grandpa reached out to CHOP to help us find the best medical care for the future.  We ended up speaking to one of their doctors. She was nice as can be.  She can’t treat me, but she can help get us the right team. She already had someone in mind for us to contact.  She basically confirmed my suspicion that you and I didn’t have sufficient medical care.  I am so sorry I did not realize it sooner.  She did, however, put some hope back in Daddy’s and my life.  She said we CAN try again.  She also suggested that trying could commence at 4 months instead of the 6-12 months we heard previously.  It would still be risky.  Now that I have had HELLP Syndrome, there is a 1 in 4 chance it will happen again and it would likely happen earlier.  BUT if it happens, they would catch it sooner.  Things didn’t have to end that way and, hopefully, they never will again.  Mommy couldn’t bear it.

I am so broken over losing you, but now I have a spot of hope on the distant horizon.  I have to get healthy, to eat well and to exercise.  It’s what I know you would want and what must happen for the sake of your future sibling.  I will still count the days and weeks from your birth, still count down the days until your due date, until we could have taken you home.  But now I can also count the days until we can try again.  To be fair, “trying again” seems wrong.  We succeeded, the first time.  We made a wonderfully beautiful miracle named Isaac.  Nothing can ever change that.

Love you to pieces,

Mommy

Day 18

August 4, 2016

Dearest Isaac,

Daddy gave me a pleasant surprise this morning.  I remember being cuddled by Daddy in the middle of the night.  It amazes me the myriad of ways you have changed me.  For years, I have despised cuddling, but now? Now, I need that closeness.  Anyway, even in my state of semi-consciousness, I was panicked about daddy returning to work.  This morning, I woke up and rolled over, crushed that I didn’t have your Daddy to ease the wave of sadness I now wake to every morning.  So I grabbed my phone and sent him a panicky face.  As it happens, your intuitive Daddy knew I wasn’t ready to be alone yet.  He had woken up and decided he needed to stay home.  I was so epically relieved.  This does, however, mean he will be gone tomorrow.

The good news is that we did check some stuff off the to-do list.  We got Mowgli’s medicine, grabbed my mini cooper’s title, got some groceries, and even stopped to get some more embroidery floss to practice with.  Afterward, we stopped by the house I grew up in.  I didn’t make the connection until now, but I grew up on East Grand Oak Lane, a street named for its big strong oak trees.  Now, we’re planting oak trees for you.  Fitting, I suppose.  It was nice to show Daddy where I grew up.  We even r grabbed Pepper Mill cheesesteaks on the way home.

This afternoon, I practiced my embroidery.  You won’t be shocked that I am using your name for practice.  I told you I would write your name everywhere, and I plan to follow through.  I am waiting for nicer fabric to arrive for some more practice.

I have faced some harsh realizations today.  So far, since losing you three weeks (not sure how that’s possible(, I’ve had this weird sense of waiting.  It’s like I have the flu.  If I rest, hydrate and wait, eventually I’ll wake up feeling better.  With time, you forget  exactly how terrible the flu felt and life returns to normal.  That’s not going to happen this time.  No amount of time can fix this.  No amount of sleep and soup can fix you being gone.  Even a smudge on the wall from Daddy smushing a scary bug hurts me now.  I was laying right here nearly 7 months pregnant, and your daddy saved the day by getting rid of a scary bug on the ceiling.  Just seeing that smudge hurts me so badly because it reminds me that I was pregnant with you.  I miss you so much, and nothing can “fix” that.  I just want you back with every fiber of my being.  I wanted to give you the world and I never got that chance.

Love you dearly,

Mommy

Day 17

August 3, 2016

Dearest Isaac,

I still can’t believe that it’s August.  I keep finding myself mentally arranging furniture to make room for your bouncer or other accessories.  Then I remember you’re in another place where you don’t need a bouncer.  I hope it’s a better place, baby boy.  I miss you dearly.  Your magic butterflies and goldfinches were still here today.  I think all things happy and whimsical will belong to you in my mind.  Beautiful birds, butterflies, and even rainbows will belong to you.  Although, you will have to share rainbows with your great Bup Bup Sandy.

I’m writing to you with my new Isaac pen.  Your daddy and I each have one and will forever think of our love for you when we use them.  They are beautiful and have your name engraved on them.  I also love how it writes (never underestimate the impact of a great pen).

Daddy had some appointments today and I was alone at the house.   I struggled with his absence.  I am terrified about being here alone tomorrow when he goes back to work.  I even forget to eat when he isn’t here.  I panic.  I find myself doing dangerous research about what happened to us and what it means for giving you siblings.  I get myself worked up and we won’t have any answers until we start going to doctors again at the six-week mark.

I swear I do not want to replace you.  I never could and I never would.  However, I do need hope.  I do need to fill my days looking to the future.  I just don’t know what I will do if the doctor says that this hopeful future simply cannot be.  This ordeal could have taken both of us.  I’d trade myself for you in a heartbeat.  I just need this future that involves your baby sibling in our lives.

I sought help today.  Your grandma insisted on it.  It was a very hard phone call to make.  It only took five tries, but now I am going to see a bereavement next Tuesday.  I told her our story.  I know from past experience that talking helps.  Unfortunately, talking can be the hardest thing to do.  I have a lot of processing to do still.  I hope this helps.  I’ll never get over this – never get over you.  I do need to find some way forward.  However we get “forward” we will do it together.

I love you very very much, even more than I love myself.

Mommy

Day 16

August 2, 2016

Dearest Isaac,

Today Daddy and I went through the boxes that came while we were in New Hampshire.  Lots of great things came for you from people who loved you.  There was so much to love in such a tiny package.  We tucked some away for another day, but other things I had picked for your room we decided to keep out as reminders of you.  We kept and adorable bright textile from Australia.  We kept a mini globe that says “Adventure Awaits”.  I hope you are on a fantastic and dreamy adventure somewhere.

I missed you so much today.  Hardly a second went by that I didn’t think of you.  Today’s fixation was your smile.  I think I can imagine what it would have looked like.  Gosh – you were cute.  I would do anything to make you smile.  I would also do anything to hold you again one last time.  I also wish beyond anything that I had known our time together was about to end so abruptly.  I wish I could have said goodbye, or known that I needed to memorize the way your kung fu kicks felt in my belly.

Today we saw one of those things that is as close to magic as we will ever get.  It started with your Daddy convincing me to go outside with Mowgli.  Then I saw a big yellow butterfly.  No big deal – right?  But then I realized that the entire bush below was covered in perfect yellow butterflies.  I don’t know why they were there, and they were gone a few hours later, but they were so perfect in that moment.  I called your Daddy out to show him and he found a way to top the butterflies.  The trees next to our house were filled with tiny gorgeous goldfinches.  I’ve never seen anything like it – there were tiny yellow creatures flying all around us.  It had to be you.

Until that moment I felt so lost today.  Even eating felt like a chore.  It scares me.  Your Daddy has a haircut and an interview tomorrow, and I wish I could say that I will be OK tomorrow.  I just haven’t felt up to the chores of daily life.  Daddy wants your Grandma Cindy and Aunt EB to come up and keep me company and take care of me.  I don’t want them to see me so broken.  I don’t enjoy not wanting to get out of bed and not wanting to do anything.  I am embarrassed enough that your Daddy has to see me so destroyed and pathetic.   Anyways, Mommy could use an extra dose of strength from you tomorrow, baby boy.  I know that’s a bit backward.  The Mommy is supposed to be the strong one.  I promise I will be your strong Mommy again.

Love you forever,

Mommy

Day 15

August 1, 2016

Dearest Isaac,

Grief is a funny beast.  One second I feel like I see a path forward or I pause and I think I can enjoy things, the next I fall totally to pieces.  I miss you, I obsess over you and I feel like my heart and soul have been torn out.  Being back in Pennsylvania feels like torture.  Your Daddy continues to be a champion, my hero and my rock.  I know how lucky I am to have him.  He keeps reminding me that we are a family.  It just feels so broken right now.  I have told you before, but i will tell you again – I will someday fill this journal with happy stories.  I will tell you about your Daddy, your grandparents, your aunts, and uncles.  I’ll tell you about fun things we do.  Someday, I’ll tell you about your little brothers or sisters.  For now, I will vent.  I keep feeling guilty about it, but I’ve promised to always be honest with you.  To be honest, things are still too raw to write letters with any joy.

We took Mowgli to get some much-needed grooming today.  We dropped him off and went to the grocery store.  Your mommy stinks at grocery shopping.  We did get some good frozen ingredients.  We bought a freezer to fill with meals in preparation for your arrival.  I had always wanted an extra freezer.  I said I would fill it with meals for rainy days.  I do wish I had filled it sooner.  The days sure feel rainy right now.  I will fill it eventually.

After the store, we picked up Mowgli.  He is fluffy and adorable.  As I write this, he is rolling around in our bed like a big goober.

We received some news about you today.  You were a beautiful, perfectly normal baby.  In my sadness and anxiety, I had convinced myself that something was wrong with you – that perhaps I thought you were perfect just because you were my son.  I can see how someone might get blinded by love.  The doctors, however, agreed that you were perfectly normal.  There were not infections, not a hair out of place on your adorable head.  In part, I am relieved.  Yet the guilt – however unfounded – is overwhelming.  But for my body’s failure, you would have been okay.  I’ve never wanted to change something so badly in all my life.  In fact, I can’t remember wanting something so badly in life that I could not obtain with some amount of effort.  Maybe with things I wanted previously I did not put in the effort, but I always could have.  Losing Bup Bup was similar, but despite how much I loved him, it is nothing compared to this.  There is nothing I can do to bring you back.

I hope, at least, that I can be a person, a mother, you would be proud of.

I love you,

Mommy

Day 14

July 31, 2016

Dearest Isaac,

Today we went home.  Every second of it felt wrong.  I know you are with me and Daddy always, but it still felt like saying goodbye.  Bringing you home in a tiny box, containing an even tinier red velvet bag, felt so wrong.  Traffic was brutal, I cried until I was sick, and both Mowgli and Cali ended up sick.  Daddy held you in his lap the whole ride home.  It’s not a  ride in a car seat back from the hospital, but it is the best we will ever have.

This house feels like a prison of memories.  Seeing the nursery returned to a guestroom brought me to my knees.  Thank goodness your Daddy was there to catch me.  I found the package of positive pregnancy tests I had saved.  The so comforted me once, proving that you really existed.  I couldn’t believe we could be so lucky and so I proved it to myself every single morning.  I’ll never part with them – my concrete proof that this wasn’t just a terrible dream.

Daddy keeps trying to comfort me, saying there will be another baby.  While I so want a baby, there will never be another Isaac Immel.

Unfortunately, I’ve become a bit obsessed over what happened to you.  I know my body failed you, but I can’t help wondering if there was something else we missed.  Maybe your toes, while perfect to me, might not have been normal?  For all I know you were genetically perfect – I mean you were perfect and we love every millimeter of you.  I just want to know why I am not laying here cuddling you.  What did we miss?  Could we have prevented it?

The doctor in New Hampshire said we would have results in a few months.  I need answers now.  The wondering is eating me alive.

Mommy’s are supposed to be strong and I promise I am trying.  I will be better for you.  I just need more time.

Your Grandpa almost finished your signed for me today.  He sanded it down and hammered on a gorgeous copper border.  It still needs varnish, but it came out better than I imagined.  I am certainly going to make one for home.  We also got a letter from Grandpa’s friends.  They’re going to get us a pin oak for home too.  I can’t wait.  We want to have a physical place to feel close to you.  We will put a bench under it and it will be lovely.  This isn’t how it was supposed to be, but we will try to make the best of it.

Love you,

Mommy

Day 14

July 30, 2016

Dearest Isaac,

Happy two-week birthday-versary.  It seems today was our last day in New Hampshire.  I say “it seems” because I won’t believe it until Daddy has managed to drag me out of here kicking and screaming.  I know we have our physical pieces of you, but I can’t help but feel like I am leaving you behind.  We brought you here a bouncing baby in my belly, who we absolutely could not wait to meet.  We leave with a tiny (impossibly tiny) bag, broken hearts, and lonely belly.  This is the last place we were together as a family, the last place I felt you rolling around inside me.  This is the place where we lost you, the place I had to live on without you, the place I labored, and the place I delivered you with Daddy firmly by my side.  The is the place where we held you, cried for you and played “Crazy Love”, our first wedding dance song, while cherishing our final moments with you.  This is the place your Daddy worked so hard to help me heal physically and emotionally.  This is the place where I realized how strongly I could love (both you and Daddy).  This just feels like our place and I don’t want to leave it.

Home will be empty without you and lonely without my parents.  Home means life is one step closer to a new normal that I so desperately want to avoid.  Home means seeing your nursery returned to an unassuming guest room.  Home means pretending all of this didn’t happen if I want to function.  I love home – I do.  But it feels like I am leaving part of my soul in New Hampshire.

I hope you will follow me home.  Everyone says that you will, but I struggle to believe that you won’t feel a bit more distant.

On a different note, I finally carved your sign with your Grandpa’s help.  We didn’t have some of the finishing tools, so your Grandpa is going to sand, varnish and frame it for us.  It should come as no shock that your Daddy picked red paint for the lettering.

Speare Memorial Hospital is naming our room there after you.  Hopefully, we can return Columbus Day to see it.  Your Grandpa gave a beautiful toast during our chili dinner tonight.  There were a number of tears shed.  There were no jokes, just kind complimenting words.  He told us we were parents now because of you and that nothing can change that.  It is so very true.  I am so proud and honored to be your mommy, no matter the pain.

I love you so dearly,

Mommy