Gosh, where do I start?! Depends on the day, the hour–maybe “minute” would be more accurate. I feel like I have a rubber band ball bouncing around inside of me. I know that probably sounds silly, but it’s true. Rubber band balls begin with a core… for me, that’s made up of our experience… the second we lost Rylan. Then wrapped around that core you have all of these rubber bands that get stretched around it. Some are skinny, some are wide. They are made up of so many different colors. For me, those bands represent the hundreds of feelings that are stirring inside of me. They are all balled up in one big, chaotic bunch. If you’re someone like me than you will agree that anything can bring one of those emotions to the surface. A person, a place, a thing…it’s as quick and as simple as hitting a switch. It can often make you think you’re crazy. But rest assured, mom or dad… you are not crazy. I don’t think that any “normal” human being will ever be prepared for the difficulties that parents have to endure following the loss of their child. And, I’m not talking about the initial difficulties like saying goodbye, leaving the hospital, and arranging funeral services. I’m talking about the days that follow. The months and years that follow. I’m talking about what happens when the services are over, and people–friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors, go home. Those people, for the most part, share your loss and sadness initially and even become a part of your experience to an extent. They sympathize and try to help out as best they can but at some point, pretty quickly, they move on with their lives. I mean, I get it, they have to move forward with their lives. Each individual has their own set of responsibilities and priorities to tend to in life. They can’t very well sit beside you holding your hand and being sad forever. Plus, being around sadness and loss sucks. It’s uncomfortable. It’s a complete downer. Most people can’t even handle being involved in the initial experience. But here’s what I’m trying to get at–people like my husband and I can’t step away from the loss of our child. We are living that loss every day. We weren’t given a choice. We can’t outrun it. It will be there whether we’re at home, twenty steps from his empty crib or sunbathing far off on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And, if you’re anything like me, there are daily reminders of our loss all around us. The ironic part is that those reminders are the people, places, and objects that once made our hearts pound with excitement and joy. It’s excruciating. You can’t go anywhere or do anything without being reminded of babies, parents, or families. You watch your siblings with their children and wonder why you can’t have the same thing. That’s super difficult because you would never wish this experience on anyone else, certainly not your family. It’s just that you want what they have so badly. Advertising is the worst. Once you’ve signed up for your baby registry you can bet that your home mailbox (and email) will flood with diaper coupons and formula samples forever. The Babycenter app on your iPhone that once helped you eagerly count down the days to parenthood is now haunting your email inbox with tips for “fun with your new baby” that you’ll never need. You flip on the television and see families splattered across most commercials and almost every sitcom. If you feel that those things are harmful to your health please disconnect the cable for a month before any holiday, especially Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Better yet, just cancel it altogether–there’s always some stupid holiday to celebrate. Then there’s outdoor advertising. I’ll admit that I exceeded the speed limit (significantly) once, just to save my husband from noticing the image of a father holding his baby adhered to a local billboard. I couldn’t believe it when I drove beside a truck on the jersey expressway that featured a group of doctors standing beside a mother holding her newborn. The luck. And music. Music can be enough of a trigger on it’s own. You can flip on Pandora and hear an ad for Babies-R-Us, a local hospital maternity ward, or a new TV show about fathers. Trust me, I’ve heard them all and now pay $3.99 a month to avoid them. Don’t even think about picking up an “US Weekly” for a light-hearted read while you’re sitting under the dryer at the hair salon. Take my word for it–the words “pregnant”, “mom,” and “dad” are on every other page, usually associated with people that are less than role models. It will only raise the perpetual question that you ask yourself every day–”Why me? Why us?” Witnessing people like Snookie or Kim Kardashion wear their children like accessories is angering. But it goes beyond famous people and shameless product promotions. It can be just every day activities. You can look out your window in the neighborhood across the street and see a mom pushing her baby in a stroller or a dad biking beside his son. Going out to a restaurant can spark a range of emotions–you either boil inside at the sight of a parent ignoring their infant child or hold back the tears at the sight of a mom and dad smiling and cooing at their newborn. It’s impossible to avoid these things but you can try to limit the amount of tough experiences you encounter in one day. And, know that it’s okay to do that. Like I said before, outside of your significant other (hopefully), most people in your life have already stepped off of the sad train. They don’t feel the same way or understand your pain the way you do. Just remember that you know what is okay and healthy for you and how much you can handle. It’s okay to test the waters sometimes but don’t rush into situations that will harm your healing. If your family and friends love you they will accept your decisions. They may not understand how you feel, but they will accept it. Believe me, I’m no expert–I’m just here to share my personal feelings and experiences with you. When people ask how we’re doing I always say “hanging in there.” Grief is a gradual process with no right or wrong way, and no determined length of time for feeling better. My husband and I wake up every morning and get out of bed. I think that is a huge accomplishment. If you can do anything beyond that, than give yourself a gold star… you deserve it! I feel like my husband and I are different people than we were before. Some of the things that use to bring us joy or feel familiar feel different now–and I think that’s okay. I say, just keep trying until you find things that make you feel good or happy. If you can do it together, that’s even better. The grief counselor that we found said something I’d like to share–she said something to the effect of, “Grieving is a process that changes often, even daily. What makes you happy or feels right today may not feel the same tomorrow or next week. That’s okay.” I think that is a great insight. She also said that doing activities that use both the left and right side of your brain are good for toning down the sadness or anxiety you may feel. I think she’s right. My husband and I have tried a lot of things (even before she said that) to help us along this bumpy road. Some of the most enjoyable have been: taking an evening walk together (evening is good because less people are out and it can be very peaceful), swimming (great exercise and perfect for these hot summer days), coloring (yes, in a kids coloring book–it’s a no pressure activity, a little funny, and you end up with something nice to place in your baby’s room), seeing a movie (tip: just make sure it’s not a family movie), and mini-golf (again, evenings are great to avoid crowds–and many courses also have batting cages, which are a great way to unload your emotions). Well, that’s all I’ve got for tonight. Please come back soon…
How do you say goodbye to your child? Well, I will tell you that it’s extremely difficult when you feel like you’ve only just met. That and it felt like we had to say goodbye more than once. The first time was at the hospital and was, by far, the hardest for me. I was so afraid of that moment. I would have stayed in that hospital room forever if it meant that the three of us could’ve stayed together. But I knew that was not reality. We were lucky to have more time with Ry than most parents with stillborn babies do. And, while we had him with us we knew that his appearance was beginning to change. The time to say goodbye was growing near.
There are so many questions and decisions that need to be made when your baby is stillborn. Decisions that require near-immediate answers. Decisions that reflect the good of your child can be hard enough when you are a parent and your child is living. When your child dies, it is even harder. You don’t even have the time to process the loss of your baby, your future as a family, before you need to act. Do you want to have anyone present during the birth? Do you want to see your baby? Hold him? Do you want family to come into the room after and see or hold the baby? Do you want the professional photographer to take photos of him? Of you with your baby? How long do you want to keep him with you? How long do you plan to stay at the hospital? Should you ask anyone to visit the hospital? Then they ask you what your plan is moving forward. Did you pick a funeral home? Do you have their information? Wow. Talk about difficult. Then for the questions that followed after we left the hospital. Are you ready to go home? Do we want to stay with our parents for a few days? Should we have a wake? When? A burial or cremation? A burial. Then where? Do we want a service? Where? With who? What will he wear? Do we want to place anything else in with him? Where do the flowers come from? What should they look like? What about the words on the card that people can take at the funeral home? Should we find a nice poem? Which one? Should we play music? Do we have a pastor or priest at the wake or service? Who? What about after the service? Catered food? What kind and how much? The list goes on and on. Well, below you will find out how my husband and I answered those questions and how we made it through that first week or so.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Chris and I decided to see Rylan. To hold him. To share him with some of the special people in our lives. We took photos and so did the hospital photographer. I’m so glad to have those things now. We kept him with us for about a day and a half. Like I said before, we had a great deal of support from friends and family during our hospital stay and in preparation for the wake and service. My husband and I were terrified to leave Rylan at the hospital, and the word morgue in the same sentence as my baby’s name was horrifying. In the past few years we’ve gotten to know our friend’s brother-in-law, Bobby, through various get-togethers and events. Thank God for him. He is partial owner in a local funeral home and agreed to take care of Rylan for us, and ensured that we could have the services we wanted for him. Bobby personally came to the hospital to take Rylan so that he would never have to go to the morgue and so we wouldn’t have to leave him behind. I don’t know if my husband or I could have done it any other way. He came when we were ready. Our parents were able to hold him one last time. Then Chris and I held him together, once more. We kissed his forehead. We said, “I’ll always love you.” Then, after switching his knit hat out for another one, my husband handed him over to Bobby. I’d be lying to you if I said that was easy to do or to watch, but I will say that handing him to a good person, someone we trusted to take care of him, made it easier than it could have been. My husband and I cried and held each other once he was gone. I was so afraid to leave the hospital after that. After all, we came to the hospital knowing that we would be leaving different people. We were going to be parents, embarking on a new life as three. But we were wrong. We came as two and were going to leave as two. It was heartbreaking. My husband and I both had tears in our eyes as we waited for my dad to bring the car around to pick us up. While I waited with the kind nurse who tried comforting me during this tough transition, my husband stopped in the gift shop to pick up a (very large) stuffed animal that he’d eyed up during our stay. When he brought it over to where I was sitting he apologized for spending so much money on this big, stuffed lion. He said that is just made him feel connected to Rylan. I remember telling him that he could of bought a human being at that gift shop for a million dollars and brought them home if I knew it would make him feel better. We got into my car and my dad drove us home. I can’t thank him enough for taking the baby’s car seat out before we had to make that drive.
We made it home. We walked in the front door to a living room filled with some of the gifts from our shower. The pack-and-play and stroller that Chris and I had put together (just recently) was right there, ready to be used. Our parents stayed for a little bit to make sure that we were okay before leaving. Chris and I decided that the first thing we would do after returning home would be to visit Rylan’s room–together. I thought that his room would be the most difficult place to see in the house. It’s funny, but his room was the one place I felt at peace in the beginning. Maybe it’s because it made me feel close to him.
The whole week that followed is a blur. I remember my husband saying, “just when I think that I’ve made it through the hardest part of this experience, the next thing I have to do seems even harder.” I felt the same way. We decided to have a wake at the funeral home, open to anyone to come see us and/or pay their respects to our son. We worked with a great florist who followed our suggestions beyond our expectations. She created arrangements that were bright and colorful and incorporated child-like elements like stuffed animals, beach pails, and trucks. One thing that most people don’t know is that babies are too small for typical caskets. They are actually placed in these little white boxes. It was really hard to see that box. It was hard to know that our baby boy was in there, just that tiny. In order to make his final resting place more comfortable we had Ry wrapped in a super-soft baby blanket. We included letters we had written to him, photos of our family, and some other things that were special to us. Knowing he had those things made us feel better. We draped two yellow blankets over the small box at the wake and service. We also had two photos printed and framed by a good friend so that we could share our beautiful son with everyone. You could say that Chris and I were on autopilot those days. The wake was nice but I feel that those rituals are really for other people. It is so nice to know that people care for us and for Rylan… but it was also hard because we spent that evening on our feet for hours, consoling the people who visited. So many people have told us that were such strong individuals–but I think in these situations you just don’t have a choice. We had to keep going in order to do the best for our son and to honor him the way we had hoped. It was a way to actively be his parents.
Rylan’s service was very unique. My husband had suggested that we have it at our home. It made sense. And, it would be so nice to have him come home, even if just for an hour or so. For three days before, some of our friends and family spent time trying to get our house in order. They cleaned. They emptied out rooms. They brought food. They brought chairs. They went shopping so that I’d have something to wear. They cut grass and cleaned up the landscape. They even tried to do laundry. They bought groceries, down to table linens and plasticware. We would have never been able to pull that all together without them. It was amazing. We invited close friends and immediate family to the service. We sat in neatly-aligned fold-out chairs in our dining room and front living room. They were arranged to face two windows which opened up to my husbands beautifully-landscaped backyard. Rylan was placed at the front of the room among his flowers. My friend’s dad is a pastor and agreed to conduct the service. He did such a good job. I feel that he really helped to honor our son that day and to support us with his words. In the background you could hear our DMB lullaby CD, the one my friend had given us at the shower just a month before. It was a nice service and everyone came up to say goodbye to Rylan at the end. They filtered outside and gave us a moment alone. It was a dreary day outside with the sky giving all indications that it could rain at any moment. It was because of that fact that I felt even more special when the sun had shone in the window over Ry, just as Chris and I said our goodbye. I like to think that Rylan was saying goodbye to us at that moment, in his own way. Chris carried Rylan out to the car. Boy, that was hard to watch as a mother and wife. There are so many things that I wish I could protect my husband from having to do in his life. That is definitely one.
We got into our cars and followed like a parade to the cemetery which is very close to our home. I wish I could stop time the way we were able to stop traffic for us that day. We regrouped at Rylan’s final resting spot, under a tree and beside my sister’s grave (that story is for another time). The pastor said a few words and we took turns leaving a rose beside our son. Now for the best part of the ceremony. We wanted to do something really special for Rylan and thought that a butterfly release would be great. It was beyond great. A close friend of mine ordered the butterflies for us, including a special box of them for my husband and I to release together. We all stood in a circle and let them go. It was amazing watching them–some of them even hung around in the surrounding grass–and my favorite was one who flew up and sat on a leaf in the tree above Rylan. I felt comforted knowing that one of the butterflies would look after him once we left. Now, every time I see a butterfly, especially a monarch, I think of him. But I guess you could say that every time I breathe I think of Rylan.
After the ceremony we headed back to the house for food and drinks. Our favorite pizza place catered and gave it all to us as a gift. The owner and one of his staff even came to the wake and sent us flowers. We always felt that they were more like friends. It’s amazing to see who shows up for you in your most difficult days. We will never forget all of the things that people have done for us-and that they continue to do. I’m still trying to get my act together enough to send thank you cards. I did buy some–I guess that’s a first step.
The aches and pains during pregnancy were tough. The week that followed also took its toll. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time resting. My job has been very supportive in my taking time off for awhile, to which I’m so thankful. I feel awful that my husband was only able to stay out of work for two weeks. It really only seems like one when you factor in the first week of goodbyes. I know that I can’t stay out of work forever which is difficult. At some point I have to go back to my “normal” way of life. But I don’t feel like the person I was before Rylan died. I can’t even remember who I was before I got pregnant. I think the same goes for Chris. I feel like him and I are back at square one. That we are slowly redefining who we are as we cope with this unbelievable loss. It’s not easy. More than anything I don’t want to lose “us” in all of this… so far we’ve done a great job of leaning on each other. I think it’s so important to run toward your partner when things get difficult. I’m so glad he feels the same way.
Well, that brings us to now. In telling our story so far, I know that I’ve left out a lot of the feelings inside and a lot of experiences that have occurred between then and now. If I included those things, this post would be more of a novel than it already is. I think you’ve had enough to take in for one day. So let’s just promise to keep meeting back here… and I’ll keep sharing for you.
Hi. My name is Megan. I’m a mother. The most fulfilling job a woman can have in life, at least as far as I’m concerned. I have to tell you, though, that being a mother is not an easy job–especially when your child dies before he truly enters the world. My son, Rylan Michael, was born on May 12, 2013, but he was “sleeping,” as people commonly refer to it. He was stillborn. It has been about 40 days since the doctor looked at us and sadly, but plainly, said “I’m sorry, your son has no heartbeat. I’m sorry.” I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around the reality of what happened to my husband and I that day… to what happened to the future we had already planned for ourselves, for our family.
This is what I remember. I attended my last doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, May 7th, early in the morning. I walked in and followed the same routine that pregnant moms are accustom to– I gave a urine sample, had my weight and blood pressure checked (all normal), and was escorted to the exam room. Every week the nurse would ask if I felt my son kicking. As with my entire pregnancy I said, “Not all of the time. My son has his moments but during the day he is pretty mellow, so it’s not out of character to not feel him for lengths of time. I know he’ll tell me when he’s hungry. And he likes to move at night when my husband and I curl up on the couch or in bed.” And that was it. Nobody really had any concerns about what I told them. The doctor asked the same question and I gave the same answer. My belly was the perfect size and we listened to his (very loud) heartbeat. I’m still kicking myself for not recording it on my iPhone that day. The doctor asked if I had any issues and I mentioned the same ailments I had for the past few months. Aches and pains in my “lower regions” (which they suspected was a “split pubic bone”–yes, it is as painful as it sounds) and swelling, especially in my hands and feet. Although, I do remember telling the doctor that my feet weren’t as bad that day–in fact, they looked better than they had in months. The doctor said that I wasn’t dilated at all and that if nothing happened before my next appointment (Monday, May 13th) that they would schedule an induction at my next appointment. I called my husband when I left to give him the rundown that everything was just fine. My husband attended all of my appointments with the exception of the last two which were in a further location and closer to my job. (In hindsight, I wish I would have made the appointments at the location closer to my home, just so he would have been there to hear Rylan’s heartbeats.) Anyway, the week moved forward like any other. I went to work during the day and into the evening (my job is pretty demanding of my time) and went home to be with my husband at night. Being so uncomfortable I made my husband spend most nights watching bad TV on the couch beside me while we ate dinner. On Thursday, in bed, I remember Rylan kicking up a storm and even made Chris feel it because it was so nuts. Friday at work I tried to get things in order before I left because my heart told me that I would have my baby on Sunday–on Mother’s Day. Saturday was rainy. I remember Rylan moving when we got up in the morning and I stopped Chris from his plans (as usual) to feel my belly. I had an appointment at the hair salon. I wanted to look good for my baby–plus, I knew after he was born I probably wouldn’t go for awhile. Afterward, I came home. I helped Chris arrange some of the flowers on our patio. We had dinner. I had some work to catch up on at night and wanted to “tie up lose ends” with work before I had my baby (since I thought it would be the next day). While I was on the computer I felt really crampy and wondered if this was “it.” I didn’t know what contractions would feel like. Some say it’s pain all over your belly, but mine were more like awful menstrual cramps. After an hour, I knew that it was the beginning of labor.
I called the emergency line for the doctors office and the woman on the phone said she’d have the on-call doctor ring me. I was unsure and nervous and to be honest, the on-call doctor was less than nice on the phone and told me that I didn’t sound that far along and I should wait before going to the hospital (which I’ve always heard is pretty common). Chris and I curled up on our spare room bed and listened to music on the computer. I remember us looking at each other and sharing the excitement that our baby would be here with us soon. After awhile the pains became more intense and I asked Chris to get his bag together and take our stuff to the car. While this was happening it became much more painful. We left for the hospital and called for the doctor again. When we got to the hospital I was having trouble standing and walking. When we finally got to a room my water broke. I was attached to the machines for monitoring and the nurses listened for the heartbeat. I remember not hearing it and watching them fumble around a little. I believe the doctor followed, and again, seemed worried. I believe I asked them what was wrong, even though in my head and heart, I knew. My husband and I held hands and heard the news together. If it weren’t for the terrible pain I was physically in, I don’t know how I would have reacted. I mostly felt stunned by what the doctor told us. I felt like it was a terrible nightmare that I would wake up from… in all of the office visits, in the child prep class we took just weeks before, when you talk to tons of people who have had children… not one person mentions the possibility of your baby not surviving–certainly not when they are 2 days shy of their due date. Not that it would have made it easy, per say, but I feel like someone knocked the wind out of me–I never saw that coming. After a lot of pain, an epidural, and a little time to rest, my body was ready. With the help and reassurance of my amazing husband, I gave birth to our baby boy.
It was Mother’s Day, as I had predicted. What a bitter sweet day. We finally met our son. He was beautiful. His face was so peaceful that he really did look like he was sleeping. We got to hold him and the hospital let us keep him as long as we wanted to… it gave us time. For that, I am so thankful. Holding him felt so good. I daydream about that feeling. I will always remember how soft his skin was… I’ve noticed that a lot of babies have these little bumps on their face or arms when they’re born… Rylan did not have even one imperfection. He had the shape of his daddy’s eyes and my lips. I wish we could have seen the color of his eyes. I often wonder about them. Chris was able to hold Ry that night while he slept. I just stayed awake all night watching them. A few friends and family were able to come and meet our baby–and hold him–which was so nice. In the short time we had him physically with us, we were able to make some memories. We took photos. We took video of ourselves holding him and talking to him. My husband read a story. It wasn’t completely easy, but I’m so glad we were able to do those things and have some record of our time together. To make memories that we will hold onto for the rest of our lives.
I will leave our goodbyes for my next post, as well as the arrangements we made for the services. The goodbye was difficult but we were lucky to have so many of our friends and family involved, helping us to prepare and ensure that we could say goodbye the way we wanted–to honor our son and take care of him as best we could. To make it special.
I miss him so very much.