Our time with him is over, but what he left all of us lives on.
We are on the other side.
Our tragic tale of the last 20 weeks of my wife’s pregnancy has finally ended, and a new tragic tale has begun.
As I rock our 19-month-old to sleep these days, I close my eyes and imagine I’m holding the beautiful baby boy we lost. I rock back and forth, with my eyes closed, tears streaming down, and think about what I would tell him if I had the opportunity.
I would start by letting him know how strong his mother was through every stage of our journey. From never thinking twice about continuing to carry him despite his prognosis, to the courageousness I saw in her face as we made the 30-mile trek to the hospital, to her absolutely unbelievable bravery in the face of labor and a breech delivery.
I would let him know that as she breathed through each of the piercingly painful contractions, she spoke aloud that she was gladly willing to suffer all of this for him.
I’d look down and tell him all about the time we had with him. The unexplainable emotions we experienced when the doctor laid him on my wife’s chest. The breathtaking feeling of seeing him for the first time after an entire pregnancy spent loving him, grieving over him, and mourning that we wouldn’t get to be parents to him in the ways we had envisioned.
I would share how it felt to baptize him with water from Lourdes, and how I experienced the saving power of baptism for the first time in my life as the water poured onto his head.
I would tell him how beautiful his dark hair was, how soft his chubby cheeks were, and how I find myself desperately trying to remember how it all felt, paralyzed by the fear I might forget even the smallest detail.
I would describe how for the rest of my life I will carry around the thought of every little sound he made, every attempt to clear out his throat and draw his first breath; how I rubbed his back, continuously kissed him, and cried tears inspired by a great love I didn’t even realize I was capable of; how I still desperately prayed we would receive a miracle and he would start breathing, completely healed, despite knowing in my heart it wasn’t meant to be.
I would want him to know that I stood with him as the nurse bathed him, getting him ready to meet his brothers and grandparents for the first and last time. I would want him to know that after he was clean, the nurse told us that his heart was surprisingly still beating, 45 minutes after he was born.
He was as strong and tough as he was beautiful.
I would remind him of the moment his brothers came running into the delivery room. Before his birth, they made it clear that they wanted to meet him. They loved him and prayed for him every night, and now we pray that his life will shape their lives going forward. They held him, smiled for pictures without needing to be nagged, and our three-year-old surprised us all when he asked to hold him again, one final time before they left.
My wife and I aren’t ones to hold back the truth from our kids, so I would also share with him the way things progressed. Despite the fact that the doctor said he would look like a sleeping baby for hours after his death, that didn’t end up being the case. As time passed, he looked less and less like the baby we welcomed just hours before. I would try and help him understand how it felt to dress him, and how I still cry when I think about pulling his lifeless arms through those tiny little sleeves. And while we were afraid that we would never be able to let go, there was a moment we knew he wasn’t with us any longer and only his body remained.
He had gone into the arms of Jesus and His Blessed Mother, and our time with him was over.
Less than 6 hours after he was born, we drove home in a thick silence I will never forget. There were no words that could have been said, no need for conversation.
While I would certainly tell him about all the tears, the sobbing, and the pain, I would also want him to know how many people he touched with his life. Despite the fact he only lived about one hour after birth, he accomplished more of what God asks of us than I have in all my 34 years.
He brought people who had drifted from God back to prayer, led many to have understanding and mercy for those who made a different choice than his parents, and united strangers from all over the world in a way that dramatically reminded us all of the strength of the Body of Christ.
He gave his mother and I an opportunity to feel a love like we have never felt before. The time we had with him was filled with the purest, most intense form of love we have ever been able to give, and we have been dramatically changed because of it.
All of us have.