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A dad’s experience of infant death: Years don’t take the pain away


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Larry Peterson - published on 09/02/16

If she had lived, this year she would have been 38. Who knows what might have been?
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Saturday is my grandson’s 12th birthday. The family will get together at Junior’s house, have a barbecue, eat cake and ice cream and watch him open presents. Everyone will “Woot! Woot!” and clap hands and a grand time will be had by all.

I expect I’ll enjoy it all immensely but there is a downside for me. I find that at every joyful family celebration, a hollowness I carry down deep in my gut exposes itself. It shows up and bites me hard, especially on birthdays for my kids or my grandkids. I have a sense of “what if” or “if only” that I have never been able to shake.

Our daughter, Theresa Mary, would have celebrated her birthday on September 6. That is the day she was born … and died. This time of year always brings her more to mind and I know Chris’ party will be a trigger.

If she had lived, this year she would have been 38. Who knows what might have been?

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She might have had children like her sister, Mary Dymphna, who is 39. Maybe Mary and her little sister would have been best friends and confidants. Their kids would have been cousins and maybe they would have been friends too, hanging out and being family together.

We would have gotten together and had a party with cake and ice cream and “Happy Birthday.” But like so many other families, instead we have empty days of birthday parties that never were.

We had been to the doctor on September 5. He had spent an inordinate amount of time listening to a “faint” heartbeat. Loretta (she passed in 2003) had felt little movement and was concerned. Dr. Butler asked her to return the following week. We all knew something was not right.

Our fears were more or less calmed during the early morning hours of September 6. I can remember this as if it were yesterday. I was lying on my right side and Loretta was snuggled up next to my back. Suddenly, it was if I had been punched in the middle of my back. We both quickly sat up. The quiet baby had kicked both me and her mom awake. It was a fabulous moment. We hugged each other and then both fell back asleep, content with the knowledge that all was well. We were wrong.

More to read: That damn box: At the time when most parents are getting the baby’s new room ready, we were meeting with a cemetery

Loretta unexpectedly went into labor at about 6 that morning. Bleeding profusely, she was rushed by ambulance to the hospital and Theresa Mary was born. She lived and died very quickly, within minutes. I had called ahead to Holy Trinity Catholic Church and, even though it was before 7 a.m. a priest not only answered the phone, he was waiting at the hospital when the ambulance pulled up. Father Murray baptized Theresa Mary. She was our child, she was real and was a gift from God.

Nothing can change the fact that she did exist. That she does exist. In God’s world there is no “time” as we know it. He lives in the Eternal Now. Theresa Mary now lives there with Him. (I like to think she is close friends with her namesake, St. Therese).

So Saturday, at Chris’ party, I will quietly whisper happy birthday to Theresa Mary. She lived but for a few moments and the world will always know it. She was buried with my parents in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. Her name is on the headstone. She is our child and part of a family. So many like her have never been given that recognition. But, make no mistake, they were all as real as Theresa Mary.

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