Today my grandson would have been nine years old. It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years. Two days after her seventeenth birthday, my daughter gave birth to her first baby – a stillborn. A horrible thing for any mother to go through, but especially a teenage girl.
She hadn’t felt the baby move in two days, and the sugary intake of orange juice didn’t wake him up. We went to the hospital, and the sonogram we saw on the huge monitor of the huge machine confirmed everyone’s worst fears. There was a baby, but no heartbeat. Everything was still and silent. No kicks, no flutters. Only stillness, and dread, and despair.
My daughter still had to go through labor. How tragic to go through the extreme pain only to be rewarded with the stillness that comes from babies who aren’t breathing; those that don’t ever gaze into your eyes and know you’re their mom. There was no excited expectation that night; only sorrow and dread for the day ahead.
When he was finally born, he weighed almost five pounds. I was the first to take him. We wrapped Matthew in a blanket, just like a living baby, and held him in the hospital all day. Rocking him, and cooing at him, and wishing he were breathing and crying. Wishing he were full of life and not death. We took pictures, and named him, and baptized him. Giving him all the honor and respect that we would have had he survived the journey of birth. Some might find this morbid, but we found it necessary.
When he wasn’t being held, his swaddled form was placed in a hospital bassinet filled with ice under the blankets. So we would be able to keep his small form there with us just a little bit longer. So that he could physically stay in our presence just a little bit more. But later that evening, it was finally time to say goodbye.
We gave the funeral home things we wanted to be buried with him. Things that would normally accompany a new baby into the crib at home; instead finding their way into a tiny casket, which would be carried into the church two days later by his parents.
He was buried in the Garden of Angels section of the cemetery, with the other babies that had gone on to be cherubs. We said poems and prayers. And we again said goodbye.
His mother had a small box filled with keepsakes, not needing them to remember, just to keep as she would if he had survived. But this would be the only thing she had left of him. That box, and her memories. For a long, long time she visited his grave every day.
The way our family understood life and death changed on that day. We then understood that as long as there wasn’t death, anything was possible. Anything was fixable. Anything could be dealt with. Anything was better than the alternative. We later survived many terrible times with the understanding that Matthew gave us. We learned a lot during that terrible weekend. And that was the weekend we started being a true family. Anything was possible; anything was fixable. As long as there was life, and not death.
Thank you, Matthew, for the gifts you brought to us that day – April 14, 2000. Happy Birthday!