I must admit the name of this journal lured me in. My Empty Cradle. Yes, that is what I came home to four years ago in September after the worst experience I ever went through in my entire life. So let me take you back to where it all began.
I got married to my boyfriend at 17 years old to get away from my mother who was mentally insane. I had no friends or family, and was all alone in this world. I thought getting married and having children was something that you were supposed to do, so that's what I did. I tried getting pregnant three times between the ages of 16 and 17, and all three times I had first term miscarriages. The doctor's told me to wait a year, so I waited, tried again, and by the time I was 18 I had given birth to my first daughter. The pregnancy was text-book, except for the anxiety I faced. Every day I was crying and praying to God not to take my baby. Not that I was very religious or anything, I guess I pick and choose the times when I want to believe in God, and this time was worth praying for. When I made it to the fourth month the anxiety let up, and by the time I was in the 6th month I felt completely free of anxiety.
By the time I was 19 however, I was divorced and living alone with my daughter on welfare. I went through a bad string of boyfriends, and bounced around from place to place. I was lost, scared, and was afraid to face the world on my own. I couldn't get my act together until I was 21. I had finally found the courage to stand up on my own two feet, to not need a man. I rented a tiny apartment, got a job, and some how I was just barely making ends meet on minimum wage, supporting myself and my daughter in that apartment.
Around that time ten years ago, I met my current husband in a factory where we both were working and it was instant love. I don't think many people find the kind of love that we had. They say the honey-moon phase goes away after a while, but ours didn't. After 3 months of dating, we were living together, and after 7 months, we knew this thing we had was going to last forever, and we wanted to make a baby. Call us crazy. When we saw that positive pregnancy test, we were just beaming, excited, happy beyond belief. Our daughter was born in December of 99, and everything about that pregnancy was smooth sailing, (except for the anxiety I had due to my history of miscarriages.)
When my youngest daughter was still in diapers, I had the opportunity to go to college so I jumped on it. However in the beginning of the second semester, I found out I was pregnant. We weren't very happy about it. We were still living in that tiny 2 bedroom apartment. We knew we couldn't afford another baby, or be able to move to a bigger apartment. I would have to drop out of college, and everything about this just seemed wrong. We made the choice to have an abortion, even though I didn't really believe in them, and I knew people could regret it, I just felt it was better this way. If I did this one bad thing, it would be better for my other kids in the long run because I was working on a career which would bring us out of poverty. I won't lie, I regretted it immediately afterwards. It was probably the worst thing I ever did in my whole life and to top it off, I never even finished my last year of college. We became so poor that I was forced to go back to work instead.
A couple years later when we were doing better financially, my husband and I toyed around with the idea of having another baby. We actually tried for maybe a year, but nothing happened. Eventually we gave up the idea and went with the "if it happens, it happens" and we stopped using birth control for two years. However by the second year, my enthusiasm about having another baby was gone. Life was going good and I was content with the way things were. After two years of not getting pregnant, we were just assuming that I couldn't get pregnant anymore. Of course, that is when I became pregnant again.
I remember the day I was in the bathroom looking at the pregnancy test with my husband. We weren't happy, I wasn't jumping for joy. It was an "oh man, now what?" kind of moment. I think Bill was happy, but my dismal reaction held him back. He asked if I wanted another abortion, but I said that was not going to happen. If I was pregnant, then we were just going to have another baby. I assumed I would get used to the idea and I would love and want this baby just as much as I had loved and wanted our youngest daughter.
As the months went by however, I never found that happiness. I was incredibly moody, maybe depressed. I started to fall out of love with my husband and began to see his "inner-asshole". I'm sure that bad side of him was always there, but my love for him had blinded me to it. After all these years, I had finally lost that honey-moon phase. We ended up fighting one day when I was 6 months pregnant, (which was extremely rare for us), and I remember thinking to myself "Why am I pregnant with this asshole's baby?" I wished I wasn't pregnant. How could I make it on my own with three kids? I felt trapped and completely miserable. I think it was just my hormones that were out of control at this time, and he's generally not an asshole. It was little things, like his roadrage, or when he lost patience with the kids.... Some how these things brought him down off my pedastal and I started to feel like I didn't even love him anymore. So basically, I spent the first seven months being unhappy, and nothing could bring me out of this funk and make me want this baby. I just kept telling myself that once he was here, in my arms, everything would change and of course I would love him. What kind of mother wouldn't love her own son?
By the end of the 7th month my feelings finally started to change, but this was mainly brought about by going shopping. There was one day in particular when Bill, the two girls and I were in Target and we started looking at baby clothes. We started throwing things in the cart left and right, imagining how cute our little boy would be in this or that outfit. I picked up a pair of tiny blue teddy bear slippers that just melted my heart. I began the NESTING phase and started rearranging our apartment. By now we lived in a 4 bedroom apartment, and i changed every one's bedroom around so that the baby could have his own room. I went shopping online and collected the whole "Blue Jean Teddy" bedroom set, even the matching lamp. I spent hours online looking for the perfect bassinet. I was determined to buy everything new for this baby because I'd never had the chance to do that for the girls. I was finally happy and excited. Not just for buying things, but I finally wanted this baby and I knew everything was going to be okay, I was going to love him, and all the gloom was gone. My love for Bill had returned and everything was happy-go-lucky.
I went to a doctor's appointment when I was 32 weeks pregnant for a normal check up. (This being the first week of the 9th month) When the doctor was feeling my stomach he asked me if I usually had small babies, and I told him the girls were 6 and 7 pounds. He must have felt there was something wrong but didn't verbalize it, instead he wanted me to schedual a sonogram for the following week. I didn't feel there was anything going wrong at this point, we had a heartbeat, everything seemed to be going normal just as it had for the two girls.
The next week I headed off to the sono appointment. Bill was working second shift at the time, so he stayed home to get sleep while I went on alone. In the sonogram office, I got on the table, and the nurse had barely gotten started when she stopped, left the room, and came back in with another doctor. This was a bit odd, I thought, this had never happened before, but I told myself that maybe she just forgot something from a previous patient and maybe the doctor needed to look at the chart. The doctor didn't come right over to look at the screen, but the nurse focused in on the baby just once, really quick, and then stopped again. That's when the doctor had turned around to face me, and nurse told me to come with them. It was in this moment when I knew that something was wrong with my baby. It was a long walk through the clinic and down the stairs to what I knew to be the social worker's office. I didn't panic, but I was thinking things like, "okay, cleft pallet?"
They sat me down, three of them in the room now, and asked me if anyone was with me today. No, I was alone. They shook their heads and said they were sorry I was alone, they had some bad news to tell me, if only I wasn't alone. But the fact was that my baby had no heartbeat. There was silence. I think I was in shock, like it didn't sink in, this wasn't real. I didn't cry, I just sat there matter of fact-like for a moment. Maybe they expected me to cry instantly, but I am a brick wall at this moment. I don't cry in front of other people. So I asked "so now what? Do you do a c-section?" They said no, they wanted me to go to the hospital right away where they would induce labor. I said that I wanted to go home first, and they said I could, but the hospital would be expecting me.
So with that, I left, holding back the tears. I don't know how I managed to hold them back. I just knew I had to drive home, if I could just drive home without crying, if I could just get to Bill, then everything would be okay. It was a ten minute drive I barely remember. I just remember bursting through the front door of the apartment, tears streaming down my face, and my two girls were sitting there in the livingroom watching TV. They saw me crying and asked what was wrong and I just ran right past them, didn't even close the front door. I went into the bedroom where Bill was sleeping and I fell to my knees at the side of his bed and threw myself over him, crying my eyes out. He sat right up, "What's wrong?" And I had to tell him that his little boy was dead. Shock, disbelief, "what do you mean? are they sure? how could this be?" And we both sat there crying together, crying like you couldn't imagine, while the girls stood in the doorway probably feeling completely freaked out.
There were phone calls to make. The girls had to be brought to a sitter. We had to call the mother of the little boy I'd been babysitting to let her know not to bring him today. He had to call in sick to work and talk to his boss (who is more like a mother to him). Crying the entire time, both of us. We only dried our tears long enough to walk into the hospital and be admitted. Once we were in a room, and had been talked to by the doctor's and nurses, we cried even more. For those who want details... they had to induce labor by using something to soften my cervix, then I spent the rest of the day and all of the night hooked up to pitocin, morphine and maybe some other drug. I know they gave me an epidural and they didn't want me to feel any physical pain at all. So we spent the night crying, hugging, taking turns crying.
The doctor had to talk to us about what the baby might look like because he had died head-down, which meant his blood was probably pooled around his face. They offered to have a preist come for us, but we declined. At this point Bill, who was raised a catholic but didn't practice, had turned his back on God. How could there be a god? Why would a God do such a thing? And I was right there with him. This was a time I chose not to believe. There was no prayer that could fix this.
When little Billy was delivered the next day, I just remember the horrible twisted look on the doctor's face as the head emerged. He made some comment like "oh, how sad, oh" and he told me to stop pushing. The cord was wrapped twice around the baby's neck, so tight, it was almost in a knot the doctor said, and it had left ligature marks on the baby's neck. When the baby was out he offered to let me hold him. He was wrapped in a blanket and handed to me. That's when the doctor had a second surprise for us. The placenta was out, and the doctor told us that it was only one-third the size it should have been. As for Bill... as soon as the baby was out, in all his greif he actually struck the wall and screamed "Why God?" I think this outburst startled the doctor, maybe he was hiding his own tears. It can't be an easy thing to deliver a dead baby to two parents who show their love and emotion so openly, knowing how much they wanted this baby. The moment was just surreal as I layed there, holding my dead son. I realized he was so warm. How could he be dead if he was so warm? It was as if he should be alive, but he wasn't. I could barely stand to look at him because his face was even worse than the doctor had warned me about. The doctor said the baby looked as if he'd been gone a long time now, and when I said there was a heart beat a week ago, the doctor seemed to think that was impossible. Surely this baby had to have died before then. When was the last time I had felt the baby move? I thought I had felt the baby moving the morning of that sonogram. Obviously it was just my digestion. Obviously I couldn't tell the difference between the baby and my own bodily functions. This was a nightmare. I had to cover his face with the blanket, I couldn't stand it any longer. He was floppy, his mouth kept dropping open and there was a chunk of blood or something in his mouth. His whole body was droopy and limp. His arm twisted funny. It was too much. They took the baby away to the morgue and told me I could look at him again later if I wanted.
We were left alone for a while after that, crying, just crying, crying, crying. Nurses would pop in every now and then to see if we needed anything, and to offer their counceling. We just wanted to be left alone to cry. They brought the baby in a few hours later, only this time he was ice cold. They had dressed him in a little outfit, but over these clothes was wax paper, and over the wax paper was a hand-made baby-blue blanket. His little lips looked just like my youngest daughter's, and again, I couldn't stand to look at his face so I quickly covered him up. I told the nurse I just wanted to hold his little hand, so she pulled his hand out of the blanket and I wrapped his tiny fingers around my finger and I rubbed his fingers and cried. His tiny little hand was so perfect. It was all I could stand. I don't even remember if Bill held him. I don't think he could stand to, so I kissed his fingers and they took him away. It wasn't until months later that I regretted not looking at the rest of him. What did the rest of his body look like? Did he have all of his toes? Was he perfect in every other way? Was it only his head that was purple, wrinkled and distorted?
Later on they moved me off of the maternity floor. They didn't want me to hear the babies, I suppose. So at first they had to put me in a room with another woman who ended up having visitors. One of them was a young child who kept crying. You have no idea how this rubbed my nerves the wrong way. But once a private room opened, they moved me there so that Bill could stay with me. And again, we just took turns crying all night long. He would cry, then I would cry. That's all we did. A nurse came down that night with a blue box. In this box they had placed the little outfit they had dressed the baby in, his footprints, a tiny scrap of hair from his head, and a plaster cast of his feet imprints. They had the blue blanket in there, and some poems and stuff. There was also a little fluffy teddy bear and a gold ring. They had taken polaroid pictures of the baby with these things, and told me I could come back in a few weeks for the professional pictures. It wasn't until I had this box of stuff that I learned not only was the placenta too small, but my son had only weighed about 3 pounds. They had dressed him in preemie clothes, and even those had been too big for him. He hadn't grown because the placenta couldn't support him.
And there I was, holding a box. I had a box instead of a baby. And when they wheeled me out to my car the next day, I had that box in my lap, instead of a baby. That was such a horrible feeling, I will never forget it. I rode home with the box in my lap, walked into my apartment with that box.... and now what? Where do I put a box? I walked into little Billy's bedroom and I put that box in his empty cradle and I just cried. I couldn't even be in that room.
I took his little teddy bear slipper, squeezed it so tight, went to my bed, and I just laid there and held that slipper and cried for days. This is when the guilt set in. God was punishing me for that abortion. Maybe little Billy had felt through the womb that I didn't want him. Maybe he felt I didn't love him for all those months. I had wished I wasn't pregnant. He must have felt that. Why did I have to cover his face? What kind of mother wouldn't look at her own son's face? This was all my fault. I had felt a surging pain in my stomach last week, why didn't I go to the doctor about it? I bet I felt my own son die that day and didn't even know it. This was all my fault. This is god shitting on me, once again. I didn't deserve to have that baby. What if there is a god and we didn't have him baptized? And there's the anger. How could that horrible woman have 10 kids and sit on welfare? How dare that woman kill her children! How could that baby be left to die in the dumpster! What did we do to deserve this? I may be a bad person, but what did my husband do to deserve this?
I can't recall the next few days, I probably spent them crying in my bed. Eventually I had to face his room and I just wanted to get rid of everything! We took things back to the store if we could. I packed a storage bucket with his clothes, and his box. I completely emptied that room except for his cradle. I even put things out to the curb where other people could just take them. I quit my home-office job because I couldn't sit there and do the work anymore. We had to go to a funeral home to figure out what to do with his remains. We couldn't afford a funeral, nor did I want him to be all alone in a meaningless cemetery. We chose an urn which was plain white, a statue of a little boy angel, on his knees praying. The factory took up a collection for us, and with this money we bought the urn, had our son cremated, and then had to bring him home.
Then what? Where do you put an urn? Where would we keep our son? There was only one place for him at the moment. His empty cradle. I had to go into that room again, and put him in his cradle. And next to him I placed his little teddy bear that the hospital had given him. More crying.
We went back to the hospital to get the picture package they offered. Of course the pictures were too horrible to look at because of his face. So I scanned one onto my computer and cropped out his little folded hands that were wrapped around his teddy bear. I printed that, framed it, and made room in my china cabinet. And there today sits my son, his teddy bear, and that framed picture of his hands, in my china cabinet. I'm glad he's here in the house with us, we can visit him whenever we feel the need, look over at him, at least he's still here with us in some small way.
I sat home for two and a half years after he died. Sat and did nothing. I was depressed and didn't realize it. When my son died, something inside of me died too. I lost the ability to feel truly happy. I lost the person who I once was. I stopped cooking, cleaning, and caring. My husband started picking up the slack. He took care of the kids, he made dinner, he cleaned up, all the while I just sat around feeling miserable. I didn't want to take the kids to the park, or go to the store. Just nothing.
I cried a lot over the years. I didn't want to look at other people's babies. Little things would set me off, like the free diapers that came in the mail. The first Christmas after it happened, the first Easter, the first Thanksgiving... going any place at all... because in the back of your mind you are thinking "he'd be this old now, and he'd be here with us."
The hospital had said that it wasn't that we ever knew our baby, or had him with us to love him which makes this so hard... It is giving up your hopes and dreams of what the future would be like... the things that you had imagined while you were pregnant, like going to the beach with your baby, or pushing him in that baby swing. This was the best bit of advice I had ever heard, and it did help me through. I had to give up the things I had imagined. We never did have our baby alive in our arms, it was all about giving up the dreams we had created about our future with him. But it didn't stop the pain on the holidays, knowing that he should have been here with us, that he could have been here with us if only we had discovered his problem sooner. He could have lived. It was all about the "could have", and we had to accept that it just wasn't meant to be.
When we bought our first house a year and a half ago, we sat in the back yard a lot. We never had a yard for the last ten years from living in an apartment. And all I could think was that little Billy would be four years old now. He'd be running around this yard. Our house needs a little boy. Our cats need a little boy. I need a little boy. I wanted my Billy.
Before we bought the house, I had gone through another hormonal change. I had gone back to work, began losing weight and feeling good again. The depression had seemed to lift on it's own, except for the feeling that something inside me was still dead. It's something I feel that will never come back, maybe it's my innocence? There's a brick wall where once there was sunshine and laughter. I can still laugh and feel happy at times, it just doesn't come as easily anymore.
We hadn't used birth control since little Billy died. I thought at first that having another baby would pull me out of my funk depression and force me to be alive again. I would have to get off my ass and do things. I would want to take a new baby to the park, I would want to do the fun things that I had once done for the kids. So maybe having another baby would fix everything and make it all right. Maybe having a new baby would FIX me. For a couple years we tried. We even tried every other day one month... and nothing happened. After four years of nothing, we came to believe that I was just infertile. Last summer, my youngest daughter, now 9 years old, was begging us to make a new baby. I told her that mommy just couldn't make babies anymore. Whatever caused things to go wrong for little Billy was preventing mommy's body from making any more babies. This was just our own opinion, because I'd never gone back to a doctor since my son died.
About a month after my daughter asked us for a new baby, I realized that I hadn't had my period in a while. Maybe it was two weeks late? I had stopped keeping track of that stuff years ago. So we did a pregnancy test, two of them to be sure, and there I was sitting in the bathroom, dumbfounded and pregnant. We couldn't believe it. Should we be happy, should we be scared? And my little daughter told us at this moment that she had prayed to God for her mommy to have another baby. So we had our answer. And I would never, ever, ever again feel like I had an unwanted pregnancy. This baby was more wanted than it could know, and we were scared out of our minds!
This pregnancy brought a whole new world of issues for me. What if things went wrong again? Should we tell anyone? Should we wait to see if I miscarry before I go to the doctor? What if it was another boy, would we name him Billy? I couldn't think of any other boy name that I ever wanted. But we already had a Billy. I still had issues looking at baby things. I didn't want to buy any baby things. I avoided babies. Suddenly I found myself thinking, what if it was just Billy we wanted and missed all along, and this baby is not a replacement. This is a new baby, not Billy. I've definately had some thoughtful issues with this pregnancy, things I had never thought before.
At first there was fear about having another baby-go-wrong. So instead of waiting to see if I would miscarry, I went to the doctor right away. This was very hard to do, because I ended up back in the same clinic, in the same room where they told me Billy had died. It was a demon I had to face, and this time, Bill was right there with me. For his own part I can say, that he felt extreme guilt in not being there with me when they told me the baby was dead. He would never let me go through doctor visits alone again.
Now I am 7 weeks away from my due date, and at this point, our fear is the strongest. In the start, there was just the typical miscarriage anxiety. I started going to a high risk doctor and they monitored me very closely. They ran every test they could think of, did sono after sono, and so far the placenta is the right size, the baby is growing propperly. These things should ease our anxiety, but it doesn't. I think once you have a baby that dies, your eyes are opened to all of the things that could go wrong, because you have that fear in your heart, just knowing that things can go wrong and they do go wrong. A lot of times we just sit here feeling the baby kick, still in disbelief that we could actually be having another baby. These little kicks and movements are things we don't take for granted anymore. What if this baby did die? This could be the only time we have with this baby.
When we found out that this baby was a boy, my husband suggested that he was little Billy coming back to us. I wanted to believe that Billy's soul could come back to us, but realistically, I can't believe that. It was the first choice I had to make. No, this is a new seperate baby, and his name is not going to be Billy. No matter how much I had wanted a little Billy.... that son is gone. This baby is not going to be my first son. My first son died. This baby will be named Tommy, and Tommy had a brother Billy who didn't make it. That was one issue resolved. Billy is in heaven, not reincarnated.
Next was the baby things. This was harder to get over. I wouldn't accept gifts, or look at baby things until just this past month. Even then, when I got one of those stupid trial diapers in the mail, I didn't think of Tommy at all. I held it in my hands and started crying my eyes out over Billy. Obviously, a new baby can not take away the pain or tears from the one you lost. I still cry for Billy, and many times over the years I find myself standing in front of his urn, crying, stroking the cheek of his angel urn, touching his soft teddy bear, and telling him that I love him. I don't think this pain will ever go away, and Tommy's arrival will not change this.
My husband will say that losing Billy wasn't as bad as it could have been, because we already had children to come home to. If we had been childless, this loss would have been more devestating. I think he's right. We still had two little girls to be thankful for and this may have cushioned the emptiness that we would have otherwise felt. While I fell all apart, he was able to cling to the girls and stay strong for the whole family.
I wanted to share this with you because I've read so many things. Women who have recently lost their children to stillbirth, and some who wonder if this pain will ever go away. I wanted to express what the hospital told me about realizing that you aren't giving up a baby you knew in the living world. You are saying goodbye to your dreams and what could have been. Don't let it eat you alive, stay away from those guilty feelings because it is not your fault. You will have moments over the years when you cry for no reason. Or you will imagine the "could have been". But it does get easier over the years. You might cry when you tell your story to other people you meet, but eventually you will be able to talk about it with out crying. It took me years, but I can do that now.
As for today, I pretty much used up a whole roll of toilet paper, crying my eyes out as I wrote this, and as for tomorrow if some one were to ask me... I could say with out crying... "I gave birth to a stillborn son four years ago. I brought his urn home and placed it in his empty cradle."
I'm okay now. You will be okay too.