Bittersweet Tuesdays

It was a late Tuesday evening that I went to the hospital in labor and found out Sidney had died.  For months (and sometimes still), I would replay that last Tuesday in my mind, trying to figure out the moment that something had gone wrong, thinking about how that was the last day of my life when things were ‘normal’, when I didn’t really comprehend that babies could just die, when I took Sidney’s live birth as a given.  After he died, every week when Tuesday rolled around, I would think, I have made it one more week.

Now, 60 weeks later, Tuesdays will be used to measure something else.  Two Tuesdays ago, June 13th, I gave birth to my third son, Silas Gabriel, named in memory of Sidney and his grandmother (who died at the end of November).  Tuesdays, for the time being, will now measure how many weeks old Silas is.  And of course, that is a joyful thing.  But as I watch my precious third son, it is hard not to think about how much I have lost, how much I won’t experience with Sidney, and how many people assume that my tragedy is over, now that I have another living child.  And while I am most certainly overjoyed that Silas is here, Sidney is still dead, and that is something that will never just be ‘over.’ So many people have told Eli, “now you are a big brother” or “you’ve been a big brother for two weeks.”  Sometimes I correct them but mostly I just think in my head, “actually, you’ve been a big brother for over a year. Now you are just a big brother to a live baby.”

Pregnancy with Silas was a roller coaster of emotions that cannot easily be summed up in one blog post.  Needless to say, however, my pregnancy was very visible, which meant that people, most often strangers, were constantly asking me when I was due or if this was my first.  I usually just tried to politely end the conversation, by saying no, but some would push more, asking how many kids I had.  So I would say, well, I have a four year old at home and my son died in labor last May.  They would gasp, get sad or quiet, and either say, “well, I know this will work out.” (um, really, you do?) or proceed to tell me their life story, and how they suffered, a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy, or any number of struggles themselves.

I mostly felt like I had good medical attention from doctors, at least for this country, but it is/was hard not to think that if I had received this level of monitoring with Sidney, he would still be alive.  I had a few mild ‘problems’, such as high fluid levels towards the end of pregnancy. When asking for what might cause it, my OB (who happens to be head of MFM) said, well, he may have just peed, or he could have a birth defect….um, don’t say that to me.  of course, I went crazy with that one for a while.  And then she commented that he would be a really big baby, and would have an abnormally large stomach, so I decided that I must have late onset gestational diabetes and be slating my son for a life being predisposed to stroke, diabetes or obesity.  And of course, there was the agony over deciding how to deliver.  Did I want a c-section, which would feel more under my control, or a v-bac, which would have easier recovery for me?  How should I weigh the different risks?  V-bac was considered overall safer for me/easier except for one SMALL thing, that the risk of death to the baby was higher because of uterine rupture.  I ended up having mild contractions start on their own, and when I was 4 cm dilated, the OB decided she would induce me to speed things along, and I just went with that.  On June 13th, I arrived at the hospital at 5 am, was admitted, and put on the monitor.  I ended up getting an epidural very early compared to my pregnancies with Eli and Sidney.  It helped me feel more distant from the birth, almost like I wasn’t even in labor.  I literally felt no pain–I could feel the contractions but they were not unpleasant.  The OB would not administer more than 5 mgs (?) of pitocin, and after just a bit she lowered me down to 3, since my contractions were so strong.  At around 1, she checked on me and told me I was fully dilated and that it was time to push.  It felt surreal–in 1.5 pushes, Silas was out.  He was quiet, and barely cried, which terrified me, but the OB insured me he was alive, and placed him as quickly as she could in my arms.  His stomach was not abnormally large.  He weighed 6 lbs, 8 ozs, and did not need the 3 month clothes she told me I should bring for my ‘giant’ baby.

And now we are home.  He is breastfeeding well, and so far somewhat of an easy nature, but I still think in terms of ‘ifs’.  If he gets to be one month old, if we make it to the end of the summer, etc.  I have trouble sleeping, watching him breathe in his bassinet next to our bed.  He also spits up a lot, and I get nervous he will choke on his spit up.  I have been telling myself that SIDS becomes a lot more common once the baby is one month old, so I have two more weeks of respite.  I may end up getting one of those breathing monitors that has an alarm, even though I know that pediatricians don’t recommend them.

I have somehow distanced myself again from Sidney’s death, and am somehow back in denial.  I am not in denial about Sidney himself.  He is such a present part of our lives, and is mentioned everyday, ranging from Eli explaining to our dinner guest that we always light a candle in memory of baby Sidney, to me kissing his picture good night every evening.  But in terms of his actual death, I have had to block it out.  It is too horrifying, too traumatic, something I can’t really believe that I survived.  Once in a while, my heart stops in my chest, and I imagine my husband calling my  mom to tell her that Sidney is dead, less than a half hour after I called her to tell her we were on the way to the hospital.  I imagine her heart stopping, her reaction, but I can’t repicture or replay my reactions to learning Sidney was dead.  It is just too traumatic.  But that said, Silas’ birth does not end my longing for Sidney.  A family member wrote to me, “I just knew everything would work out.”  But actually, everything didn’t work out (not to mention that there is no way you knew that).  While I am overjoyed to have Silas, and am so in love with him already, Sidney forever changed me, and will always be a part of our family, both present and missing.  I need to figure out a way to honor him, without neglecting Silas, who I will always have new pictures of, new stories about, when I don’t have them about his older brother (who is older but also never got to be as old as Silas now is).

I love all three of my sons, and will go back to measuring time by my bittersweet Tuesdays.

Thirteen months

Dearest Sidney,

Today you would be 13 months old.  I have been thinking about how long I will write you monthly letters.  I have decided at least until you are two years old, and then who knows.  But that is how long we took monthly pictures of Eli, and how long we had planned to take monthly pictures of you.  So for now, that is how long I will write you these letters.

I miss you.  The weather is warm here, and people are spending more time outside.  Parks are full, families stroll down the streets in the evenings, pushing their children in strollers, laughing and talking, and pools are starting to open.  We filled out the registration to use our pool, listing family members.  I wanted to list you, but you aren’t here to need a pool pass (why they insist on infants/babies having pool passes actually makes little sense to me in the first place).  I want you to be here, delighting as you splash in the kiddie pool or go in the bigger pool with me or papa.

I am done teaching for the semester, and wrapping up a few projects that I am doing with some children in Baltimore schools.  In some ways, it feels like the city is falling apart.  The six year olds were telling me they had to run inside because someone had been shooting a gun outside their school.  So young, and guns are already something they are slowly getting used to.

And an eight month old was killed at a local daycare.  A worker called an ambulance and said the baby had stopped breathing.  It appeared to be SIDS.  But then they reviewed videos from the day care, and have now charged the worker with murder.  It’s horrible.  Since your death, I have heard so many tales of other babies and young children’s deaths.  I absorb them, collect them, think of them.  I am a different person than I was 13 months ago, before I really ‘knew’ that babies could die.  I am sorry that I wasn’t able to keep you alive on earth, but I keep you alive in our memories and our stories.  Eli talks about you, and we all miss you.

You will always be my dear second son.

I love you, Sidney Louis.

Love,
Mama