Every year, 26,000 babies are stillborn in America. In 2003, one of them was my son.

Monday, August 11, 2008

This Is Not a Fairy Tale

It's a bit like a fairy tale, this story of mine. Not in the "happily ever after" sense, for we all know how my story ends. It's like the original tales, by the Brothers Grimm, where the stepsisters cut off their toes to try to make the shoe fit. Mine begins, 'Once upon a time...' just as all the modern tales do; 'Once upon a time, there was a happy couple with a beautiful daughter, a beautiful home, everything they could ever wish for, except a son. Then one day, the happy couple found out they were to have a son, their perfect family, and they had nothing left to wish for, for their happily ever after was about to come true.'

Except it didn't. And in the aftermath of death, we tried to sort out 'ever after.' For no matter how stark the real stories by Grimm, Cinderella still got her man; Rapunzel, after years of wandering, found her prince; and Hansel and Gretel escaped the witch, who burned to death. The bad met their just end; the righteous prevailed. And in my story, in your story, the righteous don't prevail, though we are left trying to learn how to live with it for the rest of our lives.

I was told by someone very wise, when I asked her how I live with this unimaginable sorrow for the rest of my life, that, one day, Ben's death would become a part of me, like my blue eyes are a part of me. Something I carry with me, always, in every moment. I clung to those words, waiting for the time when that would be true, as it is for me now. But anyone can look at me and see that I have blue eyes; only those I've told can look at me and see Ben's death etched across my face.

His death has become a part of who I am, as that wise woman said, though I wish that part of me wasn't so hard to share with those who don't know. What she didn't tell me - and perhaps what she herself did not know - was that the biggest part of me, my son's death, is the biggest secret I keep. There are no conversations that include, "I'm from Pennsylvania originally, I'm home with my kids right now, been married for 12 years, and have a dead son."

And I pretend I have the fairy tale, the happily ever after. I hide the biggest part of me from all but a select few and wonder how anyone could miss seeing the hollow emptiness I carry with me always.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Happy Birthday to my little guy

I've just read Monica's post over at Still Hopeful and am thinking yet again of what might be, and of what is. Yesterday was a year since she and her husband lost Jack, and I am reminded again of the sting of anniversaries. But today marks a happy anniversary for us, James's 3rd birthday. We were expecting him on the 5th, but despite the 6 a.m. induction, he chose not to appear until 12:57 on the morning of the 6th.

I expect I will always think, on this day, no matter how old the two of us get, that if Ben had not died, there would likely be no James. Physically, time-wise, it would have been possible to have them both, born 18 months apart. Had Ben lived, it is very likely we would have an infant now, a child under the age of 1.5. My naive plan to have three children, about three years apart, might have been complete. That dream might have come true.

Today, I can't imagine having three kids - well, no, I can imagine it, but I can't somehow comprehend what life would be like. I am faced with the terrible knowledge that, if Ben had lived, James wouldn't be with us. I can't imagine life with the one, but without the other. And I could never make that choice, if I had to, although I believe that if there were no other choice but to have Ben, stillborn, or not to have him at all, I would take him as I had him.

But today is not about Ben, though he is never far from my thoughts. Today is James's day, and I can't imagine my life without him. Every day I am amazed by how much I love him, how much he lights up my world. I think he came here to make us laugh, which we all need. At three, he loves big trucks, dinosaurs, and making loud noises. He tells me he loves me, gives great "squeeze hugs," and is generally a crazy little man growing up far too quickly. He loves preschool and wearing his "packback" and carrying his lunchbox. He adores Thomas the Tank Engine and his stuffed monkey. He also adores his big sister, who he calls "Diddy." He has changed my world for the better and he is the reason I smile every day.

Happy Birthday, Little Man. I love you, more than you will ever know.