Things could have been different

Dear Matthew,

I keep being reminded that things could have been different.

We spent Sunday morning, July 3 in the Maternity Trauma Center. Again. For concerns over decreased fetal movement. Again. It was our third trip that week, our second for concerns over decreased fetal movement. And the other time we were concerned over… Get this… Increased fetal movement. (The sideways glances we received upon expressing this particular concern were definitely amusing, to say the least.)

Lately the triage nurses have remembered us. For the worst reasons possible. We’re the couple who lost their baby almost exactly one year ago after an overnight hospital stay. Some of these nurses, I’ve discovered, took care of me. And you. And they remember you and how beautiful you were. It’s both upsetting and comforting to have reconnected with them. But mostly I’m thankful for these reunions, because these nurses are some of only a few who ever got to meet you.

On Sunday your brother started the day a bit sluggishly, moving only a few times within a two hour timeframe. So we headed to the Maternity Trauma Center. I needed some reassurance, so upon check-in I asked the nurse, “Do you have lots of people come in for concerns over decreased fetal movement?”

“Oh, definitely,” she answered.

“And most of the time, are things okay? Like once hooked up to the monitor baby starts moving?”

“Yes. That’s usually what happens!” she reassured me.

And, for a moment, I was indeed reassured, at least in regard to Jay’s well-being. And Jay did, in fact, start moving.

But this also served as a giant reminder that things could have been different.

And then Monday, July 4 played out very much the same. Again, Jay seemed a bit sluggish for a couple of hours. So we considered another visit to the Maternity Trauma Center. But first I laid in bed, on my left side, counting his movements, and he gave me just enough reassurance to stay put. So instead of heading in, I searched “decreased fetal movement” on BabyCenter and perused the forums. And I proceeded to read posts like…

“I feel reassured as long as I count six movements in two hours.”

“I only ever counted one or two movements per day, and my baby is fine.”

“My baby only ever moved in the evening.”

“One time my baby went like three days without moving, but just when I started to worry, movements picked right back up again.”

And these posts cut so deeply. Because I did way more to keep you safe. One million times more. And I still somehow failed you, or at least I feel like I did. Yet one post I read cut the deepest. It said something to the effect of…

“Ladies, I’m not posting this to scare anyone but to inform you all of the importance of paying attention to your baby’s movements. At 33 weeks my baby’s movements slowed considerably. She started missing her kick counts. After she missed several of them, I grew worried and checked into labor and delivery. They monitored her for a brief time period and later decided that, based on a few variable decelerations, she needed to come out immediately. They rushed me in for an emergency C-section, and she was born with no color. She wasn’t breathing. They worked on her for about 20 minutes, and eventually she started breathing again, and her color returned… After a couple of weeks in the NICU, we’re home, and she’s happy and healthy. We’re so lucky – we almost lost her!”

Again, things could have been different.

And I’ve been picturing “different” frequently these days…

I close my eyes and I see a happy couple. Frightened, they check into the Maternity Welcome Center. But doctors quickly locate a heartbeat and everyone’s reassured. And 20 minutes later he starts kicking and gives some good accelerations, and they’re eventually discharged, laughing at their paranoia all the way home.

Or I close my eyes, and I see things exactly as they played out. An overnight stay filled with concern and terror. A 6:00am code blue and a crash C-section…

Except she wakes up to tears of joy rather than tears of despair. Her husband hands him to her – he’s beautiful, and also kicking and screaming and pink, and alive, and she’s told, “We almost lost him. But we didn’t. Thank God.”

And after a transient NICU stay they go home. They purchase the stroller and finish the nursery. They happily document all of his milestones and firsts. He meets all of his relatives, and the holidays are filled with wonder and excitement. He eventually smiles and sits and eats solid foods and crawls and walks and talks. They see glimpses of who he might become. She’s persistently late to work, spending as much time with him as possible before daycare. They take lots and lots of photos. And, as he turns one, he’s also about to meet his little brother.

And everyone looks at their story and proclaims, “God is good – the ultimate healer! What a miracle! An answer to our prayers!”

And 20 percent of this couple believes this to be true. And 80 percent of this couple knows they just got damn lucky. But 100 percent of this couple is so, so thankful and will try never to take anything for granted, because deep down they realize that things could have been different.

But I quickly realize it’s nothing more than a daydream. Things actually are different. Or they are as is, depending on perspective. You are gone, and, although others share nearly your exact same story, by some twist of fate, they are alive, and you are not.

We never purchased the stroller, and the nursery door remains shut to this day. There are no milestones or firsts, joyful family introductions or holiday celebrations. We don’t even really know what one-year-old you would be doing, nor do we have much of any idea who you might have become. I arrive to work at 10:00am, not because I’m spending time with you, but because I’m consistently pondering whether I have the strength to face another day. There are only a few photos of you, and this is all there will ever be – enough to fill a small memory box. And although you are now a big brother, it isn’t in a way we ever could have imagined.

And most everyone’s uncomfortable. There’s avoidance and awkwardness and attempts at explanations like, “Well, we don’t know why God doesn’t answer SOME prayers…” Our world has been turned upside down – family relationships and friendships and our careers and our faith – no aspect of life remains untouched by your passing. Not only did we lose you, it seems we lost nearly everything else. And now we’re just trying our best to rebuild.

Sometimes it feels like our parallel universe, the one where you live, is so close I can touch it. It’s as though I’m a passenger in a car traveling down a highway… One year later, there’s some hope and joy again, but there’s always, always an overarching sadness too. I wistfully look out the window, and I catch a glimpse of them cruising alongside… The image takes my breath away, and I feel my heart skip a beat.

It’s the happy couple from the hospital that night. The couple for whom things were different. The near-miss couple whose baby was brought back to life by a successful resuscitation attempt. They’re moving at nearly the same speed, just feet away, with one-year-old you and little brother due in just a few weeks.

I put my hand up to the window, almost as though I’m attempting to grasp “life as it should be” for just one second. But the highway forks, and we go one way, and they go another. And tears roll gently down my face as I watch us journey farther and farther apart.

Things could have been different. And I’ll never stop wishing they were.

I love and miss you so much, my sweet baby boy.

122 thoughts on “Things could have been different

  1. I can relate to this. I lost my son at 20 weeks when my water broke and infection set in. I often wonder what life would be like if he was here. Now I have a daughter and wonder what it would be like to see her playing with her brother.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for sharing… I know your pain very personally as I also lost my son…. You are stepping into the pain. It has been 9 years and I look for him every day. I have learned how to embrace the beauty of life– you will too. The web of hope will stitch together the gapping wound of your broken heart. #puzzlepieces

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We clearly don’t know each other in person obviously,i don’t have the same experiences like you do that can make me truly understands how you feel,losing a child is really something i couldn’t imagine,one because i have none yet,two because i just can’t imagine it,so i really don’t know what to do or to say but to be honest that if i could just give you a friendly hug,just once,and let you know how a great mother you’ll be for little matthew and are for matthews brother,how strong you are and i admire you,i really do admire your strength,best of luck for you and your family and God bless you all

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This post touched me so deeply. It was honest and gives a very openhearted and clear perspective on a subject that no one dares to say out loud. …I cant imagine how difficult this second pregnancy must be for you. We will never know or understand why, and even then it wont comfort enough…because the painful reality is, there is no’s a twist in fate and nothing can ever make it right again.. I wish you love and light and blessings abundantly! ❤


  5. Its so rare when people have the ability to stir emotions with words and you did that beautiful. The uncertainty of life is what makes it unique. Life gives so many lessons to learn. Thoughts and prayers and love to you and your family..


  6. As I read your post I found myself holding my breath. My son (Matthew) went in distress in delivery. I am so grateful that he and I survived the emergency C-section and the 8 days of his NICU stay. I felt your fear and anxiety, but you had the loss. Thank you for sharing this. I know you relived every moment. You are healing as you share the story. My Matthew is 27 now with two sons of his own. I was blessed and continue to be. I send you joy and strength.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Thank you so much for sharing. I lost my son in Nov 2015 at 32 weeks and had also been concerned about kick counts. It is truly a terrible experience that I wish upon no one but thank you so much for writing about this. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  8. No words are adequate for your pain. Yet I trust that your words will help many who have the same situation. May God comfort and bless you. God’s special son was killed in young adulthood and understands your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I know what you’ve been through. I lost my first son too. He would have turned seven this year. We feel like a part of us has died too… As if we are missing and in reality we will never be the same since. I now have three kids, a five year old, a three year old and a nine month old baby. Believe me time does do wonders. After the storm, the sun always shines… You’re a very strong person. You know, it’s really easy for us to try to find blame somewhere but sometimes there could be something more that we don’t know. We just have to trust that it was for the best but never forget the life that we had, always celebrate your angel! I wish you all the best!


  10. What a beautiful post! I am a Gynaecologist and face the same distress from lots of pregnant women. What I can assure is that an expectant woman always do what is within her reach and there is not a way either her or her ObGyn could forsee complications with 100% accuracy. We can´t know it all and we can´t control it all. There is no such thing as low risk pregnancy, for a complication might occur out of the blue in as high as 15% of all pregnancy. I did have a patient with a stillborn at 37 weeks and I keep asking myself the same question of your articles name. The answer is always the same. NO. We did not fail the Babies, we just happen to be instruments of witnessing very short lives that were meant to change many others forever.


  11. I’m so sorry… I had a miscarriage last December with twins and it was devastating… I’m not 20 weeks and can’t stop worrying and wondering. My heart goes out to you, I can feel the tenor of your loss…❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m so sorry for your loss. This is a beautiful post. Our firstborn died 17 hours after she was born. We have three subsequent healthy children, all of whom are beautiful, healing, and adorable, but they cannot nor should they replace the hole in our hearts left by our sweet Sadie Rose. From one angel mama to another, hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Oh, I am so truly sorry. I know that words can never help the pain you feel. Nothing can. Nothing hurts worse than losing a child. I’ve lost too. And it doesn’t get easier. I am now pregnant again, and with complications. It’s horrifying. I am just so sorry that you have felt this pain. Much love.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I feel you. Thank you so much for writing this. I have two children and go through terrifying moments waking in the middle of the night or worrying, frightened when they’re sick that I might lose them. And, I know at some point we will separate for whatever reason so I cling and love them. But, recently, this last week, I’ve been terrified of everything, especially that I will fail them somehow, that I won’t protect them the way I should.
    We are just humans, so fragile, so vulnerable.
    And, here I am, reading your words–so fragile, so vulnerable, and there’s a humming to them, a soft love that hums.
    He hears you too.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My daughter, Audrey, lived for only one day, Christmas Day 2012. I know what it is like to leave the hospital with empty arms and a broken heart. Although I was later blessed with my Miracle Madeline, not a day goes by that I do not ache for Audrey. I can say that such a loss has made me a very grateful mom. You and Matthew are in my prayers and I wish you all the best.

    Liked by 1 person

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