A friend asked me the other day if I would be ok talking about my son, Andrew. I was, at the same time, both heartbroken and delighted. Heartbroken because we lost Andrew when I was four months pregnant and delighted because every time I get to talk about him, he lives. I tried to sit down and write about the experience that evening, but I realized that it was too much. Not too much emotionally, although it is, but just too many words. There are so many things that play into our experience of loving and losing Andrew that I can’t express it one sitting. He has been on my mind even more in the last few days so I feel like I am just supposed to write about him. I’m going to talk about him often, though maybe not days in a row. I feel like it is important, both for me and for others who may have lost sweet ones and need to know they are not alone in being parents to angels.
Whether you’ve lost a child during your pregnancy or after you’ve been able to know and hold him it is still the most monumentally horrific thing that can happen to a parent. It is unnatural. It is heart wrenching and it is impossible to comprehend. I have great faith in God that He will carry me through, but I won’t pretend to have any clue as to why children die. I’m only going to touch on one part of this loss: the pain does not end. It is a hurt that is both physical and emotional. Eventually, it eases from clenching every cell in your body in excruciating torture to more of a dull ache that can stab out every now and then, but it never entirely disappears.
When Andrew died I was surrounded by love and support from my family and friends, my church family, my coworkers, and my community. People I had never met, but knew through other friends reached out in generous ways to help. One such person, who has become an incredibly dear friend to me since, had been through a similar loss and made us a tiny blanket and hat so that Andrew could have some of the same blessings as any other newborn. Her gift was waiting for me at the hospital and I cherish it still today. The nurse at the hospital took such gentle care of me that I felt guilty. She cared more for me than I cared for myself that day. She took the time to ink Andrew’s foot and hand prints and to take photos. She was painstakingly careful with his fragile little body; she treated him as though he wasn’t already gone. She touched my heart deeply even though I couldn’t really feel that until much later.
I remember being honored by everyone’s care, but for the first time in my life I could not stand to be touched. Friends and family would try to hug me in comfort and it was physically painful to me, like being stabbed with knives. I am a hugger! I love hugs. I give really good hugs, too, yet during this time I would recoil from even the people I was closest to. I couldn’t go to church. I wasn’t mad at God, I just couldn’t let anyone near me. My husband had to find a way to let people know that I could not stand the contact. He was so sweet about it and my loved ones were so respectful. Over time the physical hurt faded and I am back to being my awesome hugger self, but it took a long time.
I spent days crying and hiding from life behind sleep. I had read that sometimes mothers who had lost children before birth would dream about them being alive and holding and loving them so I took sleeping pills, trying to sleep, begging God to let me dream about my son. I was desperate for something, some way to have known him alive and warm. Some way to be able to hold him and tell him that Mama didn’t choose to send him away, to assure him that I love him with all of my heart! I wanted to tell him that God needed him more right now so I had to give him up. I was in anguish that he would think his Mama didn’t want him, didn’t love him as much as his brothers and sister. I know it is ridiculous, but not being able to ever have him hear me say I loved him still tortures me today. I was devastated that I never once dreamed about Andrew, just slept and then woke to live the same nightmare day after day. Eventually, I stopped trying to sleep. I struggled through by holding my older children a little tighter and by leaning heavily on my husband. The grip around my heart that stopped me from breathing loosened and I even laughed once in a while.
The road is very long.
I can tell you it doesn’t end. It winds and curves. It has stretches of sunshine and green trees, some rain, some storms, and every now and then, a giant chuckhole. A big, nasty bump in the road that makes me fall to my knees and feel it all again like it happened yesterday. Today I saw a video of a sweet little girl singing to her great-nana who was suffering from dementia. You Are My Sunshine, My Only Sunshine. Each of my children has a song or special saying with me and that is Andrew’s. I sang it to him in the tiny moment I was able to hold him in my hands. Now, I’m sitting here surrounded by my family who are healthy, happy, strong and here and I am sobbing into my hands for a child I never even got to feel kick inside my belly. He never took a breath. He never even saw his mama’s face.
I can’t understand why children die, but I can try to find purpose in Andrew’s death. I won’t ever even utter that there was a reason for his death, but I can honor him by loving his siblings. I can reach out to other moms who feel the same pain I do and let them know they are not alone. Keep breathing, keep loving and keep traveling your road. Enjoy the sunshine and feel the hurts when they come. Those chuckholes remind me that I have a child I love desperately with every part of my soul and someday, with great joy and I’m sure many, many tears, he will hear me say how very much I love and adore him.
Andrew Daniel Walker, 11/21/08