Saturday, July 11, 2015

William Knightley Pt. 3 - After

Written about one month after Liam was born. 

Liam was tiny and perfect. His tiny fingernails were a marvel. And as soon as I saw him I thought that he looked like he was our baby. I remember going home later and wondering if I was just imagining things because he was so tiny, and it was hard to tell, so I looked up pictures of other babies who died at Liam's age and it was immediately obvious that I wasn't imagining anything. None of those babies were ours. Liam was our baby. We made him. He had a tiny little point of a nose that looked just like Kam's, and he even seemed to have Kam's eyes, which I had always hoped he would. I thought it had to just be wishful thinking, but my mom agreed. Kam said he thought Liam had my lips, and when I look back at pictures, I think he's right. Kam also said he remembered when he first saw him he thought his arms looked kind of big, and he thought to himself, "My son is buff!" By my understanding, Liam was a little large for his gestational age, just as we were expecting, so maybe Kam had something there.

After holding Liam for as long as I could muster, I let the nurses take him to give him a bath. I was afraid I would fall asleep with him in my arms, but I didn't want to let him go. I watched the nurses as they gave Liam his bath, but their backs were turned to me, so all I saw was one moment when they were holding him face down to wash his back, and his little butt was exposed. I told Kam about that later, and I remember his eyes getting wide and excited as he said, with a hint of jealousy, "You got to see his butt?" The nurses put him in a little sleeper and gave him back to me. I could tell his face had already changed. I wish I had taken pictures of when I was first holding him, because his features were so much more defined just minutes earlier. So Kam and my mom started taking pictures on their phones, but nothing could really capture what he looked like in person. How real he was. At the same time, it was so obvious he was no longer there. I was still very tired, but I tried to hold him a little longer. Eventually, it started to sink in that he wasn't there, and the fatigue started to feel stronger. I gave him to my mom to hold, and then Kam held him before they took him to the nursery.

I slept for a little while, and by the time I woke up, I could feel my legs again. After I woke, Kam and I agreed that we didn't want to see Liam's body again in case it had deteriorated any more since we last saw him. We wanted to remember his features the way they were meant to be. A bereavement counselor went to the nursery without us and took more pictures of Liam and made hand and footprints. We were so grateful the hospital provided that for us, because we had no idea how much we would want it in the future. The counselor brought us a box with the hand prints, foot prints, and little casts of his hands and feet, as well as tiny hats and a sleeper she used in her pictures. A short time later, the hospital released us, sending us home with everything Liam touched, and a couple of extra baby blankets and hats just for good measure, including a tiny soft white blanket, that couldn't have wrapped around a baby much larger than Liam. I remember wondering how someone knew I would need a blanket as tiny as that. I still keep that blanket with me every night.

We came home around 5 pm the same day. I went straight to bed, and Kam said I fell asleep right away as he was still holding me. He said that was a relief for him to see me able to sleep so quickly. The next few days passed in a blur. My parents both stayed with us at first, and then my dad had to leave. My mom stayed a few more days and took care of our puppies for us.

I remember reading a lot of scriptures about what happens to children after they die. They were all so comforting, and every time I had a worry about where he was, and what state he was in until we got to see him, and how we would get to see him next, the answers I found were all better than I could have imagined myself. I worried about whether he was still a baby just waiting in heaven for his parents, and I found an answer that his spirit form is that of an adult, just like his spirit was in the form of an adult before he came to earth. That comforted me, knowing he wasn't helpless. But eventually, as I started asking more and more specific questions, I stopped finding answers. And that scared me. And then I found a statement that the LDS church doesn't have official doctrine on what happens to stillbirths and miscarriages, and I panicked. It was late at night, and Kam was already asleep, but I was so worried I had to wake him up. I asked him whether he knew there was no doctrine about what happens to stillborn children, and he said he did. I worried aloud that maybe Liam had never really been here. Maybe his spirit had never actually entered his body and we were imagining the whole thing. And I asked Kam how did we know he was really here? And I don't remember exactly how he said so much to me in so little words. He was so sleepy, he hardly said anything. But he wasn't worried at all. He said that we would know by the Spirit, and that we already did know. And I realized he was right.

The next day was LDS General Conference, which was a relief. Listening to uplifting talks from the comfort of my couch was exactly the type of thing I had the energy to do. I spent a lot of the first few talks wondering how I could know for sure what had happened to Liam. I wondered how the fact that Liam had never been born alive would effect his afterlife. Did that birth count, even though he wasn't alive when it happened? Or would he need to be born alive in order to satisfy some sort of law about life itself? Would he have the opportunity to be born alive later if he needed to be, or did he just miss out? And then sometime during President Uchtdorf's talk I realized how wrong my thinking was. Heavenly Father's plan for us isn't some big game with a long list of rules that you either play by or you lose. He loves each of his children and wants to be with us again, just like I want to be with Liam again. I could tell, because He had such sweet promises for all of the other children who died young. It wasn't as if Liam was any less His child because he was tiny, or because the events in his life happened backwards. I figured there were only two options. Either Liam was here, or he wasn't. If he was here, Heavenly Father was taking care of him, just like any other child who had died young, even if I didn't understand all of the details of it. And whether he was here or not, wasn't really a question. I knew what I felt when I watched Liam on that sonogram monitor and when I felt him kick inside of me. And even after he was gone, I felt him. I felt something missing from our family. When I looked at pictures of Kam and I, I knew we weren't all there. I knew we were really a family of three. There was definitely a baby there, not just a body. And Heavenly Father takes care of all of his babies.

It's still hard to realize Liam is gone. We only had him with us for such a short time. Sometimes I wish that if he had to die young, I could have at least gotten to keep him a little bit longer. Why couldn't I have held a live baby in my arms just once before he had to go? But I comfort myself by thinking that Liam never had to know anything about this fallen world. I sometimes think about those jokes people tell about twin babies in a womb wondering what life after birth will be like and realize that for Liam, it was something entirely different from what any of us has experienced. Instead of life outside the womb beginning with the pain of birth and the stress of bright lights and cold air and learning to breath for the first time, Liam's first experience outside the womb was being welcomed into paradise. And someday, when this world is ready to welcome him the same way, he'll have the opportunity to experience childhood in the cushiest and most perfect way possible. I try to think of this experience as God promising that someday I'll get to raise a baby boy in a world like that, rather than that God took my baby away. But it's not quite the right analogy, because I got more than just a promise of a little boy. I got to meet him.

I worry sometimes about what people who haven't been through this will think of me. I remember how little I understood, and how quickly I could judge a person who went through things I'd never experienced. Of course my heart ached for anyone who experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth. I knew I couldn't imagine how hard that would be. But when I heard these people talk about their miscarriages and stillborn babies as if they were real people they had known and loved and lost, I just couldn't wrap my head around it. Of course it was a terrible disappointment, but the idea of honoring your "angel baby" forever after made me uncomfortable. Maybe it's something that just hurts too much to accept unless you have to. And I wouldn't wish for anyone to have to understand that pain, so I really can't expect them to. But it's hard to know that no one else will know how real Liam was as much as Kam and I do. It's hard to imagine answering questions like "Do you have any children?" because I know that no matter what I answer, the person asking won't understand what my answer really means. I can't pretend he didn't exist, but each time I discuss him I risk seeing a look of disbelief when I call him my baby.

But I choose to share Liam's story anyway, because I want others to know there's hope through tragedy. The past couple of weeks I've spent a lot of time reading forums and blogs and articles about other women who are grieving babies lost during pregnancy, and I haven't found much comfort. In fact, some of the phrases meant to offer solace, like "new normal" and "you'll never get over it", have just left me frustrated. No, things will never go back to the way they were. And no, I will never "get over it" (because what does that even mean?). But I am happy again. Not all of the time, and even when I am happy that doesn't mean I'm not still missing Liam. But I can laugh with my husband again. And appreciate things I used to enjoy, like tulips and knitting and good food. I can play with my puppies without feeling guilty, and make jokes with friends. And I can even look at pictures of Liam with pride instead of sorrow. No, things will never go back to the way they were. I will not be pregnant with Liam again. I will not be holding him in September. And that's hard. But I also won't go back to before I was pregnant with Liam, when I was just longing to get pregnant and have a baby and wondering if it would ever happen. And I would never want to go back to that. Because this way I have a baby at all, even if I have to wait until I hold him again.

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