Thursday, February 21, 2013

Aaron's Day

This is part two of our son's story.  It is even longer than part one, but he deserves every word and more.  I don't ever want to forget a single moment that we spent with him and wouldn't dare to leave anything out here. These words are as much for me to remember his life as they are for me to share them with you.  We thought that once he passed, we would only get to spend 10-12 hours with him before it would be time to say our goodbyes and lay him in the arms of the gentle men from the funeral home.  Instead, we were blessed with twenty-two incredible hours with our little man.  In the time span of less than one day, our lives were forever transformed and we were graced with feeling all the love that should've lasted an entire lifetime.

Aaron was placed on my chest right after he was born so that Chris and I could see him.  (Chris even got to cut the cord like he did with both of his daughters.) I don't think there is any love in the world quite like the love that a parent feels for a child.  Even when that child appears less than perfect in the eyes of the world, when you are looking down at the life you created, all you can see is beautiful.  You might register that something is different and you take note, but it is just another part of the child that you love.

He was wrapped up in a hospital blanket and was sporting one of the hospital's hats (still didn't have all of our bags in the room at this point!!) We continued to hold him while everything from labor was finished and cleaned up.  They took his measurements (16.5 inches long) and brought in a scale to weigh him - he looked so chubby that we couldn't believe he really only weighed 4lbs3oz so the nurse weighed him twice to be sure! (Unfortunately, he wasn't a candidate for any kind of organ or tissue donation, but it is a comfort to know that the transplant organization was contacted.)

Then it was time to give our little man a bath and get him ready to meet the family.  (Somewhere along the way, Chris had managed to communicate to our families about what had happened in the last hour and they were able to head for the hospital.) We didn't get to do the baths for either of the girls, but knowing that this was going to be the only bath that Aaron ever got from Mommy and Daddy made it such a special experience that I will always be grateful we got to share with him.  The nurse stepped out and we had all the time in the world to clean him off, admire his long brown hair (seriously, it was almost 3/4" long!), cover him in lotion (though I have to admit, I had forgotten how little it takes to lotion such a tiny body and he may or may not have ended up with a bit much!) and get him dressed.  He got to wear one of those impossibly tiny newborn diapers and a special "Little Brother" onesie that we have had just waiting for nearly three years to be brought out for our firstborn son.  (Since none of the ultrasounds had ever been 100% positive on gender, we decided a few days ago to pack some boy items just in case!)  We covered his little head with fresh gauze and put on one of the hats that his Mommy made for him (his Mommy can admit that while they were certainly not crochet-perfect, there was one that fit his tiny head just perfectly).  Then we swaddled him in a soft little blanket that we picked out nearly five years ago when we discovered that we were expecting Tori...we were so excited when we first found out I was pregnant that we bought an outfit and blanket for each gender.

After Aaron was all dressed, Chris headed out to find those sweet big sisters so they could meet little brother.  They came in so enthusiastically and couldn't wait to jump up on the bed with Mommy and Baby.  We explained right away that we had gotten a surprise baby brother instead of a sister and although Tori had been adamantly opposed in the past to a baby brother, she didn't seem at all troubled by the change.  The girls really didn't ask many questions, but the questions they did ask were so very very sweet.  Tori wanted to know why he was sleeping, so we explained to her again about the baby's boo-boo, how he had died and gone up to Heaven to be with God.  Abby kept pointing and asking, "Seeping? Baby seeping?"...then "Shhh.  Momma Shhh!!  Qiet! Qiet!" She may not be terribly big, but she was awfully determined that we were going to act appropriately around her new baby brother!  While it was just the five of us, a local priest came in to say a few blessings and offer his sympathies. (The nurse who had been with us through the labor was also a Catholic and called her own priest to come over for us.)

After thoroughly checking him out and discovering the new baby dolls he brought for them, Tori was ready to bring her "friends" back to meet her brother.  She was determined that Auntie Julie should be first, but we convinced her that maybe we should let Mamaw meet Aaron first.  So the girls and I walked out to the lobby to meet my Mom and bring her back.  From that point on, Tori pretty consistently introduced her brother as "Baby Karen" despite a bunch of reminders that his name was Aaron (at some point, I'm pretty sure she decided to just be silly and ignore what we had to say...because she's almost four and that's kind of what they do).  After Mom got to spend some time with her newest grandson, we let Tori choose who came next (truthfully, that way we didn't have to choose order!) and each of the aunts and uncles got to come say hello to her "Baby Karen."  Tori and Abby served as little tour guides and were delighted to get to walk through the halls to help bring everyone back to meet her baby. 

When everyone had been in to meet our son, my sister-in-law (who also did our maternity photos not so very long ago) was ready to get some absolutely precious pictures of us and our new baby.  I said it before with our maternity photos and the same is true of our newborn pictures...she did such an incredible job of showing just how much joy we all felt for this little life even among all the sorrow.  I honestly don't think I will ever be able to find words that will accurately describe just how much these photos mean to me; she took the time to send us a few tonight so I could share them with those who were eager to meet our little boy and I can already get a sense of how much I will cherish these pictures for the rest of my life.  As I type this, it has been only eight hours since he left our arms and seeing his little face pop up in my email tonight meant more to me than words can describe.  I could sit and just stare at his perfect little lips and tiny smushed-up nose for hours and having the pictures to let me do that is absolutely priceless.

By the time we finished with our visits and all of the photos, it was past 11:00pm and while the girls were clearly getting tired (Tori even climbed into the corner where we had all of our bags and sort of crashed on top of them for a few minutes), they were so well-behaved and so excited to meet their brother.  As a mother, I could not have been more proud of them and how well they have handled everything.  We got ready to say our "good nights, love yous and sweet dreams" and get our hugs, kisses, nose rubs and head-butts.  As Tori climbed up on the bed, she took my face in both of her little hands to tell me, in her most grown-up little voice, that she was very sorry but it was time for her to leave right now and she would see me tomorrow. 

After that crew headed out, we had a few hours to eat some of the OB floor's famous turkey sandwiches and drink the Coke that our nurse specially requested for us at nearly midnight (they typically have only Sprite and juices on the floor but since I had initially asked for one, she made sure to go find four of them for us).  After a little relaxing, we got a wonderful late night visit from one of my closest friends who came to meet our little boy and check in on us. 

We knew we wouldn't sleep much the rest of the night because we honestly didn't want to miss one second with him and I don't think he left our arms for more than a moment from that point on.  So we got in quite a few hours of snuggling and watching some particularly awesome late night that, I mean some "Home Improvement", "George Lopez" and a little "That 70s Show."  We did get to curl up in the bed for an hour or so to take a quick nap before breakfast though.  Shortly after that, another friend of mine came up for a visit on her way to work and dropped off an amazing keepsake pendant kit for us - turns out the timing was perfect because it had just arrived in the mail the day before!

We initially thought we would only get to spend about ten or twelve hours with Aaron and had been expecting to say our good-byes early in the morning.  As it turns out, the hospital really truly recognizes the value of the time that parents get to spend with their baby and placed absolutely no official limit on our time with him.  So we spent the morning snuggling and making all of our keepsakes (handprint impressions, our pendant kit, footprints, and a plaster mold of his tiny little fingers).

My doctor came in to check on us at about lunchtime.  She wanted to know what name we had settled on and we shared with her (because we hadn't known what we were going to name him when she left after the delivery); I had completely forgotten that her own son's name is also Aaron.  She asked how we were doing and gave us our prescription for a really really high dose of folic acid, which I will be on for the remainder of my childbearing years.  (While it isn't a guarantee that it will prevent this from happening again in the future, it would at least significantly reduce the recurrence rate.)  She gave us both hugs and asked to see us in her office in a few weeks.

We talked with the care coordinator/grief counselor shortly after that and decided that we would call her again at 3pm so she could make contact with the funeral home.  I'm not sure I would have ever really been ready for that step, but it seemed like setting a time was the best thing for us to do.  Honestly, we spent most of that time curled up in my tiny hospital bed, dripping tears on Aaron's tiny little hat while we told him all the things we thought he most needed to hear.  At 3:00pm, we called to let her know that it was okay to start the process.  We filled out the paperwork that needed done so she could call the funeral home.  She also made an extra set of tiny footprints for us and then stepped out to wait for the funeral director to arrive.

We took this time to get Aaron ready for the next step in his journey.  We gave him a fresh diaper, changed the gauze on this head, trimmed some of that long brown hair, and changed him into the outfit that we wanted him to wear.  Neither of us were particularly concerned with what babies are "supposed to wear" when you bury them, because truthfully, you just shouldn't have to bury a baby.  So we chose the outfit that we picked out so many years ago that we would've brought our first son home in...a little baseball onesie that said "Daddy's Home Run Hero" and some little red and gray pants.  We left his tiny feet bare because none of the rest of his family likes to wear why would he? We wrapped him in the blanket that I made and the blanket that my mom made and just held him tight until the funeral director arrived. 

He came in and talked to us for a few minutes, then stepped out to give us a little time.  We said a prayer together, just the three of us.  We told him for the hundredth time how much he is loved and always will be.  We covered that sweet little face in kisses.  Then we had to tell him Goodbye.  We handed him to the care coordinator who laid him in that little bassinet and then they left.

To see your child go through a door and know that you will never feel his weight again in your arms and never get to kiss his tiny little face is a feeling that I'm not sure I even want to describe.  It's an important part of the story and I don't want to leave it out, but even sitting here typing it is almost more than I can bear.  It is to feel the very physical pain of having a piece of your heart leave your body and being powerless to stop it.  Believe me, I wanted nothing more than to jump from that bed, tear him out of that little cradle and never ever let go again.  In those moments after he left, my arms felt so utterly empty.  Chris brought me the blanket that we'd had him wrapped in and it was at least some comfort, but I'm pretty sure that empty feeling is here to stay for a while.  Despite the fact that we have been trying to prepare for this for months, it is impossible to prepare for that kind of pain.

The door closed behind them and all we could do was sit and sob for a little while.  What else makes sense in that moment? Once we got calmed down again, we began to pack our things and get ready to come home.  Once again, the care coordinator was there to help us and she even 'overlooked' the rule about being discharged in a wheelchair...honestly, being wheeled off of that floor with no baby in my arms would have nearly undone me and I think she understood that.

We made it home and were greeted by our beautiful little girls, a very enthusiastic dog, a very stressed-out cat, my mother and my brother-in-law.  Tori immediately wanted to know about the baby, so we reminded her that he had gone to Heaven and didn't get to come home with us.  Thankfully she was satisfied by that and went on with whatever she was doing.  Abby saw the blanket I had held on the way home and asked "Baby in nere? Baby in nere?"  So we had to show her that it was just his blanket and told her about the baby being in Heaven too...I doubt she really grasps it, but that seemed to satisfy the matter for her.

Tori made sure to let my mom know that "Mommy and Daddy are home now, so you can go ahead and leave."  So we got the girls dressed, headed to FedEx to drop off our info for the Duke study and decided that we were all going to Applebee's for dinner.  To be sitting in a restaurant having dinner just 24 hours after giving birth and just three hours after watching your baby be wheeled away by a funeral director is an almost absurd experience, almost like a bad dream from which you hope to be awakened any minute. We didn't wake up though; instead we came home, hugged our girls tightly and put them to bed.

Chris headed to the garage to make a little wooden car to have put in the casket with his first-born son (when we were expecting an Aurora, he had been working on her music box) and I sat down here to record what has happened in our journey during these last 32 hours.

Despite the pain, despite the tears and despite that nagging empty feeling...I still know that we were blessed by the time that Aaron Michael was in our life.  I have no regrets about choosing to carry him for as long as God allowed, even though that meant the pain of having to say goodbye.  Even when the tears have fallen or the sobs escaped, I still felt an indescribable joy in the blessing of carrying such a perfect, innocent little life. He will always be our first-born son and will always be in our hearts. 


  1. Indescribable... As with any trial we face our sacrifice and suffering need not be without purpose. Your willingness to share this most intimate journey will undoubtedly touch the heart of many. Dave

  2. You are so strong! You find the beauty and joy amongst the most painful experience.
    I have been following your story and often find myself in tears and cannot imagine what you, yourself, are feeling.
    I thank you for taking us along on this journey. I think of and pray for you often.

  3. You both are mature beyond your years! Thank you for sharing with us. You have many who can't be there in person who are by your side in spirit.

  4. Such a beautiful grandson i have. I wil always love him.

    Grandpa Hoffman

  5. I started reading your blog a few days ago, and admire your strength. I am in tears reading your story. <3

  6. Omg!!!! I'm rocking my 6 month old as I was reading your beautiful story!!! I can't stop the tears even as I try. I've been at my wits end lately with my four year old and she's pushed me far past my limit. I really need this to gain perspective!! I'm truly so sorry to hear you had such a beautiful, yet painful experience. I couldn't have done it with so much grace! !! You truly are a gift from God Katie.!! Words just can't describe .... I'm just so sorry !! Thank you for sharing.

  7. Omg!!!! I'm rocking my 6 month old as I was reading your beautiful story!!! I can't stop the tears even as I try. I've been at my wits end lately with my four year old and she's pushed me far past my limit. I really need this to gain perspective!! I'm truly so sorry to hear you had such a beautiful, yet painful experience. I couldn't have done it with so much grace! !! You truly are a gift from God Katie.!! Words just can't describe .... I'm just so sorry !! Thank you for sharing.