“It snowed the day you were born.”
So starts the story I tell my firstborn every April 13th. She is twenty-two years old, and her eyes still light up when she hears it. I have a similar story that I share with her younger brothers. I love my kids’ birthdays – I always celebrate them with joy and near abandon.
But my youngest child, my little Nicholas, has never heard his story.
SIDS took Nicholas from me when he was four months and five days old. SIDS is what the doctors say when what they mean is, “We don’t have a fucking clue what happened to your beautiful, healthy baby. All we know is that he’s dead. We went to medical school for four years, and all we can tell you is the same thing you knew the instant you saw him in the ER. Your baby is dead. It’s from SIDS.”
Thanks to SIDS, my Nicholas never got to hear his birth story. I never got to see his eyes light up while basking in the attention of his adoring mom. I never got to hear him vying for his own story on his brothers’ or sister’s birthdays. I never got to hear him ask for anything. He was taken before he learned to talk.
But I need to tell his story. I need to remember the good things and not just the tragedy that overwhelmed my life. I want to reclaim the joy of his birth. I learned to grieve after I lost my son.
Now I want to embrace the wonder and excitement that preceded the horror.
This is for Nicholas.
I was patiently waiting for you to be ready to be born, but my midwife was anxious. Mommy has lupus, and even though it’s just the annoying skin kind of lupus, everyone was worried about you. So even though both your sister AND your brothers were born late, the midwife and doctor insisted that I have you by your due date.
Which meant I had to be induced.
The day before you were born, Mommy and Daddy went to the hospital to get started. I know how long my labors last, and once I got into the hospital, no one would give me anything to eat until after you were born. So Grandma Carolyn and Grandpa Ed met me, Daddy, Anna, Eric and Carter at the Golden Corral for dinner. After dinner, the other kids went home with Grandma and Grandpa while Daddy and I went to the hospital.
We waited an hour or so for a room, and then another three hours for the doctor to get me started on the induction. It was a long, trying night. In the morning, I was not any closer to having you. I knew you would come when you were ready, but the folks at the hospital were stubborn. The doctor gave me an epidural, broke my water and gave me some more medicine to hurry things along. Margaret, my doula, was there. Grandma Carolyn brought Anna to the hospital so that she could be there when you were born.
After a very long day of waiting, I was so happy when it was finally time to have you. You were born at ten o’clock the night of December 14. You were such a beautiful baby: pink and healthy and perfect. The nurse cleaned you up and handed you to me for the very first time. You snuggled into my arms and nursed just a little.
Then Daddy held you. Anna and Grandma Carolyn came in and held you. Everyone cooed and smiled at you, touching your little hands as you stretched and reached into the world for the very first time. The next morning, Eric and Carter came to see you. They were so excited to meet you! And when we brought you home the next day, you were just the most loved little boy that ever was.
I wish more than anything that I could tell you your story. That I had more than just a few months of happy memories of you. SiDS is a cruel mistress. That your father and I had been able to keep our marriage from falling apart. That your brothers and sister were still innocent of death and loss and grief and despair. That you were sitting here next to me right now, bugging me to use my computer to play Minecraft, or whatever it is that would have caught your interest. That you were asking for a ride to a friend’s house, because it’s almost the end of summer vacation. That I was buying you yet another pair of tennis shoes after you had outgrown the pair I just bought. But none of that gets to happen.
What did happen?
I started over after my divorce at age thirty-nine. I set up my own household, the way I saw fit. I raised your brothers and sister with love, compassion, and intention. I remarried, a man who harbored a cruelty of which I was unaware until cancer came calling. I cared for him until his death.
I live my life fully, without fear. I look at myself with honesty. I reach out with empathy to other moms who have lost a child. I know sadness and depression. I know healing and redemption. I benefit from therapy. I see genuine love and kindness from friends and the family I have made. And I am back from the brink: better, stronger, healthier, and more complete than I was before.
I would trade it all just to tell you your story.