Eight years ago I was looking forward to my 28th birthday, long term boyfriend (now hubby) and I were planning a trip to Hawaii (where I incorrectly thought he'd pop the question), I was just finishing up a paid internship at the famed Dreamworks (yes it was awesome), and I was expecting to become an Aunt for the first time. Things were great.
Just one week prior to August 21, 2004 I threw my sister a baby shower for the little bundle cooking in her tummy they had named Griffin Patrick. She had been on bed rest since 20 weeks and at 34 weeks along, she was anxious and a little stir crazy. Things had not gone according to plans. The pregnancy was fraught with problems from the get go. While organizing things for her party that had to be thrown at her home due to the "bed rest" dilemma, I drove out to her home a day before the party, to clean, decorate, and get a sneak peak at the little man in utero.
Looking back there are many things I regret that week. The first being, allowing my sister to go shopping with me, even if we did things slowly. Sometimes, emotionally, I can't help but think that shopping trip to Michaels contributed to her myriad of problems. But I know that it really didn't matter, and holding onto the memory of us shopping together is what I want to choose as the overwhelming memory. The second, not getting to see Griffin in an ultrasound.
After our shopping excursion, Sissy had an appointment for an ultrasound and NST. (fetal monitoring, which she was having weekly). She was looking forward to seeing Griffin, making sure he was okay, and me getting to see him with her. I was told to wait in the hallway while they set things up and took Griffin's heartbeat. Sissy came out pretty soon after they took her back looking very upset. They had to take her into a different room and do an extended fetal monitoring test for at least an hour. There would be no ultrasound.
This did not make much sense to me, not knowing anything about anything about bearing babies, as couldn't they see and know things better by looking at an ultrasound? Instead of seeing a fuzzy picture of little hands wave at us, we sat in a tiny cold room. Sissy on a bed, hooked up to a fetal heart monitor on her belly, and her crying. Crying in my arms, saying that she would not be going home with Griffin. That they needed to take him out NOW, that she didn't think she could stand it if she had to walk out of there without a baby. Years later one thing stands out in my mind is the fact that she had a premonition, she knew and there was nothing she could do about it. Or nothing anyone at the hospital would do about it. Years later, as a mother, as a woman, I vowed to learn from that moment. Learn that ultimately I knew my body best, knew my children best, that I would know what was best and not to listen to the doctors, or anyone else, but listen to my instinct.
Why do I write about this now? Eight years have passed and I am not sure why this year has been almost as hard as the first. Almost as hard as receiving the phone call from my bereaved sister so early on the morning of August 19th. "Ginger we lost Griffin". The numbness of knowing that I was going to have to face my sister in her most vulnerable state. I would have to see the grief etched in her face and her very being. That as a family, we would have to bear a nightmare no one wants to ever endure.
It was to be my last day at Dreamworks. I remember driving to Dreamworks that morning after getting the news in order to basically throw them my key card and parking pass...telling my friend and boss that I could not stay for any exit interview, that I could not go over what was left or what I did, that I was needed elsewhere. I didn't want to have to go back there, to the place where I talked incessantly about the shower I was throwing, about the nephew I was now never going to have. Knowing that if that thought pained me, I imagined my sister having to go back to work as a teacher and explain to all her students that there was no baby.
Images still in my mind like it was that day. Arriving at the hospital to watch my sister in agony. Inducement, drugs to basically keep her incoherent. And the quiet murmuring of the nurses. And my sister apologizing to me. Telling me how sorry she was that it would ruin my vacation, that my birthday would be ruined. Her begging the nurse and doctors to make sure she had the baby before the 21st. The first time in my life I think my sister ever thought of me first, or so outwardly.
I remember the anger. Anger at the doctors for not listening to her and letting her have the baby earlier like she asked. Anger that the night doctor was not changing her from pitocin to some other drug in order to speed up the delivery, because we knew he did not want to be the one to deliver a dead baby. It was taking sooooo damn long for her to progress. Which made no sense since she had been contracting since 12 weeks.
My best friend dropping everything to be there for my family. For having the forethought to get a food tray, to make sure we were nourished. For being able to hold herself together. There is another friend, Kelly, who once asked why she was the one who had to be the experienced one when it came to things like tragedy. I don't have the answer, but my best friend was our rock, and she was able to do that because she had been one to experience the loss of her own son. I thank her today for understanding my need to call her and for forgiving me if I failed to even see how that phone call might have hurt her in so many ways. For telling me to grab my camera to document and take pictures of Griffin. Thank you Jen.
Most glaringly in my memory is the family holding their breath in the waiting room while Amy completed the task of delivering her dead son. How my Brother in Law's family and mine came together to feel like a whole family. How in tragedy and sadness we held hands and even I, the atheist, prayed with my sister's Mother in Law, because her faith was important to her. How after receiving the text from my brother in law that Griffin had been delivered, there was a large 'whooshing' sound, as a cohesive whole, we all let out the breaths we had been holding. We were able to weep at last. To go outside and let out huge sobs of grief.
To go and hold our lost family member was surreal. To see such perfection without a spark of life, to witness my brother in law tenderly handing Griffin over to my mother, his mother, to me and back into his cradle was heart wrenching. But worst of all was to watch my sister curled up in the fetal position, mourning the son she never got to see alive. To wanting to rage at the nurses for stupidly putting a latex catheter in my sister, when she had huge signs on her door that said, "LATEX sensitivity". To my friend Jen, who again, went to the nurses and told them to fix it so Sissy didn't feel any pain.
Watching my father and brother paint a happy baby's room stark white with tears running down their faces. Boxing up baby gear and carefully labeling each box. Not knowing what she'd want to keep later on.
For my parents who tried to make my birthday a happy one despite the fact that we were all numb and in mourning. For my hubby who didn't know what the heck to do but stay out of the way, to hold me as I cried myself to sleep, for later apologizing for not coming with me.
This year my Brother In Law sent out a beautiful message on Facebook in Griffin's memory. And in it he said he didn't know why this year was so hard. Much harder than the last couple. I am not sure either, but maybe it's because our girls are starting Kindergarten. Five is such a beautiful age of hope and innocence and new beginnings. Things that you imagine when you have a baby growing in your belly, things that were lost to Griffin. When a mother loses her child, she not only loses their presence but the what would have beens. Before that child is even born, she imagines the future. She imagines them holding her hand in their fat little fist, them saying "Mommy", going to kindergarten, their first curse word, getting married. From the moment you find out you are going to be a parent, the fear sits on your chest, making you breathless at times. The fear of losing.
So today, on my 36th birthday, I dropped my five year old off at Kindergarten, managed not to cry, and felt nothing but the loss of Griffin and that hope and that future that never was. I admire my sister and brother in law for their strength to endure and do it again twice more. For finding joy where there was sorrow. For honoring Griffin's memory so beautifully, while finding joy in the day of my own birth. We weep for the loss of Griffin on the 20th of August. And what I regret most is that I jokingly always said, that Griffin would be born on my birthday since we knew he'd be early. For that I am terribly terribly sorry that it never came to pass. I would have loved to share my birthday with Griffin.