We've had to give our kids bad news before. We've had to give them hard news before. We've discussed death, and we've gone through loss with them, but never like this. Never this close. Never with this much understanding.
When we left the Women's Center after that dreadful appointment, we buckled the kids in the car, closed the door, and hugged each other, then my husband said, "When do we tell them?" We decided we'd wait until we got home. Thankfully the drive was less than five minutes, and five minutes after that we called them all to the couch in the living room, ultrasound picture in-hand, and said it the only way I could: Our baby had died. The shock in my oldest two children's faces was heart-wrenching. I tried keeping my voice strong in an attempt to be comforting- to be steady and give them assurance, but I just could not. I let the tears flow as I held my oldest who immediately began to sob, and reminded them of all the loved ones close to us who had gone to Heaven before our baby- how Uncle Gabriel, Uncle Jimmy, Great-Grandpa B., Great-Grandpa C., Great-Grandma Edith, and Baby Caleb were there waiting for him, and they would help Jesus take good care of him until we got there ourselves. We confirmed to them that he was a brother, and reminded them of the boy name we'd chosen, asking if they still liked Asher Joel for his name. They did.
My oldest, my tender-hearted 8-year-old girl clutched me and cried freely. My second, my sweet, compassionate 6-year-old big boy put his hands over his face, determined not to cry, shoved his face into the corner of the couch cushions and shook, pushing away the hands of anyone who tried to comfort him. Our almost-2-year-old watched it all, frozen in place with a terrified look on his face, taking it all in as four of the six of us cried together. Our 4-year-old got the point, but still seemed a bit confused. "If he's a girl when he's born can we call him Asher Rosie instead?" My husband and I laughed through our tears and told her he was for sure a boy, so no Rosie. She was bummed, but the brief laughter seemed to assure our toddler that we were okay, and he leaped into my arms, clutched my shirt and stared into my face for several minutes like he was trying to comprehend what was going on.
Eventually our tears died down and we dispersed to eat some lunch and make more phone calls, but much of the rest of the day was quiet, with lots of snuggle, or in the case of my oldest son, he sat in a laundry basket in the corner of the living room, hugging his knees to his chest, refusing to speak and pushing away any touch. The rest of that day and during the days to follow I tried very hard to find a balance of showing that it was okay to be sad, it was okay to cry, it was okay to talk about our feelings and about Asher, while still not being a hysterical mess and frightening the kids. There were lots of awkward conversations, like when we went out for breakfast one morning and our sweet four-year-old rushed up to the hostess and excitedly exclaimed as she had done to everyone for two months already, "Guess what! We're having a new baby! It's in my mama's belly!" But that time she immediately caught herself and followed it up with, "Oh, but he died. We'll see him in Heaven, though! We just have to finish livin' on Earth first." I felt so bad for the hostess as her eyes widened and she looked from our daughter to myself, my obviously pregnant belly, and my husband, then turned and rushed us to our table. I'm not sure how we should have responded there, but we just kind of changed the subject and said, "Oh, wow, look at the big fireplace!" I felt genuinely bad for the hostess but totally unprepared to handle the situation any other way.
Possibly the hardest conversation to have with the kids in all things was the night before Asher was born. The three big kids had gone to our pastor's home for a few hours while my husband, our toddler and I went to another appointment. This was the 'deciding the next step' appointment. We had another ultrasound, expecting to see how things had progressed, if a natural birth was likely or even starting, and what our options were if "medical completion" seemed necessary. I was still very much sick- nauseous constantly and vomiting several times during that week of waiting. It was torturous to be so sick, and I spent several mornings bent over the garbage disposal heaving while trying to make breakfast, sobbing at the cruelty of being so sick and knowing my baby was dead. The only way I had ever been able to deal with Hyperemesis in the past was by repeating to myself hourly that it meant my hormone levels were high and my baby was healthy- but how does one cope when her body is violently ill and her heart is shattered to pieces because her baby is dead? She sobs into the sink and cries out to God out the window in front of her, "Why, God? What is the point?!" That's how. When we went to our appointment I told my midwife while we waited for Joan to come in and do the ultrasound about the symptoms I was still having, and she was puzzled. It made as little sense to her as it did to me.
When Joan began the ultrasound we immediately noticed a change. Asher was still just as tiny, still did not have a heartbeat, still no blood flow through the umbillical cord, but the placenta was pumping strong, and there was a new image on the screen: a large mass had developed to the side of the placenta, and it was pushing everything out of it's way, making the once ellipse-shaped amniotic sac more of a small 'C' shape, and she immediately went to get the doctor. After his examination and a long discussion it was clear we had one option: Surgical removal of the baby and the mass, and a biopsy of both in order to figure out what was going on. The time was set for the next morning, left to get our children and immediately began making phone calls and putting plans in place.
We said nothing to the kids until that evening before bed when we called them together again on the couch. We explained that the next day they'd be going to another friends' house because I needed surgery. Again, that heart-wrenching terror overtook their faces, and we down-played the seriousness, saying my belly was sick and the doctor needed to take out what was making me sick so I could start healing and be healthy again. We just gave them a warning that after the surgery I would probably be pretty sore so they needed to be very gentle with me and help Daddy take care of their little brother who doesn't understand being so gentle yet. That seemed to calm their fears and they began talking about the friends they looked forward to playing with the next day. My husband took that as his queue that the conversation was over so he left to take a shower. I swear, as soon as the water started and the shower curtain closed the kids decided that was when the heavy conversation should start. To wrap up the conversation I asked if they had any questions. My oldest son said, "So does this mean Asher will be born tomorrow?"
"Yes," I said, "But remember, he died. He is just too-too tiny to live outside my belly so we still will not have a baby to bring home. He will be born into Heaven." My sweet tough guy immediately collapsed, threw himself across my lap and let the sobs shake his body. I held him, stroked his hair, and told him it was okay to be sad. I let my own tears fall and told him, "See? I am sad, too. I am very sad. It's okay to cry and be sad." My oldest stood beside me, her hand on my shoulder, eyes filled with tears and said, "Mama, when Asher is born will they play the cute music for them?" You see, back in November, the day we found out Asher was on his way, my husband had been hospitalized for periorbital cellulitis. While we were visiting him in the hospital one of the days we heard a sweet little lullaby play over the public address system several times, even there three floors away from maternity. When a nurse came in the kids asked her what the cute music had been about. She smiled and said, "That's the song that plays every time a baby is born here." My girl was now worried she would miss the 'cute song' being played for Asher's birth if she was at her friends' house and not at the hospital. "I don't know, honey," I responded. My brain told me it was very unlikely they would play a lullaby for a D&C procedure, but I honestly didn't know for certain. That was when my big girl began to really cry. I did my best to comfort her, and told her about reading in the bible that there are angels in Heaven who play instruments and sing songs, so even if the hospital did not play cute music for Asher's birth, he was being born into Heaven and I was sure the angels would play music for him. I held my kids and cried with them for several minutes, then when their tears subsided and they dispersed I promptly went into the bathroom where my husband was still showering and half-jokingly told him what a jerk he was for missing all the important conversations. I'm always the one who has to talk about penises, vaginas, homelessness and death. I guess that's why they call me Mama.
Part 4: That Day
Part 4: That Day