By Kate Suddes
Kate is the mother of three gorgeous kiddos, including that dumpling in the picture above. Kate's story of the stillbirth of her son, Paul, was originally published at cupofjo.com and includes a valuable interview on life after losing a baby.
We choose our joys and sorrows long before we experience them. —Kahlil Gibran
There are not many things I can stand to remember about that day. I can relive all the moments after he was born. But the hours before and between, 36 to be exact, feel too big to bear. Except this: I can hear the doctor say, “I can confirm there is no heartbeat,” and then I remember seeing a painting on the wall to my left. It was entitled “Mother and Son.”
Paul Thomas Hilliard was born on November 11, 2012, at 10:56pm on a cold, rainy Sunday night. He weighed six pounds, two ounces. He was beautiful. And he was gone. The Chicago Bears lost to the Houston Texans. Skyfall was the number-one movie in theaters. We were five days past the national election and I had been awake for the last two of them.
He had died the day before on November 10, 2012, sometime on Saturday morning. I was reading People magazine in bed. My cousin turned 29. I had pumpkin pie for breakfast. I often think like that now. I may be having a cup of coffee or taking a shower, but somewhere; it’s the worst moment in someone’s life.
His heart was beating and then it was not. I had two kids and then I had one. I was pregnant and then I was postpartum. There was a baby and then there was not. How do I explain that he died before he was born? How many times do I have to tell my daughter June that he’s not coming back? How many times do I have to tell myself? Now I make lists.
I fill out forms like this:
Number of pregnancies: 2
Number of live births: 1
I think in numbers:
1 out of 2
1-1 for the season
Half of my children
One alive, one dead
I keep track of people’s responses:
At least you’re not dead.
You can always have more kids.
I had a miscarriage.
Do you want to hold my baby?
You’ll figure it out.
You’ll move on.
My friend’s cousin had TWO stillborn babies.
At least you still have June.
You should eat.
You should sleep.
Certain questions are no longer straightforward. How many kids do you have? Is she your only one? Do you think you’ll have a second?
I had a dream that I walked into a room with many dead babies wrapped in blankets. He was there too and I was so happy to see him. I wanted to hold him so badly. Somehow his blanket came undone and he was covered—head to toe—in blue icing and sprinkles. You know me so well, baby Paul.
Was it all the Diet Coke I drank that summer? Is it because I wrote a short story about a stillborn baby in 9th grade? Was it the positive pregnancy test on April Fools’ Day? My fear of handling two kids? My joking about him being a neglected second child? Packing and moving four weeks before he was born? Was I overconfident about how well my first birth had gone? Did I have too much pizza? Watch too many sad movies? Eat too few vegetables? Was I ambivalent about having a son? Did he know something that I didn’t? If I write him letters, will he respond?
March 26, 2013
My body is heavy. And I’m being mean to it. Feeling sluggish, slow, and fat with grief. My tummy is full. I can’t quite figure out what’s in there. It’s not you. But you’re not out here either. I had no idea about this thing called grief. How all consuming it is. How slow and syrupy and invasive. Turning plain old regular moments into painful, sharp, little things. Out of the blue. June put drawings, make-believe cupcakes and donuts on your special table tonight. She said you needed cupcakes. Sometimes when I’m not quite asleep, not quite awake I imagine you here. What you would be doing. Sitting in a bouncy chair, squealing. Nursing. I miss nursing the most. And smelling you like a hound dog. Making out with you, newborn style. Instead I just walk around in a daze. Sometimes milk leaks. Sometimes I cry and I don’t know why.
It’s March. This is the month we made you. And it’s all coming back to me. The smell of the weather changing. The smell of clothes I’m finding from last year that remind me of being pregnant with you. I’m so used to missing you that I forget you were here. In my body. Moving around. Listening to my voice. I only ever felt you move. I never saw it from the outside of my body. I’m so sad, baby Paul. I’m so terribly, utterly sad.
I dreamt that I had a really nice talk with Gwyneth Paltrow. We met somewhere in Los Angeles. She was visiting from London and we talked about grief—the loss of her dad and the loss of my son. She was really sweet, gentle, and compassionate. She talked about how long it takes, how you feel disconnected from the real world. Or rather the real world is disconnected from you. Then she bought me a beautiful ceramic bowl.
I watch June sleep. I make sure she’s breathing. I look at her mouth and it reminds me of his. And I can’t remember which came first. Does her sleeping mouth look like his still one, or does his still one resemble hers? I read. I grocery shop. I try to pay attention to my marriage. I attempt to answer emails. I do laundry. I quit Facebook. I look at pictures. I check Twitter. I listen to the Dan Patrick Show. I watch Louis C.K. I bake. I count the days since and the days until.
April 11, 2013
Today is the 11th. The 11th comes every month. And with it, a little knot in my stomach. An avocado pit. A lemon. A key lime. Not unlike the fruits used to compare growing babies in the womb. I think about what you would be doing. How my day would inevitably be different. You would be 5 months. People keep saying things like “I hope it’s getting better” or “I hope that you’re adjusting more and more each day.” As if this were a straight line. As if the day you were born was the absolute worst and each day gets incrementally more tolerable. But I can name dozens of days that have been worse. Sometimes I’ll be doing something, anything. In a pretty emotionally neutral place. And then this deep sadness just stabs me. Somewhere in my chest. And I remember all over again that you’re gone. That I carried you all the way until your death. That your life was 9 months long and from there I birthed you out of my body. It’s not a straight line. There’s no beginning and no end. Today you would be 5 months. And then you would be 1 year. 2 years. 3, 5, 10, 16, 21, 35. When I’m crying, usually late at night, all I can think to say over and over is “I’m just so, so sad. I just want him to come back.” And Papa says, “I know. But he’s not coming back.”
Give a girl a sign,
There is one question that feels useless to me. Why? Others ask it. But why? What did they find? What went wrong? Are there medical explanations? I didn’t even know stillborn babies happen anymore? My midwife Catherine says, “He didn’t give us any warning. Like a child running out into the street.” But I was lulled into thinking he was a sure thing. Sometimes I think I can still negotiate his death. I fantasize about a time where his presence doesn’t feel absurd, audacious, cocky.
At my 20-week ultrasound we found out he was a boy. I knew it. Technology confirmed it. June was three years old. We said “June, it’s a boy. You’re going to have a brother. What do you think we should name him?” She replied, “Nice baby boy.” It feels strangely prophetic now. Like an idea or a wish. Like “maybe someday we’ll get a nice baby boy.”