I met my nephew three years ago today. Amber had been in labor more than a day. After he was born, she called to see if I’d like to come meet him. It was about 10pm, but I hopped in my car and drove the ten minutes to the hospital. I think I called a friend or two along the way to let them know what was up and ask them to pray. My stomach hurt.
This wasn’t a normal, happy birth. My sister was more than 30 weeks pregnant when a normal prenatal appointment revealed no heartbeat. She went in for induction.
When we arrived at the hospital, his daddy was holding him. My mom was there, her in-laws, the other sister who lives in town. We were in the Women’s Center, but they had her tucked away at the end of a hall to give her privacy and a little bit of space from the other laboring mamas whose babies all wailed when they finally arrived.
My nephew did not wail.
The were trying to come up with a name. Michael Ray had been discussed, then discarded because of its similarity to Miley Ray, Amber explained in a hazy, drugged voice. She hadn’t slept in a day and a half. The labor had been difficult—more difficult than I’d have imagined for a baby just shy of three pounds—and in addition to birthing a tiny human, the meds made her really sick and she was doing the harder work of grieving the loss of that same child.
“Do you want to hold him?”
He was light. Two pounds and fifteen ounces. His fingers and toes were perfect. He was perfect. But he was too cold and too limp. I wanted to give this yet-unnamed little boy all the love I could pour into him in this tiny window I was able to hold him. Well, not him. His body. We passed him around—sister, Nana, Grandma and Grandpa… eventually my dad also came, toting this sweet boy’s big sister. She was three then. “He… doesn’t look very good to me,” she said in her little Minnie Mouse voice. We all chuckled at her honesty—because of his gestational age, his mouth and tongue were super red and it did look kind of funny. A photographer came by to get the only pictures my sister would have of him.
I remember the quiet compassion of the nurses. They offered just enough support without being overbearing. I remember the kindness of Annie, the photographer, getting some images to remember him by. I remember lots of tears and some nervous laughter—it was quite a crowd in that little hospital room, and none of us knew quite how to be.
I remember after a while, my youngest sister and I sensed it was time to go. They were going to need to take him soon, and we’d been there, taking turns holding this swaddled little baby for a while. We each got in our cars. She left, I think, and I sat in my car and wailed. I cried harder than night than ever before or since.
The weight of saying goodbye to my nephew who didn’t yet have a name was possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I’m not the mama.
There’s a weird expectation around miscarriage and stillbirth and maybe death in general… The pain is supposed to fade with time. The world keeps moving, and eventually it expects you to keep up with it, but no grief of mine has been so well-behaved. It hits in waves, sometimes allowing levity when least expected, other times crushing suddenly after years.
I’m trying to figure out why I’m even writing this. Mostly, I want to mark it. His life mattered. It left a mark. I will not forget him, and I’m thankful forever that Amber let me come hold him in those hours his body was available for holding.
He didn’t stay nameless, by the way. His parents named him Elchanan, Hebrew for “God has been gracious.”
This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.