The 3 Words I Want to Tell Every Mother Who Can't Hold Her Child

The day after delivering my son, Bennet, I was discharged to go home. In the midst of the whirlwind surrounding him, the fight to get him stable, they went through the normal procedure of releasing me from the hospital. Friends, I don’t think I can explain how excruciating that process was for me. One of the most painful, horrific experiences I have endured.

I was forced onto a wheelchair (hospital policy for newly delivered babes and mothers) and slowly wheeled out of the Labor Delivery and Recovery (LD&R) ward, onto the elevator, down the long corridor, out the front door and into the car awaiting me. The car we’d just bought to fit our family of five. The car I hated from that moment on because I was scared it wasn’t needed after all. This whole process felt so humiliating. Why are you making me go through this! Isn’t there a back door for people like me? For mothers with empty arms?  

Mothers with empty arms… I realized much later this was a part of our story I didn’t want to talk about. A part I didn’t know how to talk about.

A collage of photos of Christie, the author, next to her baby in the NICU

Mothers with empty arms. This secret, personal, intimate wound in my heart. There’s no describing it. There’s no explaining it. My husband, Joe, suffered his own pain, but he couldn’t understand this. My friends and family ached for me, cried with me, prayed for me… but this was mine. And there was no forgetting. My body didn’t allow it. The vivid memory of the baby moving fiercely in my belly just days before. My aching breasts, my cramping stomach, my swollen ankles, they made sure I knew. The slowness of my body when I was willing it to run from the parking lot at UCLA to my baby’s side, but I just couldn’t make it do what I needed it to do. Or the nurses and doctors who kept asking me if I wanted a wheelchair (please stop drawing attention to me!)… I knew.

A week ago, I had a conversation that reminded me of this secret wound. I have a vivid memory of not looking anyone in the eyes for a long time after Bennet was born. I’d accept love and affection, I’d covet prayers and support, but I couldn’t make eye contact. I was terrified to go into Trader Joe’s and have the checker (whom I was on first name basis with) ask me where my new baby was. I’d shake pulling into Target because I was so scared I’d run into someone I knew and have to make eye contact.

A collage of photos of Christie, the author, next to her baby in the NICU

And then it happened. I ran into a mother who watched me grow up alongside her son. A mother I knew very well. A mother who had endured this same type of secret pain. I didn’t know at the time. I knew her son experienced medical issues. But as she stood there and encouraged me, I realized. She saw me. She saw my secret pain. Because she had endured it once, and it was a part of her. I didn’t know about it until this moment because she didn’t share this part of her story with everyone in her life. And it was like, I knew immediately why, why I’d never heard this part of her story. It was her own secret pain. It was a gift that I ran into her that day. I needed to be seen.

So to the mother with empty arms: I see you.

The mother who had her baby snatched from her immediately after delivery because he wasn’t breathing… I see you.

The mother who sat next to me in the pumping room at UCLA, pale and shell-shocked because “something happened and they took him away” but you still didn’t have answers so you just went to the pumping room to do something useful… I see you, that was me a month before.

The mother in the same room as us who held her baby as he passed in her arms… I see you. I prayed for you. The nurses tried to protect me from witnessing you, but I did see you and I’m still impacted by you.

To the mother who’s been told her sweet babe won’t live outside the womb… I see you. I love you. I pray for you. 

Christie holding her baby in the NICU

A version of this post originally appeared on A Beautiful Window.

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