To the Mom I Didn’t Mind Making Uncomfortable at the Playground

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I truly was enjoying our conversation at the playground. It was full of all the fluff and chit-chat I’ve come to appreciate as the mom of a young child. I find that these random mom meetings are a nice way to pass the time.

Then it happened.

Unfortunately, I knew it probably would. You asked a common and seemingly innocent question: “Is she your oldest?” I knew it would have been simpler if I’d glossed over the question, and I could have answered several different ways, but I made the choice a long time ago to always answer this question honestly.

“No, she’s not my oldest. My oldest passed away shortly after birth.”

The sweet look on your face faded. A look of horror, bewilderment and sorrow blended together before you were able to recompose yourself. I know that wasn’t the answer you expected, and I hate that in a split second our nice happy conversation suddenly shifted into an awkward moment. Silence lingered for a few seconds before you managed to mumble, “I’m so very sorry,” then glanced away.

As I turn to watch my daughter, ignoring the hovering silence, I wonder what you are thinking.

Although I’ll probably never know, I’m guessing you wished you hadn’t asked that question. I know I made you uncomfortable, and while part of me wants to apologize, the other part of me is unapologetic. I’m sure that sounds mean, but I don’t mind making you uncomfortable because my son, however brief his life, was important. He matters. He was cherished and dearly loved. His life had value, meaning and made an impact on this world. His life may have been limited due to his condition, but he still had life. That life is worth talking about, even if it makes others feel uncomfortable.

Although I knew it would make you uncomfortable, I didn’t really care. You see, I don’t just answer this way for myself and for my son, but because I know that many moms bear the burden of pregnancy and infant loss silently, too afraid to make others uncomfortable. This won’t end until we start breaking the silence. Moms won’t share until they know they can do so in a way that will be comfortably accepted by others.

I don’t mind making you uncomfortable because, by mentioning my son, it also gives you the opportunity to share about the babies you might have lost, which has happened several times after sharing openly about my son. If you can overcome the sense of feeling uncomfortable, you will realize that through my openness and honesty I have created a safe place for you to share with me as well.

So next time we meet at the park and you see me sitting with my daughter playing in the sand, I hope you feel comfortable enough to talk to me again. I hope you are willing to ask me more questions, maybe even questions about my son. I’d love to share him with you. And if by chance you’re a loss momma, maybe you will feel comfortable enough to tell me about your children — all your children — even the ones you’ve lost.

bethany conkell playing with daughter in sandbox

To read more about my son, please visit Purposeful Gift.

Author’s Note (added June 15, 2015):

Dear Reader,

Due to a large amount of controversy and confusion that has occurred surrounding my article, I feel obligated to clarify a few points. First, and most importantly, please realize I never wanted to make this mother uncomfortable. That was not my goal, nor my intent in sharing about my son. I simply answered her question honestly and said that my first passed away. By answering honestly, I knew it would probably make her uncomfortable, and that is sadly what happened. When I told her my son passed, I said it very calmly, gently, and in the kindest voice I could use. I did not yell at her, shame her, say nasty comments to her, or try to make her feel bad for asking. I simply answered her question with honestly. Answering honestly is what made her uncomfortable.

Many folks stated that I should have continued the conversation to help the other mom understand and ease her discomfort. Please realize that I typically do try and continue the conversation. I typically follow up my initial statement by sharing what a blessing our son’s life has been ( even if it was short), how he became an organ donor, how proud we are of him, and how he continues to touch lives. Unfortunately, people do not always give me the opportunity to continue the conversation or share these things. Sometimes people allow their level of discomfort to end the conversation and do not give me the ability to continue sharing. I would have loved to share more with this mom! Sadly, I was not able to this time.

When I first lost my son I felt horrible when I mentioned him and saw how uncomfortable it made people. I would apologize profusely. However, I no longer apologize and I no longer mind making people uncomfortable (as I stated in the article). I have come to realize that there is a horrible stigma around infant loss that needs to be changed. I also have become confident in the fact that my son is worth talking about … even if it makes a person uncomfortable. This was the point of the article.

Some people also did not realize the entire second half of the article was the internal conversation that I had with myself. I did not actually say those things to this mother. The second half of the article shows why I believe it is important to share about my son and why I would encourage others to share about their loss as well.

Finally, I realize that not everyone in the loss community is comfortable sharing about their loss. That’s okay. I was not saying that others have to share about their loss – rather that I know many wish they could.

Thank you for reading. I hope this clarifies and helps. Hugs and prayers for the families who read this article and have experienced the loss of a child.

Bethany

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When a Man Asked If My Baby's Death Felt Like a Relief

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I was at sign language class last week, and the instructor started going around to each person, asking them if they had children. This was all without words of course. I was sitting beside my new friends with their gorgeous baby girl at the end of the circle. As he asked each person, I felt panic rising in my chest. Do I say I have a daughter? How do I indicate she has died? I didn’t know the sign for that, and all the things I could think of to indicate it were grotesque and inappropriate. I thought about the silence that would descend on the already silent class after I signed that yes I had a daughter but she was gone.

When he got to me, I shook my hand and head. No. No children. I’d promised myself I wouldn’t deny Eva, ever. But in a language where I couldn’t explain, couldn’t reassure, couldn’t sum up, I was stumped.

I thought about it all night. A week later, I’m still thinking about it.

This baby should not be denied.

The next night I met a man who worked at a pediatric cancer fundraiser. I told him about Eva, and he was asking various questions about her. Then he paused and said, “I’m going to ask you something you’ve probably been asked before.” I tensed up, ready to respond.

“When she died, did you feel relieved?”

I didn’t pause to think.

“No. No, I didn’t feel relieved.”

He nodded and smiled, and I saw pity in his face. Like I should have felt relief. Like I was under some spell that stopped me from realizing the truth. Like he knew better and I was the lovestruck mother who couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

I wanted to make him see.

“I know where that question comes from,” I started. “I think before Eva I would have thought someone in my position might have felt relieved.”

I paused. How do I convince him or anyone that her life was worthwhile in and of itself?

“She was a very happy baby,” I started and faltered.

Telling people she was happy isn’t enough. People have this idea of children with disabilities — that their happiness doesn’t shatter. It’s a myth. Children are children. Children with issues around mobility or senses or development will find some things frustrating, just like any other child. That frustration can be difficult to handle. I can imagine when Eva got older, she would have made that frustration clear to me, either physically or verbally. I’m confident it would have been difficult. Very difficult. For me and for her. This difficulty would have challenged me, but its absence doesn’t make me feel relief. When our toddlers hit us and bite us and scream at us (which they all do, condition or no condition) we might throw our hands up. We might find it difficult. We never once wish them gone permanently because of it. An afternoon off, sure! But their death would not be a relief.

Maybe I was spared of those moments, those times when Eva wasn’t a “happy baby.” Maybe I’ve been spared of a future where Eva, like many other kids with CHARGE syndrome, decided to stop sleeping at some stage of toddlerhood. I will never know what her future looked like. And that doesn’t feel like a relief. It feels like a life sentence. I can imagine what she might have done, but I will never know.

It doesn’t feel like relief to me.

I wasn’t prepared for that man’s question. I will be next time.

Trying to define her worth by saying she was a happy baby is not enough to me now. Her life had quality and an essence all its own. She was a person. She didn’t have to be happy for anyone else but herself. She didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. She showed people a lot, but that wasn’t her duty. She existed and experienced and laughed and loved. She owed no one anything. Just as I owe no one anything. And you owe no one anything.

This man’s question comes from a specific place. He works with families with sick kids. Families who may see their children suffer. His question comes from a place of seeing Eva as a baby who was suffering.

CHARGE syndrome is not an illness. It was something in Eva’s genes, just like her blue eyes and her lovely blond hair. It was in her, but it did not define her. She didn’t suffer from it, although parts of it did cause her pain and sickness.

Eva was a person who I was excited to see grow and develop in whatever way she saw fit. She would have had challenges, and I was ready and willing to help her face them. I was looking forward to trying to make the world fit her, rather than the other way round.

Eva was not my burden. So no, I don’t feel relieved.

A longer version of this post originally appeared on The One in a Million Baby.

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To the Strangers Who Tried to Save My Desperately Ill Son

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To the doctor who told me that she could fix my 11-month-old son’s reflux issue and patted my shoulder when I started crying from relief…

To the same doctor who cried with me the next day when my son was readmitted to the hospital and we didn’t know if he would survive…

To the team of doctors and nurses who tried to save my desperately ill son…

To the doctor who sadly told us there was nothing else to be done…

To the night nurse who gently rearranged Sammy on the bed so I could cuddle with him all night on his last night on Earth…

To the unit coordinators who strung beads on bracelets so our entire family could have SAMMY on our wrists…

To the person who came and took handprints and footprints of our baby boy…

To the day nurse who turned on a Christian radio station and reminded us to have hope…

To the same nurse who turned off the monitors and the medicines keeping our son alive, and wiped her own tears as she left the room so we could cuddle our baby as he left us…

You were all strangers to us, yet you showed such compassion and care. You made the worst weekend of our life the best it could have been. I don’t remember any of your names, yet I remember the love I felt as you cared for Sammy and our family.

Thank you doesn’t seem to be nearly enough, but it is all I have for you.

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The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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What I Wish Others Understood About Almost Losing a Child

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Most people dread looking at the back of the fridge, fearful of seeing some lost piece of deflated mystery food. I hate looking in the back of my fridge because sitting there is a tiny bottle of morphine. Our hospice kept it at our house to help my daughter pass away peacefully. My daughter, by some miracle, grace of God or luck, is still alive and kicking. And boy, does she kick hard! But that little villainous bottle still sits there, tucked away, as a grim reminder of how close we came. I avoid venturing too deep in the fridge for fear of seeing it accidentally. All those emotions, pain and uncertainties come rushing back the moment I lay eyes on that small prescription bottle hiding in the shadows.

My daughter graduated hospice care in March of this year. When all this started, her doctors told us to “enjoy each moment” and “treasure every memory.” Code for: “Your child is going to die.” While we did and still cherish every moment we have with our daughter, we’ve reached a level of normal. Well, our normal anyway. God, do I love our normal. I wanted normal more than anything on Earth. The routine of bedtime stories, baths and toys has replaced monitors, oxygen and daily labs. At least for now.

When you almost lose a child, you never forget that feeling. People expect you to get over it because he or she is “better now,” but a small part of you will always be stuck at the bedside of your dying child. You will always play the “what-if” and “could-have-been” games in your head. You feel cheated and angry at times, sad at others.

It’s important people understand this: Not everything is fine just because your child is doing better. There is so much grieving that happens when you have a child with a life-long disorder and that doesn’t just go away. It may get routine, it may get more bearable and it may become (your) normal, but it doesn’t get easier.

Despite this, we have to keep going forward, even if we know the future may not be everything we expected. In the midst of those scariest moments, I didn’t think we would be where we are today. I have no idea what the future will bring and that is OK. We’ll roll with the punches.

I’m getting rid of that little bottle in the back of the fridge. I need to let it go. I need it gone. We all have our own reminders of those uncertain times. I hope many of you can clean your fridges out too, when you’re ready.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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The Most Heartbreaking Decision a Parent Could Make

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On November 5, 2013, one little embryo was transferred via IVF to Heather Bramham. It was a success, and Asha was born. Abby and Alex were the proudest siblings a little girl could have.

But on November 5, 2014, a year to the day she was placed in her mother’s womb, Asha Bramham grew her angel wings while in her parents’ arms at Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane. She was 20 weeks old.

This is a story of biliary atresia, and the impact on one family. Biliary atresia is congenital (present before birth) and affects one out of every 15,000 to 20,000 infants across the world every year. It’s a life-threatening condition in infants, where the bile ducts inside or outside of the liver become blocked, trapping bile in the liver.

As well as biliary atresia, Asha had other contributing factors to her health issues. An additional 21st chromosome attached to one in five of her cells (Mosaic Trisomy 21), partial situs inversus (some organs not on the sides they typically present on), and a congenital heart condition.

Liver disease has a devastating affect on a child and the family, and early intervention is crucial. Some symptoms are pale stools, jaundice and enlarged liver. There is no cure for biliary atresia, but there is an operation called the Kasai procedure. For optimal outcomes (an 80 percent partial or complete success rate), the Kasai procedure needs to take place in the first three months of the baby’s life; a liver transplant is also an option. Asha’s liver issues were identified late, and the Kasai procedure was performed at 100 days old. In just 100 days, Asha already had fibrosis of the liver.

The Bramhams’ last day together as a family outside of hospital was September 23, the week before her Kasai procedure.

This hospitalization would be Asha’s last.

Rob says, “We knew we had a special little girl on board and we wanted a special name to suit her. We chose Asha Haylyn. Asha means ‘wish, hope and life’ and Haylyn means ‘unique.’ It suited her to a tee. We just didn’t know exactly how unique she was at that time.”

The weeks wore on, as the Bramhams juggled the responsibilities of working and two children at home. Life did not stop moving, even with a baby critically ill in hospital. While the Kasai procedure she had initially had surgery for was successful, she had picked up hospital infections, which put her on life support. One day in November, three weeks into life support and six weeks after she arrived in the ICU unit of The Royal Childrens Hospital, they had a meeting with their medical team.

Heather says, “We were told that we may have to make a decision to let her go in a few days, as treatment wasn’t working. That evening, Rob and I went down the road to get dinner. We came back to find that she had rapidly declined since we left, really struggling to breathe and gasping. Her carbon dioxide levels were back up to 200. Her body was in shutdown mode due to the septicemia.

“We made the heartbreaking decision to intervene and cease further medical treatment.  For the first time in three weeks, we were able to cuddle her briefly, prior to the doctors removing her life support. She passed away peacefully in our arms. Our little girl was too unique — even for the doctors.”

More recently Heather wrote:

“It’s been an emotional, exhausting and extremely long 20 weeks since we said our goodbyes to this beautiful little girl of ours when she was a mere 20 weeks old.

“In Asha’s last few weeks, her hair had started to thicken up. I often wonder how it would be now, how thick it would be, how long it would be, if it would still be straight or if it would have a curl to it like big sister Abby’s did. In Asha’s last few weeks, her eyes had started to change colour but we never really saw them as she was on life support for those last 3 weeks. We only noticed when the nurses checked her. I often wonder if they would still be the greeny colour they were at the end, or if she’d have big dark brown eyes like Abby and Alex do.

“I often wonder what her true smile would look like, we weren’t lucky enough to see one.

“I often wonder what her laugh would sound like, if she’d be rolling or sitting up now, how much she’d weigh, what her little face would look like. My heart constantly aches for her.

“My baby girl.”

Asha’s parents have made her story public to help support other families. They fundraise for Liver Kids Australia to help raise awareness and resources. You can make a donation to Liver Kids Australia in Asha’s memory here.

Asha’s father, Rob, has said:

“Please, everybody share this article. We want people to be aware of the symptoms for biliary atresia. We want other parents to look out for this hideous disease.

“It is an awful feeling to lose your own baby. I don’t want others to endure this heartache.

“I will never get to cuddle my little girl. I don’t want another parent to be robbed of that privilege.

“Please share.”

You can view the warning signs for Biliary atresia here.

This post originally appeared on Parker Myles.

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Choosing to Love Someone You Might Lose Isn’t Easy

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It’s a frightening thing, loving someone you could lose.

When I first heard the diagnosis I sat in my hospital bed, the same bed in which he was delivered only hours before. A doctor from a hospital half an hour away called for me, and as he spoke over the crackled line I scrawled the words “total anomalous pulmonary venous return” on a hospital room service menu.

After a textbook delivery, my baby was whisked away as a team worked for hours to stabilize him before and rushing him off to another hospital. I was told to say my goodbyes as his incubator was pushed to the ambulance. He would be Life-Flighted for an emergency open heart surgery just hours later. I was told they would try everything they could, but his condition was severe.

Within hours, every dream and every plan I had made up to that point lay in ruins around me. Part of me felt a very visceral reaction, like I wanted to stand up and scream out, “Somebody save my baby!”

The other part of me, well, just felt numb.

Fast forward to later. He made it through his surgery, but the surgeon was not hopeful he would recover. I stood in the dark and quiet that night, after heading back to my sleep room. I was faced with a choice. Should I distance myself from him and protect my own heart? Or should I ensure that no matter how long his life, he would never, ever be lacking for love?

I chose the latter. I couldn’t not chose it.

And I got to give him that love for nearly seven months. And now, even though he’s no longer here, I continue to give it to him every day.

I learned when we choose to love these children with fragile bodies, it’s always worth it.

We learn to take the next step by their side, promising loyalty and love to them no matter where the path may lead. We spend sleepless nights curled up in plastic hospital recliners, monitors beeping, and adrenaline pumping so that we are ready to jump up at a moment’s notice. We run on will power, faith, and a touch of insanity as we fight for their lives, as we advocate and as we learn them like the back of our hand.

We live for their smiles, their snuggles, even just a glance of their eyes our way, something that will tell us they know — they know they are loved, and they know to whom they belong. We lay our hearts and our lives down in the name of sacrificing it all for them, and we carry them for as long as we are able, whether we are blessed with decades or whether we never hold them with breath in their lungs.

And they deserve every single ounce of strength, of love, of faith, of hope, of fight that we pour out. They deserve all of our heart, because these perfect, special, fragile children give us nothing less than everything they have.

It’s a painful thing losing someone you love. It wrecks you at your very core. It shatters you, as they take a piece of your heart with them as they go. It is earth-shaking and dream-crushing and horrible in every way imaginable.

But it is worth every single second. Every beat of their heart, every whispered prayer, every ounce of love given, every time you held their hand, every tear shed, every smile, every kiss, every lullaby and every single time they looked at you with soulful eyes, and told you in their own way, “I love you, too.” They are worth it all.

Take it from me.

Choose the harder path. Love until you feel like your heart has given all it has, and then give a little more.

It’s a frightening thing, loving someone you could lose, but it will always be worth it. Our children are always worth it.

A version of this originally appeared on Scribbles and Crumbs

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