This is a guest post, written by Lauren Ridgely, who bravely shares her family’s story of losing their 8 day old son in the Health Sciences NICU. Lauren is a nurse, a mother of a fiery 3 year old daughter, and the wife of Justin. She’s a fan-fiction writer, a deeply loyal friend, and a self proclaimed nerd. You can find her on Instagram @underthenorthstar.
Hello readers of Bodacious Brittany. My name is Lauren. My dear friend Brittany asked me if I would share my recent and ongoing journey through grief with you all. I am honored to share, and I hope my story can be of some comfort and help to some of you.
I lost my son Landry on January 24th, 2019. He was only 8 days old.
Landry was diagnosed at 28 weeks with fluid around his lungs, risking the development of them as well as the healthy function of his heart. After many tests, doctors determined there was a blockage in his lymphatic system, which was causing the lymph fluid to collect where it wasn’t supposed to. With an in utero drain implanted at 29 weeks to drain the fluid into the amniotic sac, our team was optimistic he would recover after birth, though it would be a long haul. My husband and I prepared ourselves for a lengthy NICU stay. But I had every hope my baby would be fine. We had been told there was a chance of death, but usually babies with this rare condition lived. I pushed the uncomfortable and devastating thoughts of losing my baby to the back of my mind. It wasn’t going to happen to me, to him, to us. We would all be fine in the end.
I delivered him early, at 35 weeks, due to the fact the drain they had implanted had stopped working. He was a big boy – 6 pounds 5 ounces, and 20 inches long. My labour was fast and intense. He seemed to be in a hurry to be born, almost as if he knew he had limited time with his Mommy and Daddy. I barely saw him before he was whisked away to be assessed and cared for. We waited for 3 hours before he was stabilized and we could even see him. And despite all the tubes and wires and lines, he was perfect. The love in my heart exploded for my sweet, precious boy. This perfect angel was my son! Mine! I was so happy, despite the fight that lay ahead of him.
His 8 days in the NICU were stressful. I struggled immensely with impatience at his slow progress. I wanted him better right away, despite the doctors telling us it could take months. I wanted to hold him, to kiss him, to take him home where he belonged. But even as his condition bounced back and forth, I never considered the possibility that he wouldn’t make it. Then, on the 8th day, when he began to suddenly decline rapidly just as we had arrived for our evening visit, the worst seemed like a possibility. No one knew why he suddenly became restless, but they assured us they would figure it out. I remember first pacing the hallway outside the NICU, praying over and over “Please God, give him strength. He’s strong, he can do this.” Anxiety settled deep in my gut, and my fear began to grow as time went on. Eventually I just had to be at his side despite all the people rushing around him. He continued to decline rapidly, and although I still clung to hope the team would figure something out, I had a feeling in my heart that this was it. When the doctor came over to sit with us, I knew from the look on his face what he was going to say.
With that, my world came crashing down around me. Yet as the doctor explained what he thought was happening, I felt an odd calm come over me. My poor son had been suffering for so long, fighting with every ounce of his strength since he was in the womb. He was tired. He was ready for some peace. So we agreed with the doctor’s suggestion of stopping treatment, probably the most difficult decision we will ever make. But as we approached him, we knew it was the right thing to let him go. The nurses had done everything they could, and any further treatment would only prolong his suffering. A lone little tear was gathering in the corner of his eye, a sure sign he had had enough. So we kissed him and told him we loved him, that we were so proud of him for being so strong but that it was okay, he could go home to be with Jesus now. The staff unhooked him from his medical equipment and wrapped him gently in a big fuzzy blanket. Then I finally, finally got to hold my sweet little boy in my arms. It was a far cry from the joyous moment I had imagined. Instead of happy tears like I had thought of, it was tears of sorrow that ran as we loved on our son for the last few moments of his life. He passed in peace in my embrace at 10pm, a mere 3.5 hours since he first became distressed. We held him for an hour afterwards, just talking and singing to him, kissing his little face over and over and over. Giving him back to the nurse was like ripping a giant hole out of my heart, and leaving the hospital knowing we wouldn’t be back was almost like an out of body experience.
The first few days afterward passed in a blur of tears and disbelief. It felt like I was living in a horrible dream, and I kept thinking I would wake up and the nightmare would be over. I’d wake up and go to the hospital and there he’d be. Alive and mending. Every time I had to remind myself that this was real, it felt like a punch to the gut. I didn’t want to function, every normal activity felt wrong and weird. I wanted to run away from everything. In my absolute darkest moment, I even wondered what was the point of my life anymore. I just wanted my son. It didn’t matter that I had a daughter and a husband to live for, all I could think of was the empty space in my heart. I loathed my body, angry that it had gone through so much damage and didn’t have anything to show for it. I was very lucky his birth was easy and there wasn’t much reminder of it, but every time I looked at my stretch marks I felt almost sick. I dried up my milk as quickly as I could, eager to be rid of the reminder that I could have been eventually nursing a baby. Everything felt hopeless, bleak, and like it would never ever get better.
But, as it does, time began to gently and quietly nudge me forward.
Slowly, the tears began to come less frequently. The initial crushing sadness began to slip away and change. I moved into a state of what I can only describe as “lost”. I had no idea what to do with myself. Sure, I had a 3 year old to look after, a house to keep up and all the usual day to day activities, but it wasn’t right. I was supposed to be doing all that with a baby. When you prepare and anticipate something for so long and then it gets taken away, you don’t really know what to do. The course you had planned was no longer the one you were taking. I sort of floated through each day, sometimes just sitting on the couch staring at the wall. Luckily, our community rallied around us to help. Friends, family, our church and coworkers – they all stepped up with food, gifts, prayers and company. I found immense comfort in talking about my son to others, in just having someone there to share in my sadness and fears. I like to talk constantly about something to process it, and I am grateful for those in my life who stepped in to listen. Every little act of kindness was a sign from above that we were being taken care of, that there were people who cared about us and wanted to honor the short life of our son. It was a beacon of light in the darkness.
When my thoughts weren’t consumed with Landry, they were thinking about having another baby. I wanted another one so bad. I couldn’t look at other babies or pregnant women without feeling jolts of jealousy. I talked all the time about having another baby, to the point where my husband told me to stop. “You’re just torturing yourself,” he said. “We’ll have another one when the time is right.” I got upset with him, not wanting to acknowledge he was right. I was in no state of body or mind to have another baby. But I could not be rational. It was impossible. There was a hole in my heart, and I was eager to patch it up.
This was also a period of time where I suddenly found myself concerned about how I was grieving, evaluating if I was sad enough. I wasn’t really crying that much anymore. In fact, I could tell the whole story without even really tearing up. Despite my lost state of mind, I was starting to be more social, trying to fill my time with people and activities. I felt guilty, to be honest. I began to question everything, began to compare my grieving process to others. Did I really love my son? Did I really even miss him if I wasn’t in constant tears? I knew someone who had lost their son last year, and I thought my grief had to look exactly like hers. I struggled immensely with this, sometimes staring at pictures of him, trying to will myself to cry. It was not helpful to my grief process at all. I spent more time worrying about what others were thinking of me than grieving my son. It took a while, and lots of conversations with good friends, to realize my grief journey does not look the same as anyone else’s, and that’s okay. We all will deal with tragedy differently. As long as the coping mechanisms are not unhealthy, we can all walk our own path to healing.
I started to turn a corner around 6 weeks after it happened. I’d had a couple of really bad days, full of sadness over losing my son and jealousy that other women got to have healthy babies. I can’t even tell you why things suddenly started to get better, except it must have been the grace of God. I just began to feel lighter, like a weight was dissipating from my chest. My initial anger was gone, and my thoughts began to rationalize. As enjoyment and laughter began to come more freely, I realized this was not the end of my world. Things would get better, I would heal. God had called my son home, but He didn’t do it to spite me. Perhaps he’d done it to spare him the immense pain we knew he was in, or the arduous struggle to fight his condition. I felt comforted by the knowledge my son was safe and well in heaven, that he would never experience the pains and sorrows of life.
In the beginning, it was easy to ask “why me, why us, why him?”. But I came to realize this line of thinking did me no favors. Why not me? Infant loss happens to millions of women all over the world. In the aftermath of Landry’s passing, so many women reached out to me with their own stories of loss. Even people I didn’t know reached out through mutual friends. I am one of many, and God allowed me to experience this for a reason. Maybe that reason will never be fully clear, but already I know I can talk to others. I can share my story as those women shared with me. Knowing you are not alone in your pain can be a great help.
As I write this, it has been a few months since Landry passed. I miss my son, but I am glad I knew him. I wish he was here, but I am becoming more at peace with how my life looks today. I am moving forward daily, supported by the grace of God and the love of those around me. I still struggle, of course. Jealously still rears its head, sometimes I am plagued by fear I will never get to have another baby, sometimes I feel like his death was somehow my fault. But through it all, God is putting the pieces of my life back together. My trust in Him and His will for my life has been a major part of healing. It is so easy when we are grieving to get angry with God, to shut Him out and pull ourselves away from Him. But we can never truly heal if we do this. We cannot spend our lives living in anger at God, letting it fester and turn into deep rooted bitterness. I am not saying we are not allowed to be sad or grieve. Even Jesus wept over deceased loved ones! But we must look at the bigger picture. God has plans for us, plans to prosper and not to harm. The tragedies in our lives do not mean the end of them. We can trust in His love and mercies, for they are new every morning. I know God has many good things to still give me in my life, and I look forward to receiving them. There will be more suffering, but I can survive. I am conquering the hardest and deepest pain I will likely ever know.
And one day, I will put all the suffering of this world behind me. I will finally see the bigger picture, the bigger plan. Joy and peace will be mine. And I will hold my son in my arms and hear him call me Mommy.
But until then, I will live out my life. I will laugh and smile and love. I will see the light in the dark.
For the night of grief and sorrow can seem endless, but with God, the dawn will come.
Forever Landry’s mom,