It's been almost nine years since our son Henry died after birth from complications associated with breech head entrapment. He was our second son, and the casualty of a home birth gone horribly wrong. Our midwife assured us our baby was head-down, and when it was discovered that he was breech, she never called an ambulance or administered the drug she carried in her bag to stop contractions. Henry was partially born over the 4.5-mile bridge that separated us from the only area hospital with a maternity ward. His head became trapped inside of me as he was being born bottom first (what medical professionals refer to as "breech head entrapment," which is a common and nearly always fatal occurrence during breech births), and he asphyxiated inside of me while we sat in midday traffic. Upon arrival at the hospital parking lot, he was extracted from my body while I knelt prone in the backseat of our SUV. The doctor using the forceps had been called directly from surgery, and I could feel his hands shaking as he tried again and again to free our baby. Henry was eventually resuscitated by the on-call pediatrician but had gone too long without oxygen. We removed him from life support three days later.
His head became trapped inside of me as he was being born bottom first, and he asphyxiated inside of me while we sat in midday traffic.
After his death, I felt trapped inside a living nightmare. I remember coming home after visiting the funeral parlor and feeling the utter silence and emptiness of our house. The empty space where his bed had been, the stacks of carefully selected cloth diapers — all of it made me feel like I had stepped inside of someone else's life, like I would never again feel happiness or joy. I remember going out to the garage where all of his baby things had been stacked and crying these racking sobs that doubled me over. I felt like I was at the utter and complete bottom of a vast pit, and I couldn't climb out.
In all honesty, this feeling lasted for several years in varying increments. Even after I had become pregnant again and had given birth to my daughter, the intense longing and grief for my dead son never left me. I felt like I had failed him, that I had made the decision to birth at home, and ultimately that decision had killed my baby. Carrying around the burden of grief is one thing, but the burden of culpability is quite another. I have not forgiven myself, and I don't know if I ever will.
I've heard that something like 80 percent of marriages don't last a full year following the death of a child, because the strain is so great. I can attest to the probable truth of those numbers, though I remain married to Henry's father through what I believe is nothing more than sheer force of will. We attended therapy a few years after Henry's death, and the subject of his passing came up, as it always does. I remember the counselor, who was an older man in his 70s, telling me that at some point, I had to "get over it." At the time I said nothing, but inside I was seething. I remembered thinking, "I will NEVER get over Henry's death. I may move forward with my life, but I will NEVER, EVER get over it." The truth is that you just don't get over the death of a child. It's something that's always with you and that you carry forever. The intense grief from the early stages after your child dies thankfully doesn't last, but there's always a little part of you that stays attached to them. I never wanted to give that up, and didn't even think it was possible. Yes, you CAN find happiness again after your baby dies, but you don't get over it. A child dying is forever, as much as we wish it not to be true.
This Summer will be the nine-year anniversary of Henry's death. In the beginning, we used to buy balloons, attach messages to them, and send them into the sky on his birthday. We told the kids the balloons would find their brother and he would know we loved him. Years later, that ritual no longer felt real, and we discovered that the best way to honor our love for our beautiful lost boy was to perform acts of kindnesses in his name. Last year we handed out gift cards, dropped flowers, and left painted rocks for people to find in our community, and we called it "Henry's Day." I'll never "get over" Henry's death, but in many small ways, we've moved on and found beautiful ways to honor him. And though I would give anything to have him back, that will have to be enough.