Ninth Day

O Lord who watches over children in the present life and in the world to come because of their simplicity and innocence of mind, abundantly satisfying them with a place in Abraham’s bosom, bringing them to live in radiantly shining places where the spirits of the righteous dwell: receive in peace the soul of Your little servant Seraphim, for You Yourself have said, “Let the little children come to Me, for such is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Amen. 

Christ and the Children

 

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Seraphim’s Birth Story

February 17 was a fairly normal day off of work.  My husband and I slept in (though I had hardly slept the night before, or for several nights before that, so again it was fairly typical), made breakfast, and then went to the hospital for a routine NST.  I had these weekly for a few weeks to make sure things were going smoothly with the baby.  I was thankful they could get me in on a holiday; I had been using so much of my leave for appointments that I was going to have hardly any left by the time I needed to take time off post-birth.

While we were at the hospital, I mentioned to the nurse that I was having contractions about once an hour.  This had been going on for two or three days.  To some extent, I didn’t think much of it since I’d been having occasional contractions since November.  It just seemed a little odd to me that they were getting so predictable and regular.  She said it was nothing to worry about and “contractions like that won’t ripen your cervix.”  We chatted about the weather since we mentioned we would be making the trek across the state on the 24th to start the induction process.  She told us that the pass had been closed all day (unfortunately my sister was coming across the pass that same day and it took her many hours to get home due to this) so we should keep an eye on the weather the following week and make sure we had plenty of time to get over there.  We assured her we had a flexible schedule since all we had to do was show up at our leisure and they’d get things started.

Or so we thought.

I had been wanting to get my hair cut before the baby arrived since I knew I would have a lot of wires and tubes to deal with and didn’t want my long hair getting in the way.  I also needed something a little bit less maintenance for the hospital and afterward.  After some searching, I found a place that offered haircuts at reasonable prices, but it had a long wait time.  My husband and I decided to take a stroll through the cemetery a block away and I showed him my grandparents’ graves.  (I should note we enjoy visiting cemeteries—they’re very quiet, beautiful, and peaceful, and we find it interesting to see all of those who have come before us and think about the lives they might have lived.)  I found quite a number of infant graves, which made me involuntarily tear up, thinking about our own baby who would be born in the upcoming week and who might not make it.

I got my hair cut, which ended up being free (definitely a reasonable price!) because I wanted to donate it.  I had about 13 inches or so taken off; it felt good to have something checked off of our list of things to do before baby arrived.

We went home, and I insisted on packing the baby’s bag.  We needed the Theophany water for his baptism, his baptismal cross, a couple of pieces of clothing, and the blankets my mum had purchased for him.  I suggested packing our bags, too, but my husband said we should do laundry first instead.  Since doing laundry is a bit of an undertaking and we had little time, he said he would do it Tuesday while I was at work.  I decided that was a good idea.

We went to dinner at a friends’ house as we always do on Monday nights, and on the way there, I noticed my contractions getting stronger and a little closer together.  I was having about four an hour at that point, though I wasn’t quite counting them.  I drank a lot of water at our friends’ house and hoped the contractions would go away, but then they became 10 minutes apart.  I was trying to hide my discomfort because I was embarrassed, but one of our friends noticed (they are an older couple and have had a few kids, so they are familiar with these things).  I told her I was having contractions and she said, “Ah!  I thought so!”  She encouraged us to go to the hospital just to get checked.  I was reluctant to go to the hospital since I figured they would just tell me to go home.

I was right.

We left the hospital around 9PM.  My cervix was closed and the doctor said the contractions would just go away.  I hoped he was right and wondered how I would get through work the next day with so much discomfort.  I had had a pretty painful pregnancy since November and just sighed that this was probably simply the next physical trial I had to face.

At 12:30AM, I woke up my husband because I could no longer sleep.  He suggested returning to the hospital, but I was adamant about not going.  I had an appointment with my doctor that morning and just wanted to wait it out until then.  The contractions had to go away, and even if they didn’t, the hospital would probably just tell me to go home again.  I was sick of going through the check-in process and wanted to avoid it at all costs.  Around 2AM, the contractions were 5-6 minutes apart, so I called the hospital.  They told me to not come back in; nothing could have changed in such a short period of time and the contractions were bound to ease up soon.  I called the doctor on call at my local OB’s office and he said, “Just take some Tylenol, take a hot bath, and go back to bed.  If you were closed a few hours ago, you will still be closed now.  Just have your doctor check you at your appointment in the morning.”  I think they just didn’t want to deal with me since I was only 35 weeks pregnant and they probably hear from tons of overreacting women at this stage who won’t deliver till 40 weeks anyway.  So I figured I was probably just one of those women, too, and that this was just something that was going to happen and, frustrated, took his advice.

I tried the hot bath, but I have to admit it was the worst suggestion possible.  Every time I had a contraction, I wanted to jump out of my skin.  The only semi-comfortable position I had found was leaning forward against a wall.  I quickly abandoned the bathing suggestion and just took the Tylenol.  That didn’t help either.  Shortly after, I threw up—the first time since I was 24 weeks pregnant.  That was a good sign to me that I needed to figure out something different.

Around 3:30AM, I called the hospital I was scheduled to deliver at, across the state.  The nurse said, “You sound very uncomfortable.  You need to go back to the hospital there and tell them they need to check you out.  If you need to get over here, we need to know right away.  You can’t drive here right now and we do not want you driving here if you might be in labour.”

So I returned to the hospital.  I was 3cm dilated, and it was suddenly a medical emergency to get me to the other hospital.  The pass was closed, so they could not take me by ambulance, and the clouds were too heavy to take the helicopter.  They decided they would have to send me by airplane, which ended up being a Godsend because it was the one form of transportation that my husband could accompany me on (and with the pass closed, he would have never been able to make it over on his own in the car).  However, we had not brought anything we might need for a hospital trip.  He rushed home, threw things together, and got back just in time to get on the airplane.

In the meantime, the nurses had hooked me up to an IV with magnesium sulfate to stop the contractions.  It didn’t work very well, and really just clouded my mind and made me confused and miserable. 

We finally arrived in the big city at 8AM—just in time for rush hour.  Thanks to being in an ambulance, we got to the hospital in just 7 minutes.  I had no idea it was possible to get anywhere around there in just 7 minutes, no matter what time of day!

As the medics wheeled me into the hospital, we passed the specialist OB in the hallway.  She exclaimed to my husband, half-jokingly, “I thought you guys weren’t coming until next week!”

As I was getting unhooked from the magnesium sulfate, mercifully allowed to finally use the restroom, outfitted with a new gown (the other hospital’s gown had enormous holes for breastfeeding and my breasts were embarrassingly hanging out for everyone to see—I was glad I wasn’t the only one who thought this was an issue) and rebranded with the new hospital’s tags, my OB came in and announced that I was getting an epidural and there was no choice in the matter.  I was reluctant for pain medication—not because I wasn’t in pain because I was! but because I don’t do well with medications and feared having an adverse reaction.  Birthing this baby was too important to risk that, but she made it clear her decision was final.

The epidural wasn’t too bad, except for the part where they had trouble getting the bleeding to stop, and then my blood pressure plummeted to 80/40.  I stared at the monitor in disbelief since I had never seen my blood pressure so low.  I urgently asked about the baby’s heartbeat, and the nurse assured me that it was still pumping away at 120 bpm.  In 10-15 minutes my blood pressure was finally stabilised.  The baby never suffered.  He had a strong heart.

By 10, it was obvious that the magnesium sulfate had finally done its damage and the contractions had subsided too much.  I was given Pitocin as two doctors struggled with trying to figure out if my water had broken.  They never could figure out if they had broken it or if it had ruptured on its own.  They declared it AROM eventually, but no one knows for sure.  Once they had determined it was broken (one way or another), they worked on inserting a tube for the amnioinfusion.  This was the reason my doctor had insisted on the epidural.  It took nearly a half hour for them to thread the tube through my cervix, during which I bled enough to make my husband pale.

Between 10:30 and 2:30, not much of consequence happened.  The hours passed exceptionally quickly.  At 2:30, my contractions started coming much harder and closer together.  I realised later that I was in transition.  (Interestingly, I’ve heard that women tend to get sick at the thought of food at this stage, but I am pretty sure the only way I got through it was because I was eating a lemon Italian ice.  It kept me just distracted enough and kept my queasiness at bay.)  As luck would have it, the head neonatologist decided that then would be a perfect time to come in and talk with us about important information regarding what would happen once the baby was born.  I was trying to hide the discomfort of my contractions but was unsuccessful, so he decided to politely wait through each contraction.  They were two minutes apart at this point, so this became one part ridiculous and two parts exhausting on my part since I had to devote all of my energy during the resting period between contractions to listening to him.  I honestly remember almost nothing he said.  One important thing we wanted to address was baptising our child after birth.  He was quick to say they would of course make religious accommodations, but then couldn’t figure out how such a thing could happen since he was unsure when there would be 10-15 seconds of time to spare.  I asked how long they would wait to cut the cord, and he said it would be about 30 seconds.  Exasperated (partly because of the contractions), I asked, “Well then can’t we do it then?”  He agreed to that.

Panicked, I looked at my nurse and asked, “You put a catheter in my bladder right?  Is it draining all the time?”  She said it was continuously draining, and I replied, “Really?  Because it feels like I have to urinate really badly right now.”  She went to get a doctor, who confirmed that I was 10cm dilated (I had gone from 6-10cm in just 30 minutes, hence the pain) and ready to push.

Shortly after I started pushing, the rain stopped (a rare occasion in that city) and the sun came out gloriously.  I felt much happier that my baby was going to be born into sunshine instead of rain.

Within 40 minutes, the baby was ready to be delivered, which surprised everyone (including me).  The doctors nearly needed to run to be ready for him to arrive.  I was surprised that pushing was much easier than I thought it would be.  I had always imagined that to be the absolute worst part of labour.  It felt much more controlled and bearable than most of the rest of labour had been.  At the end, though, I could absolutely not rest and insisted on continually pushing.  I panicked slightly, thinking about the baby potentially being in distress in the birth canal and pushed a little too forcefully without relaxing.  I paid for that mistake with some stitches later on.

The two doctors delivered the baby, declared him a boy, and placed him on my stomach.  My husband baptised him quickly as I held onto the baby’s head and stared in amazement at how big he looked.  He flopped like a fish and his skin was a greyish-blue hue.  I had no idea what to expect his face to look like and I couldn’t believe I was looking at my baby.  The doctor handed my husband the scissors to cut the cord (he hadn’t wanted to do it because he was scared but I guess they insisted!), and then one of the waiting neonatologists scooped little Seraphim off of my stomach.  He cried a little at being separated from me.

As 10 doctors inspected Seraphim and began intubating him as four nurses rushed around to help them, the two doctors and a resident worked on assisting me in delivering the placenta.  They seemed to be in a race against time because they expressed a great deal of dissatisfaction that it wasn’t coming immediately.  This was a much more painful process than I had been led to believe it would be, quite honestly.  Once it was out (the resident showed it to my husband, who found it very interesting—I didn’t want to see it), my doctor explained that I had a “very small tear.”  I asked, “Small?  So you won’t have to fix it?”  She replied, “Oh, we’re going to have to fix it.”  Nervous, I inquired, “How many stitches?  Like two or three?”  I had assumed these things were like getting a cut in your arm—the number was dependent on the size, right?  She told me, “I can’t quantify how many stitches we’re going to give you…”  Then it sounded like she was instructing the second doctor in repairing a tear since I heard a lot more detail about the process than I really felt like hearing at the moment.  (I also learned that no matter what people tell you about epidurals, they do not take away all of your pain.  In my experience, only the contractions were numbed; I felt every needle prick during the repair.)

Around the time I was delivering the placenta, the head neonatologist came over to let me know, “I may have been mistaken about your baby’s gender.  We’re actually not sure if it’s a boy or a girl right now.  We don’t typically have this problem.”  This was probably the last thing in the world I wanted to hear about my baby, especially then.  (He was actually a boy, for anyone concerned.  They took blood tests to determine that—he had some physical anomalies though that the doctors had not anticipated.  I had read in other studies that sometimes they had observed problems with genitalia in babies with BRA, so I had actually expected some issues, though not that severe; apparently these doctors had not seen it in the past.)  While I was being stitched up, he came back (his timing was not impressing me at this point) to let me know something was “wrong” with the initial blood tests they were running.  I had no idea what he was talking about, though I assume now that it had to do with Seraphim’s ability to process oxygen.

As soon as the stitches were tied off, my baby was rushed back into my arms.  One of the doctors was using a hand respirator to keep his breathing going.  I got to hold him for about two minutes before he was placed into an enclosed plastic box for the NICU.  As the doctors were closing the box, Seraphim turned his head to look at me and opened his eyes.  My heart nearly broke.

My nurse informed me I would need to stay in my room for an hour and a half (my husband went with Seraphim to the NICU) and then the doctors would come get me to take me to the NICU to see my baby.  She encouraged me to order something to eat since it would take an hour to arrive; since I assumed I would be leaving soon, I didn’t order anything.  Besides, I was only hungry for cold things, so I ate a second Italian ice and drank some juice instead. 

On the way to the NICU, my husband ran into a priest who our priest had contacted to come see us, so they went together to watch the baby as long as they could.  In less than a half hour, the doctors had started sterile work and needed everyone else to leave.  My husband and the priest returned to my room.  The priest prayed over me the prayers for a woman after giving birth and gave me relics from St. Nicholas Planas to borrow for our stay.

The hour and a half passed with no word about our baby and I was transferred to the postpartum floor.  I waited until about 6 before ordering any food because I kept thinking they would come for us at any moment.  I was afraid if I put it off any longer, I would get nothing to eat and I was starting to get hungry since it had been 24 hours since I had eaten.  K and I were both starting to feel encouraged that if the doctors had not summoned us to come yet, then they must be making progress with our little one.  Maybe his lungs were going to be strong enough after all.

Shortly before my food arrived, two of the neonatologists came to my room and told us we needed to come immediately.

“We thought we could overcome your child’s lung deficiency, but we have tried almost everything and we are not having success.  His oxygen levels are dropping and we think he might not have much more time.  We have one other thing that we can try, but it will either inflate his lungs or rupture them, and then death would occur very quickly after, so we want you to be there.”

I immediately got out of bed and into the wheelchair.  The nurse asked if I wanted to use the restroom first and I said no.  I just wanted to see my baby right away.  (This was a mistake I later regretted.)  Getting to the NICU seemed to take forever.  My head was spinning.  I had no idea if we had a few minutes left with our baby or a few hours.  It sounded like minutes.  I had spent only a couple minutes with him and I was definitely not ready to say goodbye so soon.

The nurse stopped me in the doorway to Seraphim’s room, right in front of an X-ray.  I stared at the X-ray blankly, trying to make sense of it.  I saw a rib cage and some organs, but not much else.  The neonatologist saw me staring at it and came over to us.  My husband asked, “So, there’s nothing there?”  The neonatologist pointed to an almost unperceivable section of very light grey tissue, “Here are the lungs.  They were far less developed than even we expected.  His body is processing carbon dioxide well but is struggling with oxygen.  It doesn’t matter that we are breathing entirely for him right now; if he doesn’t know what to do with oxygen, his oxygen levels will just continue to drop.” 

The baby had so many tubes and wires hooked up to him, I was afraid to see him at first.  I had been warned that he would have all of these things, but everything seemed more frightening in the moment.  My husband was crying; I could hardly bear to see that.

I touched Seraphim’s face and stuck my finger into his palm.  He immediately wrapped his tiny hand around my finger.  This was comforting to me, and I assume it was comforting to him.  I tried to talk to him constantly since I know he recognises my voice.  Kevin took his other hand.

The doctors administered the horrible medication to my baby, and I could almost not breathe.  I wasn’t sure what to expect if it did kill him immediately.  Thankfully, it didn’t.  However, it also didn’t help at all.

Since this was the last thing they could try, they placed the baby in my arms—still attached to the monitors and respirator.  I caressed his beautiful little face, touched his down-like red-brown hair, and squeezed his tiny fingers.  I talked to him as much as I could, wanting to comfort him.  With a little coaxing from me, he eventually opened his eyes and looked at me for a long while.  I was surprised that his eyes were dark brown like mine and not dark blue like brown-eyed babies usually start out.  He seemed to be doing very well, keeping his eyes open and being attentive even though the room was harsh and bright.  My nurse came in and said she needed to check me, and the doctor said they were going to take Seraphim off of the respirator shortly.  I felt panicked, not knowing how much time was left.  I also realised I badly needed to use the restroom.  After a process, I transferred the baby to his daddy’s arms, and almost immediately, Seraphim’s health deteriorated.  I still feel a huge amount of guilt over that, thinking that maybe I hurt him in some way when I was handing him to K.  It was probably coincidental, but since I will never know for sure, I will always feel badly about it.  My husband of course felt upset that Seraphim was doing so well in his mama’s arms, but quickly began slipping away in his arms.

I followed the nurse out, she checked me, and then she rushed me to the closest bathroom.  It was very quick, but I kept berating myself for not having gone earlier.  I was terrified to potentially come back to my son having passed.

When I returned, Seraphim was still alive, but not doing well.  He was looking calmer and calmer (although he always looked very peaceful throughout the short duration of his post-birth life—I only saw him scrunch up his face twice as if to cry) and his oxygen levels were quite low.  K’s dad and grandma arrived just in time to see Seraphim being removed from the respirator.  He lived about 20 minutes after that, then it seemed like he was gone.  I didn’t want to say anything even though I was sure he was gone, but about five minutes after that, K asked the doctor if his heart was still beating.  She checked and said it was not. 

Around this time, our priest from home contacted K.  He said that they had arrived in the big city from a trip they had taken but since the pass was closed, they were stranded there for the night and could come see us.  The priest and his wife arrived about 15 minutes after Seraphim’s official passing. 

“He died about 15 minutes ago,” my husband explained as they entered the room.  Khouria immediately teared up and whispered, “He didn’t make it…”  The priest took out his prayer book and prayed a prayer I had never heard before over our little one.  It was specifically for a departed child.  It was beautiful and made me cry all over again.

We discussed with the priest our predicament, now that it was final.  We were stuck on that side of the state without a car and unsure how to get home now that our child had died.  We needed the coffin that we had ordered that was still in our hometown at the house of the man who had made it for us.  We had to figure out when we could get home and how to transport our child—and where he would be buried afterward.

Eventually, they left and K and I sat together in our son’s room holding his tiny body.  We had wrapped him in that duck blanket I had come to abhor so much because it kept making me cry in the weeks leading up to his birth.  It was perfect for him since we had said he had soft “duckling” hair.

A few minutes later, the priest returned.  He told us the man who had made the coffin was taking it to our spiritual father (45 miles from our hometown), and that our spiritual father would bring it to us and take us all home as soon as the pass opened and I was released from the hospital.  He added that Seraphim could be buried at the monastery—something few people can even hope for.

The nurses put Seraphim into a bassinet and covered his face with a blanket.  They wheeled me back to my room in the wheelchair, toting the bassinet along in a sad procession.  We had to go through a long corridor in the NICU lined with rooms of other babies with significant problems—but these babies were living.  I glanced at the windows and suddenly felt disgusted at the cards and banners taped across the windows proclaiming things like “Happy due date!” and sports teams’ signs.  These babies were not only still alive, but had lived for quite some time, and in all likelihood would continue to live for quite some time.  Despite my efforts not to, I began weeping loudly. 

About an hour after Seraphim had died, the head neonatologist came to our room for a few last remarks to us.  I don’t remember much of what he said; I think he was mostly apologising that nothing could be done and reiterating that they had tried everything possible.  Then he added that our baby might have had a genetic disorder, which they hadn’t anticipated, and we should consider not having any more children.  I was nearly enraged that he had the nerve to say this to us when our emotions were so raw.  We had definitely not anticipated any genetic basis for our baby’s disorder (and we still don’t know if there was any since the tests are extensive) and I felt like right then was probably not the best time to be telling us things that were only going to make us more upset.  And telling us that we should rethink having other children after our first-born had just died was perhaps one of the most insensitive things he could have even thought to say.  Our love for our child does not change because he had some physical abnormalities, and it will not change no matter why it happened.

That night, my nurse helped us clean Seraphim’s body and dress him.  She said he would stay in my room that night so we could still be close to him, but I was afraid at first because I wasn’t sure how his body would change post-death.  I was also afraid to wake up next to a dead baby.  It seemed like I might mistake reality and dream and be very frightened to realise he really was dead upon waking.

We placed a white sleep sack that looked like a baptismal gown on Seraphim and I pinned his baptismal cross to the gown.  The hospital gave us a yellow and white hat that matched his duck blanket.  I was afraid of how his soft spot looked and thought it might sink more, so I wanted the hat on his head.  I think I overreacted at how his body would deteriorate, and I was not as scared as I thought I would be at having my deceased child sleep next to me, but at least his hat looked adorable on him.  That night, the nurse took Seraphim away for a little bit to make hand and foot prints and moulds and to take some pictures for us.  She also cut a little bit of his beautiful hair for us to keep.  I wouldn’t have asked for these things if they hadn’t been done for us since I thought some of them were strange beforehand, but now I am thankful she did them—especially the hair since so few people got to see his hair and I like to show it off.

I hardly slept that night.  Around 4, I woke up and asked my husband if I could sit next to him on the uncomfortable little daybed he was sleeping on.  In his sleep, he told me, “No.  There isn’t room for you here.”  I ignored him and sat next to him anyway (his legs were curled up).  It helped to be close to him.  He doesn’t remember any of it, of course.  We’ve been married long enough that I’m used to him saying nonsense, semi-rude things in his sleep in response to my inquiries.

As soon as 8AM hit, we had no more time for rest of any sort.  It became a revolving door of doctors, nurses, social workers, and others.  Trying to transport our baby home with us was much more difficult than we had anticipated.  Since a funeral home was neither transporting nor receiving him, we had a number of obstacles to overcome that we knew nothing of until then.  I was scheduled to be discharged around 4, and if we wanted to leave that day, we had to have everything taken care of by 4, when the morgue closed.  The pass opened around noon and the priest who was coming to pick us up came over.  As he arrived, my husband was returning from the medical examiner’s office with transportation paperwork and the death certificate.  Together, he and the priest worked with the social worker and the morgue to have the baby’s body released to us to take to the church for services.  It turned out it was essential for us to have burial arrangements before leaving the hospital, so I was thankful that others had already figured out all of those details for us.

Right at 4:00, we were leaving the hospital with our baby’s body in his tiny little coffin.  As the social worker waited with us outside for the priest to pick us up in his car, she indicated that she was quite surprised that we were actually able to get everything figured out in such a short period of time.  “I really didn’t think you’d be able to do it, but you did.”

We made it home right before the pass closed again.

We arrived at the church and since it was Wednesday night, choir practice was happening.  It seemed like everything happened just as it should have: the choir was there to greet us on the steps with candles and the trisagion hymn as we brought the coffin into the church to place on the holy table—the same table K and I had taken our first steps as husband and wife 9 months ago.  The priests said a brief prayer over Seraphim and I found myself crying almost uncontrollably.  The day had been so long and stressful, I had not had even a minute to myself to weep until then.

After the prayers, I stood there touching my baby’s face for a very long time.  I was eager to show off my little one to everyone.  I wish so much it had been under different circumstances.

I felt very peaceful, though, when I could look into the coffin at the angelic face of my sweet baby.  I don’t fear for him now.  I don’t have to worry for his health or for the decisions he will make or for accidents that might befall him.  I know now that he’s looking out for us, and that we can’t be physically close to him, but when we pray, we are praying with him and with all the saints in heaven.  I miss him desperately, but not despairingly. 

Life will always be different now that Seraphim was in our lives, even if it doesn’t appear like it has changed to others.  Our job as parents will look much different than it does for other parents.  Most people won’t understand it, which will probably make it a lot harder for us, but that’s all right.  I hope that my husband and I can have a stronger marriage and love for each other and for others and for God because of little Seraphim’s life and death.  It could tear us apart or bind us together, and I’m pretty sure Seraphim would want the latter.

Burying our child

On Friday, we buried our first-born son.

We had not seen my parents since Sunday night, and they had never seen the baby until the funeral.  It was a very emotional experience for me, but it was made much more difficult because of their grief.  I can cry over my child, but seeing others weep over him breaks my heart even more.  I can feel pain, but I don’t want them to feel pain.

On the way to the funeral, I read morning prayers as my husband drove.  I broke into tears in the middle and could hardly say the words.  He filled in with the prayers he knew by heart.  I felt like I couldn’t pray—not because I was upset with God or anything like that, but because my heart just felt so full and heavy, I could hardly say anything, not even the saints’ prayers we say so often.  I felt the same way as Seraphim was dying and I was holding him; I tried to pray the very basic trisagion prayer over him but kept forgetting the words.  I wanted him to feel comforted by a prayer we say so many times every day and that he has heard so many hundreds of times during his time in my womb, but I couldn’t get past “All-holy Trinity…”

The funeral service for an infant is very beautiful and meaningful, and I felt surrounded by God’s grace as I was close to my baby, hearing the prayers read over him.  I tried to focus on breathing and letting my tears fall slowly so that I wouldn’t lose control.  It helped. 

Our spiritual father, the priest who had married us not so long ago, gave a homily towards the end of the funeral service.  He said, “About nine months ago we gathered here to celebrate something very different with K—and J—.  They stood in the middle of the church and were married and we gathered with them to celebrate that.  Now we are here again under very different circumstances.  In the marriage ceremony, we take crowns that mean a couple of different things.  First, they mean that K—and J—are king and queen of their own little church, their home, and it is left to them to bring forth royalty.”  He gestured to our child.  “They’ve done that.  It is every parent’s prayer that their children will enter into heaven one day.  But the crowns also mean something else that we’re very familiar with in Orthodoxy: they are crowns of martyrdom.  We take on the challenges of life and marriage to shape and prepare us for heaven.  Now K—and J—have their son praying for them in heaven, encouraging them to join him someday.  It’s the opposite order of things, whereas usually the parents are praying for their children, now the child is praying for his parents.”

I had felt deeply emotional at the connection between our wedding and the funeral of our baby.  They were closely linked in many ways.  First there was the proximity, which in itself makes them feel like they are part of each other.  As far as eternity is concerned, they probably are.  When we brought the coffin to the church on Wednesday night, I wept when I realised it was going to be placed on the table that we had symbolically walked around at our wedding nine months ago.  The same table around which we took our first steps as husband and wife and on which contained the things our life was to revolve around: the Gospel, the Cross, the Chalice.  We walked in a circle around it three times to symbolise the unending journey of our marriage, the unending struggle to heaven.  Here, my first child was to rest for a few days.  A woman from the church had ordered some delicate, beautiful floral arrangements to place on the table beside the coffin.  My husband pointed out that the flowers were our wedding colours.  I burst into tears.  Even the weather seemed like the day we were married—the sun illuminated the church just like it had on the early summer day we stood in front of the altar and took the crowns.

By the end, when everyone came up to kiss my baby “hello” and “goodbye,” I felt I had no more tears to cry.  I don’t know if that seemed odd to everyone else, that I was no longer crying, but I really felt like I was completely dried out.  I didn’t feel quite as overwhelmed as I had the night before at Vespers and the Trisagion as a hundred people approached us one by one, crying profusely, after kissing our child to offer condolences.  I felt like I needed to console them, as they were in just as much grief as we were.  I was most moved by the children, who no matter how small they were, were anxious to look at and kiss little Seraphim as well, and did not shrink back at his cold, motionless, purple face.  In their innocence and purity, they did not cry or look frightened, but very peacefully embraced us and expressed with confidence to their parents that he was in heaven.  I had feared they would be upset by seeing such a little person in a coffin, but they humbled me with their faith and love for our little one that they were just now meeting for the first time.

I did not dry out for long, though.  When I approached the coffin to kiss my baby one last time before burying him, the tears came back full-force.  I put my head close to his and told him he was so beautiful and I loved him, held his tiny white hands that had squeezed my fingers just a few days before, and caressed the comforting weave of his white blanket, feeling his small body beneath the folds.  I wished I could hold him again.

My parents kissed and touched him for the first time, and I felt like my broken heart broke even more.  I apologised to my mum that this was the first time she had seen him.  I really wished they had been able to see him while he was alive, or that they could have at least held him at some point.  My husband’s dad and grandma had seen him just minutes before he died, but could not attend the funeral.

My mum hugged me and said, in between sobs, “He’s beautiful.  You did a good job.”

We had been burning Seraphim’s baptismal candle at the funeral service, so once everyone had kissed him, we put out the flame and laid it in the coffin beside him for burial.  The priests poured sweet-smelling oil over Seraphim’s body, then closed the lid to the coffin and screwed it in place.  We followed them out as they placed the small box into the car of one of the priests and as the bell clanged. 

The other priest offered to drive us to the monastery for the burial.  On the way, my supervisor from work called my husband—the last person in the world I wanted to talk to right then.  He didn’t answer, and I didn’t call her back.  I will call on Monday.  They know I went into labour on Tuesday and that’s all they needed to know for now.  I have had too much to deal with to worry about things like turning in my timesheets or listening to her condescending, rude remarks about my pregnancy and my baby.  I only wanted to think about my son’s beautiful, short life on earth, and how glorious his experience must be now.

We arrived at the monastery, and the priest placed the little box into the ground that some men in the area had prepared the day before for Seraphim’s body.  I thought that it was probably the easiest burial, physically, he had ever performed since no equipment needed to be used to lower the casket into the grave.  The priest said a prayer and put the first shovelful of dirt onto the lovely pine box with my son’s body inside.  Then he handed the shovel to my husband, and two other people took up shovels and began filling the hole.  I held a vase of flowers as I watched my husband, my father, my sister, my mother, my friends bury my son.  A few people offered to take the flowers so I could help, but I knew I couldn’t physically do it—the soil was full of rocks and my body is recovering from childbirthing.  So I watched instead as the hole quickly filled with soil—the place my son’s body would rest until, as our priest kept saying, the final resurrection when Christ will raise us all.  I felt great peace and did not shed a single tear.  It was chilly and muddy outside, but the sky was clear and blue and the sun was shining grandly like it had when Seraphim had been born.  I felt contented with life, death, and the events of the week. 

The 8-year-old standing next to me during the burial looked up at me at one point and exclaimed, very cheerfully, “He was really cute!”  I told her that we thought so, too.

We have been greatly blessed by all of the people who have taken care of us this week—the priests who came to pray over us and the baby at the hospital, the family who had made the coffin and drove it 45 miles to the priest who brought it over a snowy mountain pass to us and then took all of us home, the people who figured out everything that needed to be done for the funeral and arranged with the monastery to allow our son to be buried there (an enormous honour—not many people can even hope to be buried in their small cemetery), the people who have brought us food and cleaned our apartment, and everyone who has expressed their love and who has grieved with us.  I assume it gets harder from here, but at least we know we have others who will support us along the way.

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When you were born…

The things I wish I could someday share with my little one about his birth day.  I only got one day with him, and he only got one birth day on earth with us.  We had to make a lifetime of memories with him in a few hours, because that’s all we could have with him outside of the womb.

The day before you were born…

…your parents packed your hospital bag—the “baby bag.”  Your mother wanted to make sure it was ready to go in case we needed it early.

…the nurse at the hospital told your mother that her contractions were normal and would not make any progress.

…your parents finally finished watching a video on labour and delivery and your daddy saw a childbirth (on video) for the first time.  It must have inspired you to come early.

…your parents had dinner with friends and discussed your upcoming birth, scheduled for the week after.

…your mother insisted on getting a haircut since there wouldn’t be time to between then and your birth (which was supposed to be the week after) and didn’t want long hair to interfere with your delivery.

…the doctor at the hospital told your mother that the contractions were false labour and were not making any progress and sent us home late that night.

 

On the day you were born…

…the hospital and the doctor on call both told your mother to not come back in because there was no way the contractions were going to bring you into the world that day.

…your mother was supposed to have an appointment with the OB in our hometown to discuss the plans for your birth in the big city the upcoming week.

…before anyone else knew you were going to come, not even the doctors, the abbess from the nearby monastery who had been praying for you for so many months prayed for you who were going to be born that day during early morning services.  You were so special to so many people who never got to meet you.

…your daddy had to rush back home from the third visit to the hospital in less than 24 hours to pack things for our trip to the other hospital for your birth.

…the weather was so bad that the mountain passes were closed so no cars could get to the hospital where you needed to be born three hours away.

…the weather was so bad that the helicopter could not fly the distance to the hospital where you needed to be born.

…you traveled with your parents by two ambulances and a small plane to get to the hospital where you needed to be born.

…the weather in the big city was dreary and rainy as usual until a few minutes before you were born when the sun came out and lit the room with natural light.

…you were so strong that your heartbeat never wavered, even after hours of labour without amnioinfusion, and even when your mama’s blood pressure plummeted to 80/40.

…you were so ready to be born that the doctors almost had to run to make it in time to greet you.

…you were welcomed into the world by 17 doctors and nurses, ready to help you breathe.

…your daddy baptised you because we did not know how much longer you would be with us.

…your parents loved and held you as long as we were allowed to before your little heartbeat finally stopped.  You were beautiful, calm, and sweet every minute.  You only cried a little bit at first.  We wished we could have heard you cry more but your lungs were too weak.

…you were greeted into heaven by the angels and the saints.

…the priest from the church in our hometown was stranded in the big city by the weather and came to the hospital to pray for your soul as it swiftly left your small, beautiful body.

…we wept because we missed you, though we were thankful for the almost-eight-months you spent with us in my womb, and the five hours you were with us in the world.  We wanted you to know how well loved you were and always will be.  We hope you felt the love around you as you took your last difficult breaths and your strong, defiant heartbeat finally faded away.

Seraphim

Our son was born unexpectedly on Tuesday, February 18, at 35 weeks.

We had planned an induction for the following Monday to give him the best shot at surviving birth.  He obviously had other ideas.

He came so quickly (much to the doctors’ disbelief) and the weather was so bad that I had to be airlifted from our hometown to the big city where he was scheduled to be born.  It is a horrible experience to be drugged up on magnesium sulfate, which barely minimised the contractions, while strapped to a gurney for two hours.  I am thankful we got there though, since the mountain passes were closed to cars.  We were also thankful the helicopter couldn’t be taken so there was enough room for my husband to accompany us.  I have no idea what I would’ve done without him.

Despite their attempts to stop my labour for 3.5 hours to transport me, little Seraphim was born about 14 hours after I started labour.  My husband baptised him immediately, then cut the umbilical cord.  The doctors did their very best to get his lungs working.  His lungs, it turned out, were in worse shape than they expected and his body could not properly process oxygen.  He died about 5 hours, 15 minutes after he was born.  We were only allowed to spend two of those hours with him.

He tolerated labour and birth perfectly and had he waited the extra week to be born, he would not have fared any better.  His lung development at the crucial period of his pre-born life was compromised and he came into the world unprepared to process oxygen.  There ended up being nothing that we could have done better or differently, and nothing the doctors could have done better or differently.

He was beautiful and I couldn’t believe he was the same baby that has been hiccupping and squirming and kicking so heartily inside of me for so long.

Thanks to a series of miracles, we were able to get back home last night.  Tonight are the trisagion prayers for him, tomorrow morning is his funeral at our church and then burial at the nearby monastery.  He was and is a very blessed little one to receive burial there.

I plan on sharing a more detailed description of the experience in the future.  I just don’t have the time or strength quite yet.  I am still processing.

It’s hard to know what to feel right now.  It’s like life went back to what it was, except it hasn’t.  It’s completely different but not in the way one would expect it to be different after having a baby and I don’t know what to do with that.

I am so thankful for everyone who has come along beside us along the way and who has continued to support us and will continue to hold our hands.  I assume it will keep getting harder, at least for a while.

Compared to all eternity, our life is but a single minute.

– St. Seraphim of Sarov

Glory to God for all things.

Overnight Oatmeal Saves My Mornings

I’ve lately been making this recipe for do-ahead breakfasts (much needed since I struggle to get up in the morning, physically and emotionally, and struggle even more making breakfast once I’m up!).  The best thing is that they are loaded with protein–something both my husband and I need lots of.  Actually, maybe the best thing is that when I wake up, my breakfast is already to go.  I make individual servings in 2-cup Snapware containers, and if I’m extra late to work (which is happening more and more frequently, unfortunately), I can just grab it to eat once I get to work.  I usually make 4-6 at a time, and it takes about 10 minutes to make them.  I think it’s really just as easy to make a bunch ahead of time as to make one at a time.

http://www.theyummylife.com/Refrigerator_Oatmeal

The main idea is that you put uncooked oatmeal, milk, Greek yoghurt, chia seeds, and some sort of flavour-influencing aspects (fruits, peanut butter, cocoa powder, etc.) together and stick it in the fridge the night before you want it.  I usually make three days’ worth at a time.  As long as you don’t use bananas, this should work fine (bananas get discoloured and look ugly and might feel a little slimy after a couple of days).

I fairly simplify the blog poster’s recipe so that I can remember it.  I adjust the amounts to my personal likes.  Make sure to make it more liquidy than you might like your oatmeal because it will set up much thicker overnight.  I just put enough milk until it looks like what I want it to look like.

I put in:

1/3 cup Greek yoghurt
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup dry oatmeal (I use quick oats because we have a 5-gallon container in the cupboard and they work just fine)
1 1/2 tsp chia seeds

Then, I make different combinations of flavours.  Because my husband requires a lot of protein to operate day-to-day, I like to make his with 1 Tbsp peanut butter, a chopped up banana, and a bit of honey.  Sometimes I add 1 Tbsp cocoa powder to this.  Make sure to add the honey to balance the unsweetened cocoa!

1/4 cup applesauce, 1 tsp honey, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon make a great apple cinnamon oatmeal.

I look forward to trying more berry ones in the future once it’s berry season again and the prices around here aren’t murderous.

If only we could figure out a way to make this lenten, it would be perfect.  Oh well.  It’s great on non-fasting days!

An End of Some Sort in Sight

Less than two weeks to go.

At my appointment on Monday, we scheduled the induction to begin on February 24th, about a month before my due date.

I am relieved to have a date, but much more terrified than before that everything is really happening and I don’t know how to adequately prepare for it.  There are a lot of unknowns–more because I am having an induction, and a very early one at that.  No one has explained what my options for labouring will be, so reading books with all of the suggestions to “try this” or “do that” to relieve or deal with certain pains are frustrating.  I already have tremendous back pain, and the thought of being restricted to my back for potentially days is especially scary.

The doctor said it will take 12-18 hours to get my cervix soft–a process that will have to be repeated if it isn’t successful enough.  Once I’m dilated 2cm, we can start amnioinfusion (after dr ruptures my membranes to make it possible), as long as baby isn’t in distress.  Then the goal is to get me into real labour in a reasonable amount of time since my membranes will have been ruptured, and to deliver baby without complications.  The nurse told me I wouldn’t have many labouring options since I won’t be able to walk and probably won’t be able to squat with an amnioinfusion.  I don’t do well with most pain medications (they barely take the edge off the pain but psychologically inhibit me so I can’t focus and therefore can’t rationally deal with the pain I am experiencing, which causes me to panic), but if I have to spend more than 20 minutes on my back, I will be in excruciating pain–with or without contractions! 

I am frustrated because, while I am finally getting my way with attempting a natural birth, this isn’t at all what I envisioned for birthing my child.  I know the complications make it this way and that this is probably the best option I have out of the few that exist, but it’s definitely not what I would have ever dreamed of wanting before all of this got complicated.  None of this matters except that labour for me is a terrifying unknown and I’m not sure how I will cope with it, especially knowing the probable prognosis.  I have enough trouble getting out of bed in the morning just thinking about how much joy little baby’s kicks bring and how much sadness I feel wondering how much longer we have with it. 

I am so glad that I have a date so that I can try to motivate myself to get through just 7 more days of work.  Maybe 8 if I end up working the Saturday before as well, but that would still be manageable.  I can’t wait until I’m done dealing with HR staff.  I learned today that the HR employee at the library who kept telling me I didn’t need any paperwork filled out to take leave was thinking I would only be gone for a week.  When my supervisor triple-checked with her today, she exclaimed, “6 weeks?  Well, of course she’s going to have to fill out a form!”  I’m not quite sure how many women who have worked here have been resilient enough to return a week after birthing a baby, but I certainly am not the first to take 6 weeks (another employee on leave currently is taking 12).  I am too tired and have too much to do to deal with this nonsense anymore.

In the meantime, my husband is getting called into work a lot (finally), but with our opposite work schedules (I work 8:30AM-4:30PM, he works 4:00PM-12:30AM), it makes our lives a little difficult.  Hopefully this keeps up after we get back home from the hospital (no telling when that will be, however) since with me not working anymore and only having paid leave at one job, we’ll need the extra money to pay the bills.  And I know he’ll need to be working to stay positive and process his thoughts.