Yesterday my eldest daughter spent the entire afternoon “Easy Baking” little cakes. She made enough for everyone to have a double-decker layer cake. I iced them after supper. They looked delicious. My eldest son dug four candles out of the ‘candle bag’ and carefully placed them on his cake. “Let’s sing Happy Birthday to Nathan,” he said. “It’s his birthday tomorrow.”
So we did.
Four years ago my life changed forever. Four years ago today I gave birth to our third child, a baby boy. We named him Nathan… it means God’s gift. And Nathan was, and continues to be a gift – an amazing one. But also one of the most difficult ones I have ever received.
You see, we found out half-way through my pregnancy that Nathan would not live. He didn’t have any kidneys, and thus there was very little amniotic fluid which meant his lungs could not develop properly.
He lived for two hours… more than twice what the doctors thought he would.
When a baby dies, the grief and sadness are different. I mourn the loss of potential opportunity, the promise of who he would become. I grieve for the hugs I won’t get, the kisses I’ll never give, the bunch of dandelion flowers he’ll never pick for me.
And for the lives of others he will never touch – no one else has memories of being together with him. There are no “remember when…” stories to share among his friends. There are no ‘proudest parent’ moments to recall. No one else had a chance to know him. No one else saw him alive. Only his Daddy and I and the few incredible people in the hospital room with us that day.
There is no ‘Mothering’ left for me to do for him, except this… to remember him. To remember my dear little son, Nathan, and to make sure the world remembers him too. Because, short though his life was, it was still a life. It still made an impact on others. He lived, and he matters. Even though most of you reading this never got to meet him, you still feel the effects of his living and dying. Even though I don’t usually name him (out loud) when people ask me, “How many children do you have?” I still count him. Even though I don’t get to buckle him into his car seat when we go somewhere, I always carry him in my heart.
It wasn’t until our fourth child was born that I realized how much I had missed sharing Nathan with others. It wasn’t until other friends in this ‘club’ of grieving parents commented on it that I realized how grateful I was to be able to share this new baby with others, how much it still hurt that I didn’t get to do that with Nathan. The only tangible thing I have to share of him, his little nose and fingers and toes, are photographs.
There is an incredible group of professional photographers who volunteer for an organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. They rearrange their schedules, they drop whatever else they’re doing, they give of themselves, their time and their talent to take photographs of palliative, dying and still-born babies. They give parents like me a tangible gift, honouring a life lived, yet lived too short. Most of the photographs that I have of Nathan were taken by one of those photographers, a wonderful woman named Tobi.
Nathan is the only one of my children who has a completed baby-book. It sits on a table in our living room. It’s not flashy, it’s not a focal point of the decor. It’s simply there. Putting it away on a shelf somewhere has never felt ‘right’. It’s one of the few tangible ways I have of sharing about Nathan. My son. The amazing little guy who went beyond every doctor’s expectation – surviving pregnancy, surviving birth, living for hours rather than minutes. Living.
And so that is why I am writing here today… because I want you to meet my son.
(the following pictures were all taken by Tobi Bos.)
The kids – age 2 and 4 at the time – asked: Does he have any ears? 🙂
Happy Birthday Nathan. We miss you. We love you.
p.s. your birthday cake was delicious.