Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My visitor from heaven

While the dead don't care, the dead matter. The dead matter to the living. And while getting the dead where they need to go, we help the living get where they need to go, too. Thomas Lynch, "The Undertaker" (Frontline)

My water broke just after midnight on Dec 26, 1987. We left our 2 yr old daughter in the capable hands of a family friend, and trekked through the unseasonably warm, rainy night to the hospital. Our doctor met us there in the emergency room. He was a GP, back when some GP's still delivered babies. He was a kind and gentle man.

All the excitement started to fade as he checked me. After a while he said he was ordering an ultrasound. "I don't know if the baby is head first. I think I feel hair, but I don't feel the skull." I laid there, and Will held my hand. We were quiet. While the technician was doing the ultrasound, he asked me a few questions, but one question has remained in my memory because of the way it made my heart freeze. "I understand you have a healthy child at home?"

Yes, we had a healthy child at home. This question was the first real understanding that we didn't have a healthy child in utero.

The technician and the doctor left, obviously consulting on the findings. I started to cry and told my husband "I guess we'll be doing this again." An odd thing to say, I know.

About 10 minutes later our doctor returned. He didn't have the poker face down. His eyes were red and he was struggling somewhat to keep his composure.

"The baby has some major problems. He has a fully developed brain, but no skull. His lungs are not fully developed, and his heart is not formed correctly. He cannot survive. The baby is going to die."

The next 6 or 7 hours are a bit of a blur. My labor was weak so they started me on pitocin. Not fun. I asked for an epidural, thinking I was not emotionally capable of going through labor knowing my child would die after birth. But this was a holiday night and there was only one anesthesiologist at the hospital, and he was busy in the emergency room with a car wreck. I would do this on my own, and in retrospect, I'm glad I did. I remember watching TV, there was a horse show on ESPN. I love horses and I watched them gracefully circle the ring taking impossibly high fences for over an hour, losing myself in their rhythm and motion.

Toward dawn we started the phone calls, even as I labored toward the final hour or so. My mom, my best friend, our elder. "Mom, the baby isn't going to make it." "Susan, the baby isn't going to make it." "Please pray for strength."

As I moved into transition, an ultrasound technition arrived to do a high definition ultrasound of the baby. Looking back later I had to laugh at the absurdity of it. I laid on my back enduring the worst labor pains so he could get a good image of a sick baby that would be here in an hour or less. He could have waited and just looked at the baby itself! But, of course, I was in a teaching hospital. I shouldn't be surprised. And Will and I weren't in any shape to question.

At the end of the ultrasound the anesthesiologist came in. I shook my head, looked at my doctor and said, "I have to push!" Isaac William made his very short debut a few minutes later. He moved very little. The nurse and doctor were in tears. My nurse was Catholic and asked permission to baptize Isaac. I said yes. We all needed comfort, and I wouldn't deny her that. Anyway, I've always like that we baptized him, Isaac William G., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Isaac died in my arms after only 10 minutes or so. Our doctor prayed for all of use. God was there in that room. Isaac stayed with us for almost an hour. And then we said good-bye.

We allowed the hospital to take tissue for research. Isaac was diagnosed with "Osteogenesis Imperfecta, Perinatal Lethal Form." We found out later during genetic counseling that it was most likely a dominant new mutation and there was little or no chance we'd have another child with the disorder. Since I am a biologist with an emphasis in genetics, I actually understood what the counselors were telling us.

But I jump ahead of the story. Since I had just delivered a baby, they sent me to the maternity ward. Not a good move. I could hear them wheeling the babies to the other mothers. I asked to go home. The hardest thing I've ever done is leave that hospital without my baby.

We didn't have a funeral or a memorial service for Isaac. It was the day after Christmas, and I remember thinking, "This will be so hard on everybody, trying to change plans to come for a funeral." I didn't even know where to begin, and we had almost no money. But I regret that decision.

Oh, I don't mope about it. But I now know the importance of the dead to the living. Other people besides Will and I needed to meet and say goodbye to Isaac. If I'd known then what I know now...

So I dedicate this to the memory of my son, Isaac William. Born and reborn December 26, 1987. As I look over my five surviving children, I still see the gap where you should be. My visitor from heaven.


A visitor from Heaven
If only for a while
A gift of love to be returned
We think of you and smile

A visitor from Heaven
Accompanied by grace
Reminding of a better love
And of a better place

With aching hearts and empty arms
We send you with a name
It hurts so much to let you go
But we’re so glad you came
We’re so glad you came

A visitor from Heaven
If only for a day
We thank Him for the time He gave
And now it’s time to say
We trust you to the Father’s love
And to His tender care
Held in the everlasting arms
And we’re so glad you’re there
We’re so glad you’re there

With breaking hearts and open hands
We send you with a name
It hurts so much to let you go
But we’re so glad you came
We’re so glad you came


julieunplugged said...

Moving tribute on All Hallow's Eve.

Ampersand said...

I've a visitor from heaven too. It touched me to read this. It's a unique kind of loss. Mine visitor was Cassandra Kay. Named for my Mom, Sandra Kay.

I'm still wanting there to be peace, and talking, between us...

carrie said...

Julie- Thanks for picking up on the timing. You're a sharp lady.

Amp- I didn't know. You're right, it is a unique kind of loss.

Don't worry, there is peace. And I'm sure plenty of talking ahead. Hugs

Jimmy said...

I truly believe this tribute is the purpose of All Saints Eve, but as many times in the past, the Christian culture has given way to fear and suspicion. Thank you for redeeming this season with the story of your family.

MaryD said...

Thanks for sharing this bitter-sweet story Carrie. Bless you.

Ampersand said...

Don't worry, there is peace. And I'm sure plenty of talking ahead. Hugs

This means so much to me. Thanks.

Dancingirl365 said...

Tears here, Carrie. I'm so glad that you remembered Isaac here, that I could "remember" him with you. I don't think I've heard the whole story before, just bits and pieces.

We have dear friends who lost their first baby at 22 weeks. She said, too, that it was sooo difficult being on the maternity floor.

Isaac, "laughter," is surely laughing with God, in whose presence is fullness of joy.

Susanne B. said...

Beautifully said, Carrie.

And our little Ian Matthew is also remembered during this All Saints' Octave. He was our visitor from heaven -- our "John," our beloved, named for two Gospel authors.

Katrina365 said...

Beautiful tribute, Carrie.