I’ve been pretty busy lately and I’ve been meaning to write another post for weeks now. I can’t complain about my busyness though as my time has been filled with two great vacations with my wonderful husband and great friends! We had so much fun skiing and exploring northern Japan in Hokkaido, and I also had a blast with some amazing girlfriends in Taiwan.
In my last post, I talked about preparing for Luca’s birth and deciding on a hospital. While preparing for his birth, we also decided to prepare ourselves as much as we could for his death.
Writing the word “death” is sometimes hard for me to do, because each time it reminds me of the permanence of the loss of our son. It also is a reminder of how our society these days is just not that comfortable talking about death.
My husband and I read an incredibly helpful book that helped us tremendously. I was desperate to read about how exactly I should handle this; I wanted for someone to tell me what I should do. One of the best resources I found was the book, A Gift of Time. Nothing can prepare you for the death of your child, but I can honestly say that reading this book prepared me as much as possible. I want to do a full blog post reviewing this book in the future, but in short, it is written for families who are expecting and have been given a fatal diagnosis. It talks about many important decisions to consider and ways to plan during that very difficult time, as well as interviews with families who have gone through this, their feedback, and what they were glad they did or wished they had done.
One of the things that many families suggested was planning aspects of their child’s funeral before the birth. Not necessarily planning the entire thing, but thinking about general aspects of that day, so that you could be prepared when the time came. I honestly could have never imagined making such decisions. There are probably people out there who might think we are giving up on our baby to plan such a thing, but I disagree (and to be honest I don’t want to hear anyone’s opinion on this if they have not gone through it themselves). I truly believe that planning that special and sacred day for Luca was an act of good parenting. I sat on the couch listening to music, crying through each song as I read each lyric and thought about what would be most appropriate for him. I spoke to our minister back home about what a funeral service for our baby would be like. I had not attended many funerals at my church, thankfully, and really did not know what to expect. I found myself getting frustrated at times, because people helping us with this process would ask us what we wanted – what kind of headstone or what aspects of the memorial service did I want to include? How was I supposed to know what to do?? My mother helped us tremendously by visiting each of the cemeteries in town and helping us choose the most beautiful spot where Luca would be laid to rest. While it was so difficult to talk about those things, I have zero regrets that we took the time to do that. I would have never been able to make all of those decisions just days after Luca passed. Additionally, planning all of this from the other side of the world was hard enough. I did not want his funeral to be thrown together at the last minute. I wanted it to be a beautiful celebration of his little life where each song, photo, flower, scripture reading, and more would be exactly how we wanted to honor him, remember him, and pray for him.
Another idea from the book we read was taking photos – as many as possible. Pregnancy photos, family photos, and birth photos. Families said that while the photos might be hard to look at early after the loss, it was the best decision many of them made. That they couldn’t have possibly had enough photos of their baby. I wanted to commemorate my pregnancy with Luca and remember the time that he was alive and well in my belly, so I asked my friend Mindy to take pictures for us. I hadn’t really thought about maternity photos until we had received the fatal diagnosis, but I knew that we had to have them after that. Mindy had offered to take pictures for me at my baby shower, but that was obviously canceled, so instead she insisted on taking these photos as a gift to us to remember Luca. It was the best gift ever! Another friend of mine, Kathy, did my hair that day and also insisted that be her gift. Our military family here is like no other. Our friends took such great care of us each step of the way.
The day of the shoot turned out to be spectacular weather. It was the end of May and the middle of the rainy season and most days were disgustingly humid and overcast or raining. That day, the humidity lifted and the sun came out without it being excruciatingly hot – that never happens here! We went to Toguchi Beach, a gorgeous beach that many photographers frequent since it has stunning views of the sunset and beautiful rock formations. Mindy made me feel like the prettiest pregnant mama. Her and our friend, Brette, who assisted her, spent hours with me and my husband snapping so many photos. She is so talented and I am forever grateful for these stunning pictures we have to commemorate our time with Luca and our time here on this incredible island.
During those last few weeks, we continued to have many meetings. Almost all of the people helping us along had never dealt with a scenario like ours, yet everyone was so gracious and willing to help in any way. We continued to meet with our doula and I kept practicing my hypnobirthing for the big day.
I also decided to meet with a lactation consultant. With all of the traveling I had to do and everything that had happened, I never got to take a breastfeeding class. I knew it was unlikely that I would get to breastfeed Luca, but there was a possibility. If there was even a chance – even if only for an hour – I wanted to be prepared to know what to do and how to comfort my baby. She was incredibly knowledgable and came to our meeting with more information that she had researched specific to Luca’s diagnosis. We talked about normal breastfeeding tips, and also about breastfeeding for bonding and comfort care. She taught me ways that I could bond with Luca through breastfeeding even if he wasn’t strong enough to feed that much or at all on his own. This was so important to me to have this knowledge, even if I never got to use it. I found Christy through The Birth Education Center of Okinawa.
I continued to go to weekly appointments at the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. They told me I could come in as often as I liked, but wanted to see me weekly. Every Thursday, my husband and I would get to see Luca’s beautiful face on the 4D ultrasound – it was amazing!!! This one was my favorite and also makes me laugh because my friends thought that he had thick black hair, but it was really just the shadow haha!
At that appointment and the ones prior, my doctor would gently explain to us each time that Luca’s heart was becoming weaker. Fluid was slowly seeping into the chambers… a tiny bit more each visit. I know she hesitated to tell me this, but I’m glad she was honest. I pretended not to hear her, but I knew it was a possibility that he would not make it to his birthday. I asked her if he was in any pain and she said he was not. That as long as he was inside of me, I was protecting him from that pain and helping him to live.
The week after that ultrasound was the first week of June. On June 2nd, I went to a farewell lunch for a friend. Someone asked me at the lunch if I was feeling the baby kick a lot (a typical conversation starter with a pregnant lady of course). They knew our situation and I explained to her that because of Luca’s condition, I had more amniotic fluid than normal and because of that I could not really feel him move as much. Truthfully, every day was scary because I felt like as the days passed, I could feel less and less. It was stressful and I would be happy if I could just feel him even just a couple of times each day. That evening when my husband came home from work, I told him I was really concerned that Luca had not moved. He comforted me and said I’m sure he’s fine, but let’s just go to the hospital for peace of mind. By the time we arrived, I was hysterical. I was sure my baby was no longer alive. I could barely breathe. My husband told the nurses what was going on and they rushed me back and immediately checked for a heartbeat. The nurse (who ended up being one of my labor nurses) was wonderful and immediately said, “your baby is fine, your baby is fine! That’s his heartbeat!” We were so relieved.
We went home and felt more relaxed, but the next day was the same and it was hard for me to feel much of anything. I thought I could feel something periodically, and convinced myself that he was still okay. The day after that was Thursday, June 4th, our next scheduled appointment with the doctor. We were excited to see Luca’s little face again. We didn’t wait long – we never did, because they tried to schedule us at the end of the day, so that we wouldn’t have to face many other pregnant moms or babies. They called us back and we waited for the doctor. The doctor came in shortly after and right away put the monitor on me. She knew that I never wanted to waste any time in doing that. It was almost as if I knew that his heartbeat wouldn’t be there. I just had this feeling when she brought the monitor towards my belly. I felt calm, but also a deep sadness that today would be the day and it was. “I am so sorry. There is no heartbeat.” My fear had come true – I would not ever get to see my son take a breath. I would never get to see his eyes looking up at me. “Did he feel any pain?” I asked. “No, absolutely he did not,” she said. I knew that was what mattered most, but my heart still shattered. She let us be for a bit and my husband and I just held each other and cried. It wasn’t the same sadness as when I had received the diagnosis. To me, that day was the worst. That day I felt sadness, anger, and utter despair. That was the worst of it for me. This day was just sadness and the beginning of acceptance, and love. Love for my husband who was able to be there with me to hold me as we helped each other along. And so much love for my sweet baby who was now at peace and with God.
Teaching preschool here in Okinawa brings me so much joy. The other day, I was in Luca’s room and decided to take a few of his books to school to read to my kids. I picked a big colorful ABC book and when I read it aloud to my kids it was the first time I had opened the book. I smiled when I read aloud and saw, “A is for angel” and “R is for rainbow!” How perfect! It made me really happy to do this, because in a way I feel like reading to my sweet students sometimes feels like I’m reading to him.
Before I end this post, I have to mention that I received a wonderful message from a friend the other day. She told me that she was at a party and was chatting with a woman and then asked her if she had children. The woman said that she had three children, but one, a son, was in heaven. My friend asked her lots of questions about her son who had been stillborn, and the woman was very thankful for my friend being willing to talk to her and not be uncomfortable. My friend told me that reading about Luca had “opened [her] eyes to how ignorant [she] was in reacting to such an event.” This is really the best possible thing that can come out of this blog. It is truly my hope that Luca’s story can make people realize that life has value no matter how long or short that life is. Allowing someone to talk about a child they have lost, even for a brief moment, is such a gift. I am so glad and grateful that my friend took that step out of her comfort zone and spoke to this woman about her experience. ❤