Normal

Contributed by Ethan.

Leaving the hospital without your baby is not normal.

You never thought that the L&D wing of the hospital could be the site of so much grief and trauma for your family. You find yourself desperate to leave the place that is now so closely associated with the hardest day of your life. You want to do everything you can to help and protect your wife, but you feel utterly helpless in trying to do so. You go to put the bags back in the car, forgetting that the car seat is still installed in the backseat. You sob as you undo every extra buckle that you had secured the car seat with. You had wanted your baby to be as safe as possible, not knowing that you would never get the chance to protect them. Later, as the nurse wheels your wife out of the hospital room, you hold her hand tightly and tell her to close her eyes as you pass the L&D gift shop. The stuffed animals and balloons have taken on entirely new connotations, bringing a wave of sadness and twinges of anger rather than the profound joy that they are supposed to bring. The silence of the car ride back home is one of the most deafening sounds you have ever heard. You simply hold your wife’s hand and cry together for what feels like an eternity. During that first night back home, the silence somehow becomes even louder. Leaving the hospital without your baby is not normal.

Planning a funeral for your baby is not normal.

Just days after your child’s birth, you go to a funeral home to make burial preparations following their death. Like most new mothers, your wife is supposed to remain relatively immobile in the first few days following the birth. Afterall, she has just completed perhaps themost remarkable feat of human strength possible, on top of having spent nearly an entire year carrying new life within her very being (she has beyond earned the right to relax and recover!). But you have to go to the funeral home and plan your baby’s burial; your wife wants to be there to help plan her baby’s burial. So you pick out an urn, you pick out funeral cards, you pick out a date. As the mortician prepares the financial paperwork in another room, you stare into your wife’s eyes in continued disbelief and both shake your heads in unison. You have no words, but you know exactly what the other is thinking: “We are not supposed to be here.” Planning a funeral for your baby is not normal.

Designing a headstone for your new-born baby is not normal.

It is likely hard enough designing a headstone for a parent, a sibling, a spouse, or even yourself (if you’re thinking ahead). Designing a headstone for a child has the added difficulty of just feeling completely backwards. You can’t help but constantly think of the fact that they were supposed to be the one burying you one day. For any loved one, you will always find yourself asking: “What would they have wanted?” You’re utterly unable to shake the thought of your own headstone: “What would I want if it were me?…It should be me…It shouldn’t be my baby.” In the case of an unborn child, a child that you never got the chance to really know, you find yourself at a complete loss. You haven’t a single idea of what they would have wanted, because you never got to know them in the way you had always hoped. In your mind’s eye, you attempt to fill in the gaps of their personality; you may pray for some divine intervention, or hope for an “a-ha!” moment, trying to draw on any deeper connection to your baby that will make it crystal clear how they would have wanted to be remembered. You do your very best to honour their individuality, their independence as a beautiful and unique human person, but ultimately you take a wild guess at what they truly may have wanted. Because in the end, designing a headstone for your new-born baby is just simply not normal.

————

After losing our beautiful firstborn, Cana Josephine (pronounced ‘Kay-nuh’) at 38 weeks, my wife and I don’t really know what normal feels like anymore. Honestly, as each day passes, I struggle to remember what normal even felt like before Cana Jo left us. As with many other things, I now know that I have to be okay with not knowing, and be realistic with what I do know. I do know that I likely won’t ever feel fully “normal” again; I have to be okay with that too. But through all of the seemingly endless grief and the resulting emotional turmoil in losing Cana, I also do know that all of that pain and confusion is deeply rooted in the boundless love I have for my daughter. If that overwhelming, life-giving love goes hand-in-hand with that gnawing feeling of being “abnormal,” then I hope I never feel normal again. That ocean of love I have for my first baby always overwhelms the pain that comes along with it.

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