Blanket Sniffing

Dear Sterling,

It is a hard day. I am overcome with grief. I can’t move. I can’t speak. I can barely breathe. I can only sit and wish you were here. So I gather your things and climb back into bed. Your sloth. Your little woobie. Your blankets.

Three little blankets that tell the entire story of your life. One you were wrapped in right after you were born. The next you were swaddled in during our one day at home. Lastly, the one you were wearing when you died.

I hold your things tightly up against my chest, wishing it were you instead. Desperately trying to soothe the burning hole that aches for you, I press them into me.

You should be here.

I find myself anxiously searching for your leftover scent that might be still lingering in the fabric. If I’m lucky, I’ll find it.

I sniff the elephant blanket, the blanket the midwife gave us and wrapped you up in a couple hours after your entrance into the world. This is the one that held onto your smell the longest, but I’m afraid that time is up.

I sniff the one you died in, but that one mostly just smells like the hospital. Not what I was looking for, but still enough visceral memory attached to that hospital room scent that brings me a little closer to you.

And finally, the one I swaddled you in the morning after your birth. After a night of snuggles and breastfeeding, after I dressed you in your one little outfit. The one I unswaddled from around you, going against Daddy’s warnings of disturbing a sleeping baby, so I could snap photos of you to share with the world.

And thank God I did because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have my favorite picture of you. The photo that sits as my phone screen wallpaper and is framed and hung on our wall.  The same photo that I used for your birth announcement and on the cover of your funeral programs.

I sniff and sniff until suddenly, I breathe in a familiar newborn fragrance, sweet and subtle, that warms me to my core. And just like that, I find you.

“Oh, there you are, son. Hi baby. I love you.”

Five

“How many children do you have?”

Cue record scratch.

The most innocent question that suddenly leaves me feeling like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

I freeze for a second, like a deer facing headlights and my brain scrambles, searching for the right words.

To avoid pity and hollow platitudes, I could say four. But that doesn’t sit right with me. I’ve done that once before and it left me feeling sick and guilt ridden. After all, I do have five. Sterling will always be our #5. He deserves to be counted.

Now, I’ll always say five. There are days when I just can’t bear my Sterling being invisible, so I light up my phone screen and show off his photo. I say that he died at 6 days old but that our love for him lasts a lifetime and beyond. And sometimes, I just say five and leave it at that- unless I’m asked where the fifth one is, of course.

Homesick

Dear Sterling,

It’s hard to be here, sometimes. At home.

Yes, its where you were born. It’s where you lived for one whole day before the hospital days.

But when I’m here, all I see are the empty spaces where you should be.

I see the holes where your cosleeper should be, where stacks of tiny diapers should’ve been stored.

I feel a physical pain, a burning hole in my chest that radiates down throughout my arms and reaches my fingertips. My entire body just aches for you.

I yearn for you constantly. My mind, body, and soul are so aware of your absence.

I see glimpses of you all around this place. It’s as if my mind etches you into the places you would be if you were here, because it knows I just can’t bear to live without you..

They say home is where the heart is, but a part of my heart died along with you and I’m left learning how to live this way.

I will never be whole here. I will never be at home here. There is no home for us without you in it.

Haters

Oh, the grieving mother. She can’t do anything right, can she?

If she grieves publicly, then she’s doing it for attention. Yet, if she doesn’t say any anything out loud, she isn’t grieving her baby.

If she talks about the one she’s lost, then she isn’t caring for her living children. But if she gives her living children attention, then she isn’t mourning the one she’s lost.

If she is having a hard time, then she is stuck in her grief and needs to move on, yet if she gets out of bed and lives her life, she is moving forward too quickly. 

And God forbid she ever smile or laugh or feel any joy at all after her loss, because that must mean she doesn’t love her dead baby.

The grieving mother can’t do anything without being met with judgement. With comments that echo, “If my baby died, I would _____” or “I wouldn’t _____” But the people who say these things don’t really know, do they?

The people who say these things are always those who haven’t come close to what the bereaved mother has experienced. They haven’t had to watch their child suffer in the hospital and fight for their life. Or hold their dying baby while their tiny body turns blue in their arms. Or go to check on their babes, only to find them cold and lifeless in their beds. Or have the promise of life be ripped from their grasp as they deliver a silent, still baby.

If you knew, if you really knew, your views would be different. Your judgement would melt away and you would know that the grieving mother doesn’t need your advice, but a little bit of grace and a whole lot of love and compassion. And remember, however you choose to proceed and whatever you decide to say about the grieving mother says a lot more about you and your character than it does about her.

I wonder

You would have been 3 months old today. And it hit me last night that this is all I know.

No stats, no milestones, no chance to see your personality come alive.

I don’t get to be amazed by the rate you’re growing or hear first laughs and giggles.

I never even got to see you smile.

No first foods or first steps or scrubbing walls where you’ve left scribbles.

No first day of school or first date, first car or first job.

No wedding day, no grandbabies, no chance to see you become a man.

All those dreams, gone. They died along with you.

And now all I have left is to wonder.