There are no words, written or spoken, that could ever describe the unimaginable pain you are experiencing. In the depths of your broken heart lives an indescribable love that you have for your baby, one that will never fade, but will continue to grow for as long as you live.
He knows your voice. She knows your touch. They know your scent and the taste of your milk. They knew your love. Whether your baby lived earthside for a few minutes, a few days, or a few months, even if your baby was born sleeping, he or she knew you and the love you have for them. Even in that short amount of time, you gave them enough love to last a lifetime and beyond.
I know you didn’t get to mother your baby the way you had imagined or for as long as you had hoped, but every moment mattered and imparted a love that only you could give.
We were airlifted to CHLA in the morning and by the evening, Sterling was having a seizure every few minutes.
This was during an overnight EEG to monitor seizure activity. He had a monitor at the end of the bed and a camera recording him. I stood next to him and pressed a button whenever I saw a seizure. This would mark the place in the video so the Neurologist go back and see where his seizures might be.
I remember feeling sad when I first saw his little head all wrapped up like this. I remember taking this photo, thinking I would never share it or even go back to see it, but now, I’m just so thankful I have photos of him at all. I wish I had more- more videos, more photos, more time.
It’s easy for me to look past all the tubes and wires and wraps and just see my son. My sweet, little baby. It’s not exactly your typical photo of a swaddled newborn with a soft, cloth baby beanie on his head. But this was life with Sterling and I’m grateful for every minute of it.
I’m so proud of you, son. You’re absolutely beautiful. And I like your fancy ‘snow beanie’ you have there. Miss you so, so much, darling baby.
The 5th through the 11th of every month is a sacred space for us.
I imagine a world where Sterling lived and what life might’ve been like for us. I also travel back into my memories and remember what we were doing this day, 4 months ago.
On this day, 4 months ago, I was here in the ER with my newborn son. We were still waiting for the ambulance to arrive and transfer us to the hospital that would admit Sterling. We were being reassured by the nurses and doctors that all tests were negative and it was most likely a case of RDS.
They said he most likely just needed to be on CPAP for a week or 2 before bringing him home safe and sound.
On the 6th, back in December, I remember the fear I felt. I remember the hope I had amidst the pain of watching the newest, tiniest member of our family struggle to breathe. And I remember how quickly our hopes were crushed later this day. By the afternoon, Sterling had stopped breathing and was intubated. By the evening, his heart had stopped and I watched in horror as they revived my 1 day old baby boy.
I remember thinking this was the worst experience of my life. But the truth is nothing is worse than the hell I’m living now.
Back then, he was still here. He was still alive and I could rest my hand on his chest and his belly and feel the warmth of his skin. I could brush my fingers through his soft little hair. I could kiss his chubby cheeks, while avoiding tubes and wires that kept him alive.
I realize it’s selfish to wish him back in that hospital room and deep down, I’m glad he’s no longer suffering. But the hospital days don’t seem as horrific now, because those were the days he was alive. As hard as they were, if I could go back and relive them, even with the same outcome, I would do it in a heartbeat.
This time, I would never leave his side, not even for a moment. And instead of being afraid of what’s to come, I would soak up and enjoy every single second of life with Sterling.
You don’t need to be sorry for me. I’m still one of the lucky ones. This may not be how I imagined Sterling’s life, but I’m thankful he lived at all. I’m thankful for the hospital days and the time I had with him. I’m lucky to be his mama.
I adore you, little one. My love for you knows no bounds and continues to grow with every passing day.
Another month passes and I find myself saying the same thing I always say. Today, you would have been.
I close my eyes and let myself imagine what you might’ve looked like, how big would’ve grown. I dream of the beauty in your smile and the magic in the sound of your laughter. I imagine what this moment would have been like if you were here and I yearn.
I long for that life, where I’d be doing my best to capture a photo of a wilde and wiggly 4 month old, as bright blue eyes catch glimmers of light and gleam brilliantly.
Instead, I open my eyes and it all disappears. Gone. Your whole life and all my dreams for you and our family is just ripped from my grasp and every time, it feels like the first time. It feels like I am losing you all over again.
I miss you so much, darling baby. And that is the understatement of the year.
I love you forever and ever. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.
Though sometimes small and often overlooked, there are miracles that occur every day.
My sister named her 2nd daughter Iris Sterling. She was given her middle name in honor and memory of my boy. But my sister chose the name Iris for her baby girl before knowing the meaning that it would hold for our family. The name Iris means rainbow.
I struggle with the term “rainbow baby”, because losing Sterling was not merely a storm. The pain of watching our newborn son die in our arms and having to live every day without him cannot be downplayed and described simply as a storm.
But still, I cannot deny its meaning and the hope it offers. Beauty rising from chaos. A breath of fresh air after sinking for so long. A light in a sea of darkness. A rainbow after a storm.
Just two months after Sterling was born and died, Iris made her way earth side. I know “rainbows” usually belong to the bereaved mother, but I don’t think its a coincidence that the first baby born into our family following our loss of Sterling was magically given a name with such meaning.
Iris is also the name of a goddess in Greek mythology, one who personifies rainbows. It is said that she connects heaven and earth with her rainbow. Two worlds linked together.
While my arms ache for Sterling, Iris is a reminder, not of my emptiness, but that heaven is closer than we think. And Sterling, he is all around us.
Iris Sterling, your worth is completely separate from our darling boy. But in this time of deep suffering and mourning, you bring so much joy. Rainbows appear when white sunlight is broken up by water droplets into a beautiful display of seven colors. And you are a light. Thank you for the messages of comfort you’ve given me. You truly are a rainbow for our whole family.
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.
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.
A few weeks after Sterling died, I read a psychologist’s explanation of the difference between grief and mourning. I’ll do my best to explain it. It goes something like this:
Grief is the way you feel about losing your child. It’s the earth shattering, heart-wrenching, spirit crushing pain that you are now tasked to live with for the rest of your life. The kind of unimaginable pain that no words are ever strong enough to describe and that no parent is sure they’ll be able to survive.
Mourning is the outward expression of grief. The way your tears are the first thing you see in the morning and the last thing you see at night. The way you stay cooped up inside your house, unable to move because even the effort it takes to breathe is too overwhelming.
I used to use the words interchangeably. But this text completely changed my view and soothed me immensely. Before, I thought it would be this bad forever and that was a horrible thought. Will I really spend the rest of my life in this much agony? Will I really go to bed every night shocked and grateful that we survived another day? Only to wake up every morning distressed and dreading that I would have to do it all over again?
Then again, I truly didn’t want this to get easier. The thought of that was even worse. It wouldn’t be right. Sterling deserves to be grieved intensely. Like every other child gone too soon, he’s too precious, important, and too loved for me to be anything other than completely destroyed by his loss.
But when I learned to separate grief and mourning, it brought me peace and hope.
Grief is unending and unchanging. The pain of this loss will never get any easier. I will carry it with me, wherever I go, every second of every day, until the day that I die and am reunited with my son. But the mourning process? THAT is what changes. Of course, I will mourn him every single day, but the way I mourn won’t always be this bleak. It will one day become a little lighter to carry, at least on some days. I haven’t quite made it to that point, but I know there are brighter days ahead. And the best part is- every day that passes is another day closer to heaven.