Life with Sterling

TW: baby seizure, EEG.

December 10th, 2019

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.

Time Travel

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.

You Would’ve Been…

f o u r  m o n t h s  o l d.

Dear Sterling,

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.

A Different Kind of Rainbow

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.

Sticker to protect my niece’s privacy.

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.

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.

Marshmallow Fluff

I wrote a post on grief and mourning and then decided not to share those words today after all.

Then I picked a portion of something I wrote in my journal and decided not to share that either.

Then I chose a quote by Mary Shelley. Did you know she lost her one year old and her 3 year old? No wonder she wrote about monsters.

Anyway, I decided against every well thought out caption for this photo, because when I look at it, all I can think about are the comments that will flood in about how adorable and chubby he is.

Yes, he is adorable and chubby. But not this chubby. This wasn’t just precious baby chub, earned by a good latch, a suckling babe, and impressive milk supply.

This was water weight that he carried because his body wasn’t functioning well enough to flush it out. The day before this, he weighed 7lbs. In this moment, he weighed 9lbs.

He eventually was able to clear out the water weight, but I look at this photo and can’t help but feel jealous. Jealous and sad.

Jealous of these tubes that nourished my son, when it should’ve been me. I should’ve been able to take the credit for his chubbiness- for real, chunky rolls that would eventually appear instead of this artificial marshmallow fluff that appeared overnight and would vanish the next day.

And sad, that he couldn’t fully heal so I could bring him home to continue our breastfeeding relationship, to help him grow with nothing but my own body.

So, here we are. No pretty, edited words to express where I’m at today. Just the incoherent ramblings of a grieving mother. Or to put it more eloquently, word vomit.

Naptime

Dear Sterling,

It’s naptime now. Ever is sleeping in her crib. Oliver is having trouble falling asleep. I lay beside him in his bed, stroking his dark hair, amazed at how much he resembles you.

Oliver rolls his Lego Spiderman between his hands. I wonder if you would’ve liked Spiderman and Lego too.

Oliver points out the light that makes its way past blackout curtains and illuminates an empty spot on the floor. A void where your crib would’ve gone. The crib isn’t here and neither are you. My heart breaks a little more.

Oliver sees through my strong exterior and places his hand on my face, sensing the shift in my mood. He runs his fingers through my hair and tells me it’s beautiful.

“I like purple,” he says. I wonder if you would’ve liked it too and what kinds of things you would’ve said to melt me the same way Ollie does.

I tell Oliver to close his eyes and think of the best day and maybe he will go there in his dreams. He closes his eyes.

“The beach,” he says, eyes still closed with a smile on his face.

I wonder if I’m the only one who spends every second thinking of you. The thought makes me sad.

“The beach,” he says again, his smile widening, “…and we could pick up Sterling from heaven and take him with us.”

We are always thinking of you, darling baby.

Vitamin Sea

Darling boy,

You were near today.

Perhaps there’s something about the ocean that makes everyone feel a little closer to heaven.

You were there in the sound of the other children’s laughter, as it danced through the salty air.

I saw you in Oliver, as he stretched out his arms like wings and ran across the sea kissed sand. I had a vision of you doing the same on streets of gold.

You were with us today. These places where your presence is so undeniably strong, these are the places I never want to leave.

02.15.2020