Warning: contains material that may be triggering to those who have faced infant loss. This mother opened up about the intimate details of the most difficult day of her life in order to show other parents in our community who are facing the same situation that you are not alone…
This life brings its own hardships and trials. There is always the fear of loss during deployments, but you never expect to face that fear during pregnancy.
Every moment of my third pregnancy is etched into my soul. I can recount every single detail of that 15-week gender ultrasound when we found out that our new addition had several severe birth defects.
The devastation hearing the Doctor tell my husband and myself that our son would not have a viable life.
The anxiety I felt as we flew from Fort Wainwright, Alaska to Anchorage for an appointment with the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Doctors. The instant relief I had when we got the results of the amniocentesis, and that our son did not have Trisomy 18.
The hope that came over me when we packed up what could fit in a suitcase and temporally went to Nashville, Tennessee to one of the best children’s hospitals in the country.
The feeling of losing myself in the moment every time I saw my baby’s face on the ultrasound machine and heard the sound of his heartbeat. My hands permanently placed on my stomach to take in every single move.
There were so many emotions during the 34 weeks I carried him. But none of those can compare to what was felt after he entered this world.
On the evening of April 26th, 2015 my water broke. The events leading up to that moment are a whirlwind. Not even ten minutes prior we had received word that one of my husband’s dearest military friends had passed away. I do not know if the shock contributed to my water breaking, but the timing of it all makes it even more surreal.
After arriving at the hospital, I was immediately prepped and taken back for a cesarean section. The doctor cut my stomach from the top of my navel down to my pelvic line. This was necessary because my son had a Myelomeningocele Spina Bifida sac on his back and an Omphalocele sac of his intestines out of his stomach. Any other way could have caused death to us both. Our beautiful baby boy Westin Michael was born crying at 1:55 AM on April 27th, 2015. He was a rarity having a complex called OEIS that effects 1-400,000 babies. Over the next two days, he endured major surgery to fix the omphalocele and create an ostomy.
The energy and hope that the doctors gave us was uplifting. You could sometimes feel a bit of relief like he was going to be okay. Throughout this whole journey I always compared every emotion to being in a dream where you are punching as hard as you can but in slow motion, only I was on the other side of that fist. Waiting anxiously, scared beyond belief for it to hit me right in the face.
That finally happened on day three of Westin’s life.
I still to this day think about the doctors and handful of residents that filled my room. At first, we did not suspect anything as they began showing us picture after picture of his brain scans. But the reality of it all came quick. I am sure they were all devastated watching us find out our baby was going to die, that or taken back by my lack of emotion. I went completely numb as the doctor told us that Westin would not live much longer. He had limited to no brain activity and that limited activity was suspected to just be small seizures. I somehow held myself together in that moment until they walked out of the room. A pain that I had never felt before overcame me. Helplessness, confusion, just sick to my stomach. I fell to the floor and prayed harder than I had ever prayed before. I begged God to save him! How was this happening to us? How did I have two healthy boys, and then have this sweet little baby that was so sick?
Over the next two days we had our families come give their love to Westin in the NICU. The most special gift I will ever receive was the doctors allowing his big brothers to visit. This is the only time we would ever have our three boys together. I look back now and still remember every second of that hour. Their heart-wrenching questions of when he was coming home and trying to explain to them that he never would. The gentleness of their touches while holding his hand and telling him how much they loved him. You could feel the love but see the pain in their little eyes.
On the morning of day seven, we moved Westin to comfort care. For the next three days, my husband and I took turns giving him all the love we possibly could. We sang him songs from our childhood and read the book “Guess How Much I Love You” to him over and over again. We got to take him outside to feel the fresh air and tell him how it was all going to be okay! On May 6th at 9:15 AM Westin Michael took his last breath in my arms as his daddy held us both. At that moment a piece of us left with him forever. I walked into that hospital pregnant and left broken and completely shattered with nothing.
We spent the next week planning his funeral. He was buried on the edge of my husband’s hometown, in a tiny cemetery surrounded by rolling hills and farms. A peaceful place that reminds me of where I grew up. We left him behind and went back to Alaska.
It has now been four years. We have since PCS’ed two more times, carrying with us a suitcase of all his things. I do not get to visit his resting place often as I would like, and it hurts so deeply knowing we are so far away. His loss is still just as bone-shattering as it was the day we lost him. We keep his memory alive and speak about him often. His brothers know him, and that’s including his little brother that I know he handpicked for us in Heaven. It is far from easy grieving and being so far away from family. The support is limited, but we have managed to make amazing friends along the away. Those friends and family continue to add to his suitcase of keepsakes. They join us in celebrating his life by paying it forward and showing us how far Westin’s love has reached around the world.
I am once again starting over at a new duty station knowing that new people will come into my life and we will become friends. Those friends like the ones I already have will ask me about my kids and I will get to tell them about my son who lives in Heaven. Opening their eyes to a reality that so many do not think about. Maybe, just maybe meeting someone who walks the same path of grief like me. I know that I am not alone, that there are others that are living this military life and have also lost a child. I have only come across a few.
They are hidden among us all.
Sitting next to you at your son’s baseball game, hosting your battalion’s monthly coffee, standing next to you waiting at a deployment homecoming. They are there right next to you hiding behind a smile waiting for a friend that they can tell about their loss of a child.