By Amy Schofield
In October 1988, President Ronald Reagan designated the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Everyone is invited to light a candle on October 15th at 7pm in all time zones across the world for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
“Imagine a love so strong it made saying hello and goodbye in the same day worth all the pain.”
March 13, 2018 – the day my firstborn son, Samuel David, was born. He was a precious 3 pound 5 ounce, 17-inch long baby boy with curly brown hair like his mom and long legs like his dad. He was perfect in every way, except he didn’t take one breath on earth.
After 12 years of marriage, we were finally graced with what we had dreamt of for years – we were going to be a mom and a dad! We were going to be able to live out all of our hopes and dreams with our child – or so we thought.
Week by week we were getting closer to meeting our new little one! We were past the perceived “safe” zone of a pregnancy, we saw our baby on the 20-week scan where everything checked out well and we made it to the third trimester. – a time where babies can survive with a NICU stay if born early. There was never a thought in the world that anything would go wrong at this point. The baby was moving around, growing and had a strong heartbeat. No health issues arose for either one of us.
However, one morning during week 30 of my pregnancy, I didn’t feel any movement from the baby. I grew accustom to feeling his kicks and that day he didn’t kick. I had read that during that week of pregnancy there is less space for the baby to move around. Maybe that’s what was happening, I thought, or maybe he was sleeping in. I did everything I could to get a kick from him. But there were no kicks.
We rushed to the hospital to get checked out. I will never forget our nurse, Katie. She put the baby’s heart monitor on me to hear his heartbeat. There was a heartbeat there all right, but it was mine. Nurse Katie was desperate to find the baby’s heartbeat. She kept moving the monitor around, but still there was nothing. I knew from the look on her face that it wasn’t good. An OB came in along with a sonogram technician and after a couple of agonizing moments we heard the words that no parent ever wants to – or expects to – hear: “I am sorry, I am afraid you’ve had a loss”.
Our son’s heart had stopped beating. Just like that. No warning signs at all. In an instant our lives changed. We went from our highest high we’ve ever felt to the most painful feeling in the world. We waited 12 years for this miracle to arrive and in an instant our lives changed forever in a way we never thought possible.
We had just finished painting a beautiful Snoopy and the Red Baron mural in Samuel’s room. His crib was set up. His outfits were all washed and folded. His stroller and car seat were in the front room of our house ready to be used.
After a challenging 15-hour induced labor, we got to meet our stunning little boy. In the moments after he was born, there was nothing but a deafening silence in the delivery room. Being in a labor and delivery room, you expect to hear a baby crying when he is born. But the only cries in our room were from his parents. Someone once said to me that the most beautiful sound in the world is ocean waves crashing on the shore. I beg to differ; the most beautiful sound in the world is a baby crying. And we didn’t get to hear that.
We did get to hold, kiss, cuddle, and love on our beautiful, perfect son. His skin was silky smooth and warm. He was wearing a cute little diaper. He looked like a preemie who was sleeping. We were hoping beyond hope that we were dreaming and that he would open his eyes, look up at us, give us a smile, and let out a big cry. But he didn’t.
We spent as long as we could with our Sammy. The moment we had to say goodbye to him and hand him over to a nurse’s arms was the absolute worst moment of our lives. It was the ultimate test of a parent’s strength. Nothing can prepare you for that pain and heartache and for being wheeled out of the hospital with a box filled your son’s personal items on your lap instead of carrying your son out and buckling him safely into his car seat.
The very next day, instead of taking Sammy home to his crib which awaited him in his newly decorated room, we mustered the courage to go to the local funeral home to make arrangements for our son. Months before, when we saw the word ‘pregnant’ on that test, never in our wildest dreams did we ever think we would have to go to a funeral home the day after I went through labor and delivery with our son.
Although Sammy never took one breath on earth, he is in our thoughts every second of every day and will remain in our hearts forever. He made us parents. For 215 days, we got to bond with our son. We got to know which foods he liked and which foods he didn’t, we got to know his movements, we got to feel his love, we got to grow and nurture him, and for that we will be forever grateful. He is the greatest gift to us.
If you have gone or are going through a perinatal or infant death, I want you to know that you are not alone. As a military family going through something like this in a place where you may have recently moved to with no family around, it is another test of courage. It is hard to ask for help, but know there are many people willing to make dinner, drop off groceries, sit with you, and lend an ear for you to share your story of your beautiful baby. And, share away! Your baby will always be your child and keeping their memory alive by talking about them will help you grieve. Also know that it is ok to not be ok some days. The waves of grief hit you like a ton of bricks, most often when you least expect them to. That’s when you should call upon your military family to help you through this.
If you know of a military family who has gone through or is going through a baby’s death, the best thing you can do is to be there for them. Sit with them. Listen to them talk about their child. Provide comfort for them. Even if you do not know what to say, an “I’m sorry and I am thinking of you and your beautiful baby” means the absolute world. Acknowledge their child by name. Just because he or she is no longer on earth doesn’t mean that he or she didn’t exist. We certainly could not have survived the past several months without the compassion and generosity of the magnitude of people who have helped us get through this incredibly difficult time.
Our son Sammy is looking down on us and is proud of how brave his parents are. I know he is smiling knowing that we are the ones chosen to be his mom and dad. He is filled with incredible joy seeing how we are keeping his memory alive and continuing to live out our hopes and dreams, not just for him, but for all of the military babies gone to soon.
For more help:
Grief Support: Military OneSource provides free 24/7 non-medical counseling phone support. To speak with a member of the Military OneSource team, call 1-800-342-9647.
Casualty Assistance Officer: A CAO serves as a liaison between you and the service branch to provide help and resources regarding funeral transportation and burial expenses as well as FSGLI eligibility. To find out who your CAO is, contact your chain of command.