Things could have been different.

Dear Matthew,
I keep being reminded that things could have been different.
We spent Sunday morning, July 3 in the Maternity Trauma Center. Again. For concerns over decreased fetal movement. Again. It was our third trip that week, our second for concerns over decreased fetal movement. And the other time we were concerned over… Get this… Increased fetal movement. (The sideways glances we received upon expressing this particular concern were definitely amusing, to say the least.)
Lately the triage nurses have remembered us. For the worst reasons possible. We’re the couple who lost their baby almost exactly one year ago after an overnight hospital stay. Some of these nurses, I’ve discovered, took care of me. And you. And they remember you and how beautiful you were. It’s both upsetting and comforting to have reconnected with them. But mostly I’m thankful for these reunions, because these nurses are some of only a few who ever got to meet you.
On Sunday your brother started the day a bit sluggishly, moving only a few times within a two hour timeframe. So we headed to the Maternity Trauma Center. I needed some reassurance, so upon check-in I asked the nurse, “Do you have lots of people come in for concerns over decreased fetal movement?”
“Oh, definitely,” she answered.
“And most of the time, are things okay? Like once hooked up to the monitor baby starts moving?”
“Yes. That’s usually what happens!” she reassured me.
And, for a moment, I was indeed reassured, at least in regard to Jay’s well-being. And Jay did, in fact, start moving.
But this also served as a giant reminder that things could have been different.
And then Monday, July 4 played out very much the same. Again, Jay seemed a bit sluggish for a couple of hours. So we considered another visit to the Maternity Trauma Center. But first I laid in bed, on my left side, counting his movements, and he gave me just enough reassurance to stay put. So instead of heading in, I searched “decreased fetal movement” on BabyCenter and perused the forums. And I proceeded to read posts like…
“I feel reassured as long as I count six movements in two hours.”
“I only ever counted one or two movements per day, and my baby is fine.”
“My baby only ever moved in the evening.”
“One time my baby went like three days without moving, but just when I started to worry, movements picked right back up again.”
And these posts cut so deeply. Because I did way more to keep you safe. One million times more. And I still somehow failed you, or at least I feel like I did. Yet one post I read cut the deepest. It said something to the effect of…
“Ladies, I’m not posting this to scare anyone but to inform you all of the importance of paying attention to your baby’s movements. At 33 weeks my baby’s movements slowed considerably. She started missing her kick counts. After she missed several of them, I grew worried and checked into labor and delivery. They monitored her for a brief time period and later decided that, based on a few variable decelerations, she needed to come out immediately. They rushed me in for an emergency C-section, and she was born with no color. She wasn’t breathing. They worked on her for about 20 minutes, and eventually she started breathing again, and her color returned… After a couple of weeks in the NICU, we’re home, and she’s happy and healthy. We’re so lucky – we almost lost her!”
Again, things could have been different.
And I’ve been picturing “different” frequently these days…
I close my eyes and I see a happy couple. Frightened, they check into the Maternity Welcome Center. But doctors quickly locate a heartbeat and everyone’s reassured. And 20 minutes later he starts kicking and gives some good accelerations, and they’re eventually discharged, laughing at their paranoia all the way home.
Or I close my eyes, and I see things exactly as they played out. An overnight stay filled with concern and terror. A 6:00am code blue and a crash C-section…
Except she wakes up to tears of joy rather than tears of despair. Her husband hands him to her – he’s beautiful, and also kicking and screaming and pink, and alive, and she’s told, “We almost lost him. But we didn’t. Thank God.”
And after a transient NICU stay they go home. They purchase the stroller and finish the nursery. They happily document all of his milestones and firsts. He meets all of his relatives, and the holidays are filled with wonder and excitement. He eventually smiles and sits and eats solid foods and crawls and walks and talks. They see glimpses of who he might become. She’s persistently late to work, spending as much time with him as possible before daycare. They take lots and lots of photos. And, as he turns one, he’s also about to meet his little brother.
And everyone looks at their story and proclaims, “God is good – the ultimate healer! What a miracle! An answer to our prayers!”
And 20 percent of this couple believes this to be true. And 80 percent of this couple knows they just got damn lucky. But 100 percent of this couple is so, so thankful and will try never to take anything for granted, because deep down they realize that things could have been different.
But I quickly realize it’s nothing more than a daydream. Things actually are different. Or they are as is, depending on perspective. You are gone, and, although others share nearly your exact same story, by some twist of fate, they are alive, and you are not.
We never purchased the stroller, and the nursery door remains shut to this day. There are no milestones or firsts, joyful family introductions or holiday celebrations. We don’t even really know what one-year-old you would be doing, nor do we have much of any idea who you might have become. I arrive to work at 10:00am, not because I’m spending time with you, but because I’m consistently pondering whether I have the strength to face another day. There are only a few photos of you, and this is all there will ever be – enough to fill a small memory box. And although you are now a big brother, it isn’t in a way we ever could have imagined.
And most everyone’s uncomfortable. There’s avoidance and awkwardness and attempts at explanations like, “Well, we don’t know why God doesn’t answer SOME prayers…” Our world has been turned upside down – family relationships and friendships and our careers and our faith – no aspect of life remains untouched by your passing. Not only did we lose you, it seems we lost nearly everything else. And now we’re just trying our best to rebuild.
Sometimes it feels like our parallel universe, the one where you live, is so close I can touch it. It’s as though I’m a passenger in a car traveling down a highway… One year later, there’s some hope and joy again, but there’s always, always an overarching sadness too. I wistfully look out the window, and I catch a glimpse of them cruising alongside… The image takes my breath away, and I feel my heart skip a beat.
It’s the happy couple from the hospital that night. The couple for whom things were different. The near-miss couple whose baby was brought back to life by a successful resuscitation attempt. They’re moving at nearly the same speed, just feet away, with one-year-old you and little brother due in just a few weeks.
I put my hand up to the window, almost as though I’m attempting to grasp “life as it should be” for just one second. But the highway forks, and we go one way, and they go another. And tears roll gently down my face as I watch us journey farther and farther apart.
Things could have been different. And I’ll never stop wishing they were.
I love and miss you so much, my sweet baby boy

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