(Updated 2018: March 17 is St. Patrick's Day, a holiday I celebrated as a child with Irish heritage, as a wife with a part-Irish husband, and as a Christian commemorating a man of faith. Now I also celebrate as a mother whose second son would have been 17.)
Oh, good, I'm not pregnant. I flushed at the thought and walked away from the home pregnancy test registering negative after one minute. With a 7-month-old asleep in the next room and a full-time job, another baby was the last thing on my mind.
I'd better double check.
Three minutes had passed and the second window was now registering a faint pink line. This can't be happening, I thought.
"Any visible line, no matter how faint, is a positive result," said the instructions. Surely this must be a mistake. I just had a baby.
My heart was racing, my stomach lurching, as the pale, but definitely visible, second line stared back at me from the bathroom countertop. I'm pregnant.
My first thoughts were for our son, Harrison. How can I possibly give him, our firstborn, the attention he needs if I'm distracted by months of morning sickness and worse — a brand new baby?
I cried. A lot. I cried when I told my husband, Steve. I cried when I told my mom. I cried when we told Harrison. He didn't understand what we were saying, but that didn't lessen my feelings of guilt.
Everyone around me was happy, albeit surprised, when they heard the news. Still, I couldn't shake the sorrow. I knew that abortion wasn't an option, the life growing inside of me was already part of our family. Still I found myself longing for a way to go back to the pre-pregnant me. I needed time to get used to the idea.
It took nearly three months to accept that Harrison's baby brother was on his way—he was just coming a lot sooner than we had planned. As the morning sickness started to lessen, so did my feelings of anxiety. We'd figure out the schedules and the money and all the other details a family with two kids always does. I was even starting to enjoy the idea of two little boys running around together sharing trucks, building forts and filling our home with giggles.
I went in for a routine doctor's appointment the day after Harrison turned 9 months. I was feeling fine. But they couldn't find a heartbeat. Initially, I wasn't worried. The first nurse who tried was new. The baby was just squirming around or hiding behind one of my bones or something. Besides, the books all said such milestones vary with each pregnancy. A second nurse tried. Then the doctor. He said he wasn't very worried but wanted to do an ultrasound just to be sure. I spent a lot of time waiting but was confident everything was fine.
Looking up at the monitor an hour later, I saw my baby, but there wasn't a moving line at the bottom of the screen the way I had seen it before. Still the ultrasound tech didn't act alarmed. She said she'd be back; she wanted the doctor to take a look. As she closed the door behind her, I had my first sense of foreboding. What if something's wrong? Surely everything's fine. I started to pray.
The doctor watched the screen as the technician moved the sensor over my slightly swollen belly. Finally, he turned around to face me. "I have bad news. The baby's heart isn't beating."
I was so shocked I didn't say anything. Just three weeks earlier we had seen a baby dancing around, heart beating strongly at 140 beats per minute. But now his tiny body just lay there — quiet, unmoving. His image was still on the screen when the doctor left and the hot tears began to pour out.
I felt so guilty. Guilty over not wanting this baby to begin with, guilty for all the times I prayed with bitterness about the pregnancy and afraid that maybe all my negative emotions had caused this little life to leave me.
I somehow got it together enough to leave the doctor's office and drive to Steve's office. He was experiencing his own guilt over not being there for the appointment—one of only a handful he had missed throughout both pregnancies.
Friends and foes
It wasn't long before the phone started ringing with people wanting to see if I was ok. One call in particular stood out. The mother of six asked bluntly, "Were you excited about this pregnancy?" "Well, no, I didn't want to be pregnant again," I mustered. "But, of course, I wanted the baby." I quickly ended the conversation, startled by her intrusion into my private world. There would be other painful, unhelpful comments from friends, but one thing was certain: This baby had entered my heart, and as unwelcome as the news of his coming was, the news of his departure was excruciating.
And for every friend who stumbled over her words, there were others who provided deep comfort. As hard as it was to repeat the story of our loss, our friends' responses—prayer and practical help—lightened our burden. "We understand that this is a real loss of a real child," wrote one, "and that you are grieving. It is amazing how much sadness the heart can hold for someone whom one never got to know." These words, written by someone who lost a child to miscarriage years earlier, were further permission to grieve—and grieve deeply.
It wasn't enough to weep. I needed to get out of the house and do something with the pain I was feeling. At the end of that first day, we went to a tree farm, bought three apple trees and planted them on the hill in our backyard. Not only do the trees remind us of our baby, they do so with beauty and variety. They're especially sweet in the spring when the branches come alive with pink and white blossoms. We named them Griffin's Grove in honor of the baby we had planned to name Griffin George.
Besides giving our baby a name, we moved ahead with plans to ask two close friends to be his godparents. They joined us in October for the dedication of Griffin's Grove, bringing a sack full of bulbs to plant around the trees. We huddled together and shivered in the 30-degree cold; perfect weather for bulb planting. Everyone took turns burying a promise of new life.
Commemorating the life
Griffin died inside me after only 14 weeks. By the time his due date arrived, I had been grieving and healing for nearly seven months. Still, the sense of loss was overpowering. I wrote the following in his baby book.
March 2001, the 17th
It's a cold, snow-covered day in your grove as we anticipate spring and the first shoots from the bulbs we planted around your fruit trees. Today was your due date. My heart is so heavy with the sorrow of your loss. The sadness seems so fresh all over again.
Harrison is getting big, growing so quickly. He loves little babies. I know he would have loved you! As he matures, I'll share this book with him and the story of you.
Today is St. Patrick's Day, an annual holiday we celebrate in honor of the Irish relatives on both sides of our family. It will also be an annual reminder of your birthday. Even though we didn't get to celebrate it here, it will serve to heighten our anticipation of meeting you in the world to come.
The corned beef is stewing—filling our home with the scents of generations past. So many things about this holiday—the subtlety, the links with the past—will forever tie me to you. You will not be forgotten.
I can't explain it, but I love you. You will always hold a special place in my heart.
Embracing the future
Time does have a way of healing, or at least lessening, the pain of wounds. A year after I wrote the above words, I was again writing in Griffin's book. Only this time, the sorrow was mixed with sweet.
It's so hard to believe a whole year has passed since your due date — you would have been one today! It would have been your first taste of chocolate. Do they have chocolate in heaven?
The good and really special news is that you have a baby sister now — Zoe Kathleen. She's just two weeks old. So today is bitter sweet. I miss you deeply still. And I am overwhelmed by the joy of new life. Life. That's what Zoe's name means.
I pray Jesus will hold you and give you a hug for me. I love you and can't wait to meet you, my son.
We planted more bulbs in your grove — we're anticipating a spring full of life.
In 2003, when we again add pages to Griffin's book, Zoe will be 1. And what a celebration that will be! Zoe will taste her first chocolate cake, open her first doll house, and just as I had hoped before, join Harrison in filling our home with giggles.