Tuesday, September 8, 2009

4 Months of Shadows

On May 8th, 2009, something happened in the universe. There was a split of some sort, a glitch, a wrinkle, in time and space, and life has never been the same again. It begins with a visit to the Dr., and heart-wrenching news about our baby. The world splits in two, and my heart and consciousness along with it. The very atmosphere begins to twist and turn, spinning in circles, and we are plunged downward, into the shadoworld. Suddenly, like some macabre version of Alice in Wonderland, everything is upside-down, nothing is as it should be.

My surroundings are a blur as I walk through the double doors and down the long corridors to the hospital. I am vaguely aware that somewhere beside me, behind me, are my husband and his Dad. But I don’t see them, I hardly know they are there. I am not myself anymore, but only a fragment. I continue to walk, first right, then left, up the elevator, and to the desk to check in.

In the waiting room nearby I hear an excited Daddy saying on the phone “Our baby girl is here! She’s little, only 5 lbs., but she is healthy and doing great!” Meanwhile I have to explain to the nurse at check-in why I am here. I am numb as I fill out the papers, J-E-S-S…, is that even who I am anymore?

I follow the nurse down the corridor, trying not to see the gigantic blown-up photos of perfect, beautiful, living newborns. I am in complete shock as she shows us to our room. How is it that I am in this place of hopes and dreams, living out my worst nightmare? My father-in-law says something sweet and heart-felt. “Even though she was only with us for a short time, she was dearly loved by all of us.” On some level, it comforts my heart, but on another level I am in disbelief that we could be speaking of her in the past tense. She is right here inside of me!!

Thank God the nurse who is assigned to me is an absolute angel, because when you are in the shadoworld the darkness is so thick that even an angel casts only a pale glow. She is understanding and kind as she explains to me the procedures for the induction and describes what it will be like after she is born. I begin to cry as she talks about holding her, counting all her finger and toes…I am not supposed to hold her yet! It should be another 3 months of blissful discomfort until I am rewarded with her crying and wiggling in my arms. This is not happening, it must be a horrible, bad dream.

The day drags on, and turns into night. Contractions haven’t started yet, and I am given a sleeping pill. In my dreams that night I am swallowed by shadows in a nightmare that my baby has died. I toss and turn and scramble and fight to finally wake up, only to realize that it is life itself that is the bad dream. I weep quietly in the darkness of our hospital room and wish for an escape.

Our time in the hospital is filled with visitors praying with us, sharing scripture, loving us in the Lord, and we have an inexplicable peace. But still there is this sense that life as we know it has been split in two, and somewhere, on the other side, we are living our normal lives, trying to sell our house, and anxiously waiting for Eliana to be born.

I hold my baby girl for the first time, and she is amazing, she is beautiful, she is a gift from God, but she is so tiny, far too tiny. She is so still, and how can we break this unspeakable silence?? We sing to her, we hold her, we love her, but how can we say good-bye when all we want to do is say hello? This is not how it’s supposed to be.

The next morning, our family arrives. It is exactly like when each of our boys were born. I sit on the bed, holding her all pink and wrapped up in her blankets. They all file in, everyone who loves us and loves her so much, waiting to see her, to hold her. I try to be strong, I almost begin to sob as I watch them coming in, but somehow, they are all smiling exactly as if she were alive. It seems inappropriate to cry. They hold her, pass her around, we snap lots of pictures. This is all so surreal, why is she so still and so quiet? Something is wrong with this picture.

In the days that follow, I spend every waking minute working on the plans for her funeral service. Ever detail has to be perfect, the music, the programs, the pictures we will display, the items we will set out in her memory, the special things we will send with her in her casket. This is all I will ever get to do to take care of my baby.

Her service is perfect. Our two pastors do a beautiful job, the whole thing brings glory to God, exactly like we wanted. At the cemetery, the funeral director asks me if I want to help close the tiny casket. My oldest son helps me, and we gently place all the fabric in around her, the only time we will ever tuck her in. We see her face for the last time as the lid is placed on top.

After this, hours turn into days, days to weeks, and weeks to months. Life continues to go by. We get up in the morning, we eat, we live out our day. Life begins to slightly resemble normalcy. Summer meanders along, as we fill our days with activities for the boys: soccer, walks, playground outings, swimming pools. But, I am lost. I feel disoriented and confused. My responsibilities and commitments remain the same, while I am profoundly and permanently changed. I can’t shake this feeling that something is severely wrong.

I am dizzy and falling down from all the spinning of this crazy shadoworld I’ve been thrown into. I have to get back to the other side, back to my former self, back to the way things should be. I ache, I cry, I push and pull and fight, clawing and scraping, longing and yearning to reach…


The light. It pours in through the window behind me as I sit tired and content in the rocking chair. The sun warms my back and envelopes me in a blanket of tranquility. The room is painted an antique white. Beside me is the cherry wood crib we found on Craigslist for such a good price, adorned with the gorgeous pink and green rosebud bedding I had bought before I was even expecting a girl. On the wall above the crib is her name spelled out in swirling script: Eliana. We had so much fun decorating her nursery. In fact, after we bought our new house the first thing we did was to prepare her room and the boys’ airplane room. We hurried and scrambled to get the rest of the house into some semblance of order before she came. There is still so much left to do, but it can wait, there are more important things to do.

And in my lap, here she is. She is lying on her back across the tops of my legs, the perfect position for our daily ritual of talking and cooing. I gaze lovingly at her and marvel at her exquisite beauty, but I have no tears to cry. This moment is pure, sweet joy, untainted by the shadoworld that exists without her, somewhere in another dimension.

Her to-die-for long lashes are just like her two brothers, and like her cousin Julia, she has more than her share of adorable black curls. Her eyes are a bright, shiny blue, at least for now, and they are a combination of mine and her Daddy’s. Her mouth has the same adorable pout that the boys got from their Dad, but with fuller lips like mine. We have always taken pride in the chubby cheeks of our newborns, and Eliana doesn’t disappoint. She has a cute little round face that just makes you want to kiss her every second.

I smile at her and say “Hello sweet baby girl, are you gonna talk to mama?” She looks up at me so sweetly, and gives me one of those award-winning smiles that spreads across her face and turns into a full body squirm. “What do you say, Elli? Do you have any stories to tell mama today?” She begins to kick and squirm, moving her little fists, and her breath quickens. All the effort finally pays off with one little coo that comes out of her lips and seems to surprise her, as her face lights up all over again.

This continues for quite some time until she begins to get sleepy. She stops making eye contact and begins to fuss a little bit. I put in her paci and lay her on the soft cribsheet, patting her tummy until she closes her eyes.

All of a sudden the door bursts open, and in rushes Caedmon holding a couple of plastic dinosaurs, and Jayden with some trains. “We wanna play with Baby Elli too!” they shout, and immediately she is startled awake and begins an urgent, high-pitched cry. I quickly pick her up from her crib with a sigh. I don’t even want to think about the mess that waits for me in the boys’ room. I haven’t had a shower yet, in fact the only one in the house who has changed out of pajamas so far is Elli. Soon I will need to get lunch on the table. But for right now, it doesn’t matter, we have all the time in the world. The calming ritual begins all over again. I hold her warm body closely and pat her back, singing to her, each of us breathing tranquillity into the other, and we sit like that forever, rocking together across time and space, our love bridging the gap in the universe.


  1. I'm crying, because I love you and Eliana so much. I wish we could travel to the right-side-up universe. I'm glad love still works in this broken one, though -- I love you!!!

  2. Hi There,

    I just came from Celia's Blog - Beauty From Pain and began to read your story. I am so, so sorry for the loss of your sweet Elli. What a true Angel she is.

    Your post strikes so many chords. It is beautifully written... thank you for sharing with us.