**Note to readers: this post is about the loss of a child and may be difficult for some readers.
It has taken me over 12 years to get to the point where I could write this. It has taken so long because, in some ways, I have acted like this did not happen.
Unfortunately, it is a true story.
Also unfortunate is the fact I have done a terrific job of suppressing the memories around this event. Even so, I am doing my best to accurately portray the events now. There are numerous gaps in my memory.
In June of the summer of 2006, I was in the process of moving from CT to SC to take on a new job. I was married at the time and had 7 amazing children, 4 girls and 3 boys. We were expecting our 8th child within weeks, a boy, who would balance out the scales and make it a 4-4 tie in the family.
As you may know, moves can be hectic. I was trying to wind down my outgoing job, trying to coordinate the move, managing family stuff, and the baby was due shortly after the move.
I was trying to wind down my outgoing job, trying to coordinate the move, managing family stuff, and the baby was due shortly after the move.
I was also flying to SC periodically to look at homes and attend a few meetings at my new job. My children and their mother were busy getting stuff packed, finishing the school year and trying to get excited about another move.
Some time very close to the day we drove out of CT and headed south to our new home, my (then) wife said that she was feeling weird and was concerned about the baby that was soon to be born. I remember her sitting on a bench in our house holding her hands over her swollen belly and looking up at me with concern on her face. There were boxes stacked around the room and the conversation got distracted by the work we had to do.
We loaded our belongings into our vehicles, which included towing our amazing boat. The van was stuffed with children and bags and the truck stuffed as well.
The plan was to drive to my mom’s house in Indian Trail, NC to spend the night and then finish the drive to SC.
While we were driving there, my wife continued to express concern about how she was feeling. We agreed to go see a doctor upon arriving in NC.
When we arrived we got the children situated with Grandma and then my wife and I drove to the hospital to get her checked out. Yes, we were tired from the drive, but we were also concerned enough to head to the emergency room.
On the drive and while waiting in the hospital to be seen, my wife was talking about how she felt different and how she was not feeling the baby move. I was concerned about her concern, but in the back of my mind I was telling myself that there was a good explanation. Perhaps she was just being a bit alarmist, which would not have been out of character.
When they called us into the dimly lit exam room, the nurse said that she was going to hook her up to the monitor and sonogram to check on the baby. The nurse squirted the gel on to the swollen belly and then placed the transducer probe into the gel and started moving it around.
All three of us had our eyes transfixed on the monitor screen.
We could hear the noise of the probe moving around but we could not hear a baby heartbeat. The nurse did not look overly concerned. She said something about repositioning the probe and then started moving it around and changing angles and pressing harder into the belly.
Still nothing. No heartbeat.
The nurse continued moving the probe around for several minutes and after having no success, she left to bring in the doctor.
We looked at each other and we both had a very sober and concerned look on our faces. It was either out of exhaustion from the 770 mile drive we just completed or out of total fear, or both, but I do not remember us saying a word.
When the doctor came back in, he gave the usual busy doctor greetings and then indicated that he wanted to take a look.
He wiped off the existing gel and then applied a fresh squirt. He followed a similar pattern that the nurse did to search out the heartbeat.
The results were no different. He could not find a heartbeat.
When he looked me directly in the eyes, my heart began to beat out of my chest. He spoke the news that he was concerned about the baby.
Yes, he said there may not be a heartbeat. Which of course meant…
I couldn’t feel anything. I wasn’t even sure I was hearing or seeing. There was a dark vignette around the room and time was warping into some type of surreal slow motion nightmare.
Or maybe my heart was warping.
I tried not to make eye contact with her. I knew this was not good.
I usually have answers. I usually can make things better. Somehow. Some way.
Not this time.
There was no fix. This could not be reversed.
This was about as final as it gets.
Then it suddenly became more final as the doctor began to explain what happens when a baby dies before birth. I tried to listen. I gave it my best.
All I remember hearing was deliver the baby now or when we get to SC.
Deliver the baby? How in the world do you deliver a dead baby?
I do not remember how or why, but we made the decision to deliver the baby when we arrived in SC. Perhaps it was better to deliver the baby where we were going to live. Perhaps somehow, by delaying, something miraculous would happen.
Maybe, just maybe when we got to SC we would find out that something was wrong with their probes and tests at the hospital in NC. Perhaps they made a huge mistake. Mistakes happen. People are human and by being human, prone to make mistakes. Heck I make millions of them.
A thought kept running through my head: This type of thing does not happen to me. I have always been “the lucky one.”
Or perhaps because of my faith, and my attempts to be a perfect child of God, that God might just have another miracle in his bag of tricks saved just for me and this situation. After all, he loves me, right?
On the ride back to Grandma’s from the hospital, we were in shock. The only thing I remember discussing was what we would tell the baby’s brothers and sisters.
To the best of my recollection, we told the children the news that night or the next morning. They did not appear devastated or hugely impacted. They seemed surprisingly fine.
Elias was 13. Harrisen was 9. Stensen was 8. Yana had just turned 7. Mariana was 4 and JuJu and RiRi were 2. The older children knew a bit about death and babies. The younger ones did not totally grasp what was going on.
When we finally made the last leg of our journey to SC and moved into our new house, there was a pall over the move in and what should have been the excitement of the new job, new house and new community.
We arrived in the new home the 3rd full week of June and I did not need to start the new job until July 1. So we had time to move in and to deal with delivering the baby.
We decided to go into the hospital for delivery on Monday, June 26.
It was disheartening and unreal to walk into the maternity ward knowing that at the end of the process that we would not be walking out joyfully with our healthy, happy baby. And yet, everything that happened that day in the hospital took place as if we would be.
We were admitted and placed into a delivery room. The delivery room had all of the same equipment, probes, curtains, beds and poorly working tvs that all of the other delivery rooms have had.
They nurse connected up all of the monitors and IV’s just like a normal delivery. However, she did not put on the belly monitor. That was a sobering reawakening of what was about to happen.
They delivered an injection to help induce the labor. After a while she began having contractions. I do not know how long the labor lasted but it was a “normal” labor.
As the delivery was nearing, I remember having apprehension about what it would be like to see the baby. Watching the birthing process felt like it should be an exciting and happy occasion. However, knowing that the baby would be stillborn sucked all of the joy out of it. Knowing the baby would be stillborn just totally sucked.
When I saw the baby’s head crowning, I instantly saw that he had a full head of dark hair. It was smashed down against his skull. Again, I was reminded about how normal this experience was except for the fact that he was stillborn.
When he was fully delivered, the nurse cleaned him off and wrapped in a blanket just like they would for any baby. I remember being a little afraid to look at him at first. Perhaps he would look weird or deformed in some way. But I had to look. He is my son.
What if, what if they were wrong. What if he was breathing? What if his heart was beating?
OH PLEASE BE WRONG!
Where was the miracle? Where was it?
His eyes were closed.
He wasn’t moving.
His little chest was still.
His little fingers were clinched.
He was not crying.
He was not breathing.
He wouldn’t open his eyes because he couldn’t open his eyes.
I kept looking at his eyes. I kept staring at them hoping that somehow they would move.
They never opened. I never got to see his eyes.
I stood there at the end of the bed looking at him. He was the size of a normal baby. He looked normal in every way.
He was BEAUTIFUL.
He looked just like his older brother Stensen. Same hair. Same face. His head was even a bit big for his body, just like his brother.
The nurse asked if I wanted to hold him. Of course the answer was yes. However, to be truthful, on top of the overwhelming sadness, I had a weird feeling because he was not alive. I have no experience being around death. I have never seen a dead body.
I was quickly able to overcome the weird feeling and gladly and gently took the baby from the nurse. I held him closely in my arms just like I would have any other baby.
Tears were streaming down my face and vision went in and out of blurriness just as they are now as I write this.
Up close he was even more beautiful, more precious than I would have ever imagined.
His eyes were still closed though.
I so wanted his cute little eyes to open and have him look lovingly up into my eyes. I am certain they would be brown eyes considering his hair and skin tone.
This is perhaps the most sacred experience I have ever had. I am certain I cannot fully explain everything I was seeing, feeling and wanting.
He was beautiful, yet still and lifeless. He was definitely an Andersen boy, but I would never get to raise him. I would never hear the cooing, the crying and the amazingly heartwarming sound of a baby laughing. I would not see how tall he would be, how much he would weigh and watch his personality unfold before my eyes.
This was my chance to have a physical connection with him. This was my chance to hold him in my arms. This my chance to love him in person.
I lifted him slightly in my arms as I leaned down to kiss him on the cheek. My tears fell on him and I could barely utter the words “I love you” to him.
I have no idea how long I held him that first time. It could have 2 mins or two hours. I know at some point once his mom was ready, I handed him to her.
I have never felt emotions like this before.
Not even close.
It was intense, heartbreaking, and I felt inconsolable.
At mom’s request, I left the room to get a cup of ice for her. She liked the hospital pellet ice. She was thirsty following the birth.
Walking down the hallway after getting a paper cup full of ice, I noticed that all the doors to the delivery rooms were closed, which meant they were in use and busy. Our room was at the end of the hall on the right.
As I was looking at each door, I also noticed that each of the rooms had a red rose taped to them. I thought that was particularly sweet. It was a nice gesture that I assumed the hospital did to welcome the newborn.
As I continued walking down the hallway, slowly passing each of the closed doors and approaching the door to our room, I noticed that our door had a yellow rose on it. It was not on the door when we first came in.
At first, I thought to myself that they must have run out of red roses so they used a yellow rose. I was very appreciative for the gesture even considering the circumstances.
Then I realized what the yellow rose signified.
I stopped in my tracks and stared at the rose. After a few deep breaths and sharp pangs of sadness, I finally was able to walk back into the room.
Before we left, the nurse asked us if we would like to take a picture with the baby. I hadn’t thought of it and almost felt a bit weird about it, but we agreed to take a picture. She had a Polaroid camera. We stood side by side holding the baby in our arms. I set the ice on the tray next to the bed and it was not touched for a while. She was holding the baby.
We took the picture and I remember the surreal experience of seeing the Polaroid image appear slowly right in front of my eyes. It was an out of body experience looking at the picture and seeing the baby appear in our arms.
It was unreal.
Or was it real?
Seeing the picture was just another milestone of the finality of the situation. Yes, we were really holding our stillborn child. And no, he was not coming home with us. At least not this day.
The nurse went back to her duties and I moved around to the other side of the bed to get out of her way. She was incredibly sweet and sensitive.
As she was busily performing her tasks, she suddenly stopped and stood still and saw the sadness, tears and sobs. She then softly asked the following question, “Have you decided to give him a name?”
To be honest, I had not thought about it. However, without hesitation the baby’s mother looked over at me and then at the nurse and said, “Scott Jr.”
All I remember at that point, was making some type of deep guttural shocked sound and I commenced to sob one of my hardest cries ever. I have no idea what happened for a period of time after that. It is literally blank in my mind. It could have been weeks or years transpiring in that moment.
I heard nothing. I could say nothing. I could see nothing. Everything was a blur.
After giving us the picture, the nurse showed us a box. She opened it and pulled out a beautiful white gown. She told us that about a group of elderly ladies who call themselves Threads of Love. They sew burial clothing for children. They do so because they want to relieve the burden on families and remove that from the things to think about.
I can tell you I hadn’t even thought about it although I was extremely grateful for the kindness and consideration shown by these ladies. What angels they were in a dire time of need.
She said if we wanted her to, she could dress the baby for us so that when we came back to pick him up for the burial, he would be ready to go. She recommended this because she let us know that depending upon how long it would be before burial, that the body can discolor and it may be uncomfortable for us.
We gladly accepted her offer.
When the time came to go home. The nurse let us know that we had the option of bringing baby Scott with us or leaving him the hospital morgue until we could manage the burial.
Did she just say “morgue?”
WTH? Morgue? You mean a place where they keep dead people?
We chose to leave him at the hospital.
It was hard driving home from the hospital. It was a morose and empty feeling knowing that I was leaving my son there in the morgue.
I have no idea if we talked on the way home. But at some point we talked about what we were going to do for the burial. Somebody told us that in South Carolina you are able to do burials on your own property. We lived on a beautiful 11-acre piece of land. So we had plenty of space.
After considering all the options, we decided to do it on our own land. After walking around our property, we selected an intimate space toward the rear of the property under a small grove of trees.
I cannot remember how many days passed before we went back to the hospital to pick up Scott and bring him home, but I feel certain it was less than a week.
It was just as weird driving to the hospital to pick up my son as it was leaving the hospital without him. I had anxiety all the way to the hospital thinking about what it would be like to have Scott in the car with me.
He would not be fastened snugly into his new car seat. He would be in a small box.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was told to go up to the desk and ask for the nurse who helped during delivery. She took me to a warm, private room where the Scott was ready to go in his box. I do not remember specifically what the room was and I am not sure if my memory is playing a game with me, but I remember some type of small red-covered table in the center of the room when the box was rested.
The nurse took us to the table. I am not sure what words were said during the exchange, but I have a faint memory of giving the nurse a hug. Then I picked up the box and made the very strange walk out of the front door of the hospital.
It was like I had a secret in the box and anyone who would have seen me walking out carrying the box, would not have had any idea that it was my son inside the box.
When I got to the car, more strange feelings. Where do I put the box? In the trunk, in the front seat, back seat? I believe I placed it in the back seat.
This would be the only time I would be driving Scott anywhere. No birthday parties, soccer games or trips to the DMV to get his license.
I remember emotions building within me as I drove to the house. I knew what was coming.
This would be the first time the other children would be with their brother. In fact, it would be the only time. On top of that, we were going to be digging the grave and burying Scott.
I had done research on how to appropriately bury someone. The key is to make it deep enough that other animals will not be attracted to the site and then disturb the remains. I also learned that when we sold the house that we would have to notate to the buyers the location of the grave. That way, they too could avoid disturbing the remains.
Upon arriving at home, the children came out and they semi-cautiously approached me with the box. I told them that baby Scott was inside. I asked if they wanted to hold him (he was in the box) and no one was comfortable doing so.
Here is another area of memory lapse for me: I am not sure how long I was home before we went back to the burial site and started digging the grave.
My next memory is where all of us are back at the burial site and we are taking turns digging the grave. It was very hard work and both Elias and Harrisen took turns bravely helping out. I was quite impressed with how serious they took the work and how hard they worked.
I remember during my turns that I had a combination of sweat and tears dripping down my face. I was not outwardly sobbing/crying, but it was quite painful. I frequently looked up at the children’s faces as I was digging just to see their reactions.
I am not sure how deep we went as I do not think we measured the depth. I do have a clear vision of Elias almost being totally underground at one point.
When the grave was ready and everyone was gathered around, I jumped into the grave and was handed the box with baby Scott. I carefully placed the box in the center of the grave and took one last look before getting a helping hand out of the grave.
Then came the next very difficult task – shoveling the dirt into the grave and on top of Scott. It was difficult because shoveling that much dirt is hard, but it was more difficult seeing the dirt land into the grave and covering up my son.
That is a sight I do not wish for any parent.
The first shovel loads of dirt were put in carefully so as to not move the box. However, once the box was fully immersed in the dirt, we started shoveling a bit faster, again taking turns. It took a bit of time and a few friends from church helped us finish filling in the grave.
I remember turning around and looking back toward the house when it was done. I was very dirty and very sad. I looked over at Elias and Harrisen. They too had the dark red dirt on the shoes and clothing. While I was sad about the circumstances, I was quite proud of how they handled themselves.
I frequently tell people I like movies with happy endings. Who would want to see a movie that makes you sad? I like, no, I LOVE to be happy.
This story does not have a happy ending. It just hurts.
I am now just finally allowing myself to feel it. As my amazing therapist says, I need to sit with ALL of my emotions. I cannot pick and choose which ones to experience. When you choose to be happy, you automatically get to experience sadness.
You can try to run away from negative emotions and feelings you have, but that does not bring true happiness either. I know this well from years of personal experience.
Emotions come as a package. They are an all or nothing proposition.
What I am learning is that happiness comes from knowing that I am no longer sad. And sadness comes when I know that I am no longer happy.
Gratitude comes when I know that I am experiencing a life with a full range of our God-given emotions. I am a child of God and God gave us emotions. When I am trying to hide those emotions and trying not to experience some of them, I am hiding gifts from God. He didn’t give them to me torture me. He gave them to me to help me learn. While I do not even pretend to fully understand all the reasons, I know that sitting with all my emotions will result in a joy that I could attain no other way.
I would love to say I have this mastered. The truth is at the age of 54, I am at the beginning of learning some of this. And I still have a long way to go.
I hope my learning will not be as painful as this experience was, and my positive outlook says there is no way it could be this painful.
But I say that very softly…