I have a stark memory from my pregnancy, during one long morning when Max and I were sitting in the hallway outside my obstetrician’s office, waiting for my regular prenatal check-up. A woman walked out of her ob’s office, her hands over the little person curled up inside of her, her entire being enveloped by the arms of another woman. They walked briskly down the corridor and toward the lobby and exit, their bodies seemingly attached, both sobbing the kind of pain that we only hear in our worst nightmares. This was Japan, a country in which such public expressions of emotion are unheard of. My heart pounded and constricted at the same time. I wanted to wish her news away.
In the coming three years I would hear two other stories that would make my breath and heart seem to stop. Fred was a healthy, active, smiling two-year-old, safely playing in our living room when my midwife, who had by then become my friend, came over for lunch and a visit. She told us stories of her experiences in the maternity ward, and especially of one woman who couldn’t decide whether or not to listen to her instinct to get checked, and then lost her baby on his birth day, born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. Her story haunted me for a long time. After a long and difficult labor Fred was born with the cord around his neck. I had barely a glimpse of him before the medical team rushed him to the NICU. But he was with me, two years later, giggling and playing hide-and-seek with my midwife. My what-if’s channeled into gratitude for the simple, small, daily miracles of a child growing and smiling. Every day I know absolutely how lucky I am.
One year before Fred was born, my friend Claudia, whom I have known since our shared study break days in college, lost her infant son, Caleb. Fred and Caleb share the same birthday week and each year that Fred blows out his candles I also remember the sweet face of Caleb and his and his mother’s story.
By chance I read this morning that October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. Last Friday on Facebook Claudia had posted a stunning tribute to the ten years since Caleb passed away. I wanted to share her words with you and I am grateful to Claudia for allowing me to do so. I don’t have adequate words to introduce Claudia but I think that her voice below will more than show the kind of mother and person she is.
A decade is a long time for a mother to be without one of her ducklings. Caleb Joseph Stahl died on the 11th of October 2003. My third son’s earnest, brave, innocent seven months of life changed me irrevocably. On the eve of the tenth anniversary of when I last held my little sweetheart, here are ten wonderful gifts Caleb gave me:
1. Fearlessness. I have survived the worst; very little rattles, bothers, or frightens me anymore.
2. Compassion. We never know what struggles a person might be going through at any given time. I like to think people are doing their best to get through the day – sad, averted eyes or brusque greetings? They might be covering a world of sorrow.
3. Joy. When triumph is measured in occasional smiles, half-drunk bottles of milk, and decent O2 sats, a person learns to celebrate the little things every day.
4. Patience. Sitting at Caleb’s hospital bed for hours, waiting for a peek at his gorgeous hazel eyes, was worth every single moment.
5. Friends. Old friends returned to me and new ones came along the way. The outpouring of love for our family during Caleb’s life and since has been astonishing.
6. Sam. Sam was only five when Caleb died. Countless afternoons, Sam was in charge of his two-year-old brother in the hospital play area. He never complained. He never whined. To this day he is one of the most stoic, grounded, genuinely kind people I know.
7. Henry. Henry doesn’t remember Caleb, which is incredibly painful and poignant. Yet he seems to have the strongest connection to him – he used to ask to go to Caleb’s gravestone just to play near him. Henry’s tenderheartedness, tucked beneath his exuberant exterior, takes my breath away.
8. Abigail. The first thing I did when an ultrasound confirmed I was expecting my fourth baby was drive to Caleb’s place to tell him he was going to be a big brother. I told Caleb the baby would know all about him and that he would always be kid #3 while the baby would be #4. All her life Abby has declared that she has THREE big brothers. Abby is loyal, steadfast, and loving.
9. Goodness. The past decade has not been without its curveballs, disappointments, and grief. However, Caleb’s life lessons – packed into just seven months’ time – taught me to relish the good and relinquish the bad so I am always surrounded by good.
10. Gratitude. I cherish everyone and everything mentioned here and so many others who are not on this small list. I only had 219 days of “I love yous” to share with Caleb. When he died, I vowed to appreciate and acknowledge life’s gifts – this is a work in progress for me, but I have Caleb to thank for giving me the marching orders for my remaining years.
Thank you, Claudia. xoxo