A LETTER TO MY SON
We left the house at 8:23am on Tuesday, August 25 to go to your appointment. They were just going to do a routine ultrasound to make sure you were still growing, just as they had done a few times before. I remember the first ultrasound and how excited and nervous I got when I saw you for the first time. You were so small. The next time they did one you were bigger, and the third time you actually looked like a person. They paused at one point on the screen and I saw you open up your fist, kind of like you were waving at us. I knew immediately that I’d never forget that moment, and I never will.
But this time was different. This time, the ultrasound lasted about 10 seconds. The nurse said “The heart rate is a little low. We need to stop this right now and go get a doctor.” She seemed really worried, but I wasn’t at this point. I thought 78 beats per minute was fine, but I learned later that you were supposed to be closer to 140 beats per minute. The nurse left the room and brought in a doctor, who we had never met but said she recognized our name. She asked a few questions and then stood up and talked quietly to the nurse in the corner. The doctor told the nurse to call an ambulance and then told us we were probably going to have to deliver you today with an emergency C-section. They said there was a chance your heart beat would stabilize before we got to the hospital, but most likely you were going to be born today. You were going to be seven weeks early, but they said something was wrong and you needed to come out now. Now I was worried, but I was also so excited to see you.
The nurse left to call an ambulance and three more people came into the room. It was crowded now, but nobody was talking to us. They were looking at things on the computer and whispering to each other so we couldn’t hear. They kept saying the ambulance was taking too long and it seemed like we waited a long time. When they finally came, everyone in the office stopped and looked at us. While your mother was carted out, the entire building was silent and they stared at us as we left. I kissed your mother as her stretcher was being lifted into the ambulance and told her that everything was going to be alright. After the doors closed, a lady in the parking lot asked me if she could pray for us. I said yes, and told her your mother’s name was Lisa. I didn’t know your name yet or I would’ve told her to pray for you, too.
I followed the ambulance to the hospital and texted my parents. Lisa had an emergency and she was being taken to the UNC hospital by ambulance. I told them you were going to be born today and got so excited to see you for the first time. The doctor had said you would be small when you were born, so I was preparing myself to watch you through the glass in the NCCU and be “one of those” parents. We weren’t ready for you, but I wanted to see you so badly. I was so incredibly excited for your arrival. I followed the ambulance until it turned into a place I couldn’t go, then tried to find a place to park. Your mother and I had watched a TV show the week before where a father gave his daughter a parking ticket for her 10th birthday. The ticket was from when he parked illegally because he was rushing to see her born. I thought about doing the same, but I found parking in front of the hospital for $12 and figured that was easier. He told me where to go and I ran about a block to the emergency department entrance with your medical records and your mother’s purse.
I wanted to hurry so I told everyone that my wife had been taken by ambulance for an emergency delivery. The check-in guy congratulated me, the policeman that searched the purse wished me luck, and the guy who took my photo for the visitor’s pass told me it was going to be a great day. “One you’ll remember forever,” he said. I took the elevator up to the labor and delivery floor and passed the place I was supposed to go because it said “authorized personnel only” and I didn’t realize that my visitor’s pass qualified me as authorized. When I finally figured out that is where I needed to go, a nurse was waiting for me. “Mr. Murdock?” she asked. She had to check the file when I corrected her, but quickly gave me a mask and hair net and took me to your mother.
As we opened the door to her room, there were seven people in the room, including your mother. The nurse leading me into the room said “Dad is here.” It was the first time anyone had called me Dad. Everyone else had used Father up until then, but I wanted you to call me Dad. One of the doctors said “Hello, Ryan” in a happy tone of voice like she knew me, and I thought I recognized her, so I smiled and said hello back to her. That was the last time I smiled. As I got closer, I could see your mother was crying on the bed and the doctor asked her if she wanted to tell me. Your mother told the doctor to tell me, instead. I grabbed your mother’s hand and looked at the doctor. I don’t remember anything she said, except “we lost the baby.” I just stared at your mother and she started to cry harder. I was in shock and just said “OK” because it was the only word I could remember. Your mother asked them to do one more scan on you to make sure they were right and they showed your heart on the monitor. It was still. They said there would be colors on the screen if there was any blood flowing to your body, but it was all grey. I could see your head and your feet and the hand you used to wave at us, so I knew that you were there. But somehow you weren’t. They had prepped to do an emergency C-Section, but said they stopped when they realized you were already gone.
You passed away sometime between 9:48am and 10:21am on August 25.
There was no need to rush things now, they said. We could take our time. They put us in a regular delivery room down the hall. After sitting with your mother and holding her hand for a while, the first time I noticed on the clock was 10:43am. That was the first time I cried for you and I haven’t stopped since. We still didn’t know if you would be a boy or a girl.
I have no idea what happened for the next few hours. Your grandparents came to see you and we had to tell them what happened because they didn’t know yet. That was really hard. A couple nurses and doctors came in to introduce themselves and were really nice and quiet and apologetic. Our first nurse, Shannon, was amazing. She was calming and relaxing and I was somehow hopeful every time she said anything. That was ironic because my sister, Shannon, is in medical school and had been begging us to be a part of the delivery. The next nurse was named Vanessa, which is the name of your mother’s best friend and the maid of honor at our wedding.
A few hours later, your mother thought she felt you kick and asked them to do one more ultrasound to make sure. They did, but it was still all grey. It was just some sort of contractions, they said, that happen when your body is ready to give birth. That was when I first realized that we still had to deliver you. Even though you passed away, you were still with us and still in your mother’s womb. It didn’t seem fair and it still doesn’t and it never will. We still went through the birthing process, but knew the whole time that you weren’t going to be alive when you were born. We could do a natural birth, they said, because it wouldn’t make a difference anymore. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life.
They asked us questions and told us we didn’t need to know the answers now. Do we have your name picked out? Did we want to hold you after you were born? Did we want to have pictures taken? Do we want the chaplain to speak with us before or after the birth? Did we want to perform an autopsy? Did we want to have you buried or cremated? I hope nobody ever has to answer those questions at the same time again. We didn’t have the answers.
They gave your mother some medicine to induce labor around 6:30pm. Your mother had already started dilating and they said she didn’t need to get very far because you were going to be so small. They said your labor could begin pretty quickly. Your grandparents left to take care of our dog and cat. You would have loved playing with them so much – we have told them about you so many times. Your grandparents came back later that night with some extra clothes, a toothbrush, and my glasses and left just after midnight. I tried to sleep on the couch but I couldn’t sleep much. I was so tired and just couldn’t stop thinking about you. I saw your face every time I closed my eyes. Someone was coming in to check on your mother every twenty or thirty minutes so I would wake up to listen. They said everything was progressing normally and she was doing a great job. Your mother is so incredibly brave. She endured so much pain and cried, but only for you, not herself. I’ve never loved her so much. She began having pretty bad pain from contractions and finally asked for the epidural around 11pm. I knew that meant you’d be probably be born sometime in the next twelve hours.
At 7:34am on Wednesday, the doctor told your mother that she could begin labor whenever she was ready. Your grandparents weren’t back yet, so we called them and asked them to come. She wanted to wait until they were there. While we were waiting, I laid on the bed next to your mother and we cried together. We decided that we did want to hold you, and that we wanted the chaplain to come after you were born so you could be a part of the service. We would take pictures and you would be cremated. We wanted to have all the testing possible to determine what went wrong with you, including the autopsy. Just like me, your job as the first born child was to take care of your younger siblings. Your sacrifice will help us figure out how to help your brothers and sisters when their time comes. You are already protecting them and caring for them, even if you don’t know it. You are so amazing and strong and brave, kid – just like your mother.
We had two names already picked out for you, but they were family names so we had to change our minds after we lost you. It would just be too hard and too unfair for the rest of our family to give you those names if you weren’t going to be alive. We decided we wanted your name to be unique so we didn’t run the risk of hearing it too often by accident. Not that we wanted to forget you – we will never, ever forget you – but we knew it would be difficult to hear your name too often. We chose Maeve Marie if you were a girl from a list of famous mathematicians that your grandfather had given us for ideas. We both thought it was a pretty name and knew it would be unique – I was going to call you “May.” I chose Calvin Micheal for a boy’s name after my favorite comic strip character when I was a kid. The comic was about a little boy who was just like me, only he never had to grow up. I thought it was the perfect name.
Your grandparents arrived about an hour later and the hospital started to set up for your delivery. A crazy light that looked like a spaceship banjo came down from the ceiling and the bed your mother was laying on came apart like a transformer. You came out quickly – your mother only need to push twice. I will be forever grateful that you made the delivery easy on her. From now on, nothing else in our life will ever be easy, but I so appreciate that one little favor you gave us.
You were born just after 9am. I was holding your mother’s left shoulder and leg and I saw that you were a boy immediately. You were pink and bloody and had really long arms and legs. The doctor held you up to me and my hands were shaking as I grabbed the scissors to cut your cord. You were wrapped in a blanket and placed in your mother’s arms. You didn’t move or make a sound. I already knew you had passed away, but that was the first moment I completely realized that you weren’t going to live. I cried so hard and was paralyzed with fear. I tried to be strong for your mother, but I couldn’t keep it together. Fortunately, she was strong enough for the both of us.
I cried and just held your mother’s shoulder while she held you in her arms. She cried, too. For a while, I could only see the top of your head in her arms. You had wrinkles and hair and your skull looked like the Batman symbol. Your nose was the only clean thing on your body. After a couple minutes, I gathered the strength to stand up so I could see the rest of you. Your eyes were blackened shut and your face was bloody. Your ears were stuck to your head and one of them was not fully formed yet. You were born seven weeks early, and the doctor said you were another five weeks behind the growth schedule. They measured you at 1 pound, 12 ounces and 13” long. You were so small, Calvin, but you were so incredibly beautiful.
I grabbed your hand when I held you for the first time. Your mouth opened and you made a noise when the nurse first put you in my arms, but it was just from the way she held you. Your lips were bloody and your chin was tucked into your neck, so it looked like you were looking down. Your skin was sticky and I had to peel you away from the blanket to look at the rest of your body. You had ten long toes and ten long fingers and your entire hand fit around the first joint of my index finger. Because your skin was sticky, it felt like you were grabbing my hand. I knew you weren’t actually grabbing my hand, but I kept doing it anyway just to feel like you were. I would shake whenever I started to cry and it looked like you were breathing or moving, but your face stayed still. Your eyes were closed the whole time and your mouth never moved. The top of your left foot was stuck to your shin, so I peeled that off to make you more comfortable. I held your head and rubbed your chest and did everything I could think of to make you feel better. I wanted to help you so much, but I couldn’t. There was nothing I could do except hold you and stare at you and talk to you, so that is what I did.
You were held mostly by your mother and me, but your grandparents held you, too. They also love you very much. I cried every time I passed you to someone else, and stopped crying whenever you were passed back to me. I felt so lonely and worthless every time I gave you to someone else, but you calmed me down when you were in my arms. You comforted me so much while I was having such a hard time. I would look down at you in my arms and forget about everything – it was just you and I, father and son, and you were so perfect. Holding you was the only thing that kept me from going crazy. Before you were born, when they first asked me if I wanted to hold you, I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it. But, once I saw you, holding you is the only thing I wanted to do. I wanted to care for you and protect you and make sure nothing bad ever happened to you. I told your mother that I can now understand why the parents in the movies always say they would sacrifice their own lives for their children. I am so sorry that I couldn’t keep you safe, Calvin. If I could trade my life for yours, I would do it immediately.
The chaplain came in and said a prayer for you, Psalm 139. He wanted us to name you in the presence of God. “Calvin Micheal Mentock,” I said. I told him to remind God that your name was spelled with an EA, just so it would be easier for you when you arrive in Heaven. People always screw that up for me and I didn’t want you to have the same trouble.
A lady came in and took pictures of you. That was one of the hardest parts. They dressed you up in a tiny blue outfit and a yellow hat and wrapped you in a little quilt. They laid out a fake wood floor and placed you in a basket with a teddy bear. The teddy bear had been donated by a family that went through the same thing. I wanted to scream every time the photographer moved you, setting you up like a doll and moving your arms and legs into awkward positions. But I knew she was doing her job and we would eventually appreciate her help. She took pictures of you in our arms and I couldn’t look at the camera. I just stared at you and rubbed your feet and cried into your blanket. Your grandparents took pictures with you, too – this was supposed to be a happy time, but nobody smiled during their pictures. They put ink on your hands and feet and made prints for a memory book they gave us. We were given a little heart pendant with the center cut out and you got to keep the middle of the heart. The box also has some brochures about grief counseling. They kept saying that all this stuff was so we had something to take with us when we left, but the only thing I wanted to take home was you. The box is downstairs now, but I’m not sure when we’ll be ready to open it. I will never need a box to remember you.
The first doctor came in and asked how we were doing. We said not well. “Worst day of your life, huh?” Yeah – top two, by far, back to back. Today is now the third worst day and I don’t see any hope of tomorrow not being the fourth worst day of my life. Every day without you will be unbelievably hard.
The doctors said that your body would need to be preserved within six to eight hours after you were born if we wanted to do some of the genetic testing that was necessary to find out what went wrong. When it was close to time, we let your grandparents hold you one last time to say goodbye, then your mother and I spent some time alone with you. We told the nurse we’d need fifteen minutes – when she came back after twenty minutes, we asked for ten more. I told you how I’d never forget you and that your brothers and sisters will know how brave you were. I told you to say hello to your uncle Bill and your grandpa Paul and that they would take care of you in Heaven. I told you how much we loved you and that we would never forget you. I told you a couple jokes to use so you could make friends in Heaven, but warned you that nobody on Earth really thinks I’m funny so you should be careful with them. I held you close and kissed your forehead over and over again as I asked for your forgiveness. I told you not to worry about anything and that you’d never have to deal with any of the cruel things that go on in this world. You looked so peaceful. This was not your fault and you didn’t deserve any of this. You did everything so well and your mother and I are so proud of you. We will always be proud of you.
The nurse came in again and asked if we were ready. We said yes – we were ready. I wasn’t really ready and I didn’t want to let you go, but it was time. If you were going to be able to help your brothers and sisters, it had to be time. She took you away from us at 5:43pm and we cried harder than we had before. All I could think of after that was leaving – I didn’t want to be in that room anymore. That room held so much of our pain and anguish and tears. But, it also held you. That was the first time you had left room 4W14 and gone out into the world, and your parents couldn’t follow to protect you. Without you there, I couldn’t find a reason to stay. But I looked at your mother and knew I had to focus on protecting and helping her. It took a while to get your mother cleared for discharge because she had high blood pressure, even though they kept saying it was normal for someone in our situation. We left the hospital, and you, sometime around 7pm. I don’t remember anything about the drive home up until I saw our dog greet us at the door.
When we got home, we heated up some leftover food from the hospital. I had only eaten half a cheeseburger in the last two days and was really hungry, but I took one bite and lost my appetite. We cried all night and barely got any sleep because I am scared to close my eyes. I have been staring at things a lot since I found out you were gone because I see your face every time I blink. I see your face when my eyes are open, too, but at least I have something else to look at. I don’t know how to move on, but I will, because we owe it to you to try. We owe you so much, Calvin.
I am so grateful for the seven hours I got to see you. It hurt more than any pain I’ve had in my life to see you so still in my arms, but it would have hurt even more to never have that chance. You looked calm and ready for whatever lies ahead of you. You are in a better place, where the world isn’t so hard and unforgiving. Nothing can ever hurt you now, Calvin, and you don’t have to worry about a thing. Be at peace, my lovely baby boy. I will never forget you.
I will love you forever.