“I can make it down the stairs by myself,” I told the EMT standing in front of me in my own bathroom. Living in a house built in 1910 means narrow staircases and narrow distances to neighbors—both reasons why I wanted to walk rather than be carried to the ambulance outside. “I appreciate that, ma’am,” said the EMT. “We’re just trying to formulate a game plan because this is an unusual situation.”
Unusual, indeed. It was unusual I had been bleeding on and off throughout my pregnancy for no reason that the doctors could identify. It was unusual I had told no one I was pregnant although I was more than 18 weeks along. It was unusual I went to take a bath that evening and realized that my baby was beginning to emerge. It was unusual I remained calm enough to instruct my husband to put our toddler to bed and call 9-1-1 while cradling this half of a tiny body in my hands.
Logically, I knew the baby’s fate right away that night. But the optimist within me started wondering if there was some way. But there wasn’t, and I knew it. I knew it because after my first miscarriage, I had scoured the Internet to learn all the survival tales. What was the absolute earliest a baby could be born and make it? None of the stories said 18.5 weeks old.
“I think it was a boy,” I told my husband, John, as we waited in the hospital room for the doctor to enter. Actually I knew it was a boy. I’d known it was a boy before I walked out of my bathroom. The image was already burned on my brain.
We’re part of that crazy minority who don’t find out whether it’s going to be a boy or girl. We like the suspense and the fact this is one of life’s last happy surprises. Because we didn’t know the sex and because it was early in the pregnancy, we hadn’t named our child. We were just getting ready to tell those close to us that we were expecting, and a name wouldn’t be discussed for several weeks.
Until the unusual happened.
The doctor couldn’t have been nicer. She asked us the name of our almost 3-year-old daughter and wisely focused us on her rather than the loss. “Tell me about Rachel,” the doctor coaxed. I couldn’t help but smile when describing our thumb-sucking, life-loving toddler. It was comforting to think of her sleeping soundly and breathing strongly just a few miles away. Then my thoughts turned to the room across the hall from Rachel which was supposed to become a nursery. I was grateful we hadn’t started decorating; my husband thankfully had insisted on waiting.
The nurses expertly maintained their caring expressions and tried to shield us from the coos and cries echoing from the rooms around us. Then the questions started. Not the usual questions on a maternity floor of whether you plan to nurse or whom you’ve chosen as your pediatrician. We started talking about options for the physical body and whether we wanted to hold our baby one last time. John and I came to agreement fairly quickly. We didn’t know if we had made the right choices, but they felt right at the time (and since, thankfully).
The next question was the zinger. Did we want to name the baby? We weren’t expecting this question, and we didn’t know the answer. Emotionally and physically we were spent, and we desperately wished we could turn to someone for guidance. But we realized we were the only ones with the answer.
After deliberating with tired eyes and heavy hearts, we finally determined that our baby wasn’t to be named. We hadn’t known it was a boy; we hadn’t named him; and it just didn’t feel right to give him a name now. I don’t really know why. Was it because it felt forced? Was it because our grief would be even more unbearable? Was it because we were in denial?
Having been extremely patient to this point, the nurses seemed to push us a little bit on the issue. “You still have some time to think of a name—really give it some thought.”
Their comments were delivered softly, but they were strong enough to make us wonder if we were the only people on the face of the Earth who had opted for “Baby Boy Reynolds” rather than a “real” name. We remained adamant, and the nurses went silent.
The next few days were hazy, and it’s the only time in my life that I’ve used the term “convalescing” to describe my state of being. Thankfully it was July, and the sun shone under clear blue skies while my daughter enjoyed Fourth of July parades and all the trappings of a fun summer holiday. She noticed the hot dogs and the flags and the swimming pools. I noticed the double and triple strollers, the expectant mothers popping out in their third trimesters and the sunsets that seemed only to signal darkness and finality.
John and I don’t talk a lot about that night or about the little package of mementos carefully wrapped in white lace upstairs. While we took time to grieve, like any major loss, it never really leaves your mind or your soul. At first I questioned whether we made the right decision not to name our 18.5 week old baby, but I am at peace that we did what was right for our family. We have encountered others in similar situations who gave their babies names and conducted memorial services. I’m grateful each family can make the choice that’s right for them.
As for us, it turns out there didn’t need to be a name to be mourned. There didn’t need to be a name to be loved. As soon as we saw the lines on the pregnancy test—even before that—there was love already. And our baby boy knew he was loved, as unusual as it sounds.
Courtney Reynolds works inside and outside the home and is mom to two young daughters. You can follow her on Twitter @crkreynolds.
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