Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Robert Allen's Story Part V: The Rainbow after the Storm

While I was no longer having panic attacks regularly, I would still get them on very rare occasions but they weren't nearly as intense and I was able to talk myself out of them. The worst of it seemed to be over and I was left with wondering if we'd ever have another baby. Three losses within less than a year and a half was overwhelming but I felt this intense need to have another baby. I felt that we weren't done yet and there was another baby waiting to come to our family.

Yet, the losses had taken an emotional toll on me that I didn't know I could survive again and Rob didn't want to watch me suffer like I had. We talked extensively about what to do, with me wanting more kids and Rob wanting to be done. We had reached an impasse but for Mother's Day of 2008 Rob's present to me was that we could try one more time. If it worked, great! But if it didn't we would be done. Either way, this would be our last try at getting pregnant.

On Father's Day the next month, I surprised him with a positive pregnancy test! We were so excited but also scared and cautious. We knew all too well that pregnancy did not equate to a living baby at the end. I wanted so much to know that this pregnancy would be different though and sought out a blessing hoping that Heavenly Father would tell me that everything would be ok. Instead I was told that everything would happen according to God's plan and that if I would pray about it, I would receive answers to my questions.

So I prayed. I begged to have the revelation that this pregnancy would go well, that we would hold a living, healthy child at the end. The answer I got was not what I wanted or expected. I was told that I did not get to know the outcome until the end. That I needed to trust my Heavenly Father that whatever happened I would be ok. I was taught that part of faith is not having the answers but going forward anyway; that true faith is trusting even if the answer is no. It was so hard to hear that. It would have been so easy for me to have faith if the answer had been that everything would be fine, but trusting that even if the worst happened again I would be ok was another trial of my faith in my Father in Heaven.

It was in the early part of this pregnancy that God sent me perhaps the greatest tender mercy thus far. I took my kiddos to the park one summer morning when I was about 9 weeks along and was determined to read a book while they played. I didn't want to interact with anyone, but there was a mom there with her two kids and inevitably her kids and mine started to play together. We avoided having to talk to eachother until her oldest and one of my kiddos got into an argument and I had to make my child go apologize to hers. Because of that we started to talk and I mentioned that I was 9 weeks pregnant but had lost 3 babies recently. It turned out that she also had multiple losses between her first and her then 9 month old baby girl. We bonded over the shared losses and when one of my kids needed to use the bathroom she invited us to head to her house to use hers since it was closer than our house and I accepted even though it was out of character for me to do that. While waiting for my kiddo to come back out of the house, we agreed to meet at the park the next day and from that moment on, we became fast friends.

Looking back, we would learn that neither one of us had wanted to talk to the other but God knew we would need each other and made sure we did. So many things happened that day that didn't make sense. We didn't normally go to that park, she wouldn't normally offer to let a stranger use her bathroom, I wouldn't normally accept, neither one of us expected the other to show up the next day and almost didn't go, but we both went anyway. It was a friendship that seemed preordained in the premortal life and it would sustain me over the coming months and years as I faced other trials in my life and she faced her own. She would become my best friend and a second mother to my children and I would do the same for hers.

During this pregnancy, things progressed smoothly but I was always on edge. One time around 20 weeks, close to when I'd lost Robert Allen, I hadn't felt the baby move for several hours and I was freaking out. I showed up at the kids' school to pick them up and my best friend Danna was there. When I saw her I burst into tears and she asked what was wrong. I told her that I hadn't felt the baby move and was scared. She encouraged me to call the doctor and go in to be checked. I did that and everything was fine, but that scare epitomized my emotional state for my entire pregnancy. I was always waiting for something to go wrong, hypersensitive to anything that might be indicative of a miscarriage or stillbirth and overall just scared.

Finally, on February 18, 2009 Kailyn, our Rainbow Baby, was born. She was healthy and perfect. I called her my Rainbow Baby because of this quote:
"Rainbow Babies" is the understanding that the beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it doesn't mean the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. Storm clouds may still hover but the rainbow provides a counterbalance of color, energy and hope."
While having Kailyn didn't change the trials we had passed through, nor did it lessen my grief at the loss of my other babies, she was, "...something beautiful and full of light..." She brightened my life and our home, but I still felt the loss of Robert Allen. In fact, in many ways it was even more intense because as I experienced all the joys of a new baby I felt all the more acutely everything I had missed with him. Each moment of joy was a reminder of a lost moment with Robert Allen. Still, I reveled in the joy of my little girl.

To our surprise, in November of 2009 we discovered that I was pregnant again. This was a total surprise to us as we had planned on being done having kids. This pregnancy would be as high stress and nerve racking as Kailyn's had been. I was still constantly waiting for something to go wrong. Luckily, on June 25, 2010 Edison arrived safely and healthy. Because of all that we'd been through, and after much prayer, Rob and I decided that I would have my tubes tied because I couldn't go through another pregnancy and deal with the fear and stress that would invariably accompany it. Even with this second Rainbow Baby, I still was dealing with the grief of my other losses and felt them as intensely as before, but I also became an expert at pretending that I was fine.

Even when I was only a few months out from losing Robert Allen, I felt that I didn't have the right to grieve him. I felt that no one would understand how much I missed him or loved him since he'd never lived outside my body and so I forced myself as much as possible to not focus on his loss. I forced myself to move on and to put on a brave face, as it were. I did allow myself to grieve in private, but wouldn't give myself permission to let others see me or know just how devastated I really was. And I continued that pattern for years following his stillbirth and the subsequent miscarriages. Hiding my feelings, pretending that I was over it became second nature to me.

While this worked for a period of years, it took its toll on me. I found myself getting angrier and more withdrawn from my Heavenly Father. I didn't want to pray to Him or read my scriptures. I struggled wanting to continue to attend church and do my callings. I couldn't understand why Robert Allen had died, why things had happened how they did, what I was supposed to learn from the experience and when I would ever "get over" this loss. I missed him with all my heart and would often find myself sitting up late into the night listening to sad songs and crying, wanting to hold my son, wanting just to know that he was there and ok.

In all the questions that I'd had the one that always nagged at me was whether Robert Allen would be my son in the next life. In our religion we believe that families are eternal and that children and parents are sealed together. While a child born into a sealed family is considered theirs forever, there is no doctrine on what happens with stillborns or miscarriages. So, while I wanted desperately to believe that he was our forever, there was nothing that I could point to in our beliefs that supported that desire. In many ways, those who lose children after birth are lucky because they have the definite assurance while those of us who lose them prior to birth only have the hope of that.

I would often beg that I would get to feel Robert Allen near me, but it didn't seem to happen. I missed him. I missed that I'd never get to hear his cry or feel his hand wrap around my finger. I missed that I couldn't get hugs or kisses from him or hear him call me mommy. I was angry that the only memories I had with my son were of holding his corpse. I'd never hear his heartbeat outside my body, feel his breath on my cheek or watch him sleep. I had no memories to hold onto, no doctrine to guarantee he was mine forever and no answers from God. I felt alone and abandoned in ways that I had never felt before.

For nearly 7 years following my loss, I stopped seeking out my Heavenly Father. I was angry at him, not for the loss of my babies, but for the lack of answers and the prolonged grief. I wanted the trial to be over, I wanted answers and I was tired of missing my son.

One day as I was watching some videos on Youtube, I came across this one about a man who lost most of his family in a tragic car accident. While the video was about forgiveness there was a part in it that touched me deeply. Chris Williams talks about when he felt angry about the loss of his family, he directed it at the Savior instead of the young man responsible for the accident. In that moment, hearing that I understood something that I never had before; the Savior could handle my anger at Him. Not only that, but he understood it and was waiting patiently for me to return to Him. He wasn't frustrated with me and my anger, He wasn't tired of me or of listening to me vent my frustrations at Him, because He knew, in a way that no one else could what I was going through. That was part of the atonement; to feel and experience everything I ever would so that He could understand me perfectly and have perfect mercy, compassion and love for me. In that moment, I knew I needed to return to Him and seek Him out again. I realized that I not only needed to, but that I wanted to; I missed my Savior and wanted Him in my life again.

I started talking to Him and my Father in Heaven again. Yet, it still did not lessen my grief and I began to struggle even more with my depression. About 4 years after Edison's birth and my tubal, and 7 years after my last miscarriage, I would learn that I was pregnant again. I would miscarry that baby and wrote of my experiences here and here. The following June we would again learn that I was pregnant and it would turn out to be an ectopic pregnancy which required emergency surgery on Edison's 5th birthday. I also wrote of that experience here, here, here and here.

Those were not easy times for me and today as I write this, I am only just beginning to allow myself to grieve completely my son and my other 4 miscarriages. It took years of anger and trying to hide my emotions, therapy and lots of encouragement from my currrent therapist to begin to allow myself to grieve however I needed to. I thought that by ignoring the grief, by trying to get through it, I was grieving and getting past it, but in reality I was only delaying the inevitable. I needed to allow myself to feel whatever I felt, no matter what anyone else might or might not think. I needed to give myself permission to treat my losses as real and valid losses no matter how early or late they occurred. Had I worried less about what others might think or whether I should still be sad or not, I may not be where I am now, nearly 12 years after Robert Allen's stillbirth and grieving him all over again. Yet, the experience has taught me so much about myself, about grief, compassion, and empathy. It has also set me on a path that I never would have imagined for myself.

So, here I am today, 12 years after my first loss, reliving it like it was just yesterday. . . and that's ok. It's ok that I'm not over this and that it still breaks my heart to think of my son. It's ok that I love him as much as any of my other children and grieve him the same as if I had lived a lifetime with him before he was taken. It's ok that I'm not always ok. And it's ok that Robert Allen's story will never really have an ending as long as I'm here to remember him and grieve him. In this storm, I have felt the horrors and terrors that have shaken me to the core, but I also have seen rainbows, like my two Rainbow Babies or meeting my best friend. And the rainbows have made the storm bearable and endurable.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Robert Allen's Story Part IV: The Storm Rages

Life went on for us after that. Sterling started kindergarten in the fall, Joe had his 2 birthday, Cori turned 1 and Emmy turned 4. Always in the back of my mind was my son. I though of him constantly and I devoured books about miscarriage and stillbirth. I sought out blogs and internet sites about people who had lost their babies. How did they cope? What was their experience like? I searched out songs  and quotes that touched my heart and reminded me of my baby boy and what I'd gone through. And I cried a lot! Yet, in my journal I wrote how I felt like this wasn't it, that there was somehow more to this trial. I worte that I felt that there was more to come that would try my faith like it'd never been tested before. But I couldn't make sense of that either. What could be harder than losing my son?

During this time I felt closer to my Heavenly Father than I ever had before. I was doing all the things I should; reading my scriptures, praying, attending my church meetings. I felt blessed that even though we'd lost our son, I knew that my Heavenly Father was in control. I had faith that this was all part of his plan and that I would see my son again. I chalked the loss of my boy up to "bad luck" for lack of a better term. It was just something that happens and I was no more immune to tragedy and trial than anyone else.

That's not to say that I wasn't sad. I remember looking at my calendar and thinking, "Oh, I would be _____weeks today. Robert Allen would be ______big and be doing_______." Each week ripped out my heart as I desperately wanted to still have my baby in me, growing, safe and healthy. During this time I was a teacher in our nursery (kids 2-3 years old) and I took a few weeks off before going back. The week that I was supposed to start back in nursery I remember sitting in sacrament meeting and I just couldn't do it. I couldn't go back and be ok. I wanted my baby back and I just couldn't handle pretending that everything was ok. I sat there they whole meeting BEGGING the Lord to not make me go to nursery that day. Begging that someone would offer to take my place...anything so I didn't have to go. But nothing happened so I was determined to get through the next couple hours as if I was ok because I didn't want to seem weak or needy by asking for help. As I was walking into the nursery room one of my visiting teachers was in the doorway dropping her son off. She was aware of our losing our baby and asked how I was doing . . . and I just burst into tears. This wonderful woman, Sister A. just held me while I cried and offered to cover for me in nursery, which I gladly accepted. It was one of the many tender mercies that I would receive from the Lord and not the only one that would come from this incredible woman!

I think the most difficult thing for me was what seemed like a lack of support from others. In all fairness, I don't know how many people actually knew we were pregnant. We hadn't ever announced that we were expecting and after Robert Allen died I didn't know how to tell people without feeling like I was begging for sympathy, so I didn't say much. Also, it was summer and a lot of people were gone from church. We did have a few meals brought in after Robert Allen died, and there were several people who went out of their way to help us, check on us or just let us know they cared. But for the most part, there was nothing. It was so hard. It felt at times like what we were going though didn't matter. That because our son wasn't full term or hadn't been born alive, that somehow it didn't really count as losing a child; that we were supposed to just be ok with it. I felt like our loss wasn't sufficient for others to notice or acknowledge. I wanted so much for someone to talk to me about my baby, to ask me about what had happened. I wanted to tell my story because then he wouldn't just be in my memory.  But whether it was that people didn't know or just that they didn't know what to say, I feel like I was left to wade through the loss of my son alone most of the time. I can't count the number of times I cried and begged the Lord to send someone for me to talk to, someone to understand. I begged for that person that would just feel inspired to call or stop by when I was struggling . . . but it never happened. I don't know why they never came, but maybe it's because if they did I would have just put on a smile and pretended like it was all just fine. Because letting my emotions show just isn't something I often do. To make matters even more difficult, there were pregnant women all around me. A couple who were even due right at the same time I was. Watching them was like watching what would have been and it was so hard to be around them.

One Sunday in particular I was teaching my nursery class and one of the ladies who was pregnant was in there. She was talking with the other nursery leader about her pregnancy and what was going on. I just sat there, trying not to cry until I couldn't stand it another second. I made up the excuse that I needed to go to the bathroom and quickly left the room. I went to the bathroom and broke down. It just didn't seem fair! It was hard to pretend to not be affected but at the same time I didn't want others to tiptoe around me like I was crazy, so I just kept it in as well as I could.

There was a couple of times that I lost it in public. One was at the baby shower of a friend a few months after Robert Allen. I had tried to avoid holding her son while I was there because my grief was so close to the surface, but someone handed him to me and I just sat there, trying not to cry. I guess I looked flushed or something because someone asked me if I was ok at which point I handed them the baby and and said, "I just can't...I can't..." and ran out of the room. My wonderful friend ran after me, and grabbed me in the hall. I told her I was so sorry, that I didn't want this to be about me and I didn't want to ruin her baby shower. She told me I hadn't ruined anything and demanded that I come back, that she wanted me there. She took me back into the room and just hugged me while saying that I didn't have to do this alone and a few other women came over and joined her.

Another time, about a year after Robert Allen died we had a couple in our ward who had a son who was stillborn at full term. In Relief Society after he was born they were passing around his funeral program with his picture on it. I sat and stared at it and I could feel the tears starting. I didn't want anyone to see me cry or to know how much I hurt for me and for them, so I quickly left the room and went into the bathroom where I started sobbing. I didn't realize that Sister A had seen me get up and leave and had followed me out. I was standing partway in the bathroom stall trying to get some toilet paper to blow my nose while I was sobbing and I felt someone grab me and pull me to them. Somehow, she had known that I wasn't ok and she held me while I cried . . . again. She was such an amazing support. She talked to me and she really understood that even though it had been a year since our son had died, that you just don't get over these things. This is the kind of wound that is always there. At best, it scabs over but then out of nowhere it's like the scab is ripped off and the wound is opened all over again. You just never stop hurting.

But the most trying part of all this wasn't even those types of instances. It was something that happened completely out of the blue for me and would shake me to the very core.

In Late March/Early April 2007 Rob and I discovered we were pregnant again! At this point in time I still held the belief that losing Robert Allen had been some kind of a fluke or bad luck. But within a couple weeks of discovering I was pregnant, on a Saturday morning, I started to bleed and cramp. I was horrified! All I could think was that I would have a repeat of Robert Allen. . . and I just didn't think I could do that again. Wasn't losing one pregnancy enough? I tried to convince myself that I wasn't losing this baby, that the bleeding and cramping would go away, but it continued on all day into the night. I had Rob give me a blessing but as I lay in bed that night I couldn't sleep. In my head I kept thinking, "It's happening again!" And I had this overwhelming feeling that I was going to die; that my heart would just stop beating and I would die right then. I tried to calm myself down, I prayed, talked to myself, told myself I was fine but I was so distraught that I was kept trying to take my pulse to make sure that my heart was still beating. I know it sounds crazy but I was terrified!

Finally around 2 or 3 am I woke Rob up and asked him to feel my chest to make sure my heart was still beating. Looking back, I laugh at this, but for those who have a had a panic attack, which is what I would learn I was having, you know how overwhelming it is. No amount of logic can help in that moment. Because logically you know it's not logical, but every fiber of your being is telling you otherwise. Rob gave me this funny look and said, "I'm sure if you're sitting up talking to me, that you're heart is still beating." I got annoyed by that becuase, again, I KNEW that, but I couldn't FEEL that. I just felt like I was in imminent mortal danger. I snapped at him and said, "Could you just check!?" He put his hand on my chest and declared that my heart was still beating. I said, "ok...I'll try to sleep now." Which I tried to do for another 10-15 minutes before waking him again and asking for a blessing. I just couldn't shake the terrifying "knowledge" that I was going to die. Immediately after he placed his hands on my head, though I felt peace and was finally able to sleep.

The next morning I still had these same feelings. They weren't as intense, but they were just below the surface. And again that night my panic attacks hit with full force. I couldn't sleep! I was convinced I was dying. What would happen to my kids? Would they be ok? These feelings went on for days and I couldn't function. The fear and panic were tangible and it got so bad that the thought of ending my life seemed like the best path to take. I didn't want to die, but I didn't know how to live feeling that way all the time. It was so real to me, the fear so intense that one night while home alone with the kids, I refused to go into the kitchen because I was afraid that I would take a knife and slit my wrists. I was distraught, and Rob was out of town, so I went into a room and begged my Heavenly Father for help. At just that moment my phone rang and I answered it. It was my mom. She could tell I was not ok by my voice and asked what was wrong. I don't remember what I told her, but she sent my younger brother and sister up to Topeka to pick up my kids and I and bring us back to Manhattan to stay until Rob was back home. It was another tender mercy of the Lord that she called when she did because I was at the end of my rope and didn't know if I could hang on.

Because of the thoughts of suicide, panic attacks and the fear that I would die or possibly go crazy and harm my own kids, I decided to seek out help from a therapist. I got in with a wonderful woman who I saw for several months to work through my anxiety with. This period of several months were some of the worst in my life. The panic was so intense and the doubts and questions were constantly there. When I was panicking, which was often, I couldn't feel the Spirit. Even though I was doing all the things that I should have been, like reading scriptures and praying, the dark feelings were so overwhelming that I couldn't feel anything else.

It was in those moments when I would wonder why I was left alone to fight this battle. I had never doubted before, I had never experienced this loss of faith and I felt abandoned by God and wondered if everything that I'd ever believed was true or not. I wondered if there was a God, if He was there and if He was aware of my suffering. I wondered if He loved me. No matter how hard I prayed, I often didn't feel Him near me, but when things were that bad, I would look back at the moments in my life when I knew He was there, when I had felt the Spirit testify to me of His love and His Gospel and I relied on that. Like the Ten Virgins, I had to rely on the oil I already had in my lamp because I couldn't refill it at that time. This period of several months was the darkest of my life to that point. My faith, my testimony, my being was shaken in a way that it never had been before. I had to rely on God like never before and trust in things that I could no longer feel. It was terrifying.

During this time, I also felt so alone and questioned why if God loved me, He didn't remove this trial from me. While in actuality, it only lasted about 7 months, in the midst of it, it felt like a lifetime. I didn't know if my panic attacks would ever end, I didn't know if they would get worse or if I would survive. I begged the Lord to remove this trial from me, but he didn't. He let me walk through it and I was struggling with understanding why. One day, our home teacher came over and brought a quote with him that he said he didn't know why he felt he should. It has become one of my favorite and answered the questions that I was struggling to get answers for. It said:
One of the most powerful and most comforting witnesses I have received from the Lord in all this long, painful journey of recovery, is this: He misses me. Jesus is my older brother, who through eons of time has known and adored me. I trusted and adored Him. I sat at His knee in the eternal courts and learned from Him as one of my most influential teachers.
I sense that, with great interest, Christ has watched me grow through all the long ages of preparation for this life. He has also sorrowfully watched me stumble and fall as I have gone through this mortal probation, and has ached with my pains and wept with my sorrows. And after all this, it is now time for me to come back to Him. He is calling me, inviting me. But He doesn’t want to just give me some quick help, so that once healed I can run off to play and never think of Him again. His power is real in my life, each and every time I ask for it, but it is designed to be short-lived in order to encourage me to reach for Him daily, to stay near Him and continue to learn directly from Him. He wants me, my entire person, to come to Him so that He can make me a new person.
This quote changed my outlook. I wasn't being tried just to suffer. I wasn't abandoned; the Lord grieved with me. He knew my sorrrows and wept tears with my own. The Lord was there but the help that I received was short lived so that I would continue to reach for Him. He wanted me to rely on Him, not myself. He loved me and wanted me to come back to Him. The panic attacks served that purpose in a way that no other trial in my life had because they forced me to rely on Him instead of dealing with it alone. A lesson that has been reinforced multiple times in my life since then.

Luckily, I was eventually put on medication which helped me tremendously and within a couple months was rarely having panic attacks. But the test of how well I was doing came when in November we again discovered I was pregnant. Yet again, within a few weeks it was found that only the amniotic sac had developed and I would need a D&C to end the pregnancy. I waited for the panic attacks to return but they didn't. I thought that the worst of it was over and that I would be ok from that point on. What I didn't realize was that the emotional struggles were just begining and I would soon be entrenched in another battle that would last years.
To Be Continued. . . 

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Robert Allen's Story Part III: The Storm Builds

Later that Sunday evening my mom and brother, John, brought our kids back home so we could explain what had happened. As terrible as everything had been up to that point, we now had the unenviable task of telling our kiddos that they were no longer going to have a little brother.

At the time Sterling was 5 1/2 years old and Emmy was 3 1/2 years old. Old enough to understand that I was pregnant and there was going to be a baby. Joe was only 1 1/2 while Cori was just 9 months old; Far too young to have any idea what was happening. So we focused on how to explain this to Sterling and Emmy.

We sat in the living room and told them that I had been in the hospital and that the baby had been born, but that he was too little and so he couldn't live. We told them that he had died and was in heaven. Sterling and Emmy didn't really say much about it initially. I played the song "Irene" for my mom and brother and during it Sterling just started sobbing. He just kept saying he wanted to see his brother. "I want to see my brother!" over and over. We just held him and cried. We didn't know what to do. Babies born at 20 weeks aren't cute and chubby like newborns. They have a distinctly alien appearance and we were concerned that seeing him might frighten Sterling. We tried to appease him by showing him pictures on the computer that we'd taken of Robert Allen but that didn't satisfy him. I was at a loss. Do we give him what he wants and risk scaring him? Do we stand firm and simply try to explain he can't? What do you do? There is no guidebook here, no parent plans for this situation, so we were left to figure it out.

It then occurred to me that a member of our church was a counselor who worked with children. I try not to seek out professional advice from friends/church members since I feel that they are under no obligation to help me simply because they know me but we were at a loss and in desperate need of advice. So I called him. We talked for several minutes as I explained all that had transpired. I then got to the matter at hand. Sterling was begging and pleading to see his baby brother but I didn't know if that would be what was best for him. The wonderful man then asked me several questions about Sterling; his age, how much he understood about the pregnancy, Sterling's feelings about this baby, etc. and then he asked me "What are your feelings on this?" I replied, " I feel like if we don't let him see the baby we'll regret it. And if we don't let him now, there's not going to be another chance." He said he agreed with me. He told me, "Sterling is obviously attached to this baby and understands that he has a brother.The baby is real to him." The counselor said he thought it would be good for Sterling to go see him.

Thankfully, it is hospital procedure to keep the baby for 48 hours before they "cremate" them so I called the Maternity floor and explained the situation. That we'd had a stillborn earlier that morning and that we wanted to bring our son up to see him. I think it must have been incredibly unusual for something like that to happen because they nurse had to check and find out what to do. She finally told us to come up to the 4th floor and they'd bring the baby to the grief room so we could see him.

Unfortunately we felt that Emmy wasn't really old enough to understand or care about seeing Robert Allen. She asked to go and even begged but to test her I asked if she wanted to go to the hospital or stay at home and watch a movie with grandma and she opted to watch the movie. To this day, Emmy remembers that night and expresses how much she wishes she would have been able to go. I wish so much now that I would have taken her and Joe and Cori also. Even if they wouldn't remember it I regret that they never met their brother and that they don't even have pictures of themselves with him...or even a family picture with him. But, yet again, hindsight is 20/20...or at least a lot better than foresight!

When we got to the hospital with Sterling we were taken into the grief room. On the way there we had explained to Sterling that they kept that baby in the fridge so that he wouldn't be surprised by anything. I had also brought the outfit that Robert Allen had worn in the hospital because I wasn't sure what he'd be in. When we got into the room the nurse quietly explained that Robert Allen was in the fridge and wondered if we wanted to have Sterling step out so he wouldn't see her take Robert Allen out of the fridge. I told her it was fine, that we'd already explained that to Sterling. So she went and got our little baby.

He was wrapped in a blanket and curled up in the fetal position, with one hand tucked under his chin and the other up near his forehead...like he'd just fallen asleep. I still amazes me that someone had taken the time to treat him like a baby, not just some medical waste, but a loved and cherished baby boy. I imagine a nurse lovingly posing him and tucking him in as if he were alive. That means the world to me. That my baby, even though he was dead, wasn't treated like a piece of trash, but seemingly, lovingly and tenderly cared for.
Sterling amazed us with how well he handled meeting Robert Allen. His reaction was to giggle and say, "He's so little! His skin looks like plastic!" I busted out laughing! Because, well, it was true. He was SUCH a proud big brother. Holding his little brother, wanting us to take his picture.
tTo this day he keeps this pictures in his room. He and his little brother. It tears me apart that he has this memory....but at the same time I'm so grateful that he has it! He loves this little boy so much even though he never got to be his big brother here. And he is an amazing big brother!
 We spent the time there holding Robert Allen and going over every little detail. We looked at his tiny fingers and toes. Examined his little nose and mouth. We let Sterling get acquainted with the little brother he would never know and took our time saying goodbye, because we knew this was the last time we'd see him. We knew we wouldn't be making this trip here again. So we asked the nurse to take a couple of pictures of us together.
 We again tried to fit a lifetime of memories into an hour. Sterling loved the experience, as far as anyone can love meeting their dead sibling I suppose. But he handled it with great maturity and understanding. The fact that Robert Allen looked different didn't faze him at all. In Sterling's eyes, this was just his baby brother, nothing more, nothing less.

We took our time saying our final goodbye. This precious little boy that we lost before we ever got to meet him, the baby that was gone before he ever came to this earth, would be left behind with a part of our hearts.We got the only pictures we have of each of us with our son then we kissed him goodbye and left. It was pure agony! But Sterling was with us and we stayed strong for him.

And Sterling was just in awe of his baby brother. All he wanted to talk about was him and how little he was. Looking back on all of it, taking him to see his baby brother was easily one of the best decisions we made. It is a memory he cherishes, even now. And it made the whole thing real to him like looking at pictures couldn't. In the end, it provided him with closure. In the months that would follow, he would have moments where he would be sad and when I'd ask him what was wrong, he would tell me he missed Robert Allen. Robert Allen is very real to him and I'm grateful that we took him to meet and say goodbye to his little brother. 

I wish this was the end of our journey, that I could say that we went on from here and had nothing but sunshine and rainbows. I wish that the next year and a half didn't happen. But this was just the start of what would end up being the most difficult years I had ever had and what would end up being a trial that, at times, made dying seem welcome. 

To Be Continued . . .

Robert Allen