A new morning brought new mercies. Leslee’s best friend, Aaron, called and took our coffee order. He arrived shortly after and entertained us with hilarious stories revolving around his job as a firefighter. Even amidst sitting there in a hospital bed, I was distracted and it was nice. Laughing felt good. My mom arrived later and we all simply sat around and visited, continuing to laugh at Aaron’s stories.
After he left, I got into the shower, preparing to leave. A hot shower was another mercy…although seeing my naked, post-pregnancy body brought more tears, reminding me of what I didn’t have. I stepped out of the shower, had the courage to look in the mirror, and immediately regretted that decision. I had never looked so awful. I slowly put my clothes on, threw my hair on top of my head, and exited the bathroom.
“She’s a new womaaannn!” my mom sang operatically. I gave her a generous smirk as she grinned. We bustled around the room trying to get our things together. I was ready to go home, but I wasn’t. How was I going to do this?
Our sweet nurse, Mary, had come in earlier that morning and Leslee told her he had made the arrangements for Leif to be picked up. She hesitantly asked, “So, are you ready for me to take him?” No, never. We nodded our heads.
Leaving the hospital was tough. Although I could have walked out of there on my own two legs, it’s hospital procedure to wheel you out.
As Mary was lifting the breaks on the wheelchair, she softly said, “I hate this part. Let me just say before we open this door that there are people out there laughing, smiling, going on with daily life that have no idea what you’re going through right now. And it’s hard to see that.”
She came around in front of me. “But, I’m right here with you and we got this. I’m going to make this as fast as I can and Leslee’s going to meet you at the other end of the hall.” Mary and I were leaving through nurse access. Leslee and my mom had to exit a different way.
“You ready?” she asked. I nodded. I quickly found out what she meant about hating this part. She wheeled me out with my 3-d mold of Leif’s feet in my lap and I immediately felt like a spectacle because that’s all I was carrying. No baby. No bundle of joy. Just a light blue mold of precious little feet. At that moment, I realized what a gut-wrenching scene I was. I could see it like a movie. I kept my head down. For a reason I couldn’t comprehend, I felt shame. I felt conspicuous. I looked up once as a nurse moved aside and heartbreak was all over her face. Note to self: Don’t look at anyone. I couldn’t get to Leslee and Mom fast enough. And I couldn’t get out of this wheelchair fast enough, either. It was ripping any semblance of dignity I wanted to maintain to shreds.
Before I knew it, Leslee and Mom were walking beside us and we moved toward the entrance to the hospital where people were bustling around getting coffee and pastries from the little coffeeshop, talking and laughing around tables. A woman was carrying what looked like a newborn and I had to remind myself–again– not to look at anyone. Put your blinders on, Breauna. Just look straight ahead. If only people would stay out of my line of vision…
Leslee pulled around with the car and we loaded our things–and me– into the car. Mary gave me a hug and stood at my window.
“You’re at the top of my prayer list, Breauna. It was so nice meeting you and your family even though I wish with all my heart the circumstances had been different. You seem to have a wonderful support system. And maybe I’ll see you again someday. Something tells me I will. I really hope a rainbow baby is in your future.”
She had no way of knowing how much that was on my mind and how much guilt that brought me at the same time. There was no way anything or anyone could replace Leif, but my momma heart longed for something tangible. Longed for the fruits of the labor I had gone through and loved for the last 9 months.
As we drove away, I watched Mary get smaller with the distance. She stood there and watched us drive away, holding her arms, until I couldn’t see her anymore. I turned to Leslee. “I can’t help but think about nurses and how much I admire them right now. We know we weren’t Mary’s only patients. She was going into other rooms with parents that were joyful and then coming into our room where there was only grief…and she does that as part of her job all the time. That’s a lot of compartmentalization!”
He blew out a breath. “Yeah…”
“And then she wheels a grieving mother out to her car and says goodbye with no closure,” I continued. “She has no idea if she’s ever going to see that woman again. That woman she connected with and grieved with. Cried with. She has no idea if that couple will ever have a happy ending.”
He shook his head. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around how they do it. It definitely takes a special kind of person,” he replied.
We determined then that Mary deserved to know that we saw her amidst what we were going through. Although I didn’t know her last name, I wrote her a special note and delivered it to labor and delivery weeks later. I walked up to the receptionist, an older, somewhat cranky-looking lady, and told her I had something for a nurse named Mary, but I didn’t know her last name. She looked at me, puzzled.
“You probably have several nurses named Mary, don’t you?” I asked.
“No…” she replied. “I’m just trying to place Mary, but I have it. ‘Mary, Mary, quite contrary.'”
It was as if she couldn’t understand why Mary would be getting a thank you note. It was my turn to be a little puzzled. I had seen her bark at another nurse right after my labor, but I didn’t realize she had a nickname.
My experience of her had only been empathy, love, and care…so I was especially glad I had written that note in that moment. Even “contrary” people are used by the Lord–and Mary had been a part of His hands and feet during our stay. Maybe my card would make her day.
God bless Mary, Mary, quite contrary.
I was dreading the drive home because I didn’t want to go there. Anywhere but there. Anywhere but where his sweetly decorated room was. Anywhere other than the place where life returned to normal. I didn’t want normal. I wanted my son.
We drove home in virtual silence—the only connection being our hands. And our grief. Before we had left the city, Leslee stopped at Wal-Mart to pick up some very tight sports bras for me. I had been told by the hospital staff that this would be the best thing for me in the days to come when my milk came in. Just another painful reminder that I had no baby to feed. He offered to run in there and look for them himself, intuitively knowing that I wouldn’t be able to handle a cashier asking me when my baby was due. I still looked pregnant and it would be an innocent question that I couldn’t handle. I let him—all the while knowing shopping for the right sports bra might be a smidge uncomfortable for him, but being so thankful for his sensitivity and understanding.
We decided to grab a bite to eat on our way out of town. My best friend, Maddi, met us at the restaurant. She had texted me earlier saying she had something for me. She arrived and handed me a Helzberg Diamonds box. I opened the lid and couldn’t hold back the tears. I had never looked up the August birthstone. I had always fully believed he would be here in September. There lay a bright, beautiful lime-green jewel surrounded by a border of sparkling diamonds.
Amidst tears, I turned to her and said, “Maddi, I don’t know what to say. I love it. It’s perfect. Thank you so much…I’ll treasure this forever.” I asked her to help me put it on and remembered a quote I had read somewhere: The most precious jewels a mother can wear around her neck are the arms of her children. Even though I wouldn’t get to experience that with Leif, this beautiful necklace felt like the next best thing. It brought me comfort. And I thanked God for my friend’s thoughtful heart.
As we got closer to home, feelings of dread grew heavier. I wanted to see my girls, but… I couldn’t imagine going on. Normal was never going to be normal again. Didn’t “normal” know I had a huge hole in me now?
We pulled up to the house and no one was there. I breathed a little sigh of relief. In that moment, I wasn’t ready to face anyone. Facing my house was hard enough. It was full of all things Leif. And I was empty.
I walked in the door to a tidier house than I had left. But, not too tidy. Leslee’s mother and my dad’s wife, Mandy, had straightened up a little. The door to Leif’s room was shut and there were piles of laundry next to the washer. Never in my life had I been so thankful for laundry or little messes to clean up. It gave me something to do. Something to distract me for a little bit while I subconsciously processed that even this small act of loading the washer was doing something normal.
As I stood there sorting clothes, I couldn’t help but notice the light shining from the bottom of Leif’s bedroom door. Even though I wanted no part of that room, I kept feeling compelled to look at that door. That door wouldn’t leave me alone. It refused to let me ignore it. Conversations with myself ran rampant in my mind.
Go in there.
No, no, no, I can’t. It’s too hard.
Go in there.
This is crazy talk. That room will set me over the edge.
Go in there.
It’s too soon.
Go in there. You can do it. Face that pain head on. You’re not afraid to feel it.
I don’t have to push myself today. Maybe tomorrow.
Go in there.
Leslee continued to bring things in from the car and I tried to focus on other things. Our bedroom felt like a safe place. We lay on the bed and just held each other…something we couldn’t do easily in a hospital bed. We talked—processing out loud how we were both feeling about returning home. Going backwards to the day prior. Thinking forward to what lie ahead. Trying to pick up the pieces one word at a time. And we cried while we comforted each other.
Leslee glanced at the necklace Maddi had given me and said, “What was that jewel called again?”
“I think she said peridot,” I replied.
“I’m going to look it up. I’ve never heard of that before…see where it comes from and what it’s made of.”
A short time later, I was crying again. The peridot gem is a jewel of strength and protection. Not only were those things I had prayed over my baby son, but I needed them now. It felt like tangible validation that—yes, God had heard my prayers for Leif—and yes, he was strong in Heaven now. Protected while being a protector himself. Leif’s jewel was a jewel around my neck. A hug from my son. A sign that he was everything I had ever prayed for him. And I fully believed that God had used Maddi’s thoughtfulness as an instrument to give me a gift from Himself, as well. A promise that His strength would be with me. A token to show His protection covered my family.
We went to get the girls from my dad’s house up the road a little later. As we walked down the hallway, there that door stood, Leif’s door, looming. Leslee turned to me and asked, “Do you want to go in there together?” “No…not yet,” I said.
Later that evening, I went to change Luxe’s diaper and realized all her diapers were in Leif’s room. Leslee offered to go in there …he said he could do it. But, I just couldn’t let myself watch him go in there alone, so we opened the door together and walked in. It’s interesting how the Lord forces you to make moves in life–dares you to at first, and then orchestrates details that leave no other choice. I stood in his room and I didn’t cry at all. I had done something hard. And all I felt was peace, comfort, and love.
I turned to Leslee. “Do you feel that?”
He lips curved gently into almost a smile. Eyes sparkled. “Yeah,” he said.