“Is she dead?” was the question my baby’s mother asked. The doctor had entered the room not long after we had the ultrasound. She was a middle-aged doctor of Indian descent I believe. “Yes, your baby is gone” was her reply in an empathetic, yet stable tone. I can still picture the doctor’s face clearly. I remember her glassy eyes. I remember the conversation…..the very brief conversation. And just like that, after about 38 weeks in the womb, Ariana was gone. My daughter died. And it felt like a part of me died as well. You could not have painted a smile on my face. You could have told me the funniest joke in the world, and my face would not have shown a single crinkle. Like me, you probably laugh when someone tickles you. It’s instinct. You can’t even control it. But I would not have laughed on this day. Even smiling was unthinkable to me.
I remember being in the room physically, but I wasn’t really there. You know how that feels, don’t you? When answering the simplest question takes all of your mental faculties. When your mind cannot process anything else except that one huge thing you are dealing with. I wanted to wake up and realize it was all just a really horrific nightmare. Have you ever felt this way? Like you’re still holding out hope, even for the most far-fetched possibility. When the odds of anything good happening are impossible, but the end result seems so disturbing that you still hold on for a miracle. That was me. That was unsaved, professing believer me. I wanted a miracle from a God I was enemies with.
The shock had just enough time to settle in and shake me to the core. And after the truth hit home that all my worst fears were now realized, the doctor said something like, “Your baby will need to be delivered as soon as possible.” I thought, “What?! What do you mean ‘be delivered’? She’s dead! Today?! NO! I can’t see her like that. I’m not ready for that!” In the midst of all the stress and shock, I completely forgot that Ariana would need to be delivered as soon as possible. Otherwise, it can cause great harm to the mother. The nightmare, or should I say the harsh reality, had just begun.
During the previous months, I bonded with my baby girl. I had already felt her kick several times. I was also with her during many ultrasound appointments. And there were numerous appointments with specialists. You see, Ariana was a Down Syndrome baby. And when you are pregnant with a Down Syndrome baby, there are a whole slew of things that need to be monitored. So I already knew this was going to be a difficult nine months. What I did not know was how difficult it would become. Life would never be the same after our ultrasound appointment on February 19th, 2002. My dead baby girl had to be delivered. I wanted to be there so bad…….more than anything, but yet I also wanted to avoid it like the plague. Has there ever been an event in your life like this? Where you were hating the very thought of it, and looking forward to it at the same time? It’s impossible to explain, isn’t it?
I’m a little fuzzy about what happened once the meeting with the doctor was over. If memory serves me, I believe they said it was best for us to leave and come back the next morning. I can’t quite remember where I drove to afterwards, or how I was even able to drive. But wherever it was, I had to stop and pull over to let out a pool of tears. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone seeing me in the state I was in. My system was still shocked, and only a tiny hint of reality was beginning to sink in. But the next day reality would rush in full force…….with no mercy.
The hospital staff scheduled us for delivery the day after the ultrasound. It was February 20th, 2002. I don’t think I got a wink of sleep the night before. How do you sleep when they tell you your baby girl is dead at roughly 38 weeks? How do you sleep when they tell you that you must return the next day so they can induce labor, in order to deliver your baby girl……..who I already know is dead? You don’t sleep. You don’t laugh. You don’t feel. And you can barely even think. You wander around is some sort of stupor. And you still keep wondering when you’re going to wake up from the nightmare. When people talk to you, all you hear are jumbled words. You are not in a state of mind where you can concentrate very well on complete sentences. Heck, I was still trying to process the sentence “Your baby is gone.” I still can’t quite process it even to this day. And it’s been 14 years.
When they know that your baby will be stillborn, they normally have to induce labor. So we knew that Ariana’s delivery would be soon, but time would tell exactly when it would happen. As hours went by, I kept wondering what my dead baby girl will look like. Will I recoil at the sight? Will I be able to contain myself enough to hold her? Will the hospital staff let me hold her? Will I faint? Will there be a miracle? Will God do this for me, just this once?!” ** Will He make my baby live again? Does God still bring dead people back to life? My brain frantically tried to process all these questions at once. Nothing mattered except her. All other things didn’t just take a backseat, they were left on the highway 100 miles back.
As someone who’s always struggled with anxiety disorders, I was way beyond my tolerance threshold. I wanted so much to hold my baby girl, and to see her very first smile. To hear her first coo. To change her first diaper. I’m guessing that most new fathers try not to think about their first diaper. But for some reason, when you know your baby is dead, you would give anything for the opportunity to change that first stinky mess. Even the burden of knowing she had Down Syndrome seemed like such a minor issue compared to death! And then the envy started. Why are other daddies leaving with their baby girls to go home? Why not me? Why am I waiting for a dead baby? Lord, Please Help! Why Is My Baby’s Birthday Also Her Death-day? This is not fair!! This floor is called the birth wing, but for Ariana it’s a death wing? Of course, I didn’t get any answers then, and I still don’t have any.
I couldn’t eat. Food was detestable to me. For the first time I can remember, I had no appetite…….period. But somehow I managed to scarf down a quick meal. I don’t know how. Maybe because it had been nearly a day that I hadn’t eaten, and I was starting to feel weak. I’m really not sure. In fact, all the good things that I normally enjoy seemed so distant to me. Just a blank stare on my face is all I could muster. I looked like an empty stoic. This was deceptive though, because I was anything but unfeeling. My emotions were being ripped apart. My heart was breaking. There is no right or wrong way to feel devastated. Grief takes many forms. It goes through many changes. Never judge someone’s grief by what you see on the outside. Our bodies and minds are just too complex for that.
I wasn’t detached emotionally. Perish the thought. It’s just that sometimes your body doesn’t know what to do with your grief. Your emotions are somehow so shocked, and yet so guarded all at once. It is like being paralyzed on the inside. You just sort of go numb. Losing a baby can be sort of like a fight or flight syndrome for your emotions. Instead of adrenaline pumping, muscle tensing, steadfast alertness to danger, your body seems to push everything to your emotional core. I didn’t know what to do with it all. I didn’t even want to be around anyone. I just wanted to go home with my baby girl…….like all the other fathers on the birth wing were doing. Instead, I went home with a lock of Ariana’s hair, a couple of her tiny footprints, and some pictures and memories of her severely bruised face and blood red lips.
But I don’t regret those moments. I would show up at her birth again if I could go back in time. She was hard to look at, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from her either. And in the midst of all the redness and bruises, there was beauty. And I mean true beauty! It was her eyes! I wish you all could’ve seen them. I wish I could accurately describe them, but I’ll never do them complete justice if I try. But I will brag though. Aren’t daddies allowed to brag a little about their baby girl? Even when they die? Her eyes were violet. Yes, violet! And I mean Elizabeth Taylor violet. And just like Elizabeth Taylor, no contacts were needed. Ariana was beautiful! Bragging? Yes, absolutely. Exaggerating? No, absolutely not.
Now back to the painful stuff. I didn’t get a birth certificate. Pennsylvania did not even recognize stillborn births at that time. Thankfully, that law has changed. But the moment can never be redone. And even if I had taken home a Birth Certificate, that slip of paper doesn’t quite fill your crib. It doesn’t cry at 3am wanting a feeding. It doesn’t poop. And it doesn’t have Down Syndrome either. But you know what…….. stinky diapers, insomnia and chromosomal disorders are precious gifts when seen from the right perspective.
After waiting for several agonizing hours, and trying not to get too excited about my baby’s birth, they finally said, “IT’S TIME!!” It is strangely surreal, because you still get excited! You think, “I am going to be a daddy!” YES!! But then, all of a sudden you feel like you shouldn’t be excited. Why? Because you know, soon after delivery, you will be burying your baby girl. How can you be excited when such an appalling prospect looms? I don’t know the answer. But you still have this sort of joy because your child is about to be born. She was still my child. No matter what. I cannot explain this. And I hope none of you reading this ever experience the exact feeling I’m referring to. No one should ever have to. It’s a fallen world……a cursed earth……..babies should not be stillborn. I digress.
During the birthing process, there are brief moments when you forget the impending sorrow. I probably felt the same adrenaline flow of any other father-to-be. Remember how I told you earlier that I dreaded this very moment from happening. And, at the same time, I wanted to be there more than anything in the world. Well, you could not have pried me out of that room with a crowbar. Perhaps I was still hoping that somehow God would bring her back to life. Perhaps I just wanted to see my baby girl…….even though she would be dead.
I remember watching those all-too-real videos during the birth classes. I remember hearing other parents of newborns describe how messy things can get. Sometimes they say that new daddies even faint at the sight of all the grossness. I have heard stories like this. I don’t doubt they are true. But I think sometimes they must be fainting because of joy they can’t contain. That is my theory anyway. Maybe it’s a combination of both. But I do know this: when your dead baby is headed through the birth canal and you see her tiny little head, gross doesn’t bother you. When you know that you will only be with her for a very short time, gross doesn’t bother you. When you know you’ll be picking out a casket for her the next day, gross doesn’t bother you.
Sure enough, Ariana was on her way. I cried when I first saw the top of her head. And I cried even more when she was all the way out. Were my tears joy or were they pain? Have you ever been unable to tell whether you were happy or sad, or both?! I got to do some of the things other daddies do when their babies are born. So much so that I almost forgot. So much going on that I almost forgot……….forgot how sad I was supposed to feel. Can you believe that? Yes, for brief moments you forget that you are not taking her home with you. Everything seems so natural, until you see the collapsed skull and black and blue face. She didn’t cry. I never wanted to hear someone cry so bad in all my life. Seems like a strange thing to say, doesn’t it? But……. she didn’t cry. Everyone else did. God performed no miracles. No happy ending here.
I remember when I first held her. She was so tiny. 18 inches, 5.8 pounds. The nurse showed me how to hold her and protect her head. And you know what, I followed her advice exactly as she told me. I dotted every “I” and crossed every “T”. I was so afraid of hurting her head. I know, I know. She was dead. But in those moments after birth, you don’t act like your baby’s dead. By instinct, you protect them as best you can. Her body was so flimsy too. I held her so tightly. I didn’t want to let her go. Ever.
There are many other things too painful to describe. I’ll spare you most of them. But one thing really stands out in my memory. Her lips were crimson red. They say this is due to depletion of oxygen, and also blood pooling after death. It was really odd though. It didn’t look messy. It didn’t look weird. It looked kind of cute. You may think that’s weird. Maybe it is weird. But it’s my story. And again, I can’t explain it. I remember cradling her tightly in my arms and saying: “Now Ariana, I told you that you are not allowed to wear lipstick until you’re 14.” The nurse smiled.
Then, they gave her a short bath. I got to hold her, as did the mother. I got to cut the cord too. Yes….the cord. That precious life-giving line of blood to my baby. How ironic is that? How cruel it felt! That same life-giving cord was the very instrument of her death. It was wrapped twice around her tiny little ankle…… very tightly wrapped. Baby Ariana was too strong. She was too energetic. I wanted to ask her why? Little girl, why did you have to kick so much?! Why would you put all of us through this? I know, I know, ridiculous. Not her fault. She didn’t know.
It’s all a product of the fall of Adam. And yes, God ordained my baby’s death. He allowed it. He decreed it. It all had, and still has, a purpose. God knows. I do not. But I do know this: human rebellion is devastating. Babies die because of it. Sometimes they die before you ever hear them cry. And all of this stuff happens because Adam and Eve ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God told them not to. And He meant it. At that moment, I wonder if they realized just how much pain they plunged the world into. From that point on, there would be sickness, pain, grief, death, and of course, more sin. Because of that one wicked act, parents have to sometimes bury little babies. Yes, sin is that destructive. God is that holy.
Just how destructive is sin? Well, I’ll just say it like this. The day after Ariana’s birth I had to walk into a funeral home and say, “Hello, I’m here to pick out a casket for my baby girl.” That is not the way things should be. That is not the way things were originally created to be. That’s what sin has done to us. That’s how devastating it is.
I wanted to lay my little girl in a crib, not a casket. I should have been playing with her. Instead I had to bury her. No more could I look into her beautiful violet eyes. But one day………yes……a day is coming!
Until we meet again, Ariana, I love you. There will be no bruises the next time I see you. And that is something daddy can smile about!
** (See above for this reference note. It is in the paragraph right below the picture of Ariana’s grave site. Below is the explanation.)
I was not a Christian at the time. I named the Name of Christ, but I was not truly redeemed. I didn’t go to the Scriptures for comfort. I am pretty certain that I prayed……albeit briefly. And even though I prayed, it was as a false convert indulging in a life of sin. Even so, God is sovereign, and He could have shown mercy and let my baby live, if He had chosen to. But it would not have been so much an answer to my prayer, as it would have been God simply being gracious and kind to me and the mother of my child. In the end, it is all about what glorifies Him. Even if He had chosen to preserve Ariana’s life, and given me such an amazing gift, I would have shamefully celebrated the gift over the Giver. It would have been her over and above Him. I am not even sure how much I would have thanked Him for saving her life……..had He chosen to do so.
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