Sounds filtered through the painful haze. Lights, out of focus, flashed overhead, and a hum filled the
“Knock me out, please,” a voice, strangely like yet unlike my own, pleaded. “I don’t want to hurt any
more.” A gray cloud engulfed me, but the sounds remained.
“Forceps.” Sound of metal clinking, a swish of a nurse’s uniform.
“Not yet. She’s exhausted, but she has to help.”
A hand, cold, touched my forehead. “Not long,” it’s owner murmured.
The mask, emitting the sickly, sweet, and nauseating gas was again clamped over my mouth. Amid the
metallic sterility, I drifted.
“Finally. That’s over.” The calm voice sounded mechanical, yet very tired. I felt a deep aching void
opening, almost as if my insides had fallen out.
“Suture.” Another rustle passed nearby.
“What is it?” Again, my own unfamiliar voice echoed in the silence. “We were wrong, weren’t we?”
More silence. “It’s alive, right?” Silence. “I’m going to be sick.” Hands turned me until my cheek touched
a cold, metal dish.
When my eyes finally opened again, they focused on a different room. Orange and pink filtered through
the window to my right from the sun’s early morning ascent.
I searched the faces of those at the foot of my bed–my husband, my mother, a nurse. No one would
answer the question in my eyes; no one spoke at all. Finally, the faces drifted out. As he floated by, my
husband touched my cheek; I thought I saw a gleam of moisture in his eyes. I opened my mouth to speak,
but he quickly shushed me. “Rest,” he said. “I’ll do what needs to be done.”
The lights blurred again, and I floated back to the nothingness. This time, I welcomed the black,
numbing void. I clung to its undemanding unreality, fighting the intrusion of hands, needles, and voices.
When I could stall no longer, my eyes once more opened and focused on a set of bright red toenails.
Following upward over curvy legs, past a sheer red nightgown, they finally settled on a bright red mouth
that only slowed its chewing process to observe, “So you’re here at last!” Pop, smack: “They put you on
the surgical side so you’d be away from the babies.” Click. “Hope you don’t mind music.”
I turned toward the window. It must be almost noon. As if on cue, the door swung open, and a nurse
deposited food trays. “I’m not hungry,” I mumbled.
“Don’t worry, you’ll soon have your figure back,” my neighbor advised. “Don’t you just hate the things
kids do to your body?”
The nurse mercifully pulled the curtain between our beds. “Doesn’t talk much,” I heard my neighbor tell
her. “Don’t cry either. Really weird!”
That evening took an eternity to arrive. A determinedly cheerful nurse popped around often, helping me
on my first walk down the corridor during the early afternoon. “Whoops!” she exclaimed, steering me into
a u-turn. I looked ahead at the protruding belly of another nurse. She paused uncertainly a few feet away.
“You’ll be your own patient soon,” I said, smiling over teeth clenched in pain. Relief spread over her
face. She made a reply and I forced myself to endure a few more lines of conversation before allowing
myself to be led back to my room.
“That wasn’t so bad,” my nurse enthused. Apparently she could not feel every muscle in my body
tensed and screaming. I hated her cheerful chatter, I hated that rounded belly, I hated the hollowness inside
me, and–most of all–I hated my own hatred.
Once again in bed, I curled up, willing the darkness to return.
Dr. McCormack had entered the room. “Doc?” I searched his face, noting the tired lines. His hand
reached out to pick up mine, and I stared at it for a long time. He had slender hands, sensitive hands, hands
which had soothed my pain and touched my daughter as she entered the world. They felt familiar, but now
they also felt cold. In his eyes, I could see the finality.
“It was a boy,” he began, softly. “A perfect little boy, with black hair.” I mutely searched his face, my
last hope drowning in the tired, compassionate eyes. “It wasn’t your fault. The umbilical cord became
tangled around his neck.”
The room darkened, and I felt myself pushed back three weeks in time. The fight within my body had
begun at the baby shower, amid all of the tiny things and well-wishing friends. Somehow, I drove home in
spite of the terror in my heart. Dr. Mac had been home, dozing in front of his television, when I called.
“Doc? I think something is wrong with my baby.”
After my explanation–the frantic movement followed by a complete stillness–he said, “Well, Lonna,
babies sometimes get really quiet shortly before their birth.”
“But this baby was really active. I’m worried.”
“Let’s not panic,” he finally said. “Take tomorrow off, come into the office, and I’ll do some routine
The next morning, my husband had stayed home with our little girl, and I drove to the doctor’s office,
holding my breath and praying all the way. I had prayed through the long night before, my hand on my still
Dr. Mac had looked much like he looked today when he finally came into the examining room. “I don’t
hear a heartbeat, Lonna.”
“Try again,” I begged. “Please try again.”
I didn’t realize that I was squeezing his hand so hard until I felt my own begin to numb. Slowly, I
opened my fingers. “It wasn’t your fault,” he repeated. “You did everything right. God often has a plan for
us, and we can’t understand it right away. But it will be shown to us someday.”
“Doc,” I said. “I didn’t get to hold him and tell him I love him. He was so little, and I never got to
cuddle him…not once. How can he know how much I loved him?”
He drew me into a hug and held me for a long time. When he started to speak, it was a prayer. Then he
asked, “Would you like to have them bring up your little girl?’
He patted me on the shoulder as he rose to leave. “Love her close. Maybe it will help.”
With evening, came family and friends, all tiptoeing around both physically and verbally. Unreality
invaded once more. I watched myself smiling, putting people at ease, smoothing the awkward moments for
them. Their lips moved, but I could hear no sound. What I tried to tell them, they could not hear.
Only a few referred to my baby. “It’s probably for the best,” offered on church friend. “God’s will.”
Don’t tell me it’s for the best, I screamed in my silence. And it’s not God’s will–at least, not the God I
worship. My God wouldn’t take this child I’ve carried beneath my heart and loved so desperately. He’s my
first born son. I’m not some monster who would torture or neglect him. Don’t tell me this is for the best.
“There’s no pain where he is,” another offered. No pain? What about the pain he felt as he kicked and
struggled so violently in my womb, where it should have been safe and snug for him? What about his
mother’s pain as she rocked, her arms hugging her juggling belly, helpless to sooth or aid her unborn child?
No pain? You have no concept of pain!
“Things will soon be back to normal.” Normal? Normal would be a beautiful baby boy sleeping in his
crib. Normal would be rocking in the evening, singing to my child while he nursed. Normal would be
seeing my daughter playing with her brother. Normal would never return.
“You’ll have another one soon.” I don’t want another one. I want this one! Wherever I go, I will always
look for his face and wonder what he would have been. I had a baby, people! A son. Bryan David. No
matter how many babies I may have in the future, this son is lost to me forever. Can’t you understand that?
Centuries later, the well-wishers and kind hearts evaporated, leaving me with the stranger in my
husband’s body. He held me briefly, stiffly, awkwardly. I felt his anger, his bewilderment, his pain. “It’s
done,” he finally said. “Now we can put this behind us.”
I looked unbelievingly into his face. “I’m going home to hold the one we have,” he continued. “She’s
enough for me–no more of this sort of pain.” Is he blaming me, I wondered? “Everyone is proud of how
well you’re holding up, you know. I know you’re sad now, but at least you never held him or got attached
to him. It would have been so much worse.”
The following dawn found me curled facing that same window, staring sightlessly at a new day. My
throat burned with tears that would not fall, my arms tensed in their emptiness, and my mind drifting
around a tiny bedroom where clowns smiled down into an empty crib. In those gray hours, I realized for
the first time in my twenty-five years the true meaning of mortality and loss and loving. In my heart, I
recognized that my life, and I, would be irrevocably different.
Over twenty years have passed since that dawn. Each year, as Brian’s birthday nears, I prepare for the
“ritual” that I began many years ago. First, I start with the questions. They are always the same: How
should I celebrate his birthday this year? Where should I give his gift? Should I change the focus, as he
would now be an adult? These questions are always here at this time, and they guide me in a path that I
chose to follow. They are part of “the difference”.
Each year, on Brian’s birthday, I do something “in his memory”. That first year, I could not bear to let
the day pass without acknowledging his existence, short though it had been. It would have been morbid to
celebrate a “birthday”. But I needed to recognize this child as part of healing within myself. So I did the
thing that seemed most useful at that time: I took all those tiny new things down from storage and donated
them to a clothes closet at a local church. It was almost like giving him a gift, as I gave a gift to so many
A few years passed before that urge returned. It was fall again, and I was busy with two toddlers and
one in kindergarten. “Lucky you, with only 3 costumes to make,” one of the other room mothers
commented when I stitched as we planned the carnival booth.
“No,” I thought suddenly. “I have 4 to make.” The next day, I contacted a low- income daycare and
donated a pumpkin costume to a child the age Brian would have been. And thus, the ritual began.
Sometimes I donated to a charity, sometimes I sponsored a child to church camp, and sometimes I just
volunteered time. Our lives are a complicated web of touching. By spreading my “touch” among various
groups and places, I hope that I am touching lives that Brian may have touched. At best, I am touching
lives because of Brian.
Two children joined our family after Brian’s death: another daughter who helped her mother’s heart heal,
and another son, who brought peace and contentment. Each of my children is unique and special. While
not being able to replace the son we lost, they have filled our hearts and lives. Losing Brian has made all
the difference in how we have treasured our remaining three.
I did not have the liberty Robert Frost spoke about in choosing his “roads”. My “road” was not a choice,
but part of my own destiny. Because of Brian, I reach out to others in ways that I may never have done.
Because of Brian, I am different.