Before I had children, I lived in big cities. In Philadelphia and San Francisco. I had the typical life in the city where you make a family out of friends because my family was far away. I went out a lot. I had money to buy shoes and I did, a lot. Life was pretty much all about me.
I was in my mid-thirties when I met Udo. We met on a plane. He had flown in from Amsterdam for vacation. He still lived in the Netherlands with his mom and dad. Our relationship developed long distance. We talked on the phone about a lot of important issues that people sometimes don’t talk about until they’re married. We both wanted to have kids.
Everything with my pregnancy was going along pretty well. Her due date was May 12, our anniversary. February 28, I had an ultrasound. She was 29 weeks. I felt really weird. I felt hot. I was tired. The ultrasound technician called in the radiologist. Udo was panicked. The radiologist said, “We’re going to call your doctor.” My doctor said, “I want to have this tested by another doctor.” I asked, “what is it?” She said, “if what the technician saw is true, this is a life or death situation for the baby. You may be having this baby really soon.” “How soon?” “Tonight or tomorrow.” They took us back [into the hospital]. March 1, Fabienne was born. She weighed less than a kilo, which is about 2 pounds 3 ounces. She stayed in the neonatal ICU for 49 days. We were really lucky. Everything was ok. But it was traumatic. It took us a good 2, 3 years to get over it and consider having another one… Which we tried to do. We lost the baby (crying).
It’s been over a year. We lost him at full term. It was awful. Thank God for therapy. He had a cord accident. I was a high-risk pregnancy so I went to two practices, one that oversaw me, another practice to deliver me. I was constantly going to doctors’ appointments. I had tons of ultrasounds to make sure he didn’t have the same problem. Nevertheless, we had a cesarean scheduled for a Tuesday but on that Monday, we realized he had died. It was awful. I don’t even think I can express it in words (crying), just pain, a huge amount of pain.
My mother and father-in-law were visiting. The baby was due on Tuesday, and they had come the Thursday before because I needed a c-section. My mother-in-law was going to iron and clean and take care of Fabienne… Over that weekend I remember thinking, “oh, something doesn’t feel right in here,” but it wasn’t something I could put my finger on. He was kicking… he was moving. It was just a feeling. I thought, “Ok, is this feeling a premonition, or is it just fear because of what we’ve gone through with Fabienne?”
[After we found out] We went out to the car and we were just crying and crying. We came home. My mother-in-law was in the kitchen. I went to her and I said, “the baby’s gone” and she started yelling, “no, no, no!” My mother-in-law yelled for her husband, Marten, and we sat down and we just cried and cried and cried.
Then the next morning, we went to the hospital and Ingmar was born because you still got to get them out. It ended up being a kind of happy, not happy, but you know, we celebrated him as best we could. We held him and talked to him. When we saw he was presentable, my mother and father-in-law brought Fabienne over and we all sat together. I explained to Fabienne that he couldn’t come home with us.
Then we came home and we just got up everyday. You say, “I’m going to get up and take a shower.” In a way it’s like after having a live baby, except you’re thinking where’s that baby? You have all these hormones. You need that person. It’s like food or water. I need that baby. I would wake up craving to have him in my arms.
I’m not ever going to feel normal. I don’t think I’ll recover. It’s been a year and four months. I can’t imagine being able to talk about it, think about it, without crying. Actually he’s on my dresser. You don’t know what to do. I know what to do with a live baby. I’ve got a bed, clothes, diapers. I’m so ready. I’m not ready [for a dead baby]. We cremated him and then we stuck him in a little box on our dresser. We’re nomads. I thought, if I leave, I don’t want to leave him behind. He’s my son. I want to take him with me.
I’m stronger than I thought I was. I would have expected losing a child to kill me. I made it through, definitely battered and shell-shocked and changed. I’m more patient. Four year olds—oh my God, they can take a whole day to put on a pair of pants.
My relationship with my husband is very strong. It’s easy to see how people could be driven apart by the events we‘ve been through. We really lucked out in finding each other. My gut reaction, and he’s the same, “whatever happens in a day, he’s the one I want to share it with.”
The best thing about being a parent is love, love, love, unconditional love and lots of it. This morning she got in bed with us and once she gets in, there’s not enough room for the three of us so I got out after she fell asleep. The two of them were sleeping peacefully. She must have realized I had gotten out. She started screaming, “mama, not nice, mama. I want you. I waaaant you.” She gave me a dressing down. “Why did you get out of bed? That is not nice.” Those words, I want you. I don’t know why it’s so nice to be needed in that way. I don’t think there’s anyone else, besides those two people—Udo needs me in that way and I need him too—there’s no one else who’s ever needed me in that way.
Advice? You don’t know what it is until you do it. You can gather some information about it. You can study how people are doing it. But you really don’t know how it’s going to work for you. Also, to paraphrase Dr. Spock, you know more than you think. You’re going to be the expert on your child. There’s a tendency among college-educated middle class women, you got to get the books. But there’s not going to be a book on your child. He or she will teach you. Just be open to it.