His Name is Christopher Robin (Four Years of Stillbirth)
Warning: This post contains a photo of my son on the day of his stillbirth. Be gentle with yourself and read only when you're able.
Four years ago this morning, I overslept a little. I got to work late for my Wednesday morning meeting.
It would be the last time I'd set foot in that office.
Late that afternoon, my life ended. In its place would settle one of tragedy and loss, rage and the slippery, bitter struggle towards recovery.
It wasn't just the recovery from stillbirth that has become the long and lonesome road that I am determined to keep on walking. It is the recovery from the insistent and consistent reminders that death, loss, and grief are as much a part of this life as are the buoyant joys of birth, love, and celebration.
All of it is intertwined. You cannot grieve what you have not known. Or loved.
The night I gave birth to Christopher Robin, it wasn't grief that I felt. Well, yes, so there was the shock and sorrow of the dead baby they placed in my arms, but that was like tissue paper wrapped around the gift of his life. In the pictures taken of us holding our son, Ian is truly heartbroken. In many of the shots, however, I am barely containing a broad, triumphant smile. I was still elated to meet him; to see the tiny human who kicked, and tumbled, and kept me awake with back pain and indigestion. Even though his life had ended, his little body proved that he had, in fact, existed.
Christopher Robin - September 25, 2009
In the days after my son's stillbirth, the blades of grief that filled my heart also filled me with a kind of heightened gratefulness. How happy were we that our son passed peacefully in the haven of my body. How relieved that we had been spared the wrench of watching him struggle in futility for breath. Oh, joy that I had not gotten sick and we did not have to make that awful, haunting decision that we would have made, had my life been in danger.
And how very, very blessed we were to have the life we had built in one another.
Ian and I stayed in bed, only venturing out for moments before retreating back to our own peaceful haven of arms and tears and togetherness. Jonas climbed into bed with us after school and we said nothing except "I love you" and "We'll get through this together." And, in truth, we knew love.
The love that holds our family together is certainly filled with the ache and remembrance of the little boy we brought home in an urn. A boy we saw and knew before we gave him back for cremation - but we did have to give him back. And that is just the way things are. Like it or not, that's just the way things are going to be for the rest of our lives.
Four years later, Ian and I venture out of our cocoon for months at a time, not the mere minutes we were afforded in those first scalding days. But always we return to that place of safety between us, sometimes in unison, sometimes one beckoning the unprepared other. And while Jonas no longer climbs into bed between us or carries his brother's urn up to his room for a bedtime story, he does mention Christopher Robin regularly; says we wishes things could have been different.
Oh, but how many times have we wished for that?
We named our son partly in honor of the brother I never knew; a different boy with a different story of loss and heartache. Never placed in my mother's arms, my brother Robin was a known sorrow, though no one in my family knew what he looked like. My father didn't want to have his dead son's face haunting him for the rest of his life, so he refused to hold or even see his lifeless boy. He demanded that no one else see my brother either. Only the doctor could tell my mother she had given birth to "a beautiful, beautiful boy." She had to believe him, rather than look back upon her own memory.
Robin was a baby, bereft. And yes, I am furious at my father for placing his needs over his wife's; his son's mother. Over his own mother; his son's most loving kupuna. And even over his son's, the beautiful boy who deserved and needed to be seen and acknowledged. It was a deep regret that followed my mother throughout her life; a source of anger and anguish that never truly abated. I hoped, maybe a little naively, that by naming my son Christopher Robin, I would be gifting my mother with the permission to say aloud her own lost son's name. I'll never know if it actually helped her. Add her name to the bonfire of my grief.
To complete the name we would be asked to write on our son's stillbirth certificate, we asked my godmother and her daughter to help us choose a middle name in Hawai'ian, as is our tradition. They returned to us the blessing and beauty of Kealakaiolohia - pathway through a calm and tranquil sea. Ian and I wept with all the wrongful rightness of it and accepted my family's gift, wanting our beautiful boy's passage to be as peaceful as one could expect a baby's death to be, Not just for our son. But for all of us.
Whenever I hear my son's full name spoken out loud all together, I am filled once again with that sense of horrible rightness. It sticks in my throat, until I am unable to call him by the mouthful of name that I gave to him before his birth. I call him the baby or my son, because Christopher Robin Kealakaiolohia is carries with it the full gravity of his loss. The empty space that has no hope of being filled.
Though it may always be empty of my son's laughter, at least the space can be filled with the memory of his life. He was whole. He was held. And he was loved, completely, for every moment of his tiny life. I was given the extraordinary privilege of carrying my son for every single one of his heartbeats. I was the tranquil sea through which he passed.
But at the same time, I will always know that it was my body that could not carry him to safety. Only to death. I have hated myself for that from the moment my water broke, and that hatred has been the fuel for many moments of utter hopelessness. Maybe I won't hate myself forever. Maybe, someday, I'll find my own path along a tranquil sea; one that will take me from the resigned acceptance of my son's death, to a real sense of peace. Today is not that day.
Today, for that peace, I am still searching.
Kealakaiolohia - Peaceful Sea Path