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October 16, 2012

Remembering Ethan

When Ethan’s due date finally came, I am almost embarrassed to say that I had lines from an ‘N Sync song and Disney’s Aladdin running through my head. I’ll give you a moment to be amazed at the sophistication of my mental musical repertoire.


First, from “God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You”:


“Can this be true? Baby, can this be real? How can I put into words what I feel? More precious than any diamond or pearl. They broke the mold when you came in this world.”


Then, from Aladdin, as I was thinking about how often unborn babies are not treated like people:


“Riffraff, street rat, I don’t buy that
If only they’d look closer
Would they see a poor boy? No siree
They’d find out there’s so much more to me”


The second is a bit more of a stretch (ignore the “street rat” part), but it’s how I see this little one when I look at his ultrasounds and think about how I hold him in my heart.


That Monday, John and I went to Mass together. I wasn’t able to get a Mass said at our local church for Ethan that day—it was already booked, so I had one said two days later—so we went to the Church of the Holy Innocents in Manhattan, where Ethan’s book is inscribed in the Book of Life. Every month a Mass is said for the babies whose names are written there, babies who died before they were born.


Honestly, the Mass was not very comforting to me. The church is not in my favorite part of Manhattan. I’d never been to it before, though I know lots of folks who have, and when I went, there was a lot of construction going on so I couldn’t really see its beauty. Perhaps that’s also why the acoustics were poor and I could barely make out the readings and homily. What I could hear was the Psalm, which unfortunately was all the more heartbreaking for me, considering the day:


“You have forgotten God who gave you birth.”


Still, it was important to me that I went and that I went with John. Until about a week before the due date I felt I was making a lot of progress in the healing department. That date rightfully threw me off track. Having my mom with us to watch Jacob, receiving notes and texts from friends who had the date in mind, and mostly being in church, participating in the tradition I have come to rely on in good times and bad helped the day be not as painful as I’d expected. I couldn’t really help psyching myself out before. I am grateful for those who were there to catch me, even if it turned out I didn’t fall as hard as I’d expected.


I’ve been meaning to post about what else we’ve done to remember Ethan. Everyone deals with loss in their own ways; however, I admit to borrowing ideas from others. I hope this post will help other women and families struggling with the loss of a child somewhere to start.


As I mentioned, we had a Mass said for Ethan—actually two: one as close to his due date as I could get and one yesterday, for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. I made a special note to pray on those days for families who had lost babies in miscarriage and stillbirth, as well.


After the miscarriage, I couldn’t stand to have Jacob’s ultrasound pictures on display in our home anymore, despite their being up since before he was born. Seeing how much big he got in utero in contrast to how small Ethan was when we lost him just hurt too badly. Jacob himself was not an issue, even though he is, of course, much bigger now than he was then.


What I did want to see was Ethan, every day. I found a frame to hold both the ultrasound we had at nine weeks, when he was alive (right) and that we had when we learned we’d lost him (left).

We don’t, and will never know for certain when he died. From the ultrasound measurements, we can guess that he died sometime around January 5. It is important to me to remember him during the twelve-day Christmas season (which ends January 6, Epiphany—one of my favorite holidays), because it is a season of hope, love, and trust in God, even in the smallest of his creations. I keep this frame next to my bed, where I can see it when I start and end my day, when I have quiet time to think and reflect. I feel closer to him at those times of day.


We also donated two copies of After Miscarriage: A Catholic Woman’s Companion to Healing and Hope to a church and a community of priests who helped us answer some questions the day after we found out. They didn’t have a whole lot of answers up front, but they did their best to figure out what we needed to know. For that, I am grateful. At the same time, in those first few days I heard both priests and doctors say we were asking questions no one had asked before—what happens to the body after a D&C? Do we have to bury the body? And so on. These questions are not answered in this book, but light is shed on a lot of other emotional and spiritual questions. Miscarriage is not an uncommon thing, and it’s not something we have to be afraid of talking about. As they say, knowledge is power.

I used the little plates I stuck to the frame to make a note about Ethan on each of the books we donated.

I also put together a baby box for Ethan. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s important to me not to think of this as a memory box. Ethan is as much my child as Jacob and Henry are, though his life took a different course. My mom has baby boxes for my brother and me. As long as I don’t get nutsy about it—and at this point, I just huck stuff in when I have it—it’s no stress, and allows me a way to hold on to the things I want to remember.

At the same time, Ethan’s box is much smaller than Jacob’s. I didn’t want something so big that it would remind me of the life he didn’t live. Instead, it’s big enough to hold his framed ultrasounds, should I decide to put them in there, along with everything else. “Everything else” includes Mass cards from his Masses; letters and cards friends and family sent; a blanket and hat in Ethan’s size when he died (though he never got to use a blanket or hat, I love the idea that we have them for him; it’s an odd comfort to see something represent his small but precious size); a Certificate of Life, provided by the Church of the Holy Innocents when I entered Ethan’s name there; and the letters I have written to him.

This, too, is by my side of the bed. Someday I will find another place for it. Someday I might have more to add to it. For now, it is enough.


All these gestures were important in my healing process. I am grateful for the opportunity to make them happen. But at the end of the day, the most important way I remember Ethan is in the way I live my own life as a child of God.



Church of the Holy Innocents:


Blanket and hat:

A previous post about other miscarriage resources:

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