On November 22, 2007, I delivered my second son, Matthew, and he was stillborn. It was Thanksgiving day. At that point, I had known for a couple of days that he was not alive, but we had to wait for a room in fetal demise since I didn’t go into labor on my own. When he was finally born, after eighteen hours in labor, he was so tiny and unbelievably perfect. I held him for hours, treasuring that time more than any couple of hours I’ve ever had on earth. I had to memorize every single feature on his precious face, remember the feel of his tiny hand in mine, count the ten little toes over and over. Those couple of hours had to be enough to last a lifetime.
I came home from the hospital with heart so broken I thought I’d never heal. I remember so vividly walking in the door to find my parents and sister there. Mother had been cooking, John was waiting at the door with “aunchie” in his little turkey john john, and Daddy-O was holding down his spot on the sofa. The house was fully decorated for Christmas, the trees twinkling and music playing, and it was one bright twinkling light in what felt like an abyss of darkness and loss. Since then, I have decorated early and lit up all of the trees for the first time of the season on his birthday.
Four days after Matthew’s birth day, was John’s second birthday. Honey gently nudged me out of bed to celebrate the son I had here on earth. I looked in the mirror at a sad, tired woman and I promised myself and my husband and BOTH of my sons, John and Matthew, that I would never take them for granted. I pulled on my maternity pants, put on a smile, and even went to Chuck E Cheese that night. John will likely never know what a blessing his birthday is to me each and every year.
Against the advise of all of my doctors, I became pregnant with Whit four months later. In losing Matthew, and with his autopsy and extensive testing by many specialists, I learned that I have a blood clotting disorder. The fact that I had safely delivered John was a miracle. I was treated during my pregnancy with Whit, but his pregnancy was hard and riddled with fear. Thirteen months after Matthew came Whit, the child I prayed for more than anything I’ve ever prayed for in my entire life. He was incredibly perfect. And he helped patch that hole in my heart. I can still feel my eyes well with tears when I look at him, knowing how blessed I am to have him.
Today would have been Matthew’s thirteenth birthday. Thirteen. A teenager. Days pass where I don’t even think about him, something that used to fill me with shame when I first realized it was happening. But, all these years later, the milestones are still hard. It recently dawned on me that I can’t imagine what he would be like or look like any more. It’s easy to envision an infant, toddler and even a young boy… but a teenager? When John turned thirteen we went to New York to celebrate his birthday. I guess one silver lining with 2020 is that I know we wouldn’t have celebrated Matthew’s 13th with a bucket list trip. :-) I think we would have come down to Disney, our home away from home, exactly like we did. I wonder if he would have wanted to build a lightsaber at Savi’s Workshop, or if he’d be “too old” for that. I wonder if he’d want to seek out the rare characters and hunt down the holiday treats like Whit, or sleep in and plan a super nice dinner like John. Both John and Whit have their birthday buttons, and I have one for Matthew in my bag. Just for me.
Losing Matthew was the impetus for a tremendous change in the way I lived my life and the way I parented my boys. I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let Matthew’s death define me in a sorrowful, woeful way. Instead, I let go of fear and worry (for the most part), and embraced love, patience and trust in God. I had the very real knowledge that tomorrow is not guaranteed, and that even with healthy children we really have such a short time with them. We celebrate everything. We prioritize family. We say “yes” as often as we can. We go and do and see and smell and try and learn and taste and experience. We are thankful for every day we get.
Little Matthew lived a very short life, but it was one filled wholly with love, joy, wonder and adoration. He never hurt, never wanted, never knew meanness or anger. Just love. And that’s exactly how I remember his life cut short. With love. Until we meet again, I will spend my time trying to fill the days of the two boys I was able to bring home with joy, laughter and unconditional love.
My cup runneth over.
DIXIE DELIGHTS DELIVERED