17 Jan Owen Christopher
Written by Lisa Holmgren, Owen’s mom
I woke up almost 32 weeks pregnant unable to focus my eyes, it was like there were little stars in the middle of my sight. I thought to myself: “it must be because you were up late last night at the wedding, pull yourself together, you’ve got brunch, a flight to catch, and you’re going to the OB tomorrow. I’m sure it can wait until then.” We left the hotel, which incidentally was right next to a hospital. For those of you who have experienced this kind of loss, I am confident that you remember your own moments like these, with your own “what ifs,” as I do.
After a harrowing morning, which did not involve eating that brunch, but did include a wheelchair ride through the airport, and a flight home where I assumed I was going into labor, as a double c-section mom that was a new sensation for me, we landed and I was ready to get off the plane and hopefully meet this baby. But what followed was not that. Upon landing I noticed that I was spotting and my whole world turned upside down. I still assumed the baby was fine, but that I was in danger.
It was there, while I was waiting for my husband to arrive that I heard “we can’t find the heartbeat.” But it couldn’t possibly be real, right? It couldn’t be real if my husband wasn’t here to hear it.
An ambulance arrived on the tarmac to take me off of the plane and to the hospital. It was there, while I was waiting for my husband to arrive that I heard “we can’t find the heartbeat”. But it couldn’t possibly be real, right? It couldn’t be real if my husband wasn’t here to hear it. When he arrived they told him and I heard his breath catch. They were taking me to surgery and I blacked out on the way there.
What followed was a week and a half stay at CMC Main, half of that time spent in the ICU, the other half spent on a cancer floor, tucked far away from the new moms on the maternity ward, working with my angel of a nurse to figure out how to get post-partum supplies like a breast pump to a cancer floor. I required 22 units of blood product. My husband had been donating platelets for years. In two days I managed to deplete a good chunk of the quantity that he had donated. Because of my blood loss I went into kidney failure and required a month of dialysis treatments. My kidney injury will affect their functionality for the rest of my life.
On top of my medical challenges was the emotional pain. We didn’t find out our baby’s gender before he was born, so it felt like we were meeting him and saying goodbye all at once. In a particularly traumatic event a nurse told me that my son needed to go to the morgue but we could get him back whenever we wanted, to say our goodbyes. A few days later after I had managed to get a hair brush in, I wanted to look nice for him, and was less heavily medicated so that I would be able to fully present for the event I asked to get him back. It was then that I was told that due to COVID that would not be allowed. I was crushed.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I honestly believed that this was some kind of puzzle. If I could figure out the exact moment that I made the wrong choice that led to losing him then I could reverse it and we could get our son back.
That first month whenever anyone who didn’t know what had happened asked me what had brought me to the hospital, or if I had had my baby I would freeze. I’ve always been good with my words and I knew I wanted to speak about him but I had no idea where to start. Through all of this people kept saying you’re so strong, but I felt so weak and powerless. I was just waking up, existing, and repeating that the next day. Somewhere in the back of my mind I honestly believed that this was some kind of puzzle. If I could figure out the exact moment that I made the wrong choice that led to losing him then I could reverse it and we could get our son back.
If wishing made it so…
Over the following weeks and months I experienced what I have referred to as the xylophone of grief. Every day hitting a different note. Through all of it the thing that helped the most (besides therapy and a wonderful support group) was continuing to talk about him. I learned quickly that it made some people very uncomfortable but it made me uncomfortable not to talk about him. Meanwhile, well-meaning friends and family did, and continue to, try and “protect” me. They stopped telling me when they were pregnant. When I found out later, I ended up feeling so isolated. The pain was fresh and I was once again carrying around the burden of being “the loss mom” who can’t talk about my baby the way you talk about yours. I ask that you trust that your friends who have experienced this pain will let you know if they need space, but include them and let them make that choice.
Our family has saved space for our little guy, Owen Christopher. We talk about him openly. If you meet my living kids I promise you are going to hear about their younger brother, Owen! When I started a new job several months after our loss I learned that they have a “get to know you” tradition where you answer a bunch of questions. There are some seemingly innocuous questions that become loaded when you have walked through loss. “Do you have kids? How many? What are their names?” They were right on the top of that list. I remembered that if they met my living kids, they were going to hear about Owen. I could not leave these brave little souls to be the only ones fearless enough to talk about him. So I announced all of my kids to my new co-workers and I felt free.