Early in the afternoon, Rayna was outside of our hospital room for x-rays and other tests, which provided us a moment to take a break. With our minds having been elsewhere up until that point, we suddenly realized we were hungry and snuck in a small lunch. It was also during that time I began to again feel my legs… and my bladder. I had to GO! It took two nurses to help support me, but I made it to the restroom and back to the bed. It was a pretty funny scene, I’m sure.
Rayna was weighed and measured that afternoon; the same stats collected for living babies. She was 4 lbs 7 oz and a whopping 17 ¾ inches long, destined to be tall like her daddy. She had long arms and legs and all ten fingers and toes. Nick said she had the shape of Mommy’s eyes. We couldn’t agree if she had Mommy or Daddy’s nose. She was beautiful.
We were able to bathe her and put lotion on her, with the help of an amazing neonatal nurse who spoke to our baby and cared for her as gently as she would an alive baby. It was a comforting feeling to have Rayna treated like a living baby by someone other than us; there was such love in the room. More handprints and footprints than necessary were taken, yet we wanted them all, every piece of our day together we could hold on to. Those physical memories—prints, cards, dried roses, wisps of hair—are still sitting on the chest in our living room where we see them every day and show them off to whoever will stop to ask.
Nick’s note: We received advice to do everything we could with our baby when she was with us; even if we chose never to reference it again. This was the best advice and we wanted to do it all. We took every opportunity we were given, including bathing her.
Late in our time with Rayna, my mom gently asked, “May I hold her?” “Oh,” I thought, “yeah.” It hadn’t occurred to me to share her with anyone other than Nick. Those mommy hormones again. She was mine—AND, she was theirs. I lightly rose from the hospital bed to hand Rayna to her grandma. “Be careful,” I cautioned, “she’s fragile,” as though my mother had never held a baby before. Truly, Rayna was fragile in her lifelessness, but not too fragile for grandma. I’m glad mom asked. I’m glad her asking led to Nick’s mom holding Rayna. And to my sister holding Rayna. Memories I didn’t know I wanted that I will now never forget.
Nick and I were the ones to decide when it was time for Rayna to leave us. I would say we were ready to let her go, but we weren’t. No parent is ever ready to say goodbye to their child – not as he gets on the bus for the first day of preschool with a backpack as big as he is; not when she takes the keys for her first solo drive; not when he waves you off from his campus dorm room; not when you walk her down the aisle as she prepares to marry a man you know will take good care of her. Certainly not when it is the last time you will see her. The last time we would see her, hold her, have her.
But it was time. Her color was changing; her skin was weakening. She was not alive. Before she left, we had a little more alone time, and Nick and I told her stories; reading to her from our pregnancy journal. I sang her a song. We tried to memorize her, writing down details of her features—the shape of her lips, her teensy-weensy eyelashes, her mullet of light-colored hair.
My uncle operates the local funeral home, and he graciously arranged for my parents to hold Rayna on the way to the funeral home. Handing her over to my dad was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I followed them into the hallway, my heart pounding with the closest I came to leaving the room in two days, but couldn’t watch her go away forever so I quickly retreated back to the safety of the hospital bed.
After the funeral home, my uncle drove Rayna to her autopsy in a nearby city, and my grandmother was able to hold her for the entire drive. July 25-27 were terrible days, and there have been terrible days since, but there were so many beautiful touches during that time that help us cope with our terrible loss. Being able to imagine our baby being held and loved, even in her death, is one of those beautiful touches.
You are my child.
You are written in the palms of my hand…
You belong to me.
I am yours.
You are mine…
I am holding you safe and I want you to know that whatever happens to you, I am always there.
I was always there; I always will be there and hold you in my embrace.
You are mine.
You are my child.
You belong to my home.
You belong to my intimate life and I will never let you go.
– from Our First Love by Henri Nouwen –