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On Birth and Death

As July 9th has approached on the calendar, I have anticipated it with a mixture of emotions. This is the second birthday that we have celebrated marked without Charlotte's presence. I have to say that, in general, it pretty much just sucks.  

Isn't that eloquent?

Last year we invited some friends to help commemorate the day. This year, Roger and I decided to go a little more low-key. We became members of the VMFA this year (inspired largely by the wonderful Picasso exhibit) and last night we were able to preview their special exhibition of Faberge eggs, jewelry, and other arts. It was beautiful and I highly recommend the exhibit (here in Richmond through October 2nd).  

Moments after her birth
Throughout Friday I was flooded with memories. On July 8, 2005, I went to the doctor for my regular OB appointment. Charlotte wasn't due for 2 more weeks but I was HUGE and very much ready. The doctor found my blood pressure to be significantly elevated and decided that induction would be the best decision. I called Roger and our doula and we prepared to greet our baby (at the time we had no idea if she was a boy or a girl). Thanks to a very full Labor & Delivery unit at St. Mary's, we didn't get admitted until mid afternoon and labor didn't really kick into gear until about 4 PM. Even with the pitocin, my labor progressed slowly. As the contractions grew in frequency and intensity, we used every trick in the book to keep me moving. The rocking chair became my best friend and Roger and our doula coached me through every breathing pattern. As the sun began to rise on July 9th, I was still only at about 7 cm. The doctor had finally ordered me onto my side with oxygen. I slept between contractions (yes, every 3-5 minutes!) but each time I woke up, Roger was there to coach me through. Just when the team thought they would have to send me in for an emergency cesarean, the doctor came for a final check and found I had (finally) hit 10 cm. Was I ready to push? Hell, yes! I had been fighting the urge for quite a while. Less than 5 minutes and three pushes later, we greeted our baby girl at 1:01 PM. These memories stick with me, as they must with every mother. Before her illness, those memories filled me with joy. The joy remains, colored with sadness. 

This morning Roger offered his own thoughts on Charlotte's birthday and yesterday I posted on our CJSTUF blog with ideas for how to honor my favorite little girl. Here's another view.

Day 1 of CJ's life
Losing Charlotte has changed my perspective on birth and death in so many ways. Some parents grieving a child who has died struggle with new life, such as when a friend has a baby. This doesn't seem to be the case for me. Just recently we shared dinner with a wonderful family who recently added a 3rd little one to their brood. Holding that infant was not painful at all. In fact, it was pure bliss. I have always loved the Carl Sandburg quote: "A baby is god's opinion that life should go on." To me, it still rings true.

Birthdays, on the other hand, seem to be kind of a different animal. Celebrating another child's birthday seems to bring on a mix of emotions, especially if that child is anything close to Charlotte's age. Buying a gift, sending a card, and (especially) attending a party is sometimes still too painful. It's one of the things that, for now, I put on the avoidance list. 
Even my own birthday brings a crazy mix of feelings. Why should I continue to be blessed with health and an ability to greet the day? Why have I outlived my child? It just doesn't seem right.

Then there's the matter of death. Unfortunately, Roger and I have become way too familiar with the subject of grief. We have watched our child die. I watched her take both her first breath and her last.  We have also witnessed the passing of other children (too many children) from this thing called pediatric cancer. I think it has changed my perspective on death. I still believe in heaven or some kind of afterlife for our Spirit. I have moments when I feel Charlotte's presence in my life but I cringe at the suggestion that I should know that she is in a better place (Don't even get me started on the phrase God needed another angel.). There is no better place for my child than to have her in my life. Right now. When I hear of a family who has lost their child (whether through cancer, some other illness, or an accident) my heart breaks all over again. I know the pain that family is feeling and I would not wish it on anyone.

Death of an adult seems to affect me differently these days as well. It's not that I'm apathetic to this type of loss but the perspective has certainly changed. I know that it is very sad when your 85 year old Nana leaves this Earth but Nana lived a full lifetime. She had children and grandchildren (maybe even GREAT grandchildren). Her life followed the natural progression. She will be missed but she had an opportunity to live the life that my daughter never had. You often hear in discussions on grief that a loss is a loss and to try to quantify or compare one to another is fruitless and meaningless. That may be true. For now, I need some help trying not to compare one loss to another because I often find myself holding the trump card in a given scenario.

I'm sure it is my subconscious working in overdrive but I dreamed of Charlotte again last night. Actually, this dream was a variation on the theme. Charlotte wasn't there...and yet she was. I was working with a team of doctors to help other children in a hospital. We were going to different hospital beds for grand rounds, meeting with all the members of the team to discuss a case here and there. Suddenly, I left the group and even though I wasn't pregnant earlier in the dream I was having contractions and lying on a bed getting ready to give birth.  

So in the spirit of dreams, I will leave you with one final post. I shared this video on the CJSTUF blog and it's posted on our website as well.  I rarely watch it anymore unless I feel the need for a good cry. It's a beautiful tribute to my girl and I cherish it. 

I love you Charlotte Jennie. I miss you. Every day.


  1. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to pause for a moment today to remember an amazingly incredible child who grabbed my heart the moment I met her. And I think you most defintely hold the trump card and you have the right to play it whenever you need it. I love you dearly and hold you in my heart today. You are strong, admirable and so graceful in your grief. I'm certain we all hope that if ever in your shoes that we could handle ourselves in such a profoundly inspirational way. Thanks for your honesty and strength. Thinking about your beautful butterfly today and every day. xoxo.

  2. Rachel, there are no words I can say, as I am sure you are painfully aware. And while it's little consolation, I owe you a great deal of thanks for reminding me to hold my child a little tighter and a little longer. Happy birthday CJ...we all wish you were in your Mommy's arms today, where you belong.


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