The Story of Benjamin, Part 2

This week, I’m telling the story of our first son in honor of his birthday. For the first part of the story, read The Story of Benjamin, Part 1.

And now, we continue….

The doctor did a visual exam, and then tried to figure out what was going on. At one point she made a comment that she should have saved the blood that came out during the examination so that she could have tested it. What? I was suddenly very nervous about our choice of doctor. They put my wife in a bed and tried to figure out a way to slow or stop the labor. From the quiet muttering of the staff, I picked up that they really had no idea what to do. At the time, the “women’s hospital” had no Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and – as far as I could tell – had no way at all of dealing with anything other than a picture-perfect delivery. There was no talk of moving her to another hospital (two other hospitals in the area have renowned NICU facilities, and were a short ambulance ride away). Instead, she lay there through the night and the next day, until in the middle of the following night she was in unstoppable labor and approaching delivery. But they were the doctors and they knew what they were doing, right? Right?

At this point, they moved her to the Labor and Delivery Room (LDR), and she, the doctor and I (I can’t recall if there was a nurse in the background, but I feel fairly certain that there were just three of us in the room) went through hell as we realized that there was no way that our baby was going to survive, and that we had to make sure that at least my wife would make it through OK.

My wife was in labor, and I had no idea what to do. We had been talking about setting up LaMaze classes for a couple of months down the road, but we had no idea what to do whatsoever. I tried to call upon my memories of LaMaze classes and deliveries in movies and TV shows to figure out some way to help her. Each time a contraction came, I tried to get her to breathe through it, trying to paint a verbal picture for her to focus on. Making up a story of a vacation that we would take after this was all over. I described a fictitious bed-and-breakfast in Vermont, making up details of a walk that we would take in the woods, adding a new detail with each contraction. (As it turned out, we never did take that trip to Vermont. I think we were afraid that it would bring back memories of that night.)

Finally, our son was born, early on the morning of Monday, October 5. Eighteen years ago today. We got a chance to hold him briefly, then had to focus on finishing the birthing process. We reluctantly handed the baby back to the doctor. It was the last time we’d see our baby alive. We knew that at the time, but it didn’t really hit us until afterward. At 22 weeks, the baby just was not sufficiently developed to survive, especially without major NICU support. He was dead in five minutes. After we finished the birthing process, we just were quiet together for a while. We decided that, since it was a boy and we had only agreed on a boy’s name, that it was rightly his and he would be named Benjamin.

I went to the phone to notify our parents, whom I had kept in the loop during the process and had last updated before heading to LDR. My in-laws lived about 150 miles away, in the Catskills, while my mother and stepfather and my father and stepmother lived about 200 miles away on Long Island. My in-laws were saddened and said that they’d get on the road first thing in the morning to be with us. My mother expressed condolences and said that they would be up to visit soon. The first words out of my father’s mouth were “You shouldn’t have named him.” I felt like I had been punched in the face and in the gut. (By the way, to this day my father denies saying those words, but I know that he did. He denies saying things that he later realizes were hurtful, like “tell your mother that she’d better marry him or I’m going to cut off the alimony anyway” and “I never knew that you wanted your grandmother’s piano.” He may block them out of his memory and truly believe that he didn’t say them, but that doesn’t mean that he’s correct.)

At that point, my wife and I just passed out and slept, as we were exhausted from the night’s events. We awoke and were having breakfast brought to us when my in-laws arrived. Hospital staff later brought us the tiny beanie hat and other paraphernalia that were standard gifts for newborns. Those later went either into his tiny styrofoam coffin or his memory box. We had a very brief opportunity to see our son again before he was sent to the mortuary, but I somehow couldn’t bring myself to touch him. I still regret that to this day.

Among others, we were visited by our Rabbi, who let us know that, despite the fact that the next day was Yom Kippur, we would not be required to observe the holiday, as it was the day after the death. We decided that we would spend it preparing for the funeral. I know that I called both of our offices to let them know what was going on and that we wouldn’t be in for a while. As we were leaving the LDR room, the nurses at the station outside the door said “Congratulations!” and looked stunned when I sadly said “no”.

I know you don’t like it, but this post is getting pretty long, so here it is again:

To be continued on Thursday….

In the meantime, have you had an experience where you suddenly lost confidence in your medical team? Have you suffered a loss and had someone close to you say some thing stupid? Please share in the comments.

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6 Responses to The Story of Benjamin, Part 2

  1. Anon says:

    I have never lost a child, but feel the loss every day as infertility has consumed my life for the past 4 years. If anyone ever finds out that we’ve been struggling, they say stupid, insensitive things, like, “Just adopt and you’ll get pregnant.” Thank you for sharing your story and for encouraging people who are mourning babies, born or not yet born.

  2. Mark says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, as well. It’s not only tough when people are apathetic; people who mean well but say things that make it hurt more present their own type of problem.

    And it never ends. We ran into another situation today. The Kid and I were at the orthodontist today getting his new retainer (upper braces are off! yay!) and conversation with the tech turned to my wife’s retainer and how she got it at the same office 23 years ago, and how her braces came off five days before we were married. The tech asked if we’d really been married for 23 years, and when I said yes, she asked The Kid if he was the only product of the marriage. The Kid knows about Benjamin, and is himself sad that Benjamin is no longer with us. He hesitated, then answered yes.

    I haven’t had the chance to discuss it with him yet, but I’m sure that he feels the same wriggling discomfort with the sibling question that we feel when we’re asked how many kids we have. It’s just easier to answer “one” than to explain Benjamin to someone who meant to be sociable by asking the question and really isn’t prepared for the real answer. I think I have a new topic for a future blog post.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  3. Gayle says:

    I delivered twin boys at the gestational age of 26 weeks in 1991. Both weighed less than three pounds. One of the boys did well with nicu intervention, and lived and is now a happy and healthy 19 y/o with no long standing problems.
    My other little man however died from respiratory complications at 17 hours of age. I was in a hospital with nicu beds 4 hours from my home where I had been transferred as soon as it became apparent that I was going to deliver prematurely. Although, my labor was held up two weeks, I did finally deliver at 26 weeks.
    My father came to visit me, and he drove all night to get to me. He had even awakened the bank president in the small town where he lived to get traveling money.
    I know that, God bless him, he would never have hurt me on purpose, but he did.
    Not knowing how to comfort me as I held my small baby while he died, he said,”At least you didn’t have him long enough to become really attached.”
    I have been angry about this the whole rest of my life. Even with my father gone now, it still eats at me, and I try not to ever think of it.
    Rude people say rude things at inappropriate times, and sometimes good people do, not knowing what else to say. I guess it is the way of life.

  4. In memory of Lazarus says:

    I completely understand your position. My husband and I recently lost our first son as well 6 months and 9 days ago. He was born at 23wks gestation and survived a short 9 days. I was just explaining this to some of my family members that it is a very uncomfortable and hard question to answer.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

  5. Mark says:

    Gayle, thanks for sharing. I am very glad that your father was willing and able to come to your side at your time of need. I am also sad that his grasp of the situation and inability to make an empathic leap made him say something that soured your relationship. I find it much easier to pardon those who say hurtful things out of ignorance than those who say hurtful things because it’s easier for them to deal with their feelings by dismissing yours. When The Kid was born 12 years ago, there was another family that was in the NICU with the only surviving daughter of triplets. While she has grown into a lovely young woman, I can’t help but feel that they see her and wonder what it would have been like to have all three still living. I can only imagine that you have some of those feelings with your surviving son. I wish you peace and happiness.

  6. Mark says:

    Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your story as well. My condolences on the loss of your son. The first year is especially hard, and I’m sure that Mothers Day and Fathers Day were very sad days for you and your husband. I can only offer that things do eventually become easier, and that — while the pain will never go away — you will find a place for it, and you will be able to move on past it again. Best wishes to you as you find your way through this difficult time.

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