One year ago today, I woke up preparing to do the unthinkable. Bury my sweet baby boy, who a week earlier was safely residing in my tummy. I was in a fog, my eyes felt blank as I stared, somehow trying to prepare myself.
I awoke in a panic very early in the morning the day of Koen's funeral. In hours my baby would be buried in the ground. Our time was so short with him, and it seemed like this would somehow finalize his abbreviated life. I wanted to be his mommy, wanted to tell him things, wanted to hold him, wanted to watch him grow, wanted so much for him to live. I will always be his mommy and will always love him. I wanted to make sure he knew that. In my sorrow, in the middle of the night, with eight people sleeping under our roof, I wrote these words in a letter that I tossed into his grave, next to his tiny casket, before they buried him.
Mommy's Little Muffin
My sweet Koen Wayne Soper, my precious son, Mommy's Little Muffin,
There is so much I want to say to you, teach you, do with you, but sadly Mommy's time was cut far too short.
I wanted you and ached for you long before God blessed me by putting you in my belly. I will live my life longing and aching for you. Do you remember Mommy sitting in the rocking chair in your room? I would rock with you and dream of all the time you and I would spend together in that very place. I dreamed about snuggling you, kissing you, patting your sweet little bottom. I had big plans for our special times together and I couldn't wait to start making Mommy and Koen memories.
My mission in life is to be the very best mommy to you and your brother, Hackett, and the best wife to your precious Daddy. I promise I will take the best care of your big brother and your Daddy, but my heart aches knowing I won't be able to do the same for you - I want to so badly my sweet little Koen. God had you born into the most loving and fun family. We would have laughed and snuggled together every day.
Your big brother, Hackett, wanted you to know how very much he loved you. He could not wait to play with you, teach you new things, and make you laugh. He also couldn't wait to love on you - do you remember all the belly snuggles and kisses he gave you? Hackett was already the best big brother I have ever seen. He loves you so much Koen.
Koen, your Daddy is the best man I have ever met in my entire life. Mommy won the prize with him. Daddy would have raised you to have a strong, loyal, and loving heart. You would have gone to bed every night knowing that you had the best, funniest, silliest, loving daddy, who always watched out for you and protected you. You would have felt oh so secure and loved.
Mommy is sorry that something happened to you when you were growing in my belly. I am so sorry that you had to meet us before you were ready. When I got to see your precious face, you were perfect. You looked just like your brother, blonde curly hair, long eyelashes, and the sweetest button nose. I held your tiny soft hand and thought about how many times your hand would have been held tightly by mine. I tried to snuggle every little piece of your body, but our time was far too short. Koen you are such important piece of this family and will be thought of everyday. When you see Mommy thinking of you know that she is sending you a big giant hug.
You will always be my little muffin and I will love you so much through all eternity. Meet me at heavens gates with Jesus and I will run to you.
I love you my sweet son,
Last year on Mother's Day, Koen was still with us. This year I have so much to be thankful for - Kevin, Hackett, and Tobin still growing strong inside me, but I am missing dearly the other sweet boy in my life. I will love you forever, my Koen.
The Saturday before Memorial Day last year I was 26 weeks 4 days. I was feeling punky, but we had tickets to see a baseball game in town. We went out to dinner before the game and I remember in the car Hackett was talking to me and I had to close my eyes and lean back in my seat. I couldn't focus. I can't describe how I was feeling, not cramping yet, but my body was in turmoil. I didn't want to ruin our fun, so I pushed forward, even walking into the game from a few blocks away. While we walked I was nervous, but never said anything. Once we sat down at the game I didn't move. I held my belly and tried to hold it together. I was trying to monitor Koen's movement and noticed a decline, but thought I was still feeling him. Not as much, but after talking to the doctor that morning I felt that there was an explanation. Now I wish I had gone to the hospital and not the baseball game. Koen was dying. Dying inside my body and I didn't know. I didn't help him.
That day haunts me. I truly feel like that was the last day Koen was alive. Today, it is once again a Saturday, and once again I am 26 weeks 4 days pregnant, this time with Tobin. Baseball happened again today, but this time Opening Day for Hackett. He played his first game of the season and pitched for the first time. I missed it. It hurt my mama heart to not be there, but am thankful to have Tobin being monitored today. Thankful for the reassurance that he is not slipping away from me. I love my three boys so much, and all three of them are pulling at my heart strings today. Missing two of them dearly and happy that I still have one safely growing inside of me.
On our way home from errands we wanted to take Hackett to the cemetery. We didn't want his first exposure to be at the funeral on Friday. We now knew where Koen would be buried and needed to show him. Showing our son where his brother would be buried is not something I ever planned on doing in my lifetime, yet here we were. We did it with brave faces, our desire was to give him reassurance. Death was a new event for Hackett, something he had never had to deal with. Three days before Koen's birth, my mom had to put her dog to sleep. She brought him to be buried at our house. That was Hackett's first taste of death, and he was very emotional. I was more than concerned for his little head and heart that needed to process death on a much deeper scale.
I am not sure what we were thinking. We weren't able to think, that was most likely the problem. We thought that Kevin would go to work on Thursday. Yes, I had been through the delivery of a baby on Monday, but I was given very few restrictions. Or maybe I was and don't recall or wasn't listening. I felt sore, but not bad. What a difference between a vaginal birth and a Cesarean. Physically nothing was slowing me down. I gave birth, but had nothing. There was no baby to care for. Nothing forcing me to sit in a rocking chair. Time may have felt like it was standing still for me, but life was continuing on all around me and I could not stop that.
I have struggled writing the events of what occurred the week of Koen's birth. I have been writing it in order, but I started it the end of June 2013 and have only made it through the first few days of that week. I woke at five again this morning, thinking and praying, and felt the need to continue on. I have discovered a new feature on my website - Categories. You can now click "Koen's Story" under the Categories heading on the right of the page and read his story from beginning ... and at some point until the end. This entire blog is Koen's story and will continue on, but my plan for "Koen's Story" is to tell the details of that week and end at his funeral.
Koen was born on Memorial Day, Monday. On Tuesday, I was discharged from the hospital, went to the funeral home, and met with our pastor. On Tuesday evening I sat in the rocking chair in Koen's room all alone. I fiercely hugged a stuffed animal that was in his crib and wailed. The shock was beginning to wear off and the reality that my baby was dead was setting in.
On Wednesday morning, I stayed in bed as my mom and Kevin got Hackett ready for school. His first day back since Koen's birth. He later told me that while at school one of his friends had said to him, "I heard your baby died, that's sad." Out of the mouths of sweet Kindergartners. It was hard to eat, it was hard to move, and physically even hard to speak. On this day I realized how much I had rallied to put on a brave face for Hackett, but now with him gone I was able to sink into a pit of sadness. There was a weight so heavy on my chest that morning that I could only mutter a word or two at a time. I have never felt agonizing sadness like that before. My emotional pain was so severe that it felt physical.
Kevin and I had business to attend to this day. We were scheduled to go to the cemetery to meet a man from the township to choose our cemetery plots. The funeral was scheduled for Friday and we had decided to have our family over to our house after for lunch. We needed to go and order food.
We went to Jimmy John's to order a sub platter. We walked in hand in hand. The woman who helped us had no idea the occasion for our order. Here we were choosing cold cut combos and condiments. So bizarre, but necessary. I felt as if I was outside my body watching the events unfold, watching myself in Jimmy John's ordering subs, but not really present.
We then drove to the cemetery, where we wandered aimlessly, while waiting for the township representative to arrive. There was a couple who had lost two babies in the 1950s, in just two years, buried next to them. They only had a single date on their tombstone, just like Koen. My heart hurt for that mama. I have no idea what their circumstance was, but for Koen the only physical proof of his existence on earth is his tombstone. He has no birth certificate, no death certificate. It shocked me at first, because as his mom, I wanted that paper. Stepping back from the situation, it makes sense. His life only existed inside of me, not on his own outside the womb. But it hurts to not have the documentation of my son. Kevin worked on the genealogy of his family this summer, one thing he did to keep his mind busy. He added Koen to our family tree, but generations down the road, will not know of his existence. They may wander through the cemetery, though, and see his tombstone.
We picked out the plots where Kevin and I will be buried. I wanted to be under a tree. Something peaceful about that for me. We learned that Koen's casket would be so small that he did not require a plot of his own. His little body is buried right between where his mom and dad will one day be laid to rest.
We are thankful we had the means to bury Koen, purchase his tombstone, buy cemetery plots, and have a funeral service. Not only did we incur the expense of a delivery of a baby, but also all that goes into the cost of a funeral. No life insurance exists for a baby that had no life outside their mama. My hope is that one day we will be able to raise money to help families who need assistance with these expenses. To provide them a place to visit, grieve, and remember that their babies will always be a part of their families, whether it is on paper or not.
On Tuesday, after we left the funeral home we went to our church and explained our need. The pastor who would be officiating sat down with us, in hopes of guiding us through the hurt. It was very sweet and he prayed. I also remember him asking each of us if we blamed the other and if at those moments was I willing to give my own life for Koen's. It was like a blast in the face. Delivery had happened less than 24 hours before this discussion. We were reeling from what happened and had barely had a chance to process. Of course we did not blame one other, our hearts were broken, but no blame. I wasn't put in a situation to decide if it was my life or Koen's ... he was gone before I even had that chance. As we walked out of the church I remember feeling shock that I was evening walking - my recovery was much longer with Hackett. I was in shock that we were making these sorts of arrangements.
When we arrived home my mom was gone and had taken Hackett to the library for a distraction. Kevin and I just sat in the living room making plans to look at cemetery plots and to order food to have at our house after the funeral on Friday. There was a surprise knock at the door. My brother and sister-in-law were sadly in Michigan for another funeral and came to see us. I remember not being able to speak at first. Hackett wasn't around and it was the first time around anyone but Kevin I was free to let my emotions go. We attempted to tell them the story, it had now turned into a story. My son was gone.
That morning after our family left the hospital it was just Kevin and I. I had to get dressed. I put on the same clothes I had entered the hospital in, but now there was much more room. My belly had collapsed so quickly. The nurses processed our discharge, but it seemed so easy that I stopped at the front desk to ensure we were okay to leave. The nurse knew who we were, and quietly told us we were okay to leave, with pity in her eyes. I walked towards the elevator and there was a statue with a mom holding a baby. I just stared at it - heartbroken. I had arrived 27 hours earlier with contractions, knowing that things were not great, but never believing that I would walk out of the hospital with empty arms and an empty belly. Koen was gone. Already at the funeral home. How did we get here? Rain was pouring from the skies as we exited the hospital doors. The heavens were crying with us.
After we said goodbye to Koen it was after 11pm. Our nurse made up a bed for Kevin, we both ate, I got assistance to got to the bathroom ... how quickly life moves on. The world keeps moving, even when it seems to come crashing down around you. This phenomenon is something that continues to be a struggle for me to cope with.
After the most exhausting day of my life, both emotionally and physically, I was unable to sleep. I tried sleeping pills and pain pills, but nothing could touch my heartache and give me the peace I needed to close my eyes. At four in the morning my nurse tried yet another drug and I was able to drift off for a few hours. I awoke at six and tears immediately began to stream down my face. I felt shock, I had to remind myself why I was there, and why I was crying. I had no words, just tears as they did more blood work and took my vitals. I just stared out the window. I felt like all I did for a week in my quiet moments was stare off into space, unable to focus on anything.
My mom had spent the night with a scared Hackett who know knew that Koen was no longer here. He is not used to being away from his mommy, and when he is, it is something that he is prepped for. He wanted to see us. So my mom got him ready to come to the hospital. He chose his own clothes that morning, his "Big Brother" shirt. He told my mom that he wouldn't be able to wear it much anymore so that was why he had chosen it. We knew he was coming, so we requested any personal care items they could bring us. We were not packed, we were not ready to deliver our child. All we had was the clothes we had worn to the hospital. They didn't have much, but they did have baby powder. We used baby powder to freshen up. Hackett is a sensitive soul and I was worried about him. When he walked in I pulled it together and smiled. I let him play with the buttons on my hospital bed. Then we hugged and he said "Mom, so Koen is dead right? He died?". My mom was trying to be sensitive in her explanation, and Hackett needed me to confirm his understanding of this situation. I looked at my 6-year-old in his "Big Brother" t-shirt and said "Yes, buddy, Koen is dead".
Here is a picture of Hackett in his "Big Brother" shirt the day we found out Koen was a boy.
My bleeding had slowed down and things seemed to be calming down. I still had an IV attached to one arm and a blood pressure cuff on the other. Kevin and I decided that we were ready for our nurse to bring Koen to see us. Would we ever be ready for this moment? One that would grieve us and give us joy? The only physical time we would be with our second son. Our nurse brought him from the nursery - where he had been weighed, measured, pictures taken, foot and hand prints made, and dressed - and placed him in my arms. Kev stood over Koen and I, cradling us, as we both cried out from a primal place.
I am Jackie.