March 6, 2013

My Grief and My Guilt

When we lost Cale I called only a few people. Miles called the rest and eventually word just got out. I called my parents and they got a hold of my brother who was deployed at the time. I also called my sister Kate, who didn't answer, so I sent her a text just asking her to call me.  When she called she was excited. She asked "are you in labor!?" and I had to tell her that we lost him. That the baby was gone. She cried immediately. She was confused and hurt and I could hear in her voice how very broken she already was for us, for Cale. One of the first people that Kate got in touch with before she flew out to be with us, was her friend Katie. Katie was there for her, she listened, consoled, and was a very good friend to Kate. She even sent us a very kind letter that I still have.

Last week Katie called Kate with the eerily similar and heartbreaking news that this time it was her sister who had lost a baby.

When my sister called me she was so upset. So upset that this tragedy continues to happen, so upset that her friend is hurting, that she knows what she is going through - to not only grieve for the baby, but for her sister as well. She was upset because it brought back so many memories and she was upset because she still misses Cale.

Obviously, I don't like seeing or hearing my sister so heartbroken, but I do appreciate how very real baby loss is to her and how much she loves her nephew.

Kate asked me what they should do. She asked what advice I had for her to pass on to Katie and what she could help with. Immediately I rattled of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. I told her to encourage them to take as many pictures as possible, to hold their baby (they didn't know the gender at the time, and learned at delivery that they had a baby girl), and just take their time with her and examine every part of her. I contacted Katie and sent her links and blogs and tips without trying to be too overwhelming, though you just want these people, these poor unfortunate parents who are walking in your shoes, to know everything you didn't and to know that you are so very heartbroken for them.

And I am heartbroken for them. It doesn't matter that I don't know them. Because they lost a baby and that alone means I know them better than I ever should.

When you hear of a new loss, you not only grieve for all that should have been for this other baby and this other family, but it brings back a lot of your own grief. It's not like I don't know that I still miss Cale and am still so sad that he's not here, but sometimes these things happen and just remind you how very much you still hurt and how very horrible it all still is. Despite all the good that has come, despite the 20 incredible months we have had with his brother, I still desperately miss my first son.

But along with my grief also comes a lot of guilt. I don't like that I know what to recommend to a grieving family. I don't like that I know how to respond, or have some helpful things to share. I obviously don't like it because I don't want to have the first hand knowledge and experience, but I also don't like it because a lot of the things that I say are things that I didn't do with Cale and things I will forever regret.

The fact of the matter is that I did not do Cale justice when he was born.

I don't say that to fetch for kind words or for anyone to tell me otherwise, because that is just a fact and always will be. I held him for far too brief of a time and I didn't even unwrap the blanket he was wrapped in. We didn't know about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, but when asked if we wanted to take pictures, I said no. Thank God my nurse took two anyway, but what if she hadn't? It would have only make my grief, and my guilt, that much stronger.

I can make excuses and I know that I was in shock at the time, lost and confused, and how could we have known exactly what to do? But as his mother, as someone who carried him for nine months and loved him and planned a life for him, I felt like I should have, and I could have, done more for him in the short time we had together.

What it all goes back to is that I just wish I took my time with him. I do wish I took pictures - pictures of his hands, his little feet, pictures of us holding him, etc - but I mostly wish that I saw more of him. He's wearing just a diaper in one of his pictures, but I wish that I saw that with my own eyes. I wish I kissed his toes, and dressed him in the clothes that were already packed in my hospital bag. I wish I held his hand in mine and really took a moment to just breathe him in.

I know what I did do when I had him was important. I did hold him, and I did kiss him and tell him I loved him, but that will never be enough. And I will forever wish that things were different.

All I can do now is try to make up for it. To honor Cale and do him justice the best I can. Maybe it's by sharing his story or by helping others. And hopefully in the process other baby loss families will have a little less guilt, because no one needs guilt on top of grief - their grief is already so much.

Please keep baby Emma and her family in your thoughts and prayers. This is a tough road they're walking on.


  1. What you did after Cale was born, what I did after Bear was born, it will never be enough.

    Their time with us will never be enough.

    But the gift you and Cale have given this other family is to help them feel more at peace with their time with Emma. And that is the most important thing anyone could do for them.

  2. Oh Caroline. This post makes me ache. Yes! I agree with every single breathe, every single words, every single thought you have written here. You are not alone. When I awoke from the medical induced coma, I could not raise my arms thus I could not hold my daughter. I never undressed her, I never saw her hair as it was under her hat. In fact, she was so cold that it made me instantly ill to my stomach and I could not bear to hold her close or I would descend into madness, rip out all the tubes and wires and rip the room apart. I have many regrets about the day I met her. You are not alone in that.

    The important thing I always return to is knowing that Ava loves me. Ava knows that I love her and she loves me. The love we share for one another pushes beyond any action or inaction in a time of trauma and stress. She knows I wish I could have done more. It is our bond I focus on when the guilt becomes a burden.

  3. Caroline, I found your blog through another... I can totally relate to how you feel about the day you met your son. Our daughter Ellie, passed away at nine months old from a bacterial bloodstream infection. Her illness was swift and completely changed her appearance. She didn't resemble our daughter at all. She was so swollen that I didn't want to do hand molds and wouldn't let anyone take pictures of her face. I still feel guilty about how I acted that day. I too feel compelled to make it up to her by making sure no one else makes the same mistakes. It's hard to deal with these feelings, but I know our babies know that we love them more than anything.

  4. I have the same guilt as you do... so I won't be here to make excuses. The fog of grief and shock just isn't rational. I desperately wish we had other babyloss families to give us a quick heads up about just what is so important. I'll forever regret so much of my own with Andrew, just as you do with Cale.

    I'm so sad for Emma's parents and their whole family. For the life they dreamed of bringing into their home that is now darkness and sadness. As sad as I am for them, I'm so thankful you are there with that voice of reason from one babyloss mom to another. They will be so grateful when all they have are those memories.

  5. I feel so many of these same feelings. I think it was all just too much for us to take in and process. I don't think its an excuse, but just the sad truth.

    Thankfully, we had a nurse there that night that had experienced the loss of a granddaughter, and had great advice for us. She even had her daughter come the the pictures we have. She wouldn't allow me to say no. She also went and bought the dress that Caroline was buried in. I had nothing appropriate, just happy little sleepers and outfits, that just seemed all wrong.

    I regret not looking at Caroline. I regret being scared of her, what she would look like, seeing her, not living, it was terrifying. I didn't take her hat off. I didn't look at her belly. I left her all swaddled up, just as you did Cale. I should have bathed her and dressed her. I should have just spent more time. What I wouldn't give for some more time.

    I will be thinking of little Emma and her family. I'm thankful you were able to help them out. I know they will be so grateful.

  6. No matter how much time we have or how much we do with our angels, we will always wish we did more. I, for one, wish we had clay molds of Olivia's feet and hands -- not just the ink print of her feet. Even more so, I wish we had hand/foot prints of Jacob -- and more importantly, a picture! I wish we would've spent more time with both of them.'s just so hard. In the initial days, shock and grief is so strong. Heck, I waited 4 days between finding out Olivia had passed away and when we finally delivered her...and to think, I just sat there in complete shock the whole time and did nothing or thought of anything to prepare for her delivery. Just a blank stare while my sister, Deb, tried to convince me to eat something...

    I'm really glad you had resources to give Emma's family. I'm so glad they were able to find out about NILMDTS among other things. My heart aches for them. <3

    Thinking of sweet Cale and #3 <3

  7. I know you're not looking for words, but here's my reaction: our culture is afraid of death, and hardly anyone knows how to react to it the "right" without some sort of guidance. Especially in the darkest, most confusing, most numbing moments of their grief. The immediate natural response for most people would be to reject reality, deny it, hide from it somehow, anything to avoid having to come face to face with something so brutal. And the death of a child is not something most of us have ever prepared ourselves for without a reason to, so would think that it would be that much more shocking. I don't know that any of us can predict how we will react to a specific situation until we're in it, but if still birth happened to me, I couldn't imagine knowing what to do or being able to make any of those decisions (especially taking pictures) prior to my exposure to the things you & your friends have shared about Cale and their babies. Can you blame any mother from wanting to hide from it? From the absolute worst heartbreak imaginable? I am sure there are thousands upon thousands of parents (like Emma's) who only reacted the way they did because a wonderful person like you or an amazing organization like NILMDTS was there for them.

    Anyway, all that to say that I wish you would have had someone to guide you, too, so you had more memories of Cale. Because every little second of your babies' lives have been precious, and you deserve to be able to try and keep as much of them as possible. But I am glad that you have been able to give that gift to others. And I hope that even if it feels like guilt right now, you can let go of some of that guilt and just allow it to become regret for all that you wish for. Because you did nothing wrong and especially now you are doing everything right as Cale's amazing mom and the mother of all your babies.

  8. :( my regrets are very similar to yours. I know it would have never been enough, but I wish I had known to do more. Heartbroken for the parents new to this grief.

  9. Caroline~
    I really can't thank you enough for everything you've done to help my sister and Ben honor Emma. You've been an absolutely incredible resource in this tragedy that our families share together. I used to say the reason I was hired at the wine bar I worked at with Kate (where I was so terribly out of place) was to meet your I know that it was fate that brought us together to endure issues far deeper than we ever could imagine. Even though she's miles away in San Diego at the moment, I know she will be in my life forever. I can't wait for the moment when the four of us can get together, to cry and smile in remembrance of Cale and Emma. Thank you for being an amazing Nichols woman!

  10. I am so blessed, which is something as a babyloss mom we don't say often. But I am so blessed that we had Caroline's support & wisdom as I am the mother of Emma. Because of you Caroline, we were able to take your advice and talk about what we wanted to do before Emma was born. Because of you, we used the blanket we'd brought to the hospital to swaddle our baby girl...the same blanket I now sleep with every night. Because of you, we took so many pictures that I cherish every day. And because of you in my loneliest hours I knew someone else had survived this. Someone else knew what it was like to suppress your milk, to cry more than you ever imagined, and to feel absolutely numb. And I could turn to you to learn about cabbage leaves and I am forever thankful to you, Caroline. I am sad to know you feel guilty about your time with Cale because all Cale knew was love from you. He was conceived in love, grown in love, and remembered with love. I know I cannot take away your guilt, but I do want you to know that you helped my family and we are forever grateful to you. And as someone mentioned before, we will always wish we did something different with our babies because no amount of time will ever have been enough. I wish I'd taken more time with Emma and I had a lot of time with her...but saying good bye is something no parent should have to do. You have made a huge impact on all of us and I smile thinking of the day we meet.