Coping with the loss of baby Matthew - the first year
A year has gone by
It was December 2004, just a few weeks away from welcoming our babies into the world. I had been so worried throughout my pregnancy but during the holidays I said to myself, “We finally made it to the end”. It was Christmas and my husband and I decided to set up the cribs in the babies’ room. We had many Christmas decorations around the house and celebrated with joy. Then soon afterwards, we all heard of the devastating Asian tsunami – a catastrophic disaster in which over 225,000 died. I remember in the days to follow, I couldn’t sleep well at night because I felt so uncomfortable (with my big belly) and so I watched the CNN news with the devastating tsunami and I was so greatly affected by it all. The whole world was shocked. Being pregnant, emotional and seeing the images on TV of the people, especially children really disturbed me. And I would have never imagined 2 weeks after that my own son would die as I was giving birth.
2005 has been a challenging year in many ways. The sudden and unexpected loss of baby Matthew has changed my life forever. It was the most traumatic and saddest experience I have ever had to deal with. It affected me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I experienced shock, denial and anger and dealt with all the stresses associated with each grieving cycle. And although at times I felt incapacitated because of my loss, I had also given birth to another baby, Steven, who was just as beautiful and precious…and was with us. He was alive and well and needed me very much. I needed to take care of him and he has been the centre of my life from the moment I first held him. I had to learn how to breastfeed him, wash him and change him during which at the same time preparations were being made for baby Matthew’s funeral. This year I have grieved tremendously over Matthew and have rejoiced in the birth of his twin Steven. It has been an incredibly hard way to start motherhood, such a situation that I would never wish upon any woman.
Even though we now know the medical reasons related to vasa previa of why Matthew died, I will never understand the truth depth of “why”. My husband and I have been coping with the loss and even though we grieve in different ways, time has been easing the pain. But make no mistake; we are definitely both still grieving our loss. People may grieve for weeks, months or years. One doctor I spoke to during my investigation of the negligence that took place during my pregnancy said that it usually takes about 18 months to stop grieving intensely. My broken heart will never heal completely but during this first year I have been learning to cope with the pain and have tried to be as proactive as possible. Instead of running away from my grief, I decided to face it head on and learn from our tragedy.
Holidays and events:
I have openly cried, talked about Matthew and remembered him in every special occasion. He is in heaven buts he is still part of our family. The “first” of everything has been hard: family members’ birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Thanksgiving, etc. We always made a point of going to the cemetery for these occasions and leave special reminders at the mausoleum. Even celebrating Steven’s first Halloween was so exciting but at the same time so sad because Matthew was not with us. The holidays were particularly a difficult time. We were excited to put up the Christmas tree and decorated the house but also did a lot of crying. Not only because it would be the first Christmas without him but because many memories of the previous holidays were felt. The same day we finished setting up the tree I used part of our decorations to place by Matthew’s tomb. Even little Christmas booties their great-grandmother had made for the twins were used, one for Steven on our tree and one for Matthew by his tomb.
The twins’ first birthday:
What should have been a day of total bliss and happiness on January 12th, 2006 was unfortunately not so. It was a day that was filled with great happiness for Steven but also a day filled with sadness. I couldn’t even think about their birthday until it got closer to the date; it was too painful. However, when the day approached we made the best of things. We took flowers and balloons to Matthew and bought a cake and some gifts for Steven. I went to the cemetery twice that day. Once in the morning with my husband and baby Steven and then on my own between 4:00– 4:30 pm, around the time he passed away. At night we held a beautiful memorial mass and many of our close friends and family attended. We played the songs: Precious Child by Karen Taylor–Good and an Ave Maria song. Also, we brought a picture of Matthew that stood on the altar during the entire mass along with a candle that had started to lit in his memory at home that morning. We will use this candle every birthday to remember him. The priest was very kind and at the end of the service I said a few words. Actually, it was a letter I wrote to Matthew for his first birthday. It was very similar to the one I wrote under the guestbook on January 12th, 2006. I didn’t think I was going to be able to speak that night. I had read the letter a few times but I told the priest I wasn’t sure I’d be able to go up and do it. I truly believe Matthew gave me the strength that evening to read it and it felt so good afterwards. Having the mass and doing the reading gave me quite some peace that night. It was the first time since Steven was born that I slept the entire night without waking up once! Within those days following the mass, I had two beautiful dreams of Matthew, as many times I have had in the past. In the first dream, I was with him and I was embracing him in my arms but the feeling I got during this dream was that it was Matthew who was hugging me and it was a strong hug. I also had another dream during that same week in which my husband and I were together and Matthew was there, it was his face. He didn’t say anything but he was smiling and it felt so real. Many people agree with me and say that our loved ones visit us in our dreams if we are open to it. Even though Matthew was a newborn I do believe it is him who visits me and tries to give me some comfort knowing that he is o.k. and watching over us. The weekend that followed the birth date, we had a nice family gathering with more cake and gifts for baby Steven. We took many pictures and he even had his first official haircut done by his grandfather.
Returning to work:
I had left work two months before the twins were born and I returned three weeks after Steven’s first birthday so altogether I’d been away from the world of work for almost a year and a half. I didn’t want to rush back into things. Taking my time really helped me and another thing I decided to do was return only part-time for the first few months. Yet during my time off I did visit my workplace so that many could see baby Steven. Every time I visited my colleagues were tremendously warm, compassionate and understanding. They have been very sensitive to what has happened and they have really made me feel welcomed back. I find that work helps me. It distracts me and keeps my mind occupied. However, we are settling into a new routine with baby Steven since I was home for so long. I find that returning to work sooner wouldn’t have been good for me; the timing is now perfect.
Surround yourself with loved ones & ignore negative comments:
When one feels so vulnerable and helpless, the last thing you need is to have outsiders pressuring you to resolve how you feel. No one can say to you “I know what you’re going through” because the truth is that they don’t. Only you know how you feel and you must do what is right for you. I was told once by a wise person to surround myself by loved ones, those that are there to listen and not judge. I graciously thank my parents and sister for being there for me not only with helping me deal with the loss of Matthew but for also spending time helping me adjust to motherhood with baby Steven. My sister and mom also helped tremendously with this website in honour of Matthew; I don’t think I could have done it without them.
My close friends and co-workers have also been great to me;
they have been compassionate and supportive and I feel blessed to have them
in my life. I also attended bereavement support groups in person (PBSO) and
on-line (through the IVPF) and found these life lines extremely helpful. During
our prenatal classes in September 2004, my husband and I had met a couple who
were also were expecting twins. After the classes ended we lost touch with them.
Tragically, this couple also lost one of their twins and although the circumstances
were different, our very unique experiences have brought us together. Ironically,
our son and their daughter are resting in the same cemetery. This tragedy has
brought us closer, we have become friends and our ‘twinless twin’
boys play together quite often. Through this website in memory of my son, I
have shared stories with many women who also had a loss. This website has circulated
all over the world, from North America to South America to Europe and even to
Australia and New Zealand. I hope that this site continues to help other bereaved
parents who have lost a child and know that they are not alone.
Many bereaved parents say that quite often they feel offended by comments and behavior from people who think they might be helping but instead cause more pain. I also experienced this early on after Matthew died. I think some people just couldn’t understand how I can grieve over one baby when I had his twin that survived. You almost have to anticipate inappropriate comments or behavior because people do tend to put their foot in their mouth (so to speak). However, since the grieving person’s “normal” life has now become a different kind of “normal”, hurtful comments will put the person under unnecessary stress. Having said this, throughout the first 6 months of Matthew’s passing I was told, “Forget about it, at least you have one”, “It could have been worse if he had survived and been disabled” or “Life goes on, you need to move on”. It is unfortunate that through ignorance or self centeredness people say these things and don’t realize how sensitive grieving parents really feel. There were also some people who had seen me pregnant and knew I was carrying twins but saw me months after when Steven was an infant; they congratulated us without giving condolences, as if Matthew had never existed. Perhaps, they thought that by mentioning Matthew we would somehow feel upset but what they don’t realize is that by ignoring to mention him at all made it much worse.
There were those people, however, that did express sympathy in a better way. Comments such as “I'm really sorry that your other son did not survive”, “I can’t possibly understand how you feel but if you need to talk I’m here” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through but it must be really hard”. Also comforting were words like, “This must be a difficult time for you; we will be praying for you and thinking about your family”. I want to convey this message to people who know of someone who has lost a child, a sibling or parent. Simple words have so much meaning and truth…and do much good for the aching soul!
Social activities have not been so easy for me this year and although I continue to be involved in family and community events I only do them at my own pace. If I was not ready to involve myself in an occasion I would let people know. I did not want to feel overwhelm; not all but most people understood. Again, I had to do what was best for me, Dominic and baby Steven. It didn’t matter what people thought or said.
I can honestly say that all the nights I stayed up nursing Steven, rocking him to sleep, or waking up in the middle night to change him, or bathing him, etc. could never compare to the amount of energy grieving the loss of Matthew has consumed me with. Grieving is much harder than what people think or expect. There is nothing worse in life than losing a child. No obstacle that has ever crossed my path has ever taken a toll like this loss. The saddest day, aside from the day Matthew died, was the day of the burial. I had just been released from the hospital less than 48 hours and I remember feeling so numb, like everything was a bad dream. Even though a year has gone by, there are nights when I’m lying in bed getting ready to fall asleep and I say to myself, “This has all been a very bad dream, this is not real”. I try to imagine waking up the next morning, either still being pregnant with the twins making sure Matthew will survive or just simply Matthew being with us. Unfortunately, reality sets in as soon as a wake up. I have also been told by some people to not tell Steven about his brother until he’s older. One person even told me, “Don’t tell him until he’s a teenager!”. Again, people just don’t understand. My husband and I have agreed that when the time is right, we will tell Steven he had a twin brother named Matthew, who just like him, was our beautiful son that we love very much but that he is no longer with us and is in heaven. The medical reasons and the negligence by the doctor can wait. Besides, we have many pictures of Matthew around the house and Steven already looks at them. Eventually he’s going to want to know who it is. I would never lie nor misrepresent what happened; the truth has to be told when the time is right. I realize that my story is very personal and I made the decision to share it with all of you in order to save precious babies from this terrible fate due to the condition of vasa previa.