On October 22, 2013, I went into labor unexpectedly at 23 weeks of gestation and gave birth to my firstborn. Leonardo came into our world and 56 minutes later, he left it. When you go into the hospital to deliver a child, you don’t expect to leave without a baby in your arms. That walk from my maternity room to the hospital exit was the longest walk I’ve ever taken. I remember the day we were discharged as if it were yesterday. It was an offensively beautiful sunny day in Seattle. People were walking around happily enjoying their day, the sun, and the blue skies. I recall being so angry. How could the world go on, when mine was collapsing? How was it possible for me to be dying inside while others were enjoying laughter, friends, and ice cream cones?
One of the challenges that come after losing a child is not being able to talk about it. There is no conversation topic more morbid and more unwelcomed than that of a dead baby. Grief is a lonely place. You find yourself without a baby, without the dreams that you had for this little being and without anyone to talk to about it all. With the exception of the women in my support group, women who had also lost their babies, very few people ask me about Leo. Parents love to talk about their kids and I am not any different…except that for others I am because my kid is dead.
So I went on without telling people that I had a son. When I was expecting my second child (we named him Xavier), it was so hard for me to answer the question: “Is this your first?” No, it was my second. But I didn’t want to make others uncomfortable by mentioning that my first one had passed away. So, I would try to ignore the lump in my throat as I answered “yes, it’s my first”. Even after Xavier was born and later on, my daughter Lara was born, I didn’t feel I could share Leo with others.
Last summer, while we were enjoying the Farmers’ Market as a family, an author sitting in front of the local bookstore was talking to my son Xavier and asked him if he had any siblings. Xavier introduced his little sister to the author and went on to say that he also has an older brother who died. I felt so bad for this lady who was probably not expecting such a heavy topic from a chit chat with a 4-year old. This happened several other times; new acquaintances would ask me how many kids I had and after my response, Xavier always corrected me by including Leo in the count. I never stopped him. I didn’t think it was fair for me to ask him not to speak of his brother to others, especially since we freely talked about Leo at home. I soon realized that we may not be able to play, hold, kiss, or hug Leo, but we should be able to talk about him. And yes, it may cause some temporary discomfort, not because it’s wrong, but because the topic is taboo. How could it be wrong when it makes me feel so good to say his name? Talking about Leo is acknowledging that he existed, that he is important, that he was wanted, and is loved. I feel myself healing every time I say his name.
What I’ve learned from losing my son is that you never completely heal from losing someone you love. Time certainly does not heal all wounds. As Rose Kennedy once said: “The wounds remain. With time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” For me, what has helped build the scar tissues is talking about Leo, raising awareness about infant death, and celebrating his existence in our lives.
Here I am, almost 7 years later. My life is filled now with 3 living kids. At home, we speak very openly about Leo, the reason he died, where we think he might be now and we have fun guessing what he would have been like. We celebrate his birthdays with cupcakes and candles, and when the checkout person at the cupcake store asks me “whose birthday is it?” I answer without hesitating “it’s for my son who would have been a year older today”.
Natasha P. de Sousa is a mother, wife, wellness blogger, and baking enthusiast who a few years ago faced some health issues that nudged her to study and focus more on her physical and mental well-being. Follow her journey and discoveries on Instagram @blomwellness.