‘How long has he been like this?’ I yelled. His temperature read 105. ‘You can’t have him,’ I said to death. ‘Not again.’: Bereaved mom describes parenting after loss during pandemic

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Disclaimer: This story includes graphic images of child loss and may be triggering to some.

“‘Why do you worry so much?’ My husband stated more than asked as I frantically made my way to my nightstand where I kept an extra thermometer and plunged it under my whimpering 9-month-old baby’s arm. When I came home from work, I noticed him clutching the coffee table in the living room trying to keep his stance as his cheeks beat with a crimson red sheen and snot mixed with drool smeared down to his chin.

The digital thermometer beeped. 103.8 it read and that was an under the arm temp. ‘How long has he been like this?’ I yelled down to my husband as he finished cooking dinner while our two-and-a-half-year-old played her version of kitchen at his feet.

‘He was fine a few minutes ago. The teachers said he had a great day at school. Kids get sick. Don’t worry so much.’

But I do. I can’t stop it. The waves of fear came rushing in every time an illness triggers a memory. That memory. It happened to my husband, too. Why doesn’t he fret? Doesn’t he see how every action matters? Maybe there is still time to save my son, unlike how we couldn’t save her.

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

I called the doctor. They said to bring him in. My heart beat faster as the nurse validated my concern this could be serious. It’s flu season and he just got his vaccine a few months ago. It couldn’t be that? But it’s going around. ‘Do you want me to save you some dinner?’

‘No. I’m not hungry,’ I replied. I’m was too anxious to eat.

Thirty minutes later, my baby and I arrived at the clinic and were back in an exam room waiting to see the doctor. My son is falling asleep in my arms, his body using all its energy to fight whatever illness is raging through his tiny being. The nurse took his temp. This time it read 105.

The doctor came in, ‘We need to run some tests.’

I began to tremble. ‘Is he going to be okay?’

He was honest. ‘I’m 95% sure he will be okay and it’s no big deal. I can tell you more when we run the tests.’

‘How long will the test take?’ I needed to know exactly how long, down to the second as to when he would be back. ‘You know what happened to me? Right? You remember that I wrote two siblings, one living, one dead on the forms the first time we met.’

’10 minutes. I promise,’ the doctor said before closing the exam room door.

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

A deep breath. An exhale. I clutch my son close to my breast and rock back and forth to comfort me, not him. He was sleeping soundly on my chest. I keep my hand on the place where his neck meets his shoulders and count his breaths. Making sure he’s breathing. Unlike her. She never did.

‘Please stay. Please stay,’ I whispered through silent tears. As the wait felt eerily familiar to the few minutes that passed for the nurse to find the doctor and the ultrasound machine to tell me my baby had died, just over four years ago from then.

‘You can’t have him,’ I said to death as she lingered in the room near the door. ‘Not again, please. That wouldn’t be fair.’

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

But I knew better. Death knows I knew better. Suffering and pain aren’t distributed equally. You don’t get a pass on the next horrible thing just because you had a previous horrible thing. God seems to always give people way more than they can handle. Lightning does strike twice. Just ask any mom who has lost multiple babies or women who’ve lost children then went on to have cancer. It happens. Suffering doesn’t just stop because you’ve paid your dues. It’s handed out randomly like roulette.

No rhyme or reason to it. Just usually the wrong place, wrong time. Sh*tty karma. Most often just an ordinary event on an ordinary day that, out of nowhere, steals your child’s life. For it’s the little things that make a mother bereaved. Things we don’t see with our eyes. Gene mutations, bacteria, the other car, the blanket placed accidentally in the crib, a carrot slice, a virus, the flu, and four years from COVID-19. Ordinary things that cause extraordinary damage to your life.

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

‘Please not again,’ this time I begged her. Please don’t take another one of my children.

The doctor came back. I clenched to prepare for the blow. He has influenza A.

‘Will he be okay?’ That was all I want to know.

‘Most likely. You brought him in right away. We’ll get him started on medication tonight. It won’t take away the virus but it should help shorten it. Pick it up before you head home.’

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

On the 20 minute drive back to our house, I called my husband probably 40 times with no answer. Once home and with the baby in my hands I ran into our bedroom, ‘Why haven’t you been answering my calls!’ I yelled at him. ‘I needed you.’

‘I fell asleep.’

‘What if something serious happened?’

‘Relax. What did the doctor say.’

‘He has the flu. It is serious!’

‘Calm down. You do this every time our kids sniffle. Kids get sick.’

‘… and die!’ I finished the incomplete sentence.

‘Stop. He’s going to be fine. Everything is going to be okay.’

Shivers washed down my spine and I was taken back to the delivery room, 40 weeks swollen and ready to have a baby. That’s what he said right before the doctor said the words, ‘I’m sorry there’s no heart beat.’

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

‘You don’t get it!’

‘Get what?’

‘It’s just like her. Every time the kids get sick, I get sent back to when we left the hospital without our baby. Every. Time. I don’t want to f*ck up again. Do you know how hard it is needing to prove to the world I can keep my children alive?’

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

‘You didn’t do anything wrong. Nora got sick,’ he said as his arms wrapped around me and I sunk into him.

That’s why he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know. She died inside of ME! I was the one who could have saved her. I’m the one who should have noticed she had slowed down. Or paid attention to my achiness, noticed the fever that signaled the bacterial infection that slowly ravaged her body and stole her silently in the night. She died inside of me, not him.

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

And that’s why I still worry so much. Now four years later, with coronavirus raging through our town, the state, the country, and the world, I worry even more. When I go to kiss my kids goodnight each night before bed, my daughter born after my first who died, now six, and my once feverish little baby boy, who’s now four, I feel their forehead for heat, dampness, or sweat. Searching for symptoms of safety or danger. My lips against a cool forehead reassure me COVID has not yet floated into our home. For four months, we have been locked away from the world, social distancing to stay somewhat sane. Choosing reassurance from worries at the cost of sacrifice in the form of social isolation.

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

‘Honey, why do you worry so much,’ has moved from my husband’s lips to my child’s but just asked with different words, ‘Mom, why can’t I go to school? Mom, why can’t I play with friends, when neighbors not sisters, Suzie and Sally play together next door? Mom, why can’t we go to Target, the coffee shop, or the library when I see other families walking in?’ or ‘Mom, why can’t I have my birthday party now that quarantine is over?’

I answer every time with a deep exhale, ‘Because of the virus sweetie,’ and my six-year-old, with her strawberry blonde hair like mine, nods her’s in agreement and lets the conversation go. But what I really mean to say but don’t is because I worry SO much.

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

I worry SO much because I KNOW what it’s like to have something the size of a microbe rob my child of her life. I worry SO much because I KNOW death does not discriminate. Like Hamilton says, ‘It takes and it takes,’ and she is lurking now within hugs and high-fives.

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

But instead of passing my words of coronavirus worries onto my children, I practice gratitude instead. I let my eyes gaze a little longer at them when I read one more bedtime story than I normally would. I stay in the moment with them because no matter how much I worry, this moment with them is all I get. Their sister’s death and the coronavirus remind me of this truth. Before I kiss their foreheads and check for symptoms before bed each night, I say whisper thank you to life’s challenges that amplify all of my worries because it also amplifies all of the love.”

Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke
Courtesy of Lindsey M. Henke

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsey M. Henke. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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