‘I received a missed call from daycare. ‘Declan was taking a nap and never woke up.’ I remember thinking it was a silly bump or runny nose.’: Woman says ‘I will always be Declan’s momma’ after SIDS loss

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“My husband Cody and I met, and it was one of those situations where we just knew. God had timed things so perfectly and not long after I found out I was pregnant. We both had daughters from previous relationships, Reaghan and Paisley, so when we found out we were having a boy, we were ecstatic. Declan is an Irish name meaning ‘full of goodness,’ and James was in honor of my father and brother.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

My pregnancy was easy and I was so excited about the life I planned with my little boy, the only brother in our family. He was the first grandson and our parents were all thrilled. By now, my husband is an expert at tea parties and dresses and was looking forward to a life with his son.

Declan was born on April 18, 2017. I went in for an induction. I was mentally prepared for an epidural and was excited to have some relief after experiencing labor for a few hours. Unfortunately, my epidural did not work, and by the time the anesthesiologist came into the room to give me some relief, I was already pushing. It was an intense and emotional experience. But as soon as I heard him cry, all the pain and anxiety melted away and I saw my sweet boy.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

Over 9 pounds and a head full of blonde hair. He was the perfect newborn with chunky cheeks and beautiful eyes. You don’t really know what love is until you see the love of your life holding the baby you created together. I was so proud of myself for physically giving birth and feeling every second of it. He was worth it; he still is worth the pain and suffering I face each day without him.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

He was an easy baby. Declan slept for long stretches at night, smiled and cooed constantly, and anyone that met him fell in love with him. I loved dressing him in his little outfits and just cherishing every second I had with him. I took a long maternity leave and was fortunate to spend 24 hours a day with him, which might seem a bit overwhelming, but for me it was easy. It felt right.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

Looking back at my time with him, I often wonder if the reason he was so wonderful was because in some way he knew his time with us wouldn’t be long. Four months after he was born, Cody and I got married. We weren’t in a rush for a wedding, but for whatever reason, we planned one for the end of August that year.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

As an official combining of our family as one, our daughters walked down the aisle pulling a radio flyer wagon with Declan hanging out in the back. My favorite memory of that day is putting my son in tiny suspenders and dress pants and including him and his sisters. It was an opportunity for all our family to meet our newest addition. Some only saw him that day and thought they would get another chance, but they didn’t.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

Fall quickly arrives and I am shocked to learn I am pregnant again. It was not planned, and I wasn’t thrilled with the news. I had my perfect little boy and I honestly wasn’t ready to add another to our family. I struggled with being newly pregnant and taking care of an infant. I started working again and so Declan started daycare at an acquaintance I had from high school just a block away from our house. My best friend’s son went there and they were happy with it, so I was too.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

My dad invited Cody and me on a trip to Las Vegas which we gladly accepted, and Declan tagged along too. We scheduled our trip for a week when our older daughters were with their other parents. Declan got to take his first plane ride at 7 months old. We walked through casinos and down the strip with our stroller, Declan taking in all the lights and noises. One day we drove to see the Grand Canyon, something neither Cody or I had ever seen. It was unforgettable, not only because we took a helicopter tour and rode a boat down the river, but because Declan was there experiencing it with us.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

He was a pleasure to take anywhere because he was always so curious and observant of his surroundings. Even simple tasks like going to the grocery store were fun because he was with me, sitting in the cart letting me kiss his forehead a million times. He was always with me, and happy to be with me. We had a gender reveal party and found out he was getting a baby sister. I have photos and videos of him at that party and at that moment. I’m grateful he was there for so many milestones in my life.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

I don’t know if it was my mother’s intuition, but during my pregnancy, I felt something was off. I had a hard time bonding with the baby growing in my belly because I had a feeling one of my children wasn’t going to make it, I just didn’t imagine it would be my son. I remember my last morning with him perfectly.

It was a normal Monday, I was getting ready for work and getting him ready for daycare. My dad always drove me to work and would drop Declan off at daycare down the street. Declan loved rearranging the shoes by the front door and I let him make a mess so I could finish cleaning up and getting us ready to go for the day. I remember he wore a sweatshirt that early spring morning that was a little snug, but I figured once he got to daycare she would take it off him. I ALMOST brought him to work with me, but since I had less than a week left before I started maternity leave, I would let him go. I thought I had time before his sister arrived with just him and me at home.

I got a missed call not long after getting to work from daycare. I remember thinking in my head it’s something silly like he bumped his head or maybe he had a runny nose. I called back and heard the worst sentence of my life, ‘Declan was taking a nap and didn’t wake up.’ He was being transported by ambulance to the hospital and I needed to get there. I didn’t drive myself, so I called my dad and he was there in minutes and we were speeding towards the ER.

I had to call my husband and tell him to meet us there. I didn’t have any other information or if he was okay. We made it across town in record time, all the while I’m trying to talk myself down with my dad beside me, telling me it’s probably nothing and he’s okay. Because at this point in my life, bad things like this couldn’t happen to me. Surely this was an overreaction and I was just being an overly hormonal pregnant lady.

When I ran inside the doors into the ER and someone was waiting for me, I knew it wasn’t good. I didn’t hear my son crying in the triage room like I prayed for. This poor man held my hand and walked into the back down the long halls until I saw my husband kneeling on the floor outside the room door, dirty from work and his face buried in his hands. I went behind the curtain and saw my son looking so tiny on the hospital bed in just his diaper, and a dozen doctors and nurses around him trying to start his heart.

There were several police officers there and I noticed one staring at me. I didn’t know how to respond, I just sat in a chair silently and watched as my husband paced and yelled, ‘Come on buddy, come on.’  I don’t know how long we were in that room, but inside me, I couldn’t wrap my mind around what was going on in front of me. From what I was told, the hospital chaplain was by my side the entire time with his hand on my shoulder. Cody and I walked into the hall for a minute and saw so many people outside the room–nurses, staff, and EMTs who knew who we were and why we were there.

I have never felt more helpless and scared in my entire life than in those moments. We walked back into the room as the doctor came up to us to deliver the news I did not want to hear. Cody finally spoke up and said, ‘Just f**king tell us!’ ‘I’m sorry we did everything we could,’ was all the doctor could say, like some line from a movie. A movie about someone else’s life because my son wasn’t dead, he couldn’t be! We had just taken his 11-month milestone photo the day before. I already scheduled his first birthday party for a few weeks from now. The decorations and his party outfit were at home in his room.

It didn’t hit me until they stopped trying to resuscitate him and wrapped him in a sheet and put him in my arms. His eyes were open, but he wasn’t there. That sparkle that made him ‘him,’ was gone. He stared blankly into nothing. His smell was gone too, the smell that all mothers know, the smell of their child. He had a tube down his throat and then he let out his last breath in my arms…and then all the tears I had been forcing down started falling. I cried all over my boy, tears falling onto his skin. I had never seen anyone die before, and now I was sitting there trying to memorize every inch of his face, the weight of him in my arms. That would be the last time I saw his body.

Ask any bereaved parent what they fear most and it’s simple–they’re afraid of the memory of their child fading away. On the other hand, if you ask a bereaved parent what helps their grief most–it’s talking about their child; saying their name out loud and talking about them as if they are still an active member of their family. Because to us, they always will be. Death is not a very comfortable or talked about topic in conversation, but it’s inevitable for all of us.

Social media has influenced us to put our best face forward, show how wonderful our lives are, and be happy. I gladly take the uncomfortable silence and looks I get when a stranger asks me how many kids I have and I mention my son Declan. I know my answer is not typical because young people don’t die. Babies shouldn’t die, but they do, and if there was more acceptance of ‘the bad stuff’ in life, mothers like me wouldn’t feel so isolated.”

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsay Paulsen of Eugene, Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more powerful stories of parents working through child loss:

‘I went into my son’s room to wake him. I could sense something wasn’t right. I remember the pallor of his face as I turned him over. Grey. Porcelain.’

‘When we lost her, we lost our way completely. The day she died, my heart didn’t break – it disintegrated.’: Baby dies of SIDS at daycare; family heals by choosing to ‘make the world a kinder, more loving place in her name’

‘My son was 4 days away from 8 months old. Never one health concern, happy and brighter than the sun itself. I was in total bliss. Then, just like that, it was gone.’

‘The cold room smelt like bleach. It felt so wrong. ‘She’ll be returned to you in a carboard box.’ We dropped to our knees.’: Mom loses 10-month-old daughter to SIDS

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