“On the morning of July 3, 2017, I went into my son’s room to wake him for the day. Upon opening the door I could sense something wasn’t right. I remember the pallor of his face as I turned him over. Grey. Porcelain. The right side a galaxy of purple, riddled with pools of blood under the skin. I remember screaming my husband’s name. I remember the enormity of the weight I felt the moment his lifeless body was ripped from my arms by Justin’s frantic hands. How he wailed ‘NO!’ in a tone that shook and cracked and wavered far too much for a two-letter word.
There was the sounds of Justin’s labored breathing as he tried so hard to pump life back into Sloan’s body, hand to chest. Over, and over, and over. Nothing. Justin was sobbing, gasping for air as if subconsciously coaching any part of our baby that was left, to do the same.
The way Sloan’s usually soft arms and legs, thick and dimpled with baby fat, looked like the stiff, slightly bent limbs of a doll lying neatly and unmoving. I touched his stomach, warm. For a moment I felt myself let in hope, as if it meant things inside were working, knowing it was only from the exhausted pumping of attempted resuscitation. Still, ‘His stomach is warm,’ I said out loud to nobody in particular.
Justin was too tired, too frantic. Help took over, took turns. I feel my entire body go cold, tasting metal in my mouth as I said, ‘He’s gone isn’t he.’ Nobody answered me. But everyone knew. I paced, screaming through sobs. Knowing. Sloan had left that tiny body hours before. There was none of him left in there.
EMS arrived, ushered us away. ‘You don’t want to watch this.’ Twenty minutes or forever passed. I’m not sure which. One of them put his hand over ours, and said, ‘We did everything we could.’ He dropped his head, softly and breaking down he said, ‘He’s gone.’ He tells us he lost his own baby the same way years ago. He understood. ‘Would you like to see him?’
I fell over my baby’s body. Air escaped his throat in a tiny wheeze that sounds like a coo. He’s only sleeping. ‘He made a noise!’ Their faces fell. ‘It’s from the CPR.’ ‘It happens.’ ‘It’s normal.’ They were trying not to fall apart. This is their job, they do it every day. But they could not stifle the gravity of what they were having to witness this time. They were watching me and their composure had ceased. Inside I shouted, ‘No! None of this is normal! This isn’t normal. This doesn’t happen.’ But outside only heaving, guttural sobs escaped my mouth.
His body was cold. Stone. Unmoving and void of color. There was no blood pumping. No lungs filling. No nerves responding. He was gone. As my dad wrapped me up in his arms, holding me while I sobbed into my baby’s empty body, my world was spinning out of control.
My husband was in the corner hyperventilating. Medics tending to him while he shook and gasped for air. I still don’t know if it’s that he’d registered the reality of what happened, or if it was the opposite. What he must have felt inside, the battle he must have been fighting within. To perform CPR on your own child, to face its ineffectiveness. Knowing there’s nothing he could have done, but teetering on the ‘what if’ just the same.
Justin and I held our baby for the last time. Hours pass as our tears fell on his now forever still face. I thought about how I wished someone could photograph that moment – us holding his physical being in one final embrace, but instead I stifled it knowing nobody but us would understand. Under his blankets, wrapped in our arms, he was quickly becoming stiff. The stoney, rigidness of rigor mortis. The third stage of death.
He looked like he was sleeping, but he didn’t feel like him anymore. I touched his lashes, traced his lips and nose, kissed his cheeks and his hair. My baby was gone. A year and one day prior, we announced his gender. Our rainbow baby after two losses and secondary infertility. And there we were, already forced to say goodbye.
Two years has passed, and I still remember what trying to save his life looked like. It’s still so vivid, like when you wake from a dream and you’re so certain it was reality. Only, l wake so certain my reality is a dream.
As they grow, my other children will tell his story. ‘I had a brother,’ they’ll say. Rowan will talk about playing peek-a-boo, holding him for the first time, making him laugh. Perhaps he’ll tell people about that morning, watching us screaming over his brother’s body. Or maybe he’ll hold that in his memories quietly, to spare others that sadness.
Our rainbow, Phoenix, won’t have memories of Sloan. She will tell people about the baby her parents lost before her, repeating what she’s been told of him, how her life has probably felt defined by his death. I have said before that as she grows older, and eventually understands what happened to her brother, balancing our grieving with her living in a way that doesn’t cause her to feel held back or stripped of identity, will become even more challenging. As time passes, we will learn better ways to manage the feelings they unearth so that she can thrive as her own person.
As Justin and I age, every day will start and end the same, with one of our children missing. We will silently ache every time someone asks how many children we have. Carefully working through how to explain, in our head before we answer. Rowan and Phoenix’s milestones will forever be a reminder of those Sloan will never meet. It’s not to say we won’t celebrate every one of them, but they will be bittersweet.
This is what it is to be, without your child.
This is my life now. It is messy, it is painful, it is a mountain to be climbed daily, only to start over again the next morning. I do not share my grief out of want. I share my journey out of need. We all share major moments in our lives, post photos of our experiences, caption our stories of what’s most important at any given time. Just because something is scary or upsetting for others to think about does not mean it should not be shared. The darkness is worth telling too. Because without it, there would not be light.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jordan Peterson-DeRosier. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. 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 ran to the laundry room. Something told me to put my hands in the washing machine. I resisted. No way. Are you kidding me? Of course he is not in the washing machine.’
‘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.’
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