Grief: Love’s Final Act

By: Cassi Cox
A commissioned piece for June by local artist Samantha Cotner- isn’t it beautiful?!

I don’t know about you, but I have never been good at grief. 

But then losing my daughter changed me. 

Grief has always been one of those things I never quite embraced or understood. I didn’t have the time or space for it. I lived my life in a constant state of fight or flight. I never had time to slow down and FEEL… and on the occasions that I did pause long enough to feel, that experience was terrifying. I responded to those experiences with different defense mechanisms… Usually, I fled instead of fighting. 

I didn’t grieve the whole “lost childhood” thing. Why get lost in that? I had siblings that needed me and there was so much that needed done. I just kept going. 

My first boyfriend died in a car accident a year after we broke up. He was 19, I was just shy of 17 and we’d been friends since I was in 8th grade. I let myself cry a few times, when the pain was too much to bear, but I didn’t allow myself to grieve. He was gone. There was nothing I could do about it. 

Breakups were…weird for me. Because my default to grief was always to get stuck in the denial phase, by putting the loss in a box and refusing to deal with it, breakups were odd. I either acted as if the relationship never happened OR that the breakup was just a pause. Confessions of a serial monogamist, amirite?! 

And then June happened. 

My fourth child. 

That day changed my life. The date? January…12th? 13th? Something like that. I’m sure I could find it if I went digging, but frankly, I don’t want to. My daughter is gone, and that is all the knowledge I need. 

I’d had three babies already so I didn’t think anything would go wrong. I actually went to my appointment alone because having a baby appointment was just business as usual for me. My 16 week appointment. Past the “danger zone.” 

Except when I laid down and he put the monitor on my swollen belly, all we heard was me. My body. No baby heartbeat. 

And in that moment, I knew. I knew she was gone. 

He had me get up and walk around, saying that this early in the pregnancy, sometimes we just need to reposition. I drank some water. Tried again. 

Still nothing. He scheduled an ultrasound, saying that we’d just check that way. 

I knew. 

I went home and I told Brad. He reassured me, jumping onto google. Sometimes the placenta grows up in the front of the uterus, he explained. But I knew she was gone. 

My cousin came over to stay with the boys while we went to the hospital for the ultrasound. Brad’s anxiety was palpable but I knew. And then, there she was on the screen, curled up into a little ball. No movement. No heartbeat. 

I have had enough ultrasounds to know what I was seeing. That was not an alive baby. Brad knew too. His hand squeezed mine as the tech silently got whatever photos she needed. “Your doctor will be in touch,” She said. 

He didn’t need to. 

We got in the car and headed home. “You saw that, right? That baby is gone. No heartbeat,” I said. 

“Yeah. I think you’re right.” 

The call from the doctor came later. We went in and he gently explained  that we had two options. We couldn’t wait. I was too far along- I was actually past the 17 week mark in the pregnancy, but June only measured a little over 15 weeks. She had already been gone for nearly 2 weeks. I was at risk for sepsis. We could schedule a D & E- the procedure used in an abortion at this stage of pregnancy. I would be sedated and a doctor would dilate my cervix and then “evacuate” my uterus. My child would not be removed intact. The evacuation procedure involved the dismemberment of the fetal body, so I wouldn’t see her, hold her, etc. The other option was to schedule an induction. I’d have to go to the hospital, where I would be given medication to dilate my cervix and induce my labor. I would go through the entire labor process, although I wouldn’t have to dilate as far or push as hard because she was so little. Then, I would give birth to a dead baby. I would be awake the entire time and feel it all although I would have access to pain management. 

We chose induction without hesitation. I needed to see my child. 

Our doctor cautioned us that because she had been gone for nearly two weeks, she may have already begun to deteriorate. He said that if she wasn’t born completely intact, I may still have to be transferred for an emergency D & E in order to ensure that my uterus was clear. It was a risk we were all willing to take. 

For five days, we waited for the appointment. For five days, I laid in my bed with my hands on my swollen belly, mourning the dead baby inside of me. The waves crashed over me. For five days, my phone blew up with texts and calls, flowers and food delivered from well wishers and I could barely bring myself to move from the bed to the couch. 

I begged God. I cried. I called my doctor and had numerous additional ultrasounds just to make sure. I begged my baby to kick me. I bargained with God. “You are a God who raises the dead, I know you are!” I remember crying out, “So why not now? Why not my baby?” 

January 18th. 6am. 

We pulled into the parking garage at St. John’s hospital in Springfield, Brad’s hand firmly holding onto mine, an anchor in the storm. 

And I froze. 

I couldn’t get out of the car. 

I looked at Brad and I told him, “I’m going into the hospital pregnant and I am going to leave without a baby in the backseat.” 

I just sat there, absorbing this truth. 

“Babe, we’ve got to go inside now.” 

Another ultrasound (still dead) and an attempted amniocentesis (my uterus contracted and they couldn’t get it) later and my induction began. 

For 12 hours I laid in the hospital bed, waiting for June’s entrance…and exit from the world. 

Brad never left my side. 

My dad came. Then my Pastor. Small talk. I don’t remember any of it. 

Contractions, a morphine drip. 

Brad’s fear. “I don’t know if I can see her. Hold her. Cass, what if she doesn’t look like a baby?” 

“I’ll hold her. I’ll tell you how she looks. Then you can decide.” 

The urge to push. Dad and Pastor ushered out of the room. 

And then it was over. 

Born in caul, amniotic sac intact, no need for a D & E, my baby girl. The sac was no longer clear, but a deep red. There was no denying that she was gone. The doctor slowly cut the sac open and there was my June. My perfect girl. Discolored, yes, but perfect. They brought her tiny body to me in their gloved hands- her skin was too fragile to be touched without protection. He legs with their knobby joints, long fingers and tiny, tiny fingernails. Wide set eyes, a perfect little nose. 

“Brad,” I whispered. “It’s okay. Come see her. She’s fine, really.” He was so afraid that all he would see was a mass of cells, a glob of tissue, but our baby girl was a baby girl. He watched as they put her in a tiny, tiny little swaddle wrap that looked like a child’s slipper and handed her to me. She fit in one hand.  

I stared at her in awe. How many people in the world have the opportunity to see a human at this level of development? To see the beauty and perfection of humanity this close? 

And then my heart broke into a million pieces as I was flooded with everything I would never do. I would never hear her cry. My mind went back to my first born. He didn’t cry when he was born- he was silent for the first few minutes and it terrified me. I remember asking, “Why isn’t he crying? Isn’t he supposed to be crying,” desperate to hear that wail. 

I would never hear June wail. I would never soothe her cries. I would never nurse her, snuggle her, swaddle her. I’d never hear her little voice say “mama” or hear her laugh. I would never see her reach for me, or see her cuddle with her daddy. I’d never get to see her brothers hold her, feed her, play with her. 

These “nevers” flooded me as I looked down at my still daughter. 

The “nevers” still flood me today, as I play with my 4 year old rainbow and teach her letter sounds. As I laugh with my 14 year old at internet memes. As I teach our 12 year old about periods and dating, boundaries and consent.  

All things I will never do with June. 

And yet I have had no choice but to go through the grief process with her. I continue to cycle through the process. I cannot deny her any more than I can deny my own existence. I cannot default to the way I have always handled grief. I cannot put my daughter in a box and pretend that she didn’t exist and she didn’t die. 

She was here. She mattered. She still does. 

And that forces me to approach this differently than I have approached anything in my entire life. It’s been hard. 

The guilt. The bargaining. The anger.

The depression. The what ifs. 

The desire, some days, just to die already so I can be with her. 

The healing and celebrating of the impact this little life had, and still has. 

Honoring her, loving her, missing her. 

The depth of connection with my husband that this unique grief has forged. 

The nuance and empathy it has given my children

And my rainbow baby. We were going to be done after June, but our doctor advised us not to make a permanent decision in the midst of grief. My four year old is such a light. I am so glad I have her. 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. 

Every day I am learning to live within this cycle. I am learning to grieve other losses, too. 

June changed me. 

I am better because June existed. 

For 15 short weeks June was here and she changed everyone she touched. 

Grief, I think, is just love. Being afraid to grieve was just another way I ran from vulnerability…the Vulnerability of Love.

My sweet girl, who would I be without you? 

Be Bold, Live Out Loud

-CC

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