Waiting With Gabriel
What if you knew the baby you were carrying was fated to die at birth?
BY: Amy Kuebelbeck
My husband and I learned before our baby was born that our baby was going to die. I was five-and-a-half months pregnant when I learned that my baby had a malformed heart, and the condition was fatal. That doesn't give away the end of the story. It gives away only the beginning.
What followed was an extraordinary journey of grief, joy, and love as we waited with Gabriel, simultaneously preparing for our son's birth and for his death. Despite some wrenchingly aggressive surgical options, no one could give our son a good heart. So we set out to give him a good life.
Our guiding principle as we made decisions for our son's care was that his life be free of pain and filled with love. And it was. The months of waiting for his birth culminated in two-and-a-half hours of cradling Gabriel in our arms, in the same bed where he was born, surrounded by family and friends until his imperfect little heart finally stopped beating altogether.
He knew only love.
After the diagnosis, I remembered reading in one of the metro newspapers about a local company that sold literature and other materials for people facing a crisis in pregnancy or infant death. One of the owners started the company as a branch of his publishing business after his daughter was stillborn and he realized that few resources existed for people suffering similar losses. I even ordered a catalog once after a friend had a miscarriage. At the time, I paged through it, scanning the book titles and gazing at the birth-death announcement cards, thinking that it was the saddest thing I had ever seen.
Now I needed it for myself. I dug through my papers, and sure enough I had saved it all those months. Reading it was even more heartbreaking this time. There was a slender baby book specifically for babies who die, because no bereaved parent wants a regular off-the-shelf baby book with pages to record firsts that will forever remain empty. This book featured the usual pages on which to record the baby's family tree and birth statistics, along with pages for handprints, footprints, and a lock of hair. But it also had a page on which to paste a funeral program and a page with a heartbreaking fill-in-the-blank sentence that read, "Our baby died on _______________."