On June 29, 2005 one of my best friends gave birth to her first baby. A boy they named Jude. Before his birth, Jen and James found out he had cleft lip and cleft palate. We weren't sure how bad it was going to be, and it was bad. He couldn't eat well, breathe well, or even sleep well. They had a very rough first few weeks with him. He had surgery when he was just a few weeks old to insert a feeding tube into his stomach. He ended up in the hospital with pneumonia. Eventually he had another surgery to begin correcting his lip so he could hopefully eat normally. He also had really bad acid reflux which only made matters worse.
Then we all know, Hurricane Katrina hit on August 29, 2005. We live about 60 miles outside of New Orleans, in Baton Rouge. While we weren't "directly" affected by the hurricane, we were affected. Traffic was horrible, our store shelves were empty, long lines at the gas pumps..you get the picture. It was actually a very scary time for us. But the worst part of all, is what happened on September 16, 2005. After a routine visit to the pediatrician, Jude was in the back of the car on the way home with his daddy when he stopped breathing. By the time his dad realized, it was too late. Having a medical background, James tried and tried to get him breathing again before the paramedics arrived. Jen was on her way home when her husband called her frantic. They airlifted him to the hospital, but it didn't matter. He never started breathing again. Just shy of 3 months old and he was gone.
I have never lost a baby, but this tragedy has changed my life forever. The next three days were three of the hardest days of my life. Immediately I felt guilty for being pregnant. Would Jen hate me now? Was our friendship gone? Our babies were supposed to be friends, playmates. The day I found out I was pregnant she took me shopping for pre-natal vitamins and we talked about how fun it would be to share this together. What was I supposed to say to her? Should I leave her alone, or go to her? And in the back of my mind, I'm thinking about how I was going to raise my child and keep my sanity after what has happened.
Of course we went to see them. She had her brother call us from the emergency room, so we knew what we meant to them. There are no words to express the sadness that we faced that night. We hugged and cried. I didn't know what to say. Ben didn't know what to say. What were we supposed to do? They seemed to want to talk about it, so we did. They were having an autopsy performed, so there were so many unanswered questions.
In the midst of all of this, they had two friends staying with them that lost their house in Katrina. We invited them to come and move in with us and give Jen and James their space. Very gratefully, they accepted and moved in that night. Oh, I also forgot to mention that Jen and James were closing on their house the following Monday and moving in with her mom for a few months while they were having a house built. So Saturday they had to continue packing their house. Your son dies on Friday and you have to pack on Saturday. But like she said, it was better than sitting around. Since I was so pregnant, I stayed at home and cooked a few things that I wanted to bring over to them that night while Ben and our Erica (our evacuee, as we liked to call them!) went to help, along with Erica's husband.
Late morning I heard a knock on the door and it was Jen, standing there, shaking and sobbing. She just got back from the funeral home, making the arrangements. I think it just hit her at this point and she didn't know how to handle it. We sat and talked for a while and she admitted that a part of her was relieved because he was so sick and was going to have such a long road ahead of him. Maybe this was better. She tried to convince herself of that, and I tried to help. Later that day they got the autopsy results back, it was ruled SIDS. Selfishly, I was hoping it would be anything but SIDS. Unexplained death, no reasons, no explanations. Just happened and we can't tell you why. Great. I had heard about SIDS before, of course. But I never knew anyone who lost a baby to SIDS, so I continued to push the possibility of it happening to me out of my mind. Now here it was, in my face. How in the hell was I going to raise a baby now? I'm already a worrywart, how was I ever going to survive? I didn't have much time to think about myself though. Jen and James asked me to do a reading at the funeral mass. I was honored. Not really nervous, just honored that I could do this for them, for Jude.
Sunday was the worst day though. We packed up all of Jude's things and put them in storage. I remember wondering how they were supposed to go back to being just Jen and James now? They could sleep all night and eat a meal without being interrupted now, but how were they supposed to do that? It was just a bad bad bad day.
Monday was the funeral. There he was, laying in the smallest casket I have ever seen. In the outfit he came home in, the same hat and everything. His hat was a little tight because they had to cut his scalp for the autopsy. This little bitty baby. I did the reading and it went ok. What really got me was when we put him in the "wall" as I like to call it. Wasn't he cold? He needed his mom to comfort him and keep him warm and fed? I just didn't understand it.
Thus began my stress, worrying, and ultimately, the premature delivery of my daughter.