Frozen: Stuck In Time After The Birth Of A Stillborn Baby

This is the beginning of what will be an incandescent affair between a son and his mother.

This is the beginning of what will be an incandescent affair between a son and his mother.

*Content Notice: Stillbirth; Infant Loss

From: James Hilliard
Sent: Wednesday, November 21, 2012, 8:32 AM
To: Judy 
Subject: Remains

Good morning,

On November 11th, my wife delivered a stillborn baby boy. We elected to have the hospital cremate his remains and contact us when they were available. I was just wondering if you could help us with an update or a timeline for when we could expect to pick him up. I understand that there may not be a substantial amount remaining after the cremation, but we would like to have any of his remains for a memorial*.

*See Judy, my wife won’t sleep. I wake up in the middle of the night, and she’s gone. Sometimes I find her crying in the basement next to the dehumidifier. She knows she can sob there and slam her hands against the cement without waking us up. I gently touch her shoulder, and she looks up at me, and I realize she can’t quite place where she is or how she got here. Sometimes she’s not in the house. It’s 3 am, and the car is still here so I know she’s out walking somewhere. 

Statistically, I think about the chances of her getting mugged, assaulted, or kidnapped. But our baby died two weeks ago. Has anybody run the numbers on postpartum mothers of dead babies assaulted in the middle of the night? I’m sure we’ll catch a break on this one.

I know the hospital staff said you would be in touch. But every day is getting worse. And the time between holding his warm little body and accepting the tiny box of ashes into our home is proving to be quite challenging.

My wife believes she’s made a terrible mistake, that she’s failed him. A good mother, an imperfect but fierce mother, would have stayed with him — held his hand until the last minute, maybe even allowed her fingertips to be singed as they rolled him into the incinerator. 

She’s angry that she was weak enough to be convinced that we were finished in saying our goodbyes when we let the nurse named Trish roll him out of our room in the little bassinet. She’s angry that she didn’t insist on bringing him home or at the very least had arranged childcare for our daughter so she could be with him around the clock. She can’t believe we agreed to leave his frozen little body in the basement of a hospital. What a stupid, terrible mistake. He had such a short time on this planet, and she believes she’s wasted it.

Unfortunately, Judy, I work at this hospital. So she’s asking me where exactly the morgue is located. What floor? Room number? What set of elevators and do you need your employee ID badge? Do I know what the protocol is? Is he covered with a blanket? Is he sharing a space with someone else? Is anyone checking on him? What are they waiting for? Why must he be in this frozen limbo for all these days? We definitely checked and checked again and triple checked? There was no heartbeat, right? Is there a way to contact the person who is working the exact shift when he will be cremated? Are you sure he’s burned alone? What if he’s mixed with other ashes? Why didn’t we put him in an outfit or leave something with him? Why didn’t we think to keep some of his hair?  

I don’t have the answers to these questions.  

Thank you,

James Hilliard CRNA, MS
Assistant Chief Nurse Anesthetist
Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Medicine

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From: James Hilliard 
To: Kate Suddes
Date: Monday, November 26, 2012, 10:03 PM PST
Subject: Fwd: Remains

From: Judy 
Date: Monday, November 26, 2012, 2:37 PM PST
To: James Hilliard 
Subject: RE: Remains

Hello James,

I have attached a link to the form, which you may complete if you decide you would like to request a stillbirth certificate from the Center for Health Statistics.

Both you and Catherine are in my thoughts. I care for you both and am really sad to know what a difficult time this is for each of you. Please let me know if I can be of help. Even if you need someone to talk to, I am here.  

Decedent Affairs Coordinator

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From: Kate Suddes 
To: James Hilliard
Cc: Judy
Date: Tuesday, November 27, 2012, 12:03 AM PST
Subject: RE: Fwd: Remains


*Hey Judy,

We don’t know each other; so let’s not play this game, okay? I’m sure you are sad about the situation. I’m sure your brain spent 15-45 seconds there. 

But you care for us? We don’t go by James or Catherine. Decedent Affairs Coordinator. Yikes, Judy. How does that play at dinner parties? 

I know you didn’t ask for my advice, but you’re a little too chirpy for your job title. A little too smiley. Don’t get me wrong; I can laugh at the worst of times and often make dark, inappropriate jokes. In fact, the first time I laughed after my son was born was only about 12 hours later. I saw a few extra pads sitting on the counter in the hospital room. We were packing up to go, and I turned to my husband and said, “can I take these?” He said “oh yeah, just raid the fucking place” and then mimed opening all the cabinets and dumping everything into our two overnight bags, wheeling out the lounge chair and IV stand. I laughed so hard I peed. But that’s earned, Judy. You and I just met.  

You’re sitting across your wide wooden desk from us. I don’t need you to hold him in your hands while you slowly exchange pleasantries and explain the terms to us. Do you know how long these minutes are? Do you know how many days I’ve been waiting for this? You need to delicately but with conviction hand me that box the moment we step into your office. The moment a child is born the doctor does not hold up the baby, examining it while explaining the hospital discharge procedure. Please don’t make me watch you palm that box with my son’s ashes that reads “Paul Thomas Hilliard ℅ Catherine Suddes” one second longer. Hand him over, Judy.  

Have you ever googled “baby ashes urn”? Has that ever been the highlight of your day? 

Have you gotten a renewed energy with this type of shopping conquest because it gives you something (anything) you can do for your dead child? Have you experienced such a distinct isolation that even getting gas or going to the grocery store paralyzes you? Have you ever sat at your living room window for hours in the middle of the night, watching a new neighbor you don’t know drink a beer and smoke a cigarette on his front porch? And then said out loud to yourself as he’s standing up to walk inside, “no please don’t leave me?"  

Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to berate yourself for not examining and memorizing every detail of your perfect, dead baby —  peering into his ears, turning him over and tracing his back as it becomes his bottom. Counting eyelashes, feeling in his mouth, examining his little penis.  

My God, Judy, I hope not. Because now people don’t know what to say to me out in the world.

I’ve become somewhat of a bad omen. And when questioning whether or not to mention your dead baby, people err on the side of not.

It’s the wrong choice. And Judy, I'm not completely truthful either. I’m not saying what I mean. When I see very pregnant women fat with confidence and think, “Oh honey, it’s all fun and games…,” I do not say it. 

When standing in a group of women at a child’s birthday party comparing the pregnancies of their second children: 

“I’m 22 weeks along, what about you?”

“I’m 26.”

“What?!  Oh my gosh, I’m so much bigger.”

“Yeah, but I was bigger with Caroline.”

“It’s the second one, though; all bets are off.”

“That’s true, who knows with the second one.”

I do not chime in with “So true! Sometimes the second one dies for no apparent reason!” But I want to badly.

I need you to think about these things. I need you not to be so sing-songy like you’re delivering a venti vanilla latte to me. I need you not to take quite so much pleasure or power in your position — at least not in front of our faces. You don’t have to say, “I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.” 

We did not.  

Perhaps this moment — when you are holding the ashes of loved ones in your hands — is when you feel the most needed, the most powerful, the most useful in your own life. Perhaps you think this is the end of a very unfortunate event. You believe you’re delivering the final blow, in the final scene of what can only be a tragedy. But Judy, this is the beginning of what will be an incandescent affair between a son and his mother. 

This is a love story.

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