I vividly remember going home that morning. A few hours earlier we found out we would never carry our little girl into her nursery, at least not in the way we had always imagined. We returned home for a few hours to “collect” ourselves. Truthfully, there was no “collecting” ourselves. I think we just needed to be in our house, one more time, while we were still together. We spent time in Elliot’s room. The three of us, as we had done so many times before. Only this time our child could no longer hear us and I no longer felt her gentle movements.
I also remember thinking we were so close to being parents and this little person inside me was so close to being our daughter. I had never gone through something like this, nor did I know anyone who had. I didn’t know what to think. Our baby had died. That is the only thing I knew. As I cried uncontrollably in Ben’s arms I looked up at him and asked, “Can we still name her?” He gently replied, “Of course, she is still our daughter.” In that moment we decided on Elliot Kathryn without any hesitation. I realized then that Elliot will always be our daughter and we will always be her parents. A relationship doesn’t cease to exist because someone dies. We will always be connected, no matter what.
After we said goodbye to Elliot in the hospital I immediately struggled with the fear that she would be forgotten, that I would somehow forget her. She was once alive. She existed. We have lots of photos and a small wooden urn full of her cremains to prove this. We developed a beautiful relationship over those nine joyous months. Ben and I knew her and she knew us. We were already reading and singing to her daily. How could we just stop doing those things? I didn’t know how to turn this part of me off. The part of me that so badly wanted to continue to parent my child. That’s all I wanted. That “part” of me was what I had become. It was ALL of me. That was my purpose in life – to love my child and be the best damn mother I could be.
I felt so numb the first few days after Elliot passed away. We were in the hospital, I was in labor, and I was determined to make it through everything without dying myself, emotionally and physically. I didn’t know how to get through those days without completely falling apart. I survived with Ben’s love and support. The fact that he was by my side the entire time is how I made it out of that hospital alive. We also had the love and support from our families to carry us both through those first few days. I couldn’t offer much support to Ben. I was wrapped up in my own physical and emotional pain as I laid in the hospital bed, exhausted from labor and knowing there was a lifeless child waiting to be born.
The first night without Elliot was probably the hardest. We were still in the hospital but we had been moved to the high risk postpartum area (that’s where you are placed when your baby has died AND you are diagnosed with severe pre-eclampsia during labor). I was sad to leave the room where Elliot was born. That was the last place the three of us were together. I wanted to stay there. We were still connected in that room. I didn’t want to lose another connection. But again, we had no choice. So there we were in this new room, without our daughter for the very first time. It was late in the evening. We needed to rest. But how could I sleep without my baby? For the first time since she was conceived, she was no longer with me. That night I cried myself to sleep as I held tightly onto her teddy bear and blanket. When I woke up the next morning, I realized I didn’t need to stop doing anything. We didn’t need to “turn off” anything if we didn’t want to. We decided that we would do what felt right for us. We would still parent Elliot as best we could, for her and for us.
We held a funeral mass for Elliot. We made “hello/goodbye” announcements and photo mugs. We framed the photos we took of her when she was born and placed them around the house. We planted peonies outside her bedroom window and will plant a tree for her in our backyard. For the first two months I wrote at least one letter to her every day. I have found other ways to connect with Elliot throughout the day, so now I write notes to her a few times a week. We continue to read to her every night, as we did when she was alive. I still love picking out books to add to her library. Ben and I have remembrance jewelry and trinkets that we wear and carry with us every day. All of her clothes still hang in her closet. Her crib sheet is still on her mattress. Her toys still sit on her shelf.
We will celebrate Elliot’s birthday every year and she will be included in all our family celebrations. Whether it is simply mentioning her name or hanging a stocking for her at Christmas, her memory will always be kept alive. And not just in our house and with our family that is now known as “Ben, Lori, and Elliot.” She is also one of the grandchildren. Judy (my mom) likes to give us decorative things that Elliot would have liked for her room. Those gifts have a special spot in her room. Those are her gifts, her belongs, just like everything else that was given to her.
Our nephew turned six several weeks ago. Mike and Ellie (Ben’s parents) have always given one gift to each of the other children, no matter whose birthday it is. I hadn’t considered the possibility that Elliot would be included in this ritual. And then Ellie handed me a neatly wrapped gift with Elliot’s name on it, marked “To Elliot. With love, Nana and Papa”. I can’t even begin to describe the love and appreciation I felt in that moment. It isn’t just our desire and need, as her parents, to remember and stay connected to Elliot. We realized that is what everyone wants.
There is only one thing in this life that would be more depressing than not having Elliot in our arms. And that would be trying to live our lives as we had before Elliot existed. Trying to pretend she didn’t exist would be far worse. So yes, by staying connected to Elliot we will continue to be painfully reminded that we will not see her grow up. But we will also be reminded of the immense amount of love we share with her. And that makes it all worth it.