Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Jeffrey's Story

Jeffrey's Story was written by Karen Zerr on her journey of grieving and healing.

My husband was in the Navy going through the Aviation Training Command to be a jet pilot, and we had moved to Kingsville, Texas in October 1968. We moved about every 6 months in those days. I was about 6 weeks pregnant with our third child; our other two children were 3 and 1. We settled into our rental home, and Jack continued with flight training. My pregnancy proceeded in a normal fashion until I went into premature labor on March 16, 1969. I couldn’t believe it! This wasn’t supposed to be happening. With my nursing background, I knew if the baby was born at 28 weeks he/she would not survive. It was a Sunday morning so I couldn’t just go see my doctor, and in my mind I decided labor was not happening. However, by that evening, even my mind was convinced I was in labor and I needed to go to the hospital. I worried about what to do with our two young children as we had no family living in the vicinity to help out. I did know the neighbors very casually, but would they be willing to take the children at 9:00 at night for who knows how long? They weren’t even Navy and had no children of their own, so would they understand?  Fortunately, they were very willing to help for as long as necessary and we met our doctor at the ER. He examined me and determined that I was in active labor and there was no way to stop it. I was devastated!!!  No, no, this couldn’t be happening – but it was. I was sobbing as they put me on the elevator to take me to surgery, and the next thing I knew I was being given a spinal anesthetic to prepare me for a C-section. I was awake when Jeffrey was born, and I heard him cry. It wasn’t a lusty cry, but he was alive and crying, which gave me a glimmer of hope. I never saw him because they rushed him off to the nursery. There was no NICU back then, but a pediatrician was there waiting. They put me to sleep to close me up.

I woke up in the recovery room and then was taken to a private room on the OB floor. I wanted to know about our baby, and I wanted to see him. Unfortunately, this was not possible. He couldn’t come to me because he was fighting for his life. I couldn’t go to him because in that hospital at that time, you had to lie flat for 24 hours after having a spinal anesthetic – no exceptions.  Jeffrey only lived for 12 hours, and in that time frame, we were powerless to do anything but pray. The Catholic Navy Chaplain came to see us to get information for Jeffrey’s baptism, and he was very uncomfortable. He did not make me feel one bit better, and he never came back to see me. In his defense, he didn’t have a clue how to handle the situation.

So, there we were. We were left wondering, "How do we bury our precious baby boy?" We certainly didn’t want him buried in Kingsville. I fervently hoped that once Jack finished with flight training, I would never see Kingsville again.  What was a young Navy family to do? By then, my parents were on their way driving from St. Charles, MO to help us out, so they couldn’t make funeral arrangements. Jack called his parents and they were more than willing to help us. Jeffrey’s tiny little body was put on a train all by himself and shipped back home to his waiting grandparents for burial. 

I never saw Jeffrey. I never held him in my arms. We didn’t even think of taking pictures because that was considered bizarre back then. There was nothing in place to help us grieve and no one to guide us through this horrible, life-altering event. Basically, we were told to just get over it and move on. Well, that doesn’t happen. I still have a hole in my heart and I always will. Yes, I finally got to where I accepted our loss but I will never “get over it."

We, literally, did move on. By April 1969 we were on our way driving to Jack’s new duty station in Jacksonville, Florida, less than 4 weeks after major surgery and losing our baby boy. I had my 6 week check-up with a totally new doctor who had nothing more to offer in the way of resolving grief than anyone else had.

Fast forward to 1998. My husband had retired from the Navy after 36 years, and we moved back to St. Charles, MO where he worked for Boeing. One day, out of the clear blue, I thought about Jeffrey and wondered what he was wearing when he was buried. That thought quickly progressed to wondering, "Was he wearing anything?" Unfortunately, that question won’t be answered in this lifetime because both of my in-laws are dead. So, I decided to find out what premature babies are buried in. I called the local funeral home and was told that he was at least wrapped in a blanket.  My heart lurched! He probably didn’t have any clothes on, only a blanket. Fortunately, I was also referred to Share.  I had never heard of it, but I called, talked with Cathi Lammert and told her my story. I felt really silly after all these years, but my grief had never been resolved. I told her I might be interested in doing some sewing for Share. She told me there was definitely a need for burial clothing as you can’t go to the mall and buy teeny tiny baby clothing. So, long story short, I have found healing in sewing burial clothing and crocheting blankets for babies from teeny tiny miscarried babies up to babies of full term birth weight. I do it to honor and remember our Jeffrey, and it is a joyful thing for me to do. And I do it so no other mother has to worry if there is clothing for her precious baby to wear. Dressing a baby makes that baby so real. He/she is something to celebrate, not forget about and move on. Share has helped me all these years later as we mothers never forget our babies. Share's mission spans the years.


maya said...

I'm so sorry about the loss of your son. I was very concerned about what my baby was wearing too. I asked a friend to make her a dress. I was thinking it would be a simple plain fabric. But she put lace and little roses on it. It was beautiful. (I am sorry because I didn't take a picture of her in it.)

maria said...

Hi Karen, I just lost my baby 2 days ago and feel as if this intense pain will never go away. I want to thank you for doing what you do. I also did not have anything to bury my 23 week baby in, but I have to tell you that the hospital provided me with a little gown, a blanket, booties and hat. I know someone very special like yourself crocheted all those things for a grieving mother like myself. I hope this comment finds you with good health and happiness. Thank you for sharing your story.

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