When My Son Died, I Blamed Myself

Photo: courtesy of the author
death of a child
Heartbreak

“God, how could you do this to me?”

Our poor baby didn’t even have a headstone yet. He was just buried the day before. The hole was covered and there were still flowers scattered about. My husband Brian was sobbing and I wanted to punch him. I also wanted to die.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. Nine months before, on New Year’s Day, my husband and I found out that we were expecting our first child. We were elated. That was, until the day our lives fell apart.

It was April 29, 2008, and we had been looking forward to that day for a long time. We would be finding out the baby’s gender.

“It’s a boy!” the sonogram technician exclaimed right before she scurried out and mentioned she wanted the doctor to “take a look at something.”

Minutes later, we would hear the words that would haunt us forever.

“I found a problem with the baby’s heart,” the doctor said.

We went home and cried the rest of the evening.

The heart defect was a serious one. Our son’s left ventricle hadn’t developed properly. There would be no “fix,” just palliative care. He would eventually need a heart transplant. We knew little else.

I didn’t go to work the next day. Instead, I spent hours researching the condition. It was called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.

A series of three surgeries would be needed. The future remained unclear. I scoured the internet desperately looking for positive stories. There were some. There were also not-so-positive ones. The implementation of the “three-stage series” was fairly recent. The oldest living children were now in their teens or twenties.

“Are you sure you want to have a baby like that? One who will always be sick and be in and out of the hospital?” my OBGYN said to me when she heard the news.

Our other option was termination. We didn’t know what to do at this point.

Should I end it now? Should I save all of us the heartache? Or should I give our little angel a chance? I cursed God for putting me in that position. It was just the start. My anger grew each and every day and continued for the remainder of the pregnancy.

......

“One last push,” the doctor said.

I couldn’t believe this was happening. Liam arrived and they placed him on my chest for a mere few seconds before whisking him off to the NICU. He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. My own heart felt as if it was going to burst.

“God, how could you do this to me?” I repeated in my head over and over.

I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why I was being punished. I wracked my brain while trying to recall what kind of sin justified this happening to me. To my baby. It was entirely my fault.

Liam was doing okay. He would be getting his first in the series of surgeries four days after birth.

As we wheeled him into the surgery room, I kissed his little feet. I wanted to throw up. What was I doing to my little boy?

Liam, being a true champ, made it through with flying colors. We went to go see him in the NICU. He had a bandage placed over this chest. There were no words to describe my emotions. I was in hell. I couldn’t believe what I was doing to my son.

A few days later, Brian and I went home for the night to rest. Liam had a particularly good day. The doctors and nurses said he would be coming home in a few days. I was in shock. How was I going to take care of a sick baby? I had nightmares of something bad happening while he was in my care, and I would be unable to save him. I cried some more.

Then, the phone rang. It was the hospital.

“Liam had a 'blue' episode. You need to need to get here right away.” the doctor said.

We were too late. Liam died before we even got to the hospital.

I felt like a criminal in the death of a child. During the wake and funeral, I was sure somebody would find me out. What kind of mother was I? I couldn’t protect my son. I couldn’t cure him. I couldn’t save him. What gives me the right to go on?

Life was over.

My husband and I had kept a vigil by the grave for weeks. One day, a woman approached us. She told us about a neonatal support group that was nearby. We decided to try it.

As we entered the room, the mood was solemn. These were parents just like us. They lost their babies, too. It was nobody’s fault, including mine. I cried and cried. It didn’t take away the pain, but my guilt was slowly lifting.

Another day at the cemetery, I spotted a young couple nearby. They were laying a blanket on the ground by a tombstone. I immediately felt for them. They were part of our club — the club nobody would ever want to join.

Suddenly, as if by magic, another baby appeared. The mom put him on the blanket, too. I looked at Brian and cried. We knew what our next step was in this journey.

It was a total leap of faith. There were so many unknowns. I felt as if I might be dishonoring my son’s memory by going on without him. I didn’t want anyone to think I was replacing him. Most of all, I didn’t know if I was going to experience happiness ever again. I wasn’t sure I would ever heal.

Today, Liam's little sister Julia is seven years old and his little brother Owen is four. I don’t know how much they fully understand about Liam, but we talk about him.

With time and therapy, the intense guilt has softened. The anger and rage have, too. I am happy. I have to be — I have two other children to look over. It is bittersweet.

I have accepted that I will never know what “perfect bliss” is. I have accepted that the emptiness will never leave. In turn, we will always remember Liam. We will always love him. He remains a part of our family, forever and always.

 

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