Monday, June 25, 2012

Dear Aiden

You never got to meet me, but I'm your dad. I've been a fan of yours for some time now. When your mom told me you were on the way, I swear I smiled for a week straight. I put your due date on my calendar and looked at it almost every day. When we first got to hear your heart beat, mine stopped for a moment. When they showed me a picture of you, when I saw your impossibly small hands and feet, I started to imagine all the amazing things you would do someday. Maybe those hands would play the piano, or paint a masterpiece, or write the next great American novel. Maybe those feet would run a marathon, or kick the winning goal, or carry you to the top of a mountain.

Then the doctors told us that something was wrong. They said your hands were crooked and your feet were pointing the wrong direction. They said you were sick, flawed, broken in the worst way. They told us you might not live to see your own birth. They told us to prepare for the worst. They also told us you were a girl... Sorry about that one, by the way. They told us it was okay to cry, and so we did... We cried a lot.

Then the strangest thing happened. We told our friends and family about you and asked them to pray, and they told their friends, who told their friends, and so on, until people all over the world were praying for you. They began praying in Canada, England, Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Germany, Singapore, and Bulgaria. They wrote words of encouragement from Spain, France, Brazil, Israel, India, Portugal, Italy, China, and Greece. They cried out to God on your behalf from Ireland, Mexico, The Philippines, Russia, and every state in the United States. Some of them had prayed hundreds or thousands of times before, while others found themselves speaking with God for the first time in their lives. Your story drove thousands of people to their knees.

A few days ago they told us that you had died. They told us that your broken little body just couldn't take any more, and that you were gone. Your mother and I were heartbroken, frustrated, and angry. What good is a worldwide army of prayer warriors if their efforts can't save one tiny child? What good is an omnipotent God if he won't use just a fraction of that power to heal you? Again, we cried an awful lot.

Hundreds and thousands of messages poured in, well-meaning condolences and sympathies from every corner of the world. Most didn't do much to cheer us up, but one made me stop and think. It came from a woman I have never met, a woman who lives thousands of miles away. She wrote, "Aiden has done more for the kingdom of heaven before being born than most people will do in their entire lives." It took me several minutes to really wrap my head around it, but I think she's right. You changed hundreds of lives without even getting a chance to live your own. You touched people on every continent before I ever got to touch you at all. You inspired, encouraged, and evangelized, all without ever making a sound.

You are loved, my son. I loved you from the first moment I knew you were coming, and I will love you until the day that I die. I may never really understand why this happened, but I'm beginning to think that maybe your entire purpose on this earth was to bring people closer to God, and that you did it so well that you were called home early. I like to think that maybe God saw how amazing you were and just wasn't willing to share you any more. I miss you terribly, but I like to think that I'll see you again someday. When I do, I hope that I will have done half as much good in my life as you did before yours began.

I love you,

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Well, we're back at the house, but it feels all wrong. Cori went to the hospital carrying a baby, and we were supposed to come home with a baby in a carrier. We were supposed to be up at all hours changing his diapers. We were supposed to be feeding him almost constantly. We were supposed to be doing rock/paper/scissors to determine which one of us had to get up and rock him back to sleep. Make no mistake about it, we got our sleepless nights... It's just the reasons that are all wrong.

You may be familiar with the old Chinese proverb that says, "Even a small stone creates big ripples, but the water must be still lest they go unnoticed."... At least I think it's a Chinese proverb. Maybe it's Indian. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm only mostly sure that I didn't make it up just now. You should probably Google it. Anyway, let's pretend for a moment that it's definitely an old Chinese proverb, because most of what I say next won't make any sense otherwise.

Back in February I mentioned that previously negligible events had suddenly acquired the ability to provoke a substantial emotional response. That's more true now than ever before. Cori and I both struggle with frequent flash floods of frenzied feelings. We're surrounded by tiny reminders of our son, small stones that keep dropping into the water and making huge, excruciating ripples.

Cori has a fancy-schmancy Android tablet, and had placed a little countdown widget on the desktop that shows the number of days left until her due date. Yesterday she fired up the tablet to check her e-mails and was greeted by a brightly colored icon gleefully announcing that there were zero days left. She cried so hard that she couldn't even muster the strength needed to drag the widget to the trash can.

As we left the hospital yesterday morning, Cori being pushed in a wheelchair and me plodding along carrying the luggage, we passed a young expectant couple being given a tour of the labor and delivery area. Their eyes glimmered with hope for the future, for the promise of a perfect angel baby. It took an embarrassing amount of willpower for me to keep myself from shouting them into a corner and interrogating them on why they would dare to believe that they deserve a healthy child.

Over the last few weeks, Cori had been keeping kick count logs at the request of her nurses. Every night, she would sit and count how many times Aiden punched or kicked her in a certain number of minutes. Sitting in our living room last night, she found her kick count papers on the side table and broke down sobbing.

Should a computer icon, a happy couple and a sheet of paper covered with tick marks on it be so emotionally devastating? Of course not, but they are. They are also just the first few examples that came to mind. The last days have felt like a carefully organized effort by the entirety of the universe to sap us of what little strength we have left.

That said, there are other ripples... Better ones. Surprising acts of kindness from friends, family members, and complete strangers that bolster our resolve and lift our spirits.

I stopped by a local gas station yesterday afternoon to pick up sandwiches for lunch. One of the joys of living in a small town is that the convenience stores often double as the eateries, and this particular one has a nice little sandwich shop inside. The staff there is truly wonderful, and I'm often happy to pay a few cents extra per gallon to just to stop by and share a laugh. Yesterday, as I walked in, I was nearly tackle-hugged by the women who work there as they offered their tearful sympathies. It seems that another feature of a small town is that news travels quickly. After hurrying to prepare my sandwiches, they refused to let me pay for them.

In the last few hours, a parade of friends from our church have come by to drop off food and share in a good cry. We are certainly going to be the most well fed grieving couple around, that's for sure. It seems that while words often fail people in situations like this, a good chicken casserole never does.

Phone calls and emails have poured in from all over the world offering kind words and condolences. This blog, this humble, cathartic experiment of mine, has been viewed by over 90,000 people since Wednesday morning, and it seems that roughly half that many have written to me on Facebook, sent me an email, or called. I have been greatly encouraged by all of you.

My father, who arrived yesterday with my mother after a long drive from Ohio, was clearly impressed by the outpouring from the community. He said, "I guess in a small town, when someone's barn blows over, everyone just rallies and helps put up another one." I think he's right.

Do these good ripples outweigh the bad? Perhaps not, but I'm certainly glad to have them. I think the water is going to be choppy anyway. We're heartbroken, and that's not likely to change soon, but we also have much to be thankful for.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Let's be honest... This sucks

It's just after six o'clock in the morning, and I'm sitting in the hospital waiting room watching Bugs Bunny cartoons on television and milking my second Mr Pibb in the last two hours. Cori was out like a light when I stumbled out of her room, unable to sleep. Yesterday continues to haunt me. I imagine it will continue to do so for a very long time.

I would be remiss if I didn't start by saying how grateful I am that the cesarean section went well and Cori is recovering quickly. This surgery, while somewhat commonplace, is still a big deal, and I'm not sure that my fragile emotional state could have survived any complications. There are more than a few cracks in this facade already.

Yesterday in the operating room, after successfully getting Aiden out (I suppose "success" has to be given a somewhat forgiving definition at this point), the nurses brought him over for us to see. We both wept as I took the lifeless body of my son in my arms and instinctively began to gently rock him.

I wanted so badly for him to cry. I wanted him to fuss and fidget and refuse to calm down. I desperately wanted him to be frustrated by those first few moments trying to nurse, to be loud and unreasonable like a baby should be. I cycled through emotions at a blinding pace. I was sad, furious, hysterical, depressed, relieved, and indignant, all seemingly at the same time. I wanted to scream at the nurses and beg that they do something to fix him. I wanted to scream at Aiden and try to wake him up. I wanted to scream at the sky and demand an explanation, a reason, some feeble attempt to address the impossible question of "Why".  I wanted a do-over, a recount, a mulligan, an undo button.

But I don't have an undo button. I may never get an explanation.  He's not going to cry. Instead, we cried. We sobbed and cradled his tiny broken body. His cleft palette, which we knew about from the ultrasounds, was jarring to see. His impossibly tiny hands and feet, all misshapen and turned the wrong way, were unnerving. I found him painful to look at, and for that I felt guilty.

Several months ago, shortly after having been told about Aiden's Trisomy, Cori and I were in the kitchen doing dishes. We had let them get a little out of hand, so there were a lot of them to wash. After tackling the third sink-full and still having a noteworthy amount left, Cori paused and said, "This sucks."  I agreed, then noticed a tear running down her cheek and realized that she hadn't been talking about the dishes at all.  I've waxed poetic on this blog about what I've felt, what we've struggled with, etcetera, but I think that perhaps no description of this situation is more accurate than the one Cori gave that day... This sucks.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

It's the end, and it's not okay

In a trailer for the new film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, one of the characters (played by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire) delivers the line, "Everything will be alright in the end... So if it is not alright, it is not yet the end." I really like the sentiment, but today I'm not sure I agree.
This morning Cori went in for her normal oil change and tire rotation at the doctor's office. After the nurse wasn't able to find a heartbeat with the normal monitor, they checked using a sonogram, which confirmed that our son, Aiden Maxwell May, had died.
My words, the tools with which I am so comfortable normally, fail me today. We prayed for a miracle, as did thousands of you all over the world. It would seem that we didn't get our miracle, at least not the one we wanted. Please continue to pray for my wife, as she now has to face the truly unsavory task of going through a delivery without any hope of ever hearing the baby cry or getting to see him smile.
Thank you again for your prayers. Today is a rough day.  We've reached the end, and everything is very much not okay.