When I was little, I experienced more than my share of mental and emotional trauma. As a coping mechanism, I learned to let myself float away. I distinctly remember sitting in a finished basement staring at a lightbulb and pretending that nothing else existed, as though the lightbulb was a blindingly bright sun and everything around it was dark space filled with twinkling stars. I imagined myself floating through space and getting smaller and tinier until I was unimportant and my surroundings were unimportant and life itself was unimportant. As a kid, it was the only way I knew how to cope with pain and sadness. As an adult, I learned that derealization, which is what this coping mechanism is called, is a symptom associated with PTSD and anxiety. By the time I realized what it was, it had become somewhat involuntary when I experienced extreme stress or fear. It was by no means an easy fix, but with some help, I’ve been able to learn not to let myself “float away” and to stay present, no matter the situation.
Cory’s birth, however, pushed the limits of my focus to the extreme. I had decided to have a natural birth because I do not like to be drugged. I do not like to feel like I am not connected to my physical body, and the entire point of pain medication is to sever that connection as much as possible. I wanted to be in the moment, no matter what, and experience the birth of my son. Things did not go according to plan, to say the least. I could not relax and stop myself from pushing through the contractions, so within an hour of being at the hospital, I was on strong pain killers. My entire system was in shock, so I was given anti-anxiety medication to stop from shaking uncontrollably, to slow my breathing, and to allow me to sleep. Frustratingly, the pain medication did little for my mind. As my body settled down and my contractions stopped, I was trapped in a dark corner of my mind. I was unable to really communicate, and the entire situation felt wildly out of my control. The entire night is a dark blur of the most intense physical and emotional pain I have felt in my entire life. Cory’s actual birth was nothing compared to the long night before. I was afraid to let myself sleep, afraid to “float away,” afraid that I would disappear and miss holding my son for the few hours we would get with him. I could not relax or sleep or calm down within my mind. Although my body was still, my mind was going a hundred miles an hour. I was afraid to let myself go.
Unbelievably, Corban has been gone for over a month now. It still feels like the entire thing just happened. In some ways, it feels like it’s still happening. I do not know if I’ll ever stop reliving those three days that went from blissful joy to devastating loss. Much of the experience feels shockingly unreal. Somedays, I’m unconvinced that I was ever pregnant in the first place. On a rational level, of course, I’m well aware that Morgan and I were expecting a baby and that he died. On some other nebulous level, it almost feels as though it never happened. We tried for so long to get pregnant. Some days it feels easier to think that we never succeeded. It’s unbelievable that there was a tiny, perfect, healthy little life inside of me. It blows my mind that I held my dead son in my arms. It is unreal that a giant man in a suit took him away from me and returned with a tiny urn that is all that is left of our son. I do not know how to understand the events of our lives since 2017 began. I do not know where to file them in my brain or how to process them. How can I possibly be the same woman that filled the hospital with her screams, begging the doctor to do anything, wailing that her baby was dead? How can I be the woman who was just starting to look pregnant and round and glowing? How can I be the same woman who contentedly browsed the aisles of Babies R Us, thrilled that there were two heartbeats inside of her? How can I be the same woman that sat in a dark hospital room singing to her dead baby? I want to feel detached from that woman. I want desperately to float away from the woman. But I cannot. She is me. We are the same.
This experience is going to shape the rest of my life and Morgan’s. There will never come a time when we are over the loss of our son. It will get easier. It will sting less severely as time goes on. But there will never come a time when we don’t mourn his future. At graduations and choir concerts, at soccer games and Sunday School, when we are moving or if we have another child someday, there will always be an empty chair that was meant for him. It seems very cruel sometimes that this is our reality. It seems even more cruel that this pain will never heal. Although we will most likely experience great joy and happiness through the course of our lives, it will never be without the tinge of loss permeating its edges.
My reality now is that my son is gone. I cannot float away from that. I have faith that it was for a reason. Really, I do. I have hope that we will see him in eternity. I am so grateful for the tiny bit of time we got to share with him. I trust completely in a God that is omniscient and good. Right now, though, reality is absolutely terrible.