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Ailynne
By John Edward Casteele

It’s a moment like no other.

Seeing your child for the first time on an ultrasound is a major event in any expectant parent’s life; you can actually see that little living piece of you, knowing that he or she is real. Unfortunately, not every child shown on an ultrasound is actually all right.  My girlfriend and I had to learn this the hard way.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm.  Everything that you could possibly ask for in early spring.  It was the day that we were scheduled for our first ultrasound, and we were both nervous and excited.  The image of my child came up on the monitor and I was blown away… until the woman running the machine told us that something was wrong.  She wasn’t picking up a heartbeat, and the baby’s heart should have started beating a few weeks ago.  The image on the monitor that my world had briefly revolved around tore my world apart.

I don’t really remember much of that afternoon, but what I do remember is in shocking clarity.  I remember the clothes I was wearing, and I remember that we took our dog for a miles-long walk.  I remember being so angry at the weather for daring to be so beautiful, and being angry at the world for not stopping for our pain.  I remember coming home to what seemed like an empty house, but I don’t remember that night at all.

The days and weeks that followed are similarly a blur.  We somehow made it through that first week, at which point I realized I’d been putting on the same clothes every day as though a clean change of clothes would make it all real.  Angela went to visit her mother indefinitely, seeking solace from someone who’d faced the same heartbreak, leaving me home alone.  It was better that way, really; I’ve always had to be the strong one for everyone else, and it’s hard for me to deal with my own pain when someone else is around.  I was alone, lost in my own world, and unsure if anything would ever be okay again.

Angela read that it sometimes helped with the grieving process to go ahead and name the baby, in that you’re actually grieving the loss of an individual, not just the loss of a concept.  From the moment that she found out that she was pregnant, she’d had a feeling we were going to have a little girl, so we named her Ailynne Rose.  In a way it did help to have a name for our loss, but at the same time it made the pain so much more real.  My heart ached in a way I can’t describe, a longing to hold my Ailynne.

In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis compared grief to fear.  That book was once my coping mechanism for loss, as I read it when an aunt I had been very close to passed away.  I read the book cover-to-cover every day, losing myself in the pain of another so as to better cope with my own.  This time around, however, I couldn’t bring myself to open the book and seek solace in the raw emotion it contained… my grief this time was unlike fear.  My grief was more akin to hunger, a deep and primal hunger that wracked my body with pain and sought to consume me from within.  It was a hunger that nothing could satisfy, and every day it just grew worse.

Spring turned to summer and the intensity of my grief finally began to fade.  I still found myself drowning in a torrent of emotion at times, but the tears and the breakdowns were less common than they were.  I actively sought out ways to cope with my loss; I read everything I could on the subject, hoping to find some solace in the words of others.  I sought out poetry and scripture, songs and memorials… anything that I thought might help me to make sense of the pain.  Even as I tried to move on, however, I found myself occasionally fighting against progress because a part of me just didn’t want to cope.  Coping meant acceptance, and it still hurt too much to fully accept that she was gone.

It was during my search that I learned about National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, a day set aside in every state by Congress and by a number of countries around the world, to remember those children who were gone too soon.  The day falls on October 15th, only a week before Ailynne was due.

The summer progressed and gradually a day passed without me thinking about Ailynne, followed by the guilt of having forgotten her even for a day.  More days like this would come, not because I wanted them to, but because there was no other way for it to be.  Coping means acceptance, and acceptance means moving on.  My heart ached because I didn’t want my little girl to be forgotten… but I knew deep down, at least to a certain extent, she would have to be if I was ever going to be myself again.

By the end of August, I had found some semblance of myself again.  Angela and I both had come to terms with what had happened, and worked on repairing the gaps between us that had formed while we were lost within our own worlds of pain.  We relearned how to talk to each other, struggling to find the words we needed when neither of us knew what to say.  Slowly we started to grow accustomed to each other’s company again, though it wasn’t always easy.  I know that I wasn’t pleasant to be around some of the time though, as the days ticked by, I made an effort to be more like the man I was before.

As we grew comfortable with each other, September arrived.  The beginning of autumn was upon us and we would have to acknowledge what we’d both been avoiding… October was coming.  This meant that we’d have to face our loss, and we’d have to remember the pain and emptiness all over again.

I wish that I could say we faced October 15th together and managed to find peace within our sorrow, but unfortunately that’s not how the story played out.  I was out of town, visiting with a friend who was celebrating his upcoming wedding, while Angela visited another friend of ours.  My mood was dark and I spent a lot of time alone, my thoughts largely on my lost daughter, while those around me toasted the future.  Being away from Angela that night, however, may have helped me to avoid being swallowed by the darkness completely, since my sorrow couldn’t feed hers and hers couldn’t feed mine.

Surprisingly, what would have been Ailynne’s due date passed uneventfully.  Perhaps we had both been burned out on emotion by the 15th.  Melancholy ruled the day, but it was a far cry from the pain and sorrow that we’d experienced so many times in the preceding months.  Her due date passed, and the world seemed a different place.  Not brighter or more hopeful, just different.  Without that specter looming ahead of us as a reminder, the world was at last a place where we could work on rebuilding our lives and moving forward with our dreams.

The moving forward came faster than expected, with us learning by Thanksgiving that we were expecting again.  The first ultrasound was terrifying this time around, though it took no time for the ultrasound technician to find a good strong heartbeat in the baby.  Every appointment was attended with both reserved excitement and contained fear, yet every appointment showed that the baby was developing perfectly.  Several doctors used that word “perfect”, sometimes pointing out that they generally don’t tell patients that, but we had what appeared to be a perfect baby.

The baby continued to grow and develop with a heartbeat that was always strong, and soon enough we found out that we were having a girl.  This stirred up old emotions, a strong feeling of loss.  We both fought to hide the pain, not wanting to bring down the other, or dilute the excitement that our new daughter deserved, with sadness for our lost child.  We did our best to contain it and not let it overshadow what was to come.

Josephine Louise arrived on July 11, 2011, at 1:21 PM.  She was born early due to some distress that set in at the very end of the pregnancy, but not early enough to truly be considered premature.  I couldn’t help but be amused by the fact that her numerical birthdate and time was 7/11/11 13:21; looking at various cultures around the world, every number involved is a lucky number somewhere.

I held Josephine for the first time, carrying her from the delivery room to the nursery while they measured her and performed various tests.  I’m not sure how long I stayed there in the nursery with her, but long enough to sing her the first song she’d hear.  Just as with the loss of Ailynne, time was moving at a different pace; I knew that once I walked out of the nursery and the doors shut behind me, that time would resume, so I did my best to take advantage of those moments while I had them.

Angela’s mother came down for a week to help with the baby once we brought her home, and I’m not sure exactly what we would have done without her.  Even with her there to help out for the first week, it seemed like we were totally unprepared once she was gone.  They say that it’s all part of being a new parent and I suppose that they’re right, but nothing that had come before had gotten us ready for the newborn Hurricane Josephine.

In the months since, of course, we’ve gotten used to the routines of parenthood.  Feedings, diapers, bedtimes and playtimes.  Naps and cute little outfits and tiny pajamas with giraffes on them.  At two-and-a-half months she got her first tooth, and by three months she was trying to sing along with me when I’d sing to her.  Her doctor predicts that she’ll be an early walker, and she’s already getting so curious about the world around her, I know it won’t be long before she wants to know everything there is to know about everything there is to see.

Though I wouldn’t trade my Josie for anything, I can’t help but wonder what Ailynne would have been like.  Would she have been as inquisitive?  Would she try to sing along with me?  It’s a fool’s errand to try and guess, but that doesn’t stop the questions from popping into my head from time to time.

Looking back, it’s hard to believe how much things have changed in a year.  Last October was a month to dread, knowing that it would open up wounds that had barely closed.  This October is a month to celebrate, with ghosts on Josephine’s footie pajamas and discussions of what we should dress her as for Halloween.  Ailynne’s loss is felt a bit stronger this month than it has in the past few, but it’s not as overwhelming as it was last year.  There’s so much about how we felt about her that’s begun to fade away, and though we still remember her, sometimes, I wonder if she’s going to eventually fade away completely, and I feel the guilt and sadness creep in again.

I know that I carry her in my heart, though, and I have my memories of lying with Angela with my hand on her belly while Ailynne was still growing inside.  To a certain extent the past has to be forgotten, but there are always pieces that we can hold on to for the future.

John Edward Casteele Bio:

Born in West Virginia, John Casteele now lives in western Kentucky. Casteele has been a freelance writer since 2004, with over 3,000 articles in publication both online and in magazines. In addition to writing, he edits professionally and occasionally works on comic art projects as well.

Casteele has written and edited for American, Canadian, British, and even Chinese companies and websites. He is also a former nationally-ranked sport fencer.

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COMMENTS (2) | children, grief, parenting, relationships, renewal
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Comments

2 Responses to “Ailynne”

  1. Abe Winnipeg Manitoba Canada
    May 2nd, 2012 @ 6:30 pm

    Thank you John for sharing your journey. People often think that men don’t bond with their child during pregnancy or during the infant stage but your story clearly shows otherwise. Your love for both girls is beautiful.

  2. Anne Wilson
    October 15th, 2012 @ 5:21 am

    This was so incredibly beautiful. I cried through the whole thing! You, and Angela, are amazing parents. I will never forget that day either, honestly. And since I know you and Angela, this story seemed so real to me because I understood and remember all of those emotions. But Josie IS a perfect child. She is the light at the end of the tunnel. *hugs*

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