Due Date

Today was the big day. Or it should have been the big day.

Ryder’s official due date.

I have been anxious leading up to today. I wasn’t sure how I would feel. But it has actually been a pretty good day. Sam kept busy at work while I had a guitar lesson and ran errands. Tonight, we just spent time together cooking dinner and watching movies. Two ladies on a Facebook loss group lit candles in his memory today. It was a very sweet and thoughtful gesture.

Ryder Hudson Marshall

Monday the 15th was Ryder’s two month “angelversary”. The day came and went with little to show for it. At the end of the day, I was feeling partially relieved and partially guilty that it had felt like any ordinary day.

The very next day, I found a pamphlet in my purse titled “Handling the Heartbreak When a Baby Dies.” I have no memory of receiving the pamphlet and I had just cleaned out my purse the week before, so surely I would remember someone giving it to me…. right? (If you are the person who gave this to me, let me know so I don’t feel so crazy. Ok? Thanks!) Anyways… The pamphlet contained an article written by Jane Marie Lamb, the founder of SHARE, a group for bereaved parents. Here is the opening quote, which she attributes to a SHARE parent:

“One day you feel together and the next couldn’t be worse. It comes and goes–the shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression, emptiness, and aching arms. I crave privacy, yet I can’t tolerate being alone. I often feel angry that society doesn’t seem to accept any grieving that takes more than six weeks… The pain subsides, only to come flooding back again. At times, I even relish it–after all, it is part of my baby[…]”

I felt like I was reading all the things I’ve felt but haven’t had the words to say. Extreme emotions are what typically drive my writing–whether it be an extreme high or an extreme low–so when I’m having a rather “normal” day, it’s hard to find much worth writing about. If I’m not grieving with tears or rejoicing through laughter, I mostly just feel numb. And I don’t like that feeling… or lack of feeling, I guess.

One emotion running rampant in my head these days is apathy. It’s not intentional, but it’s there.

I’m sorry I didn’t sign up on your care calendar to bring a meal after you had your baby. I wanted to, but we were at home having meals brought to us.

I’m sorry for scrolling past your pictures on Facebook or Instagram of your baby’s monthly milestones. I really do want to celebrate with you, but it’s just too difficult to think about. They are milestones I’ll never get to celebrate with Ryder.

I’m sorry that I haven’t asked you how your son/daughter is liking the new sport/activity they are participating in or how summer camp went. I’m too busy wondering if I’ll ever get to spend a summer with children of my own.

I’m sorry I haven’t asked how you’re doing. My mind is running in a million directions and I forget to ask about your struggles sometimes. Just know that I do think of you. I wonder how you are and I say prayers for you each day.

I read quite often about friendships that are lost after the loss of a child. At first I couldn’t believe it. How could friends abandon you in your greatest time of need? But now I understand. I don’t think I’ve lost any “friends” on Facebook, but there are friends who have stopped interacting with me. I guess they’ve either gotten tired of reading my posts about loss or they just don’t know how to talk to me. Either way, it’s sad. I often feel very isolated–like I’m on the outside looking in. But I’ve come to learn who my true friends are and I’ve even made a few new friends along the way.

In Sunday School this week, we were asked to watch for blessings in the everyday. Friendship is one of the blessings I’ve put on my list. I have a few very close friends and I cherish them deeply.

“From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” – John 1:16

With hope and love,
Kristen

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One Month

It’s been one month. Ryder would have turned one month old on Friday, the 15th.

I spent the day running errands, helping my mom get my grandmother settled into the nursing home where she’s getting rehab therapy, and spending time with friends late into the night. I was thankful to have the distractions, but it didn’t stop the thoughts from flooding my mind every time I got still and quiet.

If Ryder were here, he’d most likely be healing from his first heart surgery and I’d be taking his one month photos with the pretty, wooden count-up blocks we bought.

I realized this week that many of you may not know how we got here. I met some of you after Ryder left us, and some of you may not have followed our CaringBridge journal.

On January 28th, at our 18 week ultrasound, Ryder’s heart didn’t look quite right. We were referred to Dr. Blalock, a pediatric cardiologist, who confirmed that Ryder had a congenital heart defect. On February 11th, at 20 weeks, we went to the Fetal Care Center at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. There, Dr. Eapen, another pediatric cardiologist, diagnosed Ryder with an AV canal defect (the bottom two chambers are not separated as they should be), Heterotaxy Syndrome (organs are not in their correct place), and a little fluid around his lungs. On March 12th, at 24 weeks, I was placed on hospital bed rest due to a shortened cervix. My body was starting the labor process way too early. I spent a week in the hospital and then moved in with my aunt, who lives near Baylor UMC, so I would be near the specialists. On March 27th, at 26 weeks, a sonogram showed that my cervix had shortened drastically and that the fluid around Ryder’s lungs had increased so much so that his heart could no longer grow or pump blood appropriately. We were sent home with the knowledge that Ryder would not survive.

We were completely devastated. How could this be? Up until that point, everything had been manageable. We knew Ryder would have to go through multiple surgeries, but we had a plan and the doctors had been optimistic. Suddenly, there was no hope left.

{After hearing the devastating news, we chose to do a 3D/4D ultrasound so we would have more pictures of Ryder}

{After hearing the devastating news, we chose to do a 3D/4D ultrasound so we would have more pictures of Ryder}

We prayed and prayed and prayed for a miracle. There were many, many prayer warriors that also interceded for us. On Easter Sunday, our church family prayed over us and annointed us with oil. But healing Ryder here on earth was not in God’s will.

Ryder hung on for two and half more weeks. He was such a fighter. As the fluid built up, he had gotten so still. But during his last week with us, he kicked and rolled around more than he ever had before. I’m grateful that his daddy got to feel him moving. He always got more active as Sam read to him each night.

On Monday, April 13th, at 28 weeks, I started having regular contractions late in the evening. I was scared, but I thought it might give me the chance to meet Ryder face-to-face while his tiny, broken heart was still beating.

We went to the ER around 1:30 am. Around 8:00 am on Tuesday, an ultrasound showed that Ryder’s heart had stopped. Our worst fears became reality.

I labored for almost 24 hours in the hospital. Family and friends came to be with us. They prayed with us, encouraged us, distracted us from our grief. I’m so glad we chose not to do it alone! It would have been a very different day without our loved ones being there with us. The day is a bit of a blur for me, but I remember that I wasn’t scared or anxious or upset. I’m not sure if it was the prayer or the pain meds, but other than the contractions, I mostly just felt peace.

Labor went smoothly and Ryder was born at 12:45 am on Wednesday, April 15th. He weighed 2 lbs, 1.8 oz, and was 13.75 inches long. We held him and ooh-ed and ahh-ed over his tiny hands and feet. He had my nose and chubby cheeks, and Sam’s lips and long, skinny feet.

{Prints of Ryder's hands and feet}

{Prints of Ryder’s hands and feet}

He never suffered. All he knew was love and comfort. His heart was healed… but not here. There is no doubt in my mind that Ryder is in Heaven. We will see him again one day!

And though I grieve his loss, for the most part I’m not angry at God. I’ve quickly realized that life is too short to be angry. We’ve been grieving since we first heard Ryder’s diagnosis. I try to thank God for the time we did get with our son. I even thank God that we knew losing him was a possibility. Many stillbirths are spontaneous and have unknown causes, even after autopsy. I can’t imagine not knowing why. My heart aches for the parents who are left with more questions than answers.

In 2 Samuel 12, David’s son fell ill. David fasted and could not be consoled. When the child died, he got up, dusted himself off, and went to eat. His servants were very confused, thinking that he should now grieve the child’s death. David’s response shows the certainty in which he believed in eternal life in Heaven:

David said, “While the baby was still alive, I fasted, and I cried. I thought ‘Who knows? Maybe the Lord will feel sorry for me and let the baby live.’ But now that the baby is dead, why should I fast? I can’t bring him back to life. Someday I will go to him, but he cannot come back to me.” – 2 Samuel 12:22-23

I know I will see Ryder again. I will be sad. And I may get angry sometimes. But I survive by my faith and hope in the Lord.

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. – Romans 12:12

{Photo by Erica Mae Photography}

{Photo by Erica Mae Photography}

With hope and love,
Kristen

Nurses Day

Today I went to the hospital, to the labor and delivery floor, to pick up pictures of Ryder. I’m not sure what brought on the initial confidence in thinking that I could do that by myself… But I did. And I survived!

I was a bit nervous as I walked across the skyway and into the main hospital, but today just happens to be National Nurses Day, so I went to the hospital bearing gifts. A dozen bundtinis from Nothing Bundt Cakes. Yum! The nurses ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the cakes and sweetly asked how we are holding up. I smiled and let them know we’re doing ok, they gave me the pictures, and I got the heck outta there.

In the elevator on the way up to the fourth floor, I chit-chatted with a doctor. On hearing that I was headed to the L&D floor, he cheerfully asked, “Boy or girl?” With only a minor hesitation and a smile on my face, I replied, “I had a baby boy and I’m headed to pick up his pictures.” As the doors opened, he said his congratulations and that was that.

I didn’t panic. I didn’t cry. I didn’t run.

But I did give myself a pat on the back and a few “attagirls“. I’m sure it is only the first of a million times I’ll be confronted with questions like that. I’ve already made up my mind that if/when I’m asked “Do you have children?” I’ll say “Yes, one angel baby named Ryder.” It will probably satisfy most curious strangers, but for those who really wonder about the “angel” part, I’ll get to share the story of my precious boy.

I know that loved ones have shied away from asking too many questions for fear that will upset me. The thing is, I love talking about him and our journey. I may not have him here to hold in my arms, but I do have him on my mind and in my heart and I don’t want the world to ever forget about him.

So if you want to know more about our story, or see pictures of him, just ask. I may shed a few tears, but I’d love share!

{Ryder on his birthday}

{Ryder on his birthday} Photo by Erica Mae Photography

With hope and love, Kristen

Gray Hairs and Heterotaxy

They say having children will give you gray hairs. Well, Ryder certainly left his mark! My first gray hair… front and center. I’m sure he added a few more to his daddy’s gray numbers too. Sam hates them, but I think it makes him even more handsome!

I wanted to take this time to make you aware of something that I knew nothing about four months ago. (I’m pretty sure it has something to do with that gray hair I mentioned…) Today is Heterotaxy Syndrome Awareness Day.

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Ryder was diagnosed with Heterotaxy syndrome during our first appointment with the pediatric cardiologist at the Fetal Care Center. Not sure what Heterotaxy syndrome is? Well, here are a few facts:

1. Heterotaxy syndrome is a rare birth defect that results in certain organs forming on the opposite side of the body.

2. Babies with Heterotaxy are usually first identified because they have structural problems with their hearts or livers.

3. It occurs in 1 out of every 10,000 births and is equally common in boys and girls.

4. The heart is involved in 80% of Heterotaxy cases.

5. No two cases are alike and prognosis is different for each child.

6. Most children who survive the first few months of life often end up doing reasonably well long-term with a good quality of life and only minimal limitations.

7. The cause of Heterotaxy is unknown.

Ryder died from complications of a heart defect caused by Heterotaxy and I’m so glad there’s an awareness day! On this day, we can celebrate the survivors, remember the angels who lost their fight, and honor those in the medical field who work hard each day to keep these babies healthy.

With hope and love,
Kristen

Ryder’s Memorial Service

This afternoon, with family and friends, we celebrated the short but meaningful life of our sweet Ryder Hudson. It was beautiful. It was perfect.

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{Ryder’s urn, heartbeat bear, and crib quilt}

I stressed all week about what the service would/should look like. How many people will come? Should we have had it at the funeral home instead? What music should we play? What will we say? Will I cry through the whole thing? Will it be enough?

Turns out there was no need to stress. It was absolutely perfect.

Hope was the theme for the day. We talked about hope this morning in Sunday School, I mentioned hope in a letter I wrote to Ryder this afternoon, and Pastor Pike’s devotional during the service was all about our eternal hope. I love it when God puts pieces together like that.

I knew I wanted to write something for the service, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to read it without breaking down in front of everyone. Sam volunteered. I have no idea how he made it through, but he did… with a few tears. I’m so proud of him. He’s my rock.

We wanted the service to be a time of fellowship. We just wanted to spend time with all the people who have shown us so much love and kindness through this journey. I’m pretty sure I speak for both of us when I say that quality time is high on our “Love Language” list. We are so glad that we got the chance to celebrate Ryder with all of you.

Here is the letter I wrote and Sam read for Ryder:

Our Precious Ryder,

We don’t know the plans God has for us, but you were not a surprise to God. He knew you before he made you. He knew every inch of your broken heart. And He knows every inch of our hearts that are now broken for you.

Even if God let us see into His plan, it wouldn’t take away our pain, our grieving. We’d still be here mourning the loss of your precious life that we’ll never get to know.

In the last six months, we’ve had nothing but hope. First, we hoped for the days when we’d get to hold you and watch you grow and learn. Then, our hope turned towards your healing. Now our hope rests in God and the day we will get to hold you again in heaven.

We have been so blessed by our family, friends, and even strangers through this journey. They have loved us and seen us through the good times and the hard times. They have rescued us when we couldn’t see beyond our immediate circumstances. We will never forget the kind words, the thoughtful gifts, and the time spent with us. We thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

We will always be your parents. You will always be our child, our son, our warrior, our precious Ryder Hudson. We love you.

With hope and love,
Kristen