Randy and I decided against an autopsy, but lab tests on the placenta found the cause of the stillbirth to be something called villitis of unknown etiology. This inflammation of the hairlike vascular projections on the placenta decreases or cuts off oxygen flow through the umbilical cord. Many babies survive this condition. My pregnancy had appeared normal all along, and without doing a stress test, there was no way we could have detected that the baby was in trouble, Dr. Williams explained. Still, I felt guilty for letting Brian down, for not knowing that my child was slowly suffocating.
We held a memorial service for Brian with immediate family two weeks after his birth --the day my sisters-in-law had originally planned to throw me a baby shower. The process of visiting the mortuary and cemetery to choose an urn and a niche for our newborn seemed so contrary to the natural order of things. Randy and I should have been up in the middle of the night for feedings, not because grief kept us awake. We were supposed to be setting up the baby's crib, not writing an obituary for the newspaper. We sent out birth announcements to let our relatives and friends know of Brian's death. In those first days, printed cards were easier than talking to people and saying the words "Our baby died."
Bradley had to learn things about life and death that most kids his age don't. He would often leave toys -- a Beanie Baby or a little car -- on the shelf where I keep Brian's pictures and the mementos from the hospital. I could tell that Brad was disappointed, too, and wanted to connect with his brother. He even asked for photos to keep in his room. I think seeing pictures of his father and me holding Brian makes the baby more real to him.We've all grown stronger through this process. Questions about the stillbirth no longer catch me off guard. In the beginning, neighbors and acquaintances would excitedly ask, "So did you have a boy or a girl?" It was hard seeing the uncomfortable expressions on their faces when I answered, "We had a boy, but he died." But Randy and I have learned that talking about Brian lets us share our son with others. Several friends have even opened up about their own personal losses.
Randy and I also find comfort in attending monthly meetings with a local support group, called Empty Cradle. We've learned from other parents who have lost babies that there are no shortcuts through grief. The pain eases but never completely disappears. Nor do I want it to. If the pain were gone, it would be like losing another part of Brian. I have moments of sadness even now, more than two years later. But this tiny baby has helped deepen the bonds of our family. Now when Randy, Brad, and I think of Brian, we don't shed as many tears. We're finally able to smile at the sweet memories of our angel.