My first day back volunteering for hospice was on Sunday. We had a new volunteer shadowing us, to learn the ropes, so to speak, that day. She was chatty, and within the first thirty minutes I probably heard her life story. She was nice, and was excited to be there because she wanted to help people, but felt bad because she couldn’t volunteer as much as she wanted because she was helping care for her friend’s child, a little boy, who was recently born with Down Syndrome. I stood there listening, thinking in my head, ‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ She went on to describe this child’s various aliments: he’s had four heart surgeries, has a feeding tube to eat, and sometimes gets blue when he starts to cry. For a moment, I was grateful that my child didn’t have to suffer through those challenges.
I found out that our baby was going to be a boy. Seeing the word ‘male’ on the chromosomal report was a punch in the stomach. I had been so sure the baby was a she, though when I’d talk I’d inevitability end up saying ‘he’. Maybe I really did know on some level the baby was going to be a boy.
I thought constantly about whether or not I should name the baby. I worried what people would think for a while, and would they think that I was dwelling on this miscarriage, and that by naming him I would be dragging out my grief. Then I thought, well, screw people. I can dwell about the loss of my son, and I can grieve as long, and in anyway, I wanted.
We named him Oliver. I’ve always liked names that start with an ‘O’, but I worried how that would flow having a last name that also started with ‘O’. I’d try some of my names together for a girl: “Olivia O’Toole” and think it sounded like a comic book superhero. The title would be “The Amazing Adventures of Olivia O’Toole”. I thought it sounded cute, but I flashed forward to when my child would be in school, and worried about teasing, and decided against it.
Luckily for Oliver, he will never know the pain of childhood bullies, and now he has a superhero name. Oliver O’Toole. He won’t ever know fear, pain or sadness. He won’t be born with a litany of aliments or heart conditions, and he’ll never have a feeding tube. He won’t wake up one day and suddenly realize that he isn’t like all the other children, and I won’t ever have to wipe away his tears.
Still, I think back to the volunteer, who told me all the awful things wrong with her friend’s son, but then said how he was always happy, always smiling.
Oliver won’t ever smile. He won’t ever wake up. He won’t know happiness. He’ll never get a chance to cuddle with Cat (our cat). He won’t take his first step, dance around the living room in just a diaper. True, he won’t ever realize that one day he is a little different than everyone else, but then realize at that same time that being different is absolutely okay because he is loved.
I think about all of these things every day. The feelings I have are so convoluted. I am eternally grateful my son didn’t have to suffer through any type of pain. I will gladly suffer through the pain of losing him for all eternity, but die happy knowing that in his short life all he knew was love. Still, I selfishly wish I could just hold him once and see his smile.
Emotions are fickle like that.