This note to Elliot is dedicated in his memory to ALL the babies who closed their eyes on mortality much too soon. I hope we who claim to be “pro-life”, who believe that a new soul is created when new DNA is created, remember and celebrate these short lives in the ways we can. There was a day in our mortal timeline when each of these sweet babies began to exist. Each baby who died in utero or shortly after has a Life Day that God knows. I believe these babies are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ and will be resurrected with all the dead in Christ. This means the Life Days for each of our babies was the beginning of their ETERNAL stories! Yet our culture does not even grant them the status of personhood. If these babies have value because God created them, how we ought to value and celebrate them and grieve their loss before the eyes of a watching world. Let us never treat them as the world does: as less-than people whose lives never really began. Their lives did begin. And their eternal lives will never end. Let’s be a voice for them.
Little boy, you make mama so proud. I’m proud of everything you were and did while you lived in mortality: all the time you fought for life despite the odds, all the silly ways you expressed your personality even in the womb, the sweetness you shared with your family in five precious days outside the womb. What a profound impact you made and are still making!
Sometimes it really bothers me when I look at your gravestone and it reads May 29, 2017-June 3, 2017. It feels like a sham, because I know you lived in mortality more than five days!
Somewhere around November 16, 2016, you began to exist. I don’t know what moment that first happened, but at some point, God took a little DNA from your mommy and a little DNA from your daddy and created the DNA that would become the one and only Elliot William Treibel. I wonder what God and the angels thought at the moment your life first came into existence. Was there a party? The Bible says that little ones have angels in heaven, and that those angels see the face of the Father. Did your angel dance and say to God, “Finally! I’ve been waiting for this child to come, and there he is! He’s so beautiful!”
From that day until the day you left mortality was so much more than five days. You existed for 200 days in this finite sphere. Then you left for immortality, where we will all soon join you. In recognition of the year anniversary of your Life Day, I just want to celebrate some of my memories from those 200 days.
Finding out I was pregnant with you. Oh, what a mix of fear and worry and excitement and hope! All my babies have been my babies since the moment of that positive test. I’ve never had to see any of you to begin loving you. After losing two of your siblings to miscarriage, I was very much aware I could lose you, too. For that reason, I knew what a gift each day with you actually was.
Hearing your heartbeat and seeing you on the ultrasound for the first time. This didn’t happen at the 8-week appointment that I’d scheduled, but at an urgent appointment at about 7 weeks. In the middle of the night, I woke up bleeding heavily. I thought my time with you was already at an end. So when I saw you on that screen and heard your heartbeat, I rejoiced in disbelief. I remember sitting in the parking lot of the doctor’s office, calling your daddy to tell him that we hadn’t lost you after all, and weeping with gratitude.
Finding out you were a boy. Mommy doesn’t have a great track record of guessing the gender of my children. I thought both your sisters were boys. I already had a girl name picked out for you, sorry! I had an early blood test to find out if you were a boy or a girl. When I asked them how on earth they could tell the gender of my baby from my blood, I was amazed at the answer! Already, at just 11 weeks pregnant, your blood and DNA were circulating around in my blood and DNA. How amazing is that? Well, they called me with the results of the test earlier than I anticipated. The woman on the other end of the telephone said, “Well, the test showed very low probability of any health anomalies. And…would you like to know the gender?” Ummm, yeah! “It’s a BOY!” she said. I laughed. I cried. What a thrill to be a mommy to a little boy! I made a big sign and hung it for daddy to find when he came home. We made a Facebook video of Sylvia reading the sign as we revealed to your sisters that they’d have a little BROTHER. Oh, my Elliot! We were and are so thrilled to have a little boy like you in our family.
Seeing you “wave” on one of our scariest days together. At 13 weeks, I woke up again bleeding heavily. This time, I also had labor-like contractions. I was sure I was miscarrying you. Daddy drove me to the emergency room, and I did not expect to see anything when the doctor brought in the ultrasound machine. But when we glimpsed you in my womb, not only did your heart beat loud and proud, but I swear I saw you wave! I think you had a really feisty, funny personality. It was like you were saying, “Don’t stress, Mom! I’m fine!”
Buying your first baby clothes and first feeling you move. I had been so apprehensive about getting my hopes up that you would join our family. As some of my bleeding lessened, I also remember that first magical moment of feeling you move. I was around 16 weeks, and I woke up in the middle of the night, and couldn’t fall back asleep. But then, I didn’t want to, because I felt you, little boy! Those first, unmistakable kicks and wiggles! Soon after this, I had an encouraging doctor’s appointment, and went to Target afterward walking on air. I picked out a sleeper I thought would be what you’d wear home from the hospital that was blue with green stripes and proudly proclaimed, “Little Brother.” I also picked out a onesie for you that read “Muy guapo.” Anyone who has seen pictures of you has to agree that you were, in fact, muy, muy guapo.
Listening to your heartbeat two hours every day in the hospital. As I hunkered down for weeks of bed rest at the hospital after my water broke at just 21 weeks, one activity became the highlight of my every day: listening to your heartbeat. There are plenty of things that are hard to remember from our short time together, but even now, if I close my eyes and turn off my mind, I can hear your heart beating, my son. I loved this time. The sound of your heart beating was the most beautiful music to this mommy’s ears. On my long weekends in Labor & Delivery a few times, they even kept you on continuous monitoring so that your heartbeat was in the background constantly for hours and hours at a time. I miss that sound.
The familiar feel of your feet in my belly. When you settled into a transverse pose about a week after we entered the hospital, you stayed that way until the day you were born. That means for six weeks, you were in the exact same position. Your little feet and legs pressed up against the lower left part of my abdomen all day. It was our little way of communicating. I even knew exactly how to position myself to get you to kick me. It was a fun game of Marco Polo. Marco! I’d lay on my left side. Polo! You’d kick my left side. Marco! I’d lay on my back. Polo! You’d wiggle and jiggle. And on and on we’d play the game. My counselor recently observed, “It sounds like all those weeks you were in the hospital, your soul really got to know Elliot’s soul.” Yes, we did know each other, didn’t we, sweet boy? We knew each other so well.
Meat. That’s what you made your mama crave. I’ve never been such a carnivore in my life.
Your birthday. I’ve written down your birth story in detail. It was very scary emergency c-section, and a hard recovery, but you really have the best birth story of any of my kids. I mean, at least with Sylvia and Valerie, I knew I was in labor. When the doctor checked me with you and said I was nine centimeters dilated, well, this is how I know you would have been a jokester. I had no idea I was even in labor! Then, six hours after you were born, feeling like someone had used the inside and outside of my body for batting practice, I came in the NICU to meet you. You fought so hard, little boy, to make it through such a difficult pregnancy. Then, you fought even harder with underdeveloped lungs just to survive at all outside the womb. Maybe you did all that so we’d get a little time with you, even if it was too, too short. You are amazing. Such a fighter. You inspire me to never give up. Holding your hand that night of May 29, 2017, will forever be the moment my life stood still and I lived inside pure love.
Our five days in the NICU. Oh Elliot, it’s so tempting to regret and to feel guilty. I wish I really had spent five straight days with you, without leaving your side for a moment. But, of course, many hours of the five days you lived outside the womb, I was recovering from the emergency c-section. Any time I rested or slept in my hospital room, I remember thinking I just wanted to get better so I could really start spending time with you. I just couldn’t have known. I now know so many mommies whose babies were stillborn, or who died just minutes or hours after birth, and I fight to feel grateful for the time you and I did have. I got to feed you my milk on a little swab several times. I got to change your diaper several times. And oh, my favorite: cradle holding you in your incubator while I hummed to you. We spent hours doing this together. I loved the way your little hands held my fingers. The memories make my heart ache and long for MORE memories. But they also soothe a place in my heart, knowing that we did touch and talk and hold on to one another.
Holding you while you died. It’s impossible to call this a “good” memory. But, oh my son, I am so thankful that I was there. I hate that your daddy wasn’t there with us, and he hates it, too. But at least I was there as your mortal life ended. I am grateful you were in my arms.
Twenty hours of holding you while you slept in Jesus. I don’t remember these hours very well. Except for all the pictures, I might not have even believed I really did spend all that time with you. But there are a few things I do remember. I remember talking to you when we were alone. I remember the nurse helping me give you a bath and dress you in a new diaper and a little outfit. I remember how perfect you looked. My baby. My baby. My baby. I know some people would say you weren’t really there during those twenty hours, that you were already in heaven. I don’t know what I think about that. All of us who are still bound by mortality like to think we can figure out what happens right when someone dies, but we don’t really know. The Bible doesn’t really spell it out. But what the Bible does spell out is resurrection. It says your body is a seed that is sown, and will someday be raised imperishable. That body I held for twenty hours that night is precious and sacred, not just some empty shell. That’s why I held you again before your funeral. That’s why I visit your grave. Maybe your soul is conscious in heaven. But the precious part of you that will be changed and raised as Jesus was changed and raised, and which grew and lived inside me, is now sleeping until that day.
Beloved boy, you know I miss you. Everyone knows I miss you. My life is divided now by your entrance and exit in my earthly life. Every day that passes is a day closer to seeing you again. I don’t dread getting older like I used to. I don’t fear death in the way I had. But I’m working to live again on the inside, Elliot, because I died inside when you died. This is a different kind of resurrection: Jesus bringing my heart back to life. It is not easy. It will take work and time. But it’s all worth it because you are worth it. You began. You existed in this world for a short time. And you will continue to exist in the eternal future that awaits us. I celebrate the day that your existence astounded heaven and blessed earth. Happy Life Day, Elliot!
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:51-57 ESV