Tomorrow would have been our son’s seventh birthday, but of course he was stillborn.
The reality is, seven years ago today we’d known for some time until that point that Nathanael would not survive, and our church had ridden that journey with us, as had our family and friends, given I was blogging about our grief almost daily. These blogs became the basis of our Memoir to Nathanael Marcus—our Shining Gift of God—published in 2018 to commemorate the fourth anniversary of his passing.
We were on that journey for about four months, from July 1 to October 30, in 2014.
We’ll never forget the moment that it came to become a fact: “He’s gone!” That moment he’d passed away: Delivery Suite 1, King Edward Memorial Hospital, 6:30PM October 30, 2014. One of the midwives was doing a vaginal exam on Sarah and suddenly she gasped, immediately her head tilted down, and she just said, “He’s gone!”
A moment that stood still, an horrendous moment, a moment that will for time immemorial stand still. I didn’t know what to do, comfort Sarah, the midwife, or be in my own shattered process. Moments like these are pulsatingly surreal.
It was nearly five hours later that we finally got to meet him, and even more surreal to finally hold him, lifeless, yet ours. How could we comprehend the relief of having him in our arms after such a long wait, mixed with the grief that now he’s finally here, he’s gone?
How did we get to that moment in such a hurry after Sarah spiked such a terrifying fever, that they shoved three intravenous antibiotics and drugs (from memory) through her arm to help her body fight the infection? For a time, Sarah was so sick she looked barely conscious.
How were we to reconcile that the ‘palliative care plan’ we’d signed off had our son crushed to death by the contractions knowing his hypotonia would contribute to umbilical cord prolapse, and Sarah put at huge jeopardy, when we were told by the Professor managing our case that Nathanael “deserved comfort and respect,” which he did not receive? We could only see all this through the tragically ironic lens of hindsight. Then she came in to visit us in the Ward and, just as Sarah said she would, just said, “These things happen” (in other words, she didn’t know what else to say).
There were several injustices meted out to us in that season.
We never forget that we had a son, and his loss has stayed with us in many ways.
Through the years, we’ve followed with interest what would have been his development. Every year we have a tradition of wearing green stone pounamus and building cubby houses and playing Kristene DiMarco’s It Is Well.
I was also a school chaplain at the time when Nathanael would have started school. I took curious note of his cohort commencing Kindergarten in 2019. Every now and then we come face to face with the dual reality, that there are children his age, and he is no longer here. Like all parents who lose children, the loss is beyond fixing.
Thinking back to that time, it was the strangest season of our lives, the delight of finding out we were pregnant again dashed at the 19-week scan by devastating news.
Some people would think that because Nathanael didn’t breathe outside the womb that he wasn’t a person, but we rode the journey day after day feeling him move and kick and roll, and week after week we saw him grow.
As I watched the launch of Movember at my workplace today, a gentleman spoke of the importance of continuing to remember his uncle and brother who both died by suicide 10 days apart. His brother Sammy’s legacy is a massive fund-raising effort annually. He will never be forgotten.
And neither will Nathanael.
This night seven years ago we heard Nathanael’s heartbeat for the last time. Casting our minds back to that time, I don’t think we’d registered that it would be the very last time we’d know he was alive. It was a precious moment; I just don’t think we realised its true gravity.
With the stress and pain of being hassled in this season of loss by the leader of our church behind us (people thought they knew our pain, and really, they didn’t, and we were powerless to help them know), we did still had another pastoral dilemma to face on that huge October 29, 2014. It started innocuously enough; a shoe date with my second daughter. But when we heard a knock at the door about 11am we had no idea what curly situation we’d end up in. Before we could be admitted to the maternity hospital, we had to take a person I was mentoring and caring for to another hospital in the opposite direction. I was so proud of Sarah, full-term pregnant, struggling to move and breathe, doing pastoral work I was (for this situation) ill-equipped to do. What an adventure those few hours were!
Against all the odds, my wife was a fully pregnant hero, showing up every single day, despite the ongoing intensity of the grief, the disregard we were shown by those who put on a show of care yet not only had no shred of compassion but hassled us, and this other unique pastoral situation. It was a triple-whammy, yet God was faithful despite the insanity of this threefold disaster situation.
Finally in the car headed to King Edward Memorial Hospital, we were admitted to No. 1 Delivery Suite. Sarah was to be induced early the following morning. It was literally the calm before the storm.
The previous day, Sarah had had her eighth and last amnioreduction procedure so her womb wouldn’t rupture in labour. Many of those days in that four-month period we were in that hospital ward, or at various specialists’ rooms, doing our own research, reviewing and signing palliative care plans, etc. That season was exhausting, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, yet we just felt we needed to keep going. I truly felt we were, led by God’s Spirit, on a stopwatch each and every day. In that season, there was just enough time to do all we could.
Listening to Nathanael’s heartbeat was important at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight we’re so glad I recorded it on video. It wasn’t long after that that we went to bed for an early start the next day.
The following day was a marathon. Part of that story, and the story overall, are contained in the following articles:
This article is about remembering the tremendous impact Nathanael made on many of our lives even though he never breathed a breath. So many were encouraged by our faith, even if they didn’t and couldn’t know the full story.
As I wrote mostly daily about the side of our loss we were at liberty to share, we not only found a way to give words to the grief—finding healing through facing—but we made our son’s case well known, and through social media, we had a few thousand people praying for us. Each day we found ourselves carried by the prayers of the faithful, just as our faith was buoyed through a spirituality you must be spiritual for to believe.
And still, it’s seven years since that day that started out by a simple induction of Nathanael’s birth yet ended in a way neither Sarah nor I could predict. That long 21-hour day started with a simple drip for contractions at 6 AM and ended at 3 AM the following morning after I’d bathed his motionless body.
This time seven years ago he was still alive. We heard his little heartbeat on a monitor for the last time seven years ago. The video of those few minutes remains one of our most precious memories. He will be forever missed.
This is my last article.
For over 14 years I’ve been writing online articles and over 9,300 articles later, I’ve devoted 20,000 hours to this craft. I’m off now to write more substantially, and to invest in the more basic things in life.