Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Big Sister Abbey

I have a memory. I am about seven or eight years old and my brothers and I are crowded into the family station wagon with my parents. The moment is tense and panicked. I remember my mother saying that her water broke. The memory ends.

I had always assumed that this was when my youngest brother was born. I would have been seven and a half years old. I later found out that my brothers (Dan and John) and I had a babysitter watch us at our house while my father drove my mother to the hospital when she was in labor with Patrick, my youngest brother.

When I was in college, my mother told me that she had lost a baby after Patrick was born. (I'll use the word lost here in this post seeing as it is the universal terminology most commonly used. In my speaking of Abbey or other babies that have passed away, I try not to use that word. I don't really have a good explanation as to why I don't like it.) She had been about four and a half months along when she was brought to the hospital in labor. Enter my memory of being in the car.

Back in 1981, they did not try to stop early labor or give your baby a chance. My mom was medicated to the point of unconsciousness and awoke to discover that her baby was gone. Back in 1981, they did not tell you if you had a boy or a girl. They did not perform any testing in order to determine a cause. There were no social workers to offer books and resources . Doctors and nurses told you to stop crying, that you are young and you can always have more children later. If you named your baby, you kept it to yourself.

I am 36 years old and 1981 doesn't seem all that long ago, seeing as it occurred in my lifetime, but it is miles and miles and miles away from where we are now. Although, we (all of us) still have a ways to go.

We keep a picture of Abbey in our bedroom and her baby sampler (handmade by Grammy) hangs in the upstairs hall. We don't try to hide the fact that she existed. The girls have taken many trips with us to the cemetery and know, as well as a two year old can, that they have a big sister Abbey. And that's what they call her, "Big sister Abbey."

I've never had a game plan as to how I would tell the girls about her and why she isn't here. It's weird but I don't remember ever really giving it much thought. I just figured that they would always know that they had a sister and as they grew to understand life and death, they would ask us questions. Of course, the only answer I can give is that she is angel and we don't really know why.


Hope's Mama said...

Beautiful Sarah. So many tears. Thank you.
I hope this become a natural evolution for me, too. And that this little boy (all being well, please, please, please) just grows up knowing. His big sister's picture hangs in our living room, and always will.
I would love to see a photo of your Abbey, if you arevhappy to share (outside of the blog if you prefer). I just know there are not too many who ask to see photos of our children who left us far too soon.
And I'm with you on "lost". It just doesn't see to fit, does it? She's not lost, I know exactly where she is. Six feet under just five minutes up the road. When she should be right here, in my arms.
Your youngest three will grow up to be such kind and compassionate people just as you are.
And that was such a moving story about your mother. I feel "lucky" to have had Hope at a time like this, where we don't have to sweep our babies under the rug quite as much.

Danielle said...

As always Sarah, your timing seems to be perfect. Just two days ago, my six year old surviving twin came home from her first day of school after holidays. There is a set of twins, who have just started in her class; the first she has come across. She said to me "but mum, there are two of them". I didn't understand the meaning, until she said "there is only one of me, and I am a twin". It broke my heart. She just thought that every "twin" had "lost" his/her brother/sister. Then I had the questions of "but why?" I guess it is all age appropriate explaining.

Thanks for sharing about "Grammy". It must be a bittersweet feeling for you to have someone so close to you understand your loss.

His Mom said...

Thank you for posting this. Because of what happened to your mom in 1981, so many people pushed and we got the services/understanding we deserve today (well, we deserve MORE, but you know what I mean). I have heard the horror stories about what these women went through.

I hate the term "lost". I didn't misplace him. I know exactly what happened to him (well, as far as he died. Not HOW he died...). I always try to use the term passed away.

I am so sad for your mom. I am sure it broke her heart watching her daughter go through the anguish of having a child die as well.

Thank you for posting this...I hope Claudia always just "knows" Curtis. How we will celebrate his birthday and have his memory tree out at Christmas and his pictures and memory items out. I am sure there will be more indepth questions but never about the fact that he was once here. A woman I know has chosen not to tell her daughter that her big brother is a twin, and one twin died. She doesn't know how to tell her now, knowing she will freak out. She is a 12 year old who never knew. I think breaking that news would be really difficult.

Anyway, I love that your girls know their big sister Abbey.

Helen said...

Such a fantastic post Sarah. It's an amazing testimony too to what medical research (like March for Dimes) has done! It's always heartbreaking to hear of a "loss" but I'm so proud of you for letting your girls grow with the knowledge of their older sister.

Sarah said...

Thank you all for your kind comments.

Sally, you know what is really horrible - I don't have many pictures of Abbey - and the ones I do have aren't very good. I was in such shock, I didn't ask my mom to take good pictures - the nurses took some with a point and shoot. They aren't even digital. I don't have any on my computer.

And Danielle - that must be so difficult for your daughter, trying to understand at an age when they don't really understand. So heartbreaking.

Cat said...

Friends of ours had a baby girl, Suzanne, who was born with only one kidney and it was full of cysts. She lived for only 20 hours. Their story is a little different in that they already had a 2 year old daughter at the time. There is no doubt that Baby Suzanne, as she is called, is still a part of their daughter's life. She still talks about Baby Suzanne often, even three years later. I think that when we don't try to hide something or avoid talking about it that it just becomes a natural, if painful, part of our lives.

Your triplets will most likely ask questions later that you won't have answers to, but such is the case with many deaths in this world, babies, adults, and everyone in between. The important thing is that your Abbey will always be remembered by her loving family and when you talk about her on your blog, your readers remember her, too.

Debbie Hein said...

Hi Sarah,
Its me, Debbie, again. I was just reading some of your old posts, and really related to this one. One, because my own son was born in January 82 so it was so close to this time your Mom went through this, and two, because it made me think of what my Michelle always called my son when she was little.
She always called him her "Big, little brother." One day we asked her why...she was about 3. She said because Timmy was older than her, he was big, because he was just a baby he would always be little. So, Big little brother.