Category - Family

For All the Military Babies Gone Too Soon

By Amy Schofield In October 1988, President Ronald Reagan designated the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. Everyone is invited to light a candle on October 15th at 7pm in all time zones across the world for Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day. “Imagine a love so strong it made saying hello and goodbye in the same day worth all the pain.” March 13, 2018 – the day my firstborn son, Samuel David, was born. He was a precious 3 pound 5 ounce, 17-inch long baby boy with curly brown hair like his mom and long legs like his dad. He was perfect in every way, except he didn’t take one breath on earth. After 12 years of marriage, we were finally graced with what we had dreamt of for years – we were going to be a mom and a dad! We were going to be able to live out all of our hopes and dreams with our child – or so we thought. Week by week we were getting closer to meeting our new little one! We were past the perceived “safe” zone of a pregnancy, we saw our baby on the 20-week scan where everything checked out well and we made it to the third trimester. – a time where babies can survive with a NICU stay if born early. There was never a thought in the world that anything would go wrong at this point. The baby was moving around, growing and had a strong heartbeat. No health issues arose for either one of us. However, one morning during week 30 of my pregnancy, I didn’t feel any movement from the baby. I grew accustom to feeling his kicks and that day he didn’t kick. I had read that during that week of pregnancy there is less space for the baby to move around. Maybe that’s what was happening, I thought, or maybe he was sleeping in. I did everything I could to get a kick from him. But there were no kicks. We rushed to the hospital to get checked out. I will never forget our nurse, Katie. She put the baby’s heart monitor on me to hear his heartbeat. There was a heartbeat there all right, but it was mine. Nurse Katie was desperate to find the baby’s heartbeat. She kept moving the monitor around, but still there was nothing. I knew from the look on her face that it wasn’t good. An OB came in along with a sonogram technician and after a couple of agonizing moments we heard the words that no parent ever wants to – or expects to – hear: “I am sorry, I am afraid you’ve had a loss”. Our son’s heart had stopped beating. Just like that. No warning signs at all. In an instant our lives changed. We went from our highest high we’ve ever felt to the most painful feeling in the world. We waited 12 years for this miracle to arrive and in an instant our lives changed forever in a way we never thought possible. We had just finished painting a beautiful Snoopy and the Red Baron mural in Samuel’s room. His crib was set up. His outfits were all washed and folded. His stroller and car seat were in the front room of our house ready to be used. After a challenging 15-hour induced labor, we got to meet our stunning little boy. In the moments after he was born, there was nothing but a deafening silence in the delivery room. Being in a labor and delivery room, you expect to hear a baby crying when he is born. But the only cries in our room were from his parents. Someone once said to me that the most beautiful sound in the world is ocean waves crashing on the shore. I beg to differ; the most beautiful sound in the world is a baby crying. And we didn’t get to hear that. We did get to hold, kiss, cuddle, and love on our beautiful, perfect son. His skin was silky smooth and warm. He was wearing a cute little diaper. He looked like a preemie who was sleeping. We were hoping beyond hope that we were dreaming and that he would open his eyes, look up at us, give us a smile, and let out a big cry. But he didn’t. We spent as long as we could with our Sammy. The moment we had to say goodbye to him and hand him over to a nurse’s arms was the absolute worst moment of our lives. It was the ultimate test of a parent’s strength. Nothing can prepare you for that pain and heartache and for being wheeled out of the hospital with a box filled your son’s personal items on your lap instead of carrying your son out and buckling him safely into his car seat. The very next day, instead of taking Sammy home to his crib which awaited him in his newly decorated room, we mustered the courage to go to the local funeral home to make arrangements for our son. Months before, when we saw the word ‘pregnant’ on that test, never in our wildest dreams did we ever think we would have to go to a funeral home the day after I went through labor and delivery with our son. Although Sammy never took one breath on earth, he is in our thoughts every second of every day and will remain in our hearts forever. He made us parents. For 215 days, we got to bond with our son. We got to know which foods he liked and which foods he didn’t, we got to know his movements, we got to feel his love, we got to grow and nurture him, and for that we will be forever grateful. He is the greatest gift to us. If you have gone or are going through a perinatal or infant death, I want you to know that you are not alone. As a military family going through something like this in a place where you may have recently moved to with no family around, it is another test of courage. It is hard to ask for help, but know there are many people willing to make dinner, drop off groceries, sit with you, and lend an ear for you to share your story of your beautiful baby. And, share away! Your baby will always be your child and keeping their memory alive by talking about them will help you grieve. Also know that it is ok to not be ok some days. The waves of grief hit you like a ton of bricks, most often when you least expect them to. That’s when you should call upon your military family to help you through this. If you know of a military family who has gone through or is going through a baby’s death, the best thing you can do is to be there for them. Sit with them. Listen to them talk about their child. Provide comfort for them. Even if you do not know what to say, an “I’m sorry and I am thinking of you and your beautiful baby” means the absolute world. Acknowledge their child by name. Just because he or she is no longer on earth doesn’t mean that he or she didn’t exist. We certainly could not have survived the past several months without the compassion and generosity of the magnitude of people who have helped us get through this incredibly difficult time. Our son Sammy is looking down on us and is proud of how brave his parents are. I know he is smiling knowing that we are the ones chosen to be his mom and dad. He is filled with incredible joy seeing how we are keeping his memory alive and continuing to live out our hopes and dreams, not just for him, but for all of the military babies gone to soon. For more help: Grief Support: Military OneSource provides free 24/7 non-medical counseling phone support. To speak with a member of the Military OneSource team, call 1-800-342-9647. Casualty Assistance Officer: A CAO serves as a liaison between you and the service branch to provide help and resources regarding funeral transportation and burial expenses as well as FSGLI eligibility. To find out who your CAO is, contact your chain of command. Connect with us on Facebook!

Forever Three: Facing the Loss of a Child as a Military Family

by Sandra Parker, military spouse Life as a military family has its challenges, but what happens when life hands you the unthinkable in the midst of moves and deployments? Here is the Parker family’s story. Having a child with cancer felt like life in the military fishbowl times a million. They are sharing their journey so others know they are not alone. And so that we know how to better support our military families going through similar experiences. Three months after my husband returned from a year in Iraq, our 2-year-old daughter, Sarah, was diagnosed with brain cancer. It was October 2007. We were stationed at Fort Knox at the time, and due to the severity of her diagnosis, we soon found ourselves at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. Because my husband was afraid he would not be able to give his job his full attention, he requested reassignment. He knew it would impact his career. Being a military family, we had no close family nearby, so our mothers alternated visiting several weeks at a time to help with our two boys. Taking care of Sarah was a full-time job. We were very fortunate that the majority of our street, along with other friends who lived on post, were very supportive. They helped our mothers, organized meals, helped get the boys to activities, took video of them at events and sent them to me while I was in Memphis. But while we had great support, we also had a few people who could not deal with the situation. I never heard from them again. They simply avoided us after the diagnosis. A New Mission Our life now consisted of me traveling to St. Jude, where Sarah and I would spend one to six weeks at a time. The boys tried to carry on as normally as they could. St. Jude was very generous and provided medical care, travel, meals, and housing at no cost to us. Tricare was charged, but St. Jude accepted whatever Tricare paid and never passed any cost to us. Sarah endured three brain surgeries, numerous procedures, chemotherapy, and radiation, but the situation remained grim. The stress on our family was high. As the months passed and Sarah’s prognosis did not improve, we requested a compassionate reassignment to Fort Benning, Ga. The move allowed us to be closer to family, and we could utilize Egleston Hospital in Atlanta as well as St. Jude. My cousin’s family overlapped at Benning for a month and they helped prep friends that we were coming. In our situation, moving to a new place with new people was difficult. It was hard to even relate to people. We had so much going on with Sarah that the typical post-PCS meet and greet was strained. The people at Fort Benning were great. They brought meals, helped with the boys, and a friend brought over her daughter to play with Sarah. Despite all the help, we still felt alone. To feel connected, I kept in touch with new friends I had met at the hospital. I also connected with online parent support groups, which helped tremendously as they could relate to our situation. On Nov. 13, 2008, six months after moving to Fort Benning and taking her on her Make-a-Wish trip to Animal Kingdom Lodge, Sarah passed away. At first, people felt uncomfortable when they saw us after her death, but the church was filled for her service as friends came from all over to be with us. Their support made me realize even though we often felt alone, we were never alone in our journey. Sarah was a child who wanted to do things her way with a sense of humor. She handled almost everything with a smile on her face. She adapted to her limitations brought on by the brain tumor by using her feet to make up for the loss of her right arm and playing with my hair when she lost hers to chemotherapy. When she first became sick and could not walk she could only watch videos and she fell in love with Barney. No matter what people say about Barney, I will always love him because he made her laugh and smile. She did get to the point where she would only wear Barney shirts every single day. I tried to mix it up with other shirts but she would not have that. A highlight for her was meeting Barney privately in person on her Make-a-Wish trip. It was a spontaneous meeting and she was thrilled. Everyday I think of Sarah and miss her. While her life was short, she left an everlasting impact not only on her immediate family, but friends as well. Being a military family and having grown up military, we had to decide what to do with Sarah’s remains. We did not want to leave her in a place we may leave and never come back to. The decision was made to cremate her. Sarah stays with her grandma and will be buried with the parent who passes first. We still go back to Memphis at least every other year for the Memphis Marathon weekend. We run in memory of our Sarah. How you can help families like ours… Military families who find themselves dealing with a friend in this situation can help with meals and have groceries delivered. Offer to do their laundry, clean their house, take the siblings to activities, or mow their lawn. Most families in crisis will not ask for help or may be so overwhelmed they do not know what they need. So instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything,” be specific such as, “I will pick up dinner for you or I can take the kids to practice.” Please do not tell someone you know exactly how they feel when their child passes away unless you had a child that passed away. As much as I love my parents and pet, comparing my child’s loss to a pet that passed or a parent who lived a full life is not the same. The death of a child disrupts the normal order of things. When your spouse dies, you are a widow or widower. When your parents die, you are an orphan. There is no word to identify parents who lost their child. It is important to say something so the family knows you care and acknowledge the loss. Even if you do not know what to say, simply say, “I am so sorry. I do not know what to say.” Connect with us on Facebook!