“You’re a hero, Ms. Henderson”. Dr. Hall quietly called the time of death as he knelt in front of the rocking chair, where I sat holding Elijah’s miniscule body. Once the respirator had been removed, it only took an hour for Elijah’s soul to leave this world.
Nothing about this moment made me feel like a hero. My premature baby boy, born at twenty-four weeks gestation and weighing only one pound and fifteen ounces, had just died.
After fighting for his life for twenty-four days, his mother made a terribly painful choice. His mother. Me. The one who couldn’t protect him in utero when, at twenty two weeks into my pregnancy, my appendix ruptured and went misdiagnosed for three days.
The one who couldn’t protect him, when close to my own death, I was forced to undergo an emergency open appendectomy. Despite receiving a lower dose of pain medicine for a horribly excruciating surgery, the stress of the ordeal sent my body into preterm labor. I failed Elijah at every turn.
Despite looking perfectly like a tiny baby; dark brown skin, huge brown almond-shaped eyes and the softest jet black hair that covered his entire body, Elijah would never get the chance to grow up. I would never know who he might become.
The worst part of this unforgiving, steamy July day was that his death came at my hand, as I was the one who signed the order to remove his ventilator. It was me who was choosing to let him die instead of rolling the dice and waiting to see the extent of his brain injury.
Even hearing all of the best advice from his team of doctors and the extremely kind hospital chaplain, as a single mother, I was the one responsible for terminating Elijah’s life support. At 24 years old, that was (and would remain) the hardest decision that I would be forced to make.
Simply, there was nothing heroic in that action.
All of these years later, I believe that I made the right and most humane choice for Elijah. Time has blurred the edges but the important details remain vivid: he had a grade 4 ( the most severe) intraventricular hemorrhage on the left side of his brain and a grade 2 on the right side.
He was developing hydrocephalus and required surgery for a shunt to be placed in his head. The experienced doctors at Arkansas Childrens Hospital (which is world-renowned) explained the low chances that Elijah would ever walk, talk, see, speak, sit up or eat on his own.
As my mother, a seasoned RN, plainly told me, “He may have quantity of life but he will have no quality of life”.
There are various lessons from his death that, with the distance of time, I try to carry out in my life. After experiencing all of the stages of grief, I feel like I am able to comfort a mother in her mourning and metaphorically, walk in her shoes.
Personally, I can’t imagine anything greater than the loss of a child. Therefore, I am taken aback when mothers commit violence against their children.
Unless you live in an extremely remote location in the world that has no television, radio, cell service or internet, then you are probably familiar with the Casey Anthony trial. I am keeping up with the trial almost obsessively, even following during the work day via Twitter. Many would say that the over saturation by the media is what has drawn people to follow the Anthony case.
However, for myself, I can’t fathom how a mother could actually kill her child. It’s not just the Anthony case either, any news report of a mother who kills their child has my full attention. And perplexes me in ways that I can’t process.
The decision to end Elijah’s life was more difficult than I can even explain in words. Just writing about it has me in tears as if it happened yesterday.
Fourteen years later, I celebrate his life and strive to keep his memory alive. I celebrate his birthday on the 8th of June, and I mourn his death on the 2nd of July.
Even though I wouldn’t classify myself as heroic, I am grateful that I had the wisdom to not allow my child to needlessly suffer. He was cradled in my arms as he died, surrounded by love. As his mother, there is great solace that in his final moments, I was there to protect him.
Have you ever been in a position, where you had a difficult decision to make when it came to your child?
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by Margie Bryant of Arkansas, USA. She can be found on Twitter @TheHunnyB.
Photo credit to the author.
Oh Margie. You made me cry.
I’m so, so, sorry for your loss. For the very difficult decision you had to make as a young woman. For the life Elijah never experienced. So, so sorry.
I, too, cannot fathom how women take the lives of their children. Even if they suffered from mental illness of some kind, surely help can be sought. It’s unthinkable.
Thank you for such a moving, thought provoking piece.
Thank you, I take it as a compliment that I made you cry. 🙂 Fourteen years affords me the ability to look back with less grief and more an appreciation for the 24 days that he was with us.
Margie, I’m sitting here crying. I cannot imagine the agony that you feel or felt, but I agree that you made the most humane choice. I too am so sorry for the life not lived and the huge decision which you had to make. Thank you so much for sharing this very personal experience.
(As for mothers who kill their children: unfathomable.)
Again, it’s a bit of a compliment that I made you cry. I know my writing made sense and that’s a positive for me. Honestly, when I made the choice to let him die, it was surreal. Looking back, I don’t think I had any idea of the impact that it would have on my life. I was just too young and naive. Very clearly, I remember about a month after he died and I was in the car. Out of the blue, it hit me “I will never get over this”. I think that prior to that moment, I was in a haze.
I don’t believe any mother who reads this post could not cry. What an incredibly brave and difficult decision you made.
As devastating as your loss was, I believe the mother in you thought not only of herself but of the quality of life her child would have or not have. I believe you made the right choice for you and for him and my heart cries for what you missed with your darling boy.
Thank you for sharing such a painful and heart wrenching story
Thank you for reading and commenting. I hope that I was not selfishly thinking of only myself when I made that decision. I was young, single, on welfare and had an 18 month old child. Sometimes, not so often anymore, I will pull out Elijah’s medical records and remind myself of the very poor prognosis. Again, time allows me to feel as if I did the right thing.
you are the strong mom in the world.and this is really painful story…..
Well, I grew into a strong woman so thank you.
Margie, Thank you so much for sharing this personal and painful story. You are a very brave and strong woman. I am sure Elijah has found his peace.
I appreciate your kind words, I wasn’t always brave OR strong. 🙂
I am crying and cheering, crying for the life lost and cheering for a mothers courage, strength and heroism….love always!!
Rouge, between this comment and what you left on my Facebook page, you have had me in tears most of the day! Thank you, friend, you always lift me up.
I am so sorry for your loss and what you went through. There is nothing harder than losing a child. Someone very close to me lost their baby girl after 3 days of life and it still hurts. 8 years later and there are still nights where I cry over this and get so angry. When it first happened, I felt so destroyed, I just shut down. I didn’t realize I was doing that at at the time, though. It was the hardest thing we had all gone through. But, we keep this little one alive in so many ways and we are very grateful for the time we did have with her. I think you grieve for life after you lose a child, but time does give some healing. For all mothers and families who have to endure this, my hope is that you find some peace. It sounds as if you have made peace with your decision and I truly believe you did the best you could. That’s all we can do.
As far as mothers like Casey Anthony, I have no sympathy or understanding for why or how they could do what they did. It is unthinkable.
I am so sorry for the loss that yall have endured. I shut down for many years after Elijah died, I numbed myself with liquor and drugs. It was such a disservice to his memory. I agree that time does heal and makes it easier to live with, but it’s something that never goes away. Also, my youngest son, who is 9 years old, looks so much like Elijah. Through Caleb, I was healed in many ways.
I am speechless and heartbroken after I read your story. It is so touching I feel ready to cry. No words can express the loss of a child.
Thank you for reading and commenting.
Thank you for sharing your story, Maggie. I am sorry for your loss. I could never imagine losing a child. Know that you are in our thought and prayers as I am sure these days each year are the hardest.
THank you for reading and for your condolences. June 8th is always hard on me, it’s only 6 days after my birthday. This year was the easiest it has been though so maybe there is something healing about 14 years.
Margie, I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m glad you’ve come to a place where you feel you made the right decision. I think so too – I’m sure it’s what I would have done. But how wonderful that you have those memories of him.
Just wanted to comment on your mention of Casey Anthony. I will preface this by saying I know next to nothing about the story or the trial, but I have read the general story. I don’t know what issues Casey might have had, but from a Google search I see questions about whether she can “claim” postpartum psychosis and “walk away”. As someone who suffered from postpartum depression, I’m really sensitive to comments about things like this being unthinkable. In one sense it is, I agree. But postpartum mood disorders are real and I know people who have suffered from psychosis and have to deal with the knowledge that they thought killing their children would make things better. Those are the ones who got help but no, help is not always available. I wish everyone, especially mothers, would try to help raise awareness for those who need help and don’t get it. This article on Postpartum Progress is a good summary of why it’s important: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/weblog/2011/06/looking-back-at-andrea-yates-10-years-after-the-tragedy.html
Having said that, I will now step off my soapbox and say that you didn’t fail Elijah. None of those things that happened were in your control – they’re just horribly unfortunate circumstances. In the end, you did what you had to do. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Interesting point, Robin. Thanks for sharing it.
As far as the Casey Anthony trial, I do not believe she had PPD. Personally, I think she is a narcassistic sociopath. However, I do beleive PPD is real and that women, Andrea Yates for example, suffer from it. I think that I am really drawn to the Anthony trial because the defense wants to put a grief expert on the stand to discuss how people handle grief in different ways. They want to explain her constant paryting after her child was dead. That totally pisses me off. I agree that people grieve differently but come on, give me a break. Ok, see now I am on a soapbox!
I’m really sorry for your loss. Thank you for being so open with us. It’s so important to talk about things like that. Mothers like you need support in their decisions. You did good. You’re brave and strong women! Your decision was painful but wise! Hugs
Thank you, it means a great deal that you commented.
I’m so sorry for your loss. Sharing such a tough experience in motherhood is difficult, but I’m so glad you had the courage to write about it here. It is really important to talk about our most difficult decisions.
Very well written, too. I hope writing this story today helps you heal.
Thank you, I am glad that you allowed me to share. I am a tiny bit shocked that someone gave me a thumbs down though! I am taking your words last night to heart. 🙂
Even though I’ve known you – and this story – for a long time, reading this post still made me cry. To me, you *are* a hero. Not only for having the strength to make that unimaginable decision, but for the way you have risen above all of the bad stuff in your life and become a person – and a Mom – that Elijah would be truly proud of.
How many times have I told you that I love you and that you are an amazing friend? I owe you for SO much. Thank you girl.
I feel so very sorry for your loss, I am sad as well for the way the way the nicu handled it with you and for the deepest pain you will always carry with you. I do not believe some of these doctors have the right to predict the outcome of these micropreemie babies w brain bleeds and think it is unethical for them to encourage a 24 year old woman to do something without presenting them ALL the information on the possible outcomes. It’s a scary world in the nicu and we have literally ALL our trust in their doctors. Our most precious love is in their hands. Your love for your son comes through so strongly in your words and I cried for your loss. There is no greater pain then to have your child pass away. I am a mom who has experienced my micropreemie daughter die in my arms as well as a mom with an 8 year old x25 week mico preemie with bilateral grade 4 bleeds & hydrocephalus. No one knows what life holds for any of us. I think we do the best we can with what we know at the time. I wish for you what I long for for myself…. Peace. Peace in your heart and in knowing your angel will always be with you <3
First, I am so sorry for your loss because I know how deep that pain goes. Also, I am glad that your 8 year old survived and am hoping that he/she is a healthy and happy child. I don’t begrudge the NICU team at Arkansas Childrens Hospital because it is a very well respected hospital. This post did not allow me to tell every detail of Elijah’s 24 days but I do feel like I was presented with all of the possible outcomes. It really was just an unknown situation and at that time, I did not want to put my child through anymore pain or numerous surgeries. Like you said, I did the best I could for what I knew at the time. Also, I would not have had anymore children if Elijah had lived and I certainly can’t imagine my life without my 9 year old, Caleb. As I said in another comment, he truly healed my in many ways. Part of me may always wonder if I did the right thing but deep down, I would like to think that I made the right choice. Thank you for reading and for commenting,
This story makes my heart hurt every time I read it. I keep you in my thoughts and prayers every year since I have known you around this time of year. I cannot even begin to grasp what it feels like to lose a child, but I know your experiences have made you a strong, confident woman that Elijiah would be so proud of.
I love you girl and am so grateful for your friendship! YOu do a great job at remembering Elijah and that means a great deal to me! And you called me confident! 🙂
hugs margie. elijah will never be forgotten.
THank you Marlee, seems crazy that we met shortly after his death. Where has the time gone?
This is a beautiful and moving post. It brought tears to my eyes as well. God bless you and your little Elijah!
Thank you. It’s funny that you blessed me because about two years ago, I lost all of my religion. However, I still can’t make myself believe that Elijah isn’t an angel somewhere. 🙂
Thank you for sharing your story, Margie. I am at a loss for words. You have made me feel so much with this post…made me think about so much…and made me make sure I hugged my boys a little tighter tonight before bed. Peace and love to you, Momma!
I am so glad that you hugged your boys a bit tighter, I often remind myself to do the same.
Margie, I have no words for how beautifully written this piece is, and how horrifically heartbreaking it is. Thank you for writing this. I feel honored to have read it.
Thank you so much, that is truly overwhelming to read. I struggled with this one so I really appreciate your words.
Margie, thank you for sharing your story. I cannot imagine something more painful than losing your own child. Seeing the picture of you kissing him in the article makes me want to go back in time and give that 24 year old girl a huge hug and just weep with her. I am so utterly sorry for your loss.
At 24, I needed that hug too. I was so lost, so confused and SO naive. Thank you for your words.
Thank you for sharing such a moving story – it made me cry. What a difficult decision to have to make for your new baby. You certainly are a selfless heroic mother, who, even at the young age of 24, truly understood what it was to be a mother and to love your child more than yourself.
I have never had to make such a difficult decision. For me it was the decision to actually have children of my own which was the difficult part. Although I am glad I did! Thank you again for bringing to light what is truly important in life!
Thank you. I recently had to come to terms with not having anymore children so I understand the difficulty in your decision. 🙂 I appreciate your very kind words.
I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been. No one should have to go through that.