It's hard to believe, but nearly two years have now passed since the unexpected death of my goddaughter Natalee Ann.
For those who do not know, Natalee was born full-term after a normal pregnancy and delivery, but failed to take a breath at birth. I was there with my best friend Tammy and watched as the medical team spent 45 unsuccessful minutes trying to revive her.
She would have been two years old this July 6.
At the time, we had no answers but we were hopeful and even somewhat confident that we would soon. Babies don't just die like that, there had to be some kind of answer, right? We were sure that within a month or six weeks, we would know.
Here we are, two years later, and still searching for answers. The autopsy findings were inconsistent with medical records and with what I know to be true from having been in the room observing. We do know more than we did, but still have no conclusive cause of death. With what we know, Natalee should have been a sick baby. She should not be a dead one.
I realize it's not a story that is easy to hear. Some days it's not so easy to tell. Most days now it feels like it happened to someone else, not my best friend.
But it did, and as time goes on I'm realizing the ways Natalee's birth and death have forever changed me.
Some of those changes are obvious, but others are not. I realized this over the weekend when myself and a group of friends went to visit another friend whose son is in the NICU. While he's had some complications, he is healthy and fine and will likely be going home soon. On the surface, there was nothing about this visit that should have triggered thoughts of Natalee.
But while I waited in the hallway, I started looking at these pictures on the walls. Just outside the NICU, the walls are covered with framed, scrapbooked pages of babies whose lives depended on the NICU. Their parents have documented their stories - when they were born, complications they had, how long they spent in the NICU - and of course, included photos of them at one or two years old, having literally survived their ordeals and gone on to live healthy, normal lives. Many have included words of encouragement and inspiration - "Don't give up, miracles do happen," etc...
I kept thinking to myself, "how is it that these babies who were born weighing barely more than a pound are still alive and beautiful, sweet Natalee - who was 7 pounds and healthy - is not?"
And then I found myself looking for the stories that didn't have the storybook endings. I wanted to read about the parents who knew the kind of heartache my friend knows, the ones whose closest friends know how I feel. Those are the stories I can relate to, I can understand.
I didn't find any and it really didn't occur to me until several days later that - duh - those are probably not the kind of stories you will find outside of the NICU, where anxious parents are spending countless hours in worry and fear.
Maybe, maybe somewhere else in the hospital there is a place for those stories. I rather doubt it though - who wants to hear about the babies who didn't find divine intervention from the men in white coats? Who wants to hear about the parents whose birth stories ended in the cemetery?
As I've learned again and again over the past two years, very few people want to hear those stories. I know it's hard, because knowing it happened to someone - anyone - means it could happen to you. And we want to believe that every time a woman announces she is pregnant, it means that she'll be holding a beautiful, living, breathing baby in a matter of months.
I no longer have the luxury of believing that. My friend no longer has the luxury of believing that. It's one of the many things about my life that has changed because of Natalee.