My husband, Dave, passed away unexpectedly at age 40 of cardiac issues. There were exactly zero symptoms and no warning signs, no foreshadowing of any sort.
It was a sunny, brisk, autumn Sunday. He and our son, Jude, played hide-and-seek, then Jude scampered upstairs in his little sock feet for a nap. As I read Dr. Seuss to him in preparation for a restful afternoon sleep, life and death collided.
An alarming loud noise came from downstairs. As I scrambled to assess the situation, our little boy sat upstairs, patiently obeying my call for him to remain in his room.
I administered CPR with intermittent pleas to Jude to stay. I ran frantically to a neighbor’s house. I called 911. It’s a blur to look back on, unimaginable moments that now seem to stretch into days. In reality, it was mere minutes.
The paramedics arrived, leading me out of the kitchen while they attempted to revive my husband. For 45 minutes, they tried everything. I was curious why no one was in a hurry to get to the hospital. No sirens, no lights... In hindsight, I see it clearly. They knew the end had come ― a truth with which I still have difficulty.
Our life, as we knew it, hit the iceberg and collapsed. The captain of our ship was inexplicably and heart-wrenchingly gone. The next weeks and months were a blur. Shock is a gift of nature because it allows us to manage the pain. I tried to maintain our den for Jude as his fiercely protective Mama Bear. This 4-year-old boy was counting on me to keep life on some level plane of sense and reliability.
Jude was in preschool the next day, while I sought wisdom by surrounding myself with child grief counselors. How do you tell your child their father was there playing with them, then gone moments later?
I picked him up from preschool in his little red-hooded jacket. As we chatted about his day, I observed him in the rearview mirror. How will I tell him this? I thought. It was gut-sick leveling.
A counselor suggested I tell him calmly, in a quiet space where he was most comfortable. Children process these situations very differently from adults. I was advised to just tell him the truth, simply and matter-of-factly.
He wandered into the living room with his Thomas trains. I said, “Jude, Daddy was sick and he is not alive anymore.” He looked at me, bright blue eyes shimmering blankly. After a few seconds, he said, “I’m gonna go play with my trains some more.” He walked to his playroom down the hall.
Children grieve in their own ways, many unspoken. His came forth in sadness and longing, over the course of a few years. My tears had to wait, and that was fine with me; nothing was more important than carrying this boy through our typhoon of grief. All of my energies were devoted to Jude in his time of uncertainty.
Eventually I went to therapy, and Jude went to grief camps just for kids. Somehow we survived this upheaval, though not unscathed. Jude and I are scarred in ways that render Band-Aids moot. We remain a hurting duo. Near nightly, Jude will say, with tear-filled blue eyes, “I miss Daddy.” No one ever gets over losing someone they love. We just learn a different way of living.
I continue to speak with a counselor, but to be honest, my main worry is and will always be for my son and his OK-ness. I’m open to love, and hope one day for a partner to commit to a life with Jude and me. But so far we have managed ― and pretty well, considering.
Five and a half years later, after Dave’s untimely death, I long for a sibling for Jude. And for the record, Jude longs for a little brother or sister... preferably brother.
As the youngest in a large family, I had always hoped to have several children, but my journey of infertility and miscarriages was a roller coaster.
After seven miscarriages alternating with infertility over the course of 10 years, after multiple IUIs and one failed IVF attempt, my sister-in-law offered to be our gestational carrier. Dave and I thought about it for a few months, then decided to take her up on her exceptionally generous offer.
While we certainly wanted a baby, it was hard for us to imagine her in pain on our behalf. Yet with all of my diagnoses from tests, surgeries and procedures coming back as “unknown infertility,” this was the only route that made sense.
We sold our house to pay for the $20,000 procedure. When my IVF physician brought out my six-inch-thick folder, I suggested he could title it “War and Peace.” The “war” portion lasted 10 years. Peace only arrived when we heard Jude’s newborn cries.
When Jude was created through IVF, there were two remaining healthy embryos, a male and a female. These embryos have sat on ice at the fertility center for 10 years. My fabulous gynecologist refers to them as “baby popsicles.” Dave and I had planned to have more children with the remaining embryos, though we knew with the monumental expense, it would have to wait, maybe indefinitely.
After Dave’s death, my desire to use the embryos skyrocketed. As a widowed single mom, what were serious obstacles before ― the costs involved, the need for a carrier ― now seemed exponentially more daunting. How would I even begin to locate a carrier? How would I pay for any of it? We live on Social Security death benefits. I’m a graduate student with a part-time job. I knew the $30,000 to $35,000 in agency fees was not something I could ever afford.
Fortunately, after researching online, I found someone who connects intended parents to surrogates and gestational carriers. She charges much less than agencies, and guides the parties each step of the way. It is because of her that I have met a wonderful woman on the East Coast who seems to be a match.
The carrier began her medicine protocol two weeks ago. In one month, she will come to Nashville, where I live, for the embryo transfer. If a pregnancy results, she will be monitored by her physician in her hometown, and I will travel there for the delivery. I can count the number of people I’ve told about this on one hand ― until now.
These embryos are Dave’s genetic makeup. They are miniature versions of the son I adore so much. Incredibly, the IVF physician says the embryos are as viable as the day they were frozen. No time has passed for the embryos. Science is remarkable.
My gynecologist says it’s bold of me to go marching into this unknown territory. But I just think it’s time. Victor Hugo said, “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” The embryos’ time for living is now.
If a viable pregnancy results, and we reach the 20-week mark, I will explain this to Jude. I will describe how he was created and born, and explain that this sister or brother is his biological sibling. As of now, I’m keeping this close to the vest. I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up only to be dashed.
In a way, it’s like bringing Dave’s spirit back into the world. Of course, I recognize it’s not actually his presence, but the embryos are at least one-half him. They are also Jude’s little brother and sister, just patiently waiting for their Mama Bear to call them forth into our loving den. I want them very much.
It’s difficult not to get my hopes up, and I hesitated even to share this story. But I believe in timing, and I will keep the faith that a child will be born who shares his or her father’s humanity.