“When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world.” — John 16:21
I don’t remember the physical pain. I remember the words, the sounds and the feelings. In the days leading up to her birth, we were told there was a problem. I was transferred to another hospital — one that could better handle the crisis. Upon arrival there, a doctor said, “She needs to be born now.”
I remember the rushing around and the muffled voices. It didn’t seem real. How could this be happening? It was too soon. My baby wasn’t due for another five weeks.
I remember the struggled squeak of my baby’s voice as she emerged from me, and
then, not a split second passed before she was whisked away by a team of specialists. There was no time for sweet coos or soft welcoming words. I didn’t see her face nor did she see mine. My husband, Ted, was holding my hand. He was overcome with emotion.
“She’s crying. That’s a good sign,” the nurse said as she stroked my hair.
“Tell them, her name is ‘Karen,'” I said, and then I cried.
I do not remember the specifics of the next day. Those twenty-four hours are a blur of waiting, praying and hoping. Waiting for her to improve, praying for a miracle, and hoping beyond hope that she would live to experience childhood.
When I was finally able to see Karen, I was surprised at how perfect she looked. If not for all the tubes attached to her tiny body, you would not know there were countless problems going on beneath her delicate, pink skin. She had all of her fingers and toes. Her little nose was familiar, like one I had seen before in an old picture of me. She turned her head when I spoke. She was my baby girl. I was ready to take her home, but it was not to be.
At three days old, Ted held her. For eight months her heart and mine were neighbors. Now she was feeling her dad’s heartbeat, as she lay on his chest. This is where she spent her final moments. I rubbed her back and spoke softly, “I love you.”
I wasn’t strong or positive. As I was wheeled out of the hospital, I looked down at my arms. They were empty. I was empty. That’s not the way it was supposed to be. Trying to get into the car felt as difficult as getting into a rocket ship, weighed down by a heavy space suit. Every motion was an effort. My mind and my body were numb from grief, a grief I had yet to fully experience.
Losing a baby can be an especially lonely grief. For one thing, few others had shared memories of her.
I couldn’t easily reminisce with friends about the special things Karen did or the way she knew me when I spoke. Not many saw her face, and only Ted and I had touched her. Only I knew her little feet and tiny fists pushing up against my ribs or protruding out on my abdomen. Only I had the future planted firmly in my mind, one of a new baby to nurse and a little sister for my toddler. Only I envisioned her in the white wicker bassinette, handed down from her family of the many babies who had come before. For most everyone else, nothing had really changed in their lives, while I was feeling completely changed.
Friends and family did their best to comfort me, but it was the words of a stranger that helped me turn a corner. Ted’s boss had talked me into attending the company’s Christmas party. It felt way too soon to be with people or to celebrate in any way. Ted thought it would be helpful to be among friends. I reluctantly conceded, mostly because I didn’t have much fight in me to argue.
Many of the partiers knew about our loss. They expressed their sorrow and shared their thoughts for a better tomorrow — “it’s for the best,” or “you’ll have another,” or “things happen for a reason.” It’s what people say.
Quietly sitting with a glass of wine and trying to make an effort to be pleasant, someone I didn’t know began talking to me. For some reason, I shared my story. After all, the experience was only weeks old, and I hadn’t quite learned how not to talk about it. Thinking about it now, it must have been a terribly uncomfortable few moments for her. She probably sat down to make small talk, ready to discuss mundane holiday craziness, and here I dumped this deeply sad saga on her. She put her arm around me as my tears began to flow for probably the thousandth time. All these years later, her name and her face elude me, but her words resonated so deeply that I think about them all the time.
“You are now the mother of an angel and that’s quite an honor,” she said.
Karen was born 30 years ago today. I can’t help but reflect on her short life on earth and how my life’s course was forever altered. I also cannot help thinking about what it has meant to be the mother of an angel. It has been, and continues to be, an awesome responsibility.
When we were grieving, strangers offered prayers and dropped off food at our home.
They were parishioners of our church. They were “strangers” to us because we did not attend church very often. As parents of an angel, attending mass became a priority, and because of this, we established enduring friendships. We became involved with parish activities, celebrated joyful events and helped others in times of need. After a while, I met Sister Ann (see November 1, 2010 Blog Post) and other sisters at Trinita (www.msbt.org),
where our lives became further enriched, enhancing our connection to Jesus. Being deeply embedded in our faith community helped in all areas of our lives as it brought a broader meaning to everything we did.
For many years I struggled to find my niche in life. I could type and take shorthand, but I was not happy working in an office. My gifts are writing, art and quilting. After becoming the mother of an angel, I offered up my work to God. For thirty years, I have tried to give comfort to others wherever I could.
My little girl gave me a path to follow for which I am ever so grateful. Over the years, I have often felt her presence. At times of self-doubt and wondering if I have the strength for an upcoming task or test, I think of the strength Karen gave me to get through that most heart breaking and devastating time. I wanted to give up, but I didn’t. Mothers of angels do not give up!
On this special day, in honor of Karen Lynn Szypulski, I offer my prayers to all the mothers and fathers of angels. May you find peace in your specialness and tremendous love from the good works of the Lord. To all the doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who care for the innocent and helpless, thank you for honoring their lives with your skills. Thank you, too, for comforting the grieving parents. And to all the strangers who have the courage to say the right words at just the right moment, may God bless you for your kindness. You may never know whose life you have changed for the better!
Most of all, Happy Birthday to my sweet little angel! Mommy and Daddy will love you forever.
I love stitching Angels!