Teri Stevens lives in Napa with her husband, son and twin daughters. She is a founding member of the Write On Mamas and serves as the group's marketing director.
This essay was reprinted with permission from the upcoming 'Mamas Write.'
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"Hi, I'm sorry, I know it's the middle of the night. I'm at the hospital, something terrible happened. The baby was born early. It was a boy, and he didn't make it."
Shock on the other end of the line. "What? How?"
I looked around the hospital room, unable to believe I was having this conversation.
"I was in pain," I explained through my tears, "I called 911, and I wasn't in the emergency room for more than a few minutes and I gave birth." Bill told me he was so sorry and that he would be home as soon as possible and asked to talk to the doctor. I don't remember what was said. Thankfully, I fell asleep, escaping the reality of what happened for a short time.
I remember the nurses telling me what a beautiful baby he was, that his hair was blonde, like mine. It didn't look like that when the nurses brought him in to me, since his head had been bruised from the quick delivery; I thought his hair was dark, like his father's.
Later, while lying alone in the hospital room, I heard a knock on the door, and an older woman who was some sort of grief counselor came into the room. She sat at the side of the bed and told me she was sorry for my loss.
"Don't lose hope, it will get better," she said fiercely, as if her tone had the ability to make me believe. "Spring always brings new life after winter." Usually a polite person, I turned away from her attempt to comfort me and asked to be left alone.
And then Bill was there, crying with me and holding my hand, sorry that he had been away. Before coming to my room, he had met and held our son. What he thought in those moments, I'll never know. I told Bill I named him Jeffrey, after my cousin who had passed when we were children.
Before I was discharged, I asked to see Jeffrey again. Bill thought it might not be a good idea, but I was adamant. I had experienced so many emotions in such a short time: fear that I would give birth, heartbreak that I did too soon, guilt that it was my fault, loss of the child I would never know. I realized I should have been spending time with the one I would never see again. He was so tiny, dressed in baby blue, lying in a small basket. I kissed his cool forehead. So did Bill. Our goodbyes.
In the dark months after Jeffrey passed, I never thought I would have a family. These thoughts were compounded when we did get pregnant a few months later, only to lose the pregnancy due to complications. And then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My whole being was saturated in grief. I am grateful that ultimately I was determined to create a family, and had the support of a loving husband who was open and willing to pursue other options.
Today, I feel that somehow, even though he is gone, Jeffrey was looking out for us. Two years and one day after Jeffrey's due date, our adopted son, Alex, was born. And then three years and one day after Jeffrey was born and passed, his sisters, Emerson and Mikayla, were born. Which means, strangely enough, that right now I have three children who are all six years old.
I watch their heads bob up and down as they peruse the children's library DVD section. I think about Jeffrey and wonder how different my life would be had he survived. Certainly it would be full and rich. But it would be different.
Jeffrey is not here in the physical sense, but through writing about him and the family that resulted from his presence, I am able to make some sense as to why he isn't here, and to keep the memory of my son Jeffrey Thaddeus Stevens alive.
There was a before. But now there is also an amazing and full after.