By Jamie Henderson-Warren
Growing up I had never really dealt with grief or loss. At least not in the way I had imagined it to be. I thought grief was simply just being sad and missing someone. I was oblivious to the stages of grief until I had to embark on a personal journey with it. It was unlike anything I had ever imagined or could foresee. The best way to describe the feeling of waking up to the passing of my 6.5-week-old son to SIDS, is like I was stuck in a nightmare.
I had experienced traumas in my adolescence and early adulthood, but nothing had prepared me for the PTSD of that morning. In fact, nothing could have prepared me for the grief journey I was about to embark on. Grief left me in uncharted territory, and I had no clue where to begin to heal, or if I even wanted to.
When I found out I was having my second child, I was ecstatic. I already had a girl and now I was about to have a little boy; I felt as if my world was complete! After a few doctors’ appointments and finding out I had complete placenta previa, I knew that my pregnancy was going to be a high-risk one. I was unaware, however, that this meant I would be fighting every day to keep my baby alive in utero. My pregnancy consisted of numerous doctor visits, ultrasounds, and complete bed rest at five months. As a very active person, this was extremely hard for me. Every day I would worry that he or I would bleed out. That fear alone was what motivated me to follow my doctors’ orders and advice. I was informed that to prevent what I feared, we would have to have an early delivery via C-section to ensure our safety. I was warned of the risks of a premature delivery and given steroid shots to help boost his lung development. When the day finally came for me to meet my son, I felt a sense of relief and I could be free from my fear, so I thought.
When the time came to give birth to my son, my doctor informed me that he was sitting transverse, and they would have to perform a lateral C-section. She told me that there was a high chance of me needing blood transfusions to decrease the chances of me bleeding out. In that moment, I prayed for the best and tried to mentally prepare for the worst. Fortunately, the C-section went well, and the bleeding was minimal.
At 12:26 p.m. on March 16, 2015, I delivered a 20” tall, 7lbs 1 oz baby boy by the name Calvin. Again, I felt a short sense of relief. Immediately after delivery, I heard the nurses scrambling and my then-husband had the most fearful look on his face. It was at that moment I realized something was going terribly wrong. I wanted so badly to rip my arms from the restraints and reach for my baby who was struggling to cry. Yet, just as I could grasp the nature of the situation, they rushed him to the NICU without me even touching him. I had already fought so hard to protect my baby while in the womb and now we are having to fight even harder now that he has been born. He was being taken away and I was left there cut open, feeling so vulnerable and filled with that familiar sense of fear again. Soon after, I learned that Calvin was in respiratory distress and the hospital we were at was not capable of the higher level of care he needed. They transported him to a higher-level NICU that was 45 minutes away. They informed me that since I had just had a C-section, I would have to stay there and recover instead of going with Calvin.
It felt like I was being tortured. I was left there with uncertainty and no baby in my arms. I couldn’t reassure him that I was by his side and that everything was going to be okay. On the fifth day, I was released from the hospital and finally able to hold my son. That moment felt surreal. When I placed him on my chest, his vitals started to skyrocket! I needed him as much as he needed me. Day by day, Calvin got stronger, and we were able to take him home on day nine. I, again, began to feel relief and a sense of completion. We were going home!
Who knew that I would only experience 6.5 weeks with my sweet baby, my “little squish”, my chunky boy. In those six short weeks, I fell so in love with him. Fighting so hard for him made our bond that much stronger. On the morning of April 26, 2015, my world was turned upside down and I was faced with every parent’s worst nightmare. I woke up and found that he was blue and not breathing. In that moment all I could do was scream, rush him to my husband, and drop to the floor. When paramedics arrived, they began working on Calvin immediately without wasting any time. I remember hearing the sound of the ECG monitor as clear as day. As fast as I could blink, Calvin was being loaded into the back of the ambulance. The doctors did everything they could to bring my baby back, but it was too late.
Walking out of the hospital alone and without my baby, again, felt like I was stuck in a nightmare. The bright Phoenix sun felt dim and everything around me was blurred. The week to follow was the beginning of my grief journey. I couldn’t fight reality any longer, even if I wanted to.
My journey with grief was one I could never have imagined. I lost a part of my soul that morning and it took years to get to a place of healing. I went through every stage of grief and spent longer periods in certain stages than others. I struggled with depression, anxiety, and alcohol abuse. It was easier to drink and numb the pain than to face my reality. It wasn’t until I was in the “working through” stage of grief that I realized I still had life ahead of me and a daughter to be present for.
Journaling was the most effective coping skill that I utilized during my grief journey. On my hardest days, I was able to use my journal to reflect on how much progress I had made. I have always loved writing and found it was a great way for me to express my emotions. Even if what I wrote didn’t make sense, I got it out. Journaling also allowed me to talk to Calvin.
I have always loved helping people; it comes as second nature. My struggles with mental health led me to help others with the same struggle. I am currently pursuing my master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and working with at-risk adolescents. I am thankful that I was able to take hold of my grief instead of letting it dictate my life. Now, I can help others do the same. We will all have a different timeline for our grief journey and it’s important to remember that.
After eight years of continued healing, I was able to publish my first book. What I found in writing this book is that I am still healing. This experience, though therapeutic, left me very vulnerable. “Grappling with Grief and the Pathway to Peace” explores the stages of grief, reflects my personal journey with grief, and offers a guide to help others navigate grief. With this book, I hope to help others identify their “new normal” and remind them that they are not alone! At the end of the book, you will find guided reflection questions and a notes section to support you. Remember, it is okay to reach out for help! This too shall pass.
For more information about Jamie, you can check out her website.
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