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From The Greatest Heights (Part XI)

My world had collapsed in a matter of hours. The pregnancy had been trying and difficult, but I really believed that things would work out. We had done everything the doctors asked of us, but it was not enough.

We had suffered through an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. My wife had to go through labor and deliver our children to their deaths, and I was unable to save them or even give them a little warmth while they died.

As you could imagine, I was heartbroken. Realizing that the heating lamp was off was when I lost it. I ripped off my mask and gloves and started to walk out until the neonatologist called me back. No one had time to explain the rules, and if I left, I would not be allowed back into the labor and delivery room. I froze. I couldn’t leave my children and I couldn’t leave my wife. I couldn’t let them go, at least not yet.

And then…I understand that physicians need to distance themselves from their patients in order to deal with the tragedies they encounter, but I was shocked when the doctor turned to me and said “No one else will tell you this, but the babies were born alive, so you can declare them as dependents this year on your taxes.”

This was as close as I have ever gotten to punching someone in the face. I could not believe that anyone could be that cold. Fortunately, I realized how emotionally compromised I was and walked away.

That same doctor declared that the babies were perfectly healthy, although hopelessly premature. The hospital asked me if I wanted an autopsy. I refused instinctively, as I assumed that such a procedure would be prohibited by Jewish law. In any event, it wasn’t necessary because all indications were that the babies were healthy. There was hope that another pregnancy carried to term could produce a healthy child.

As I stood next to my wife’s bed, one of the nurses turned to me and said, “Mr. Shapiro, I have to say that you and your wife handled this as well as anyone possibly could.” It was small comfort at the time, but we had made it through the impossible.

While my wife was recovering, the hospital staff came to fill out our twins’ birth and death certificates. They asked me if I wanted to give them names. I hadn’t thought much about it, and I didn’t have the opportunity to confer with my wife. I chose two Biblical names I knew we would never use for any possible future children, Asher and Devorah.

After my wife awoke, the nurses brought both babies for us to see one more time. They had been wrapped in blankets and each was wearing a knitted cap. They were cold and motionless. We both held them for a few moments, crying silent tears. I spent several minutes stroking my twins’ cheeks as I said my final goodbye. My son’s mouth was slightly open. I pushed up gently on his chin to close his lips, and I gave myself some comfort in the thought that he was a fighter.

I didn’t want to let them go. I couldn’t let them go; I had no choice. With one final goodbye, the nurse took our beloved children to the morgue to be picked up by the Chevra Kadisha.

I needed some time to get away. It was a bad idea, but I drove to a local pizza store to get some food. It must have been some sight, driving down the 101 Freeway, crying loudly and smacking my hand against the steering wheel over and over again.

I spent that night in the hospital with my wife. I could no longer hide my crying from her, and was amazed that she was actually comforted by the fact that I shared some of her pain. She couldn’t understand how I could be so utterly unaffected by this whole ordeal. I had accomplished my goal of being strong when I really needed to be.

In truth, our suffering was just beginning. There is no formal mourning for babies that do not live at least 30 days. That means no shiva, no funeral and the babies are buried in an unmarked grave. It seemed so wrong. It made me feel like my beloved babies were nonentities as far as Judaism was concerned, and yet I needed people to understand how much I loved them and how much they meant to me.

About the Author: Chaim Shapiro, M.Ed is a freelance writer, public speaker and social media consultant. He is currently working on a book about his collegiate experience. He welcomes comments and feedback at chaimshapiro@aol.com or on his website: http://chaimshapiro.com/


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One Response to “From The Greatest Heights (Part XI)”

  1. Victoria Clarkson says:

    Thank you for sharing your pain. It was a beautiful story. A story of love. I wish you and your wife peace.

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Just a few months ago, I was having a difficult time getting a refund for a missing product processed via the customer service call center at a major retailer. After spending hours on hold and having my request denied, I sent a Tweet to the company’s Twitter account.

I have a background in counseling, and I can say that the biggest mistake that I ever made was refusing psychological help after we lost the twins. I was trying to keep my tough-guy facade going, and convinced myself that I could deal with the pain.

We had suffered through an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. My wife had to go through labor and deliver our children to their deaths, and I was unable to save them or even give them a little warmth while they died.

Special Note: It is an unusual phenomenon that many bereaved parents share. We can almost see our age-adjusted children in our sukkah or running up to us during a family simcha. As quickly as they come, those visions seem to disappear as we go through the life cycle. They are hard moments made harder by the thoughts of not only what could have been, but what should have been.

I had to believe that things were going to be ok. They just had to be ok. We had gone through so much, had sacrificed so much and were doing everything the doctors told us to do. I remember speaking to a hesitant professor in my Ph.D. program about getting an incomplete in her class. The conversation stands out in my mind because, looking back, I can see how odd it must have seemed as I matter-of-factly told her I was too busy for coursework because my twins’ amniotic sack was bulging through my wife’s cervix.

On our first day in the antepartum unit, one of the nurses mentioned how critical every moment of pregnancy really was. “One minute in is worth two minutes out (in an incubator).” We weren’t really expecting a premature birth, but her comment put a fine point on the importance of the care my wife was receiving.

The best way to describe our emotions the morning of our major ultrasound was nervous excitement. We had survived a serious scare with a threatened miscarriage a few weeks prior. My wife was on bed rest at home, but we had no real reason to assume there would be any new problems.

It was only after we celebrated the great news that we were expecting twins that we saw the first sign of problems. First of all, my wife was losing, not gaining weight, even as the babies continued to grow normally. Soon after, routine blood work revealed that my wife was suffering from gestational diabetes.

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