We spent 7 hours with Keller. 7 incredible hours. 7 heart breaking hours. I have moments when I believe 7 hours was the perfect amount of time with Keller’s body, and I bask in the beauty of those 7 hours. I have moments when I believe 7 hours wasn’t even close to enough time, and I rage at myself for not clinging to his body for as long as humanly possible. I still have a lot of rage in my heart. I am so incredibly angry. I’m angry at death. I’m angry that the plans I had laid out for our family are shattered. I’m angry that it has been an entire year. I’m just really angry. I think anger is ok though. Death isn’t what God meant for us. His intention has always been that eternal moment.
Eyes closed, I stroked Keller’s tiny hands, and really, I swelled with pride as any mother would. He wasn’t alive, but he was still every bit as much my boy – Our son. I had just given birth to Keller Norman Bartlett. The Lord gifted me a few moments to swim in motherly pride.
Everyone let me know that I could hold onto Keller for as long as I wanted. No one rushed or interrupted our time with him. I scooped him up into my arms and protectively cradled him. I didn’t let anyone else hold him for a while. I couldn’t bring myself to even offer. I needed to hold him. I needed to not let him go.
Nathan had a difficult time holding Keller. Holding a stillborn baby is nothing like holding a living newborn child. Every movement of his tiny body reinforced that he was very much gone from this life. Holding Keller made Nathan angry. His pallor, his heaviness, his cool skin, his floppy limbs all screamed that he would never live. As Wendy put it, “Giving birth to a lifeless, silent baby felt wrong on every level.” Holding Keller reaffirmed that Nathan’s son was dead, and this filled him with rage. Just wake up! Why won’t you wake up!? Just open your eyes! Nothing can change this reality. Death is infuriating. Death should make us angry. I feel comfortable being angry with death. Death is not from God.
It took a couple of hours for everyone to become adjusted to the reality of Keller’s appearance. Once we all settled in to the shock, we worked to breathe in every moment.
Nathan cut the cord. What is generally a moment of pride, tasted incredibly bitter.
I’ve yet to share with many people, but I’m certain many are curious as to just what happened to our healthy and thriving boy. Keller’s umbilical cord got wrapped around his ankle and formed a tight knot. This knot cut his growing body off from his life source. In what we have learned was likely a span of 10 minutes, his heart stopped beating and he met eternity. There is a lot about the simplicity of his death that brings me comfort. There is a lot about the simplicity of his death that fills me with anger. I want to scream and break things fairly often.
Abby arrived shortly after Keller was born and captured our precious few moments with our son. We were all so proud. He was just so perfect. I got my mom to pull out a few things I had packed for him in our hospital bag – his baby brother shirt and a crocheted cap. The hat fit his head just right.
Nathan climbed into bed next to me and we took time to adore each inch of Keller. I can still feel his weight in my arms. I can still imagine the temperature of his skin. We road out the highs and the lows of the waves with Keller in our arms. We would stare at him and weep bitter tears of anguish. We would stare at him and beam the love God ties up in the hearts of parents. It’s a love that allows us to more clearly and intimately understand the love the Lord has for us. He calls us his children. His love is infinitely more perfect than mine will ever be, so my brain can’t even begin to imagine the fierce love for us He has tied up in His heart.
I spread out his receiving blanket, swaddled him, and nestled him into my chest. Nathan pressed in close to both of us. And then, we all napped. I let Keller know that napping on top of your mommy’s chest is pretty much the absolute BEST thing about being a newborn, so I’m glad he got to experience it. We really truly all fell asleep in each others arms. It was bliss. Sorrowful bliss.
My parents then took turns holding him. (Not for very long, as I said, my mommy arms desperately needed him.) I know it was torture bearing witness to their first born writhing in the pain of the sudden death of her son. The Lord strengthened them. They strengthened me. The sacrificial love of Jesus filled each and every soul in that room.
Nathan. Oh my Nathan. You are my hero. You are my champion. I need to let you all know the immense love Nathan personified that day. I think Wendy captured it perfectly,
“He was never away from your side, never shirking back, never seeming to have any needs of his own, wholly focused on being with you through this and sharing in it all WITH you as completely as he possibly could. He was Jesus in the room.”
It was no longer he that lived, but Christ in Nathan. Thank you. With every ounce of everything I have to give, thank you.
Due to the anesthesia, I couldn’t yet move my legs, so my mom, dad, and our nurse weighed and measure Keller on the other side of the room. Truthfully, I also had a very difficult time seeing his body behave so unnaturally. I needed to hold him and be with him in as newborn like of a state as possible. So my parents took on the task of unwrapping his swaddle and gently laying him on the table to gather his weight and height.
8 lbs 5 oz. 21.5 in. And aren’t those tiny feet darling? New wrinkly baby feet are good for the soul.
The entire gamut of emotions intertwined in those seven hours, and honestly, they harmonized perfectly. Jesus knows our hearts. He knows. He isn’t confused by or scared of our emotions. He sees us and reaches out his hand with compassion. He held us in his hand that day. He’s holding me in his hand right now. That’s the only power I have to relive and write all these memories. It’s divine power.
7 hours. I hate that I only had 7 hours with you Keller. I love that I had 7 full hours with you son. I am furious that you were so perfect, but still completely lifeless. I am thankful that though your tiny body was completely lifeless, you still looked so perfect and so like our son.
Thank you Lord for knowing my heart. Thank you for seeing past the warring emotions that cloud my view. Thank you for an absolutely perfect 7 hours with our son.