By Gabrielle. Photos by Kharisma Studios.
When Robin bravely wrote to me and suggested a different sort of home tour, I immediately wrote back to send her a tight squeeze. I am so proud of this woman for sharing her story with us, and inviting us all into her life for the day.
This one made me cry several times, but more than that, I admire her beyond the moon. Please welcome her with your kindness, won’t you?
Hi everyone! I’m Robin. Welcome to our home.
Currently it’s just me and my husband, Mark, living in our home. I work for a large charter school network in Phoenix overseeing operations, enrollment, and reporting and compliance for the 22 schools in our network. Mark works at the Mayo Clinic as an Instrument Technician. He does all the things you don’t think about but are essential to a hospital functioning: ordering supplies, sterilizing surgical equipment, etc.
Mark is an old man living in a 30-year old’s body. On most Saturday mornings, you can find him sitting in his favorite chair, drinking his coffee and staring into space. He’s not watching TV or checking his phone; he’s just sitting and being. I, on the other hand, can’t sit still to save my life. So while he sits, I dart around attempting to cross things off my to-do list. He’s good for me; he has taught me how to enjoy life and rest. I am happiest and most at ease when I am with him.
And we should be living with our son, William Earle, who would be three months old at this point. But sadly, due to complications during his delivery (meconium aspiration) he was without oxygen for several minutes leaving him brain dead. He died peacefully in our arms at four days old. So ours is a story of when you thought you would be living with kids and suddenly you aren’t.
In the years after college, I lived in Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. And then I moved back to Phoenix. When I met and married my husband, I knew I would live in Phoenix for the rest of my life since he is a fourth generation Arizonan. And I absolutely love living in Central Phoenix so I am completely on board with this plan.
The thing about Phoenix is that it has all of the commodities of a big city — zoo, sports teams, airport — with the small town feeling. Just this past Saturday, I ran into a friend while I was out hiking and then ran into two different sets of friends while out to lunch with my sister. I love that! And I love so many other things as well: all of the locally owned restaurants, the numerous hiking trails ten minutes from our house, the fact that the sun shines almost everyday, and so much more.
But most importantly, both of our families are here. I can’t even begin to imagine walking through the last few months without our families. We both come from close tight-knit families, but walking through Will’s death has brought us all even closer together.
Sometimes you just need your mom, no matter how old you are.
I bought this house when I was in my late twenties and beginning to think that I might never find a guy that I wanted to marry. I struggled to find a house that I wanted to buy because they all felt so cookie-cutter, full of beige tile and paint. I also wanted a house with some personality, which is often hard to come by in Phoenix!
When I bought this house, it needed so much love and attention. Picture in your mind: 33-year old beige carpet, a wall of floor-to-ceiling mirrors in the master bedroom, a swimming pool filled with green algae, and more! I brought one of my best girlfriends over and she took one look and said, “Robin, I think this is a mistake.”
But I could see through all of the grime, and I saw big windows and ceiling beams and a floor plan perfect for entertaining. So I got it for a steal and renovated the whole thing before moving in. About a year later, I met my husband. Turns out he also has an eye for home improvements; he owned a condo which he had completely renovated himself. I was so impressed the first time I saw his condo that while he was in the bathroom, I took a couple photos and texted them to my best friend. Ha!
I loved this house before I married my husband but it has really felt like a home, our safe haven since he moved in. We’ve hung things on the walls (I had a phobia of this previously!) and bought furniture to fill empty rooms…but most of all we filled it with memories and love.
When we came home from the hospital without Will, our home that we had adored days previously suddenly felt too quiet and empty. The silence was deafening since we had been anticipating it being filled with the cries of a newborn baby.
We went away for a week to California the day after Will’s memorial service. When it was time to go home, we were both nervous and dreading it given all the reminders of what was to be but was not. We stopped at Pei Wei on the way home from the airport and the fortune I got said, “Your home is a pleasant place from which you will draw happiness.” I took that as a sign from God. And it has been a place of refuge during this time: a place to be safe, to hide from the world, to cry and laugh and feel however we want to. But it also still quiet. So sometimes on a normal Tuesday night you’ll find us roaming Costco just so we aren’t sitting at home in our quiet house.
The day I found out I was pregnant with Will was one of the best days of my life. I have dreamed about being a mother since I was a little girl. I was on cloud nine. My brother texted me when I was six weeks pregnant and we hadn’t told anyone I was pregnant, “I have never seen you this happy.” It’s true. I felt such joy and gratitude and thankfulness and exuberance throughout my pregnancy. My dreams of being a mother were finally coming true.
My pregnancy was pretty non-eventful. Every test and ultrasound came back totally normal and perfect. Our baby (we didn’t find out the sex) was growing perfectly in my womb. Every indication we had was that we would be delivering a healthy baby just in time for Christmas.
I am a planner through and through, so the moment I found out I was pregnant, I started making lists of house projects I wanted to complete and things we needed to do to prepare for baby. One of the biggest projects to tackle was painting over the blue/black paint in our extra bedroom. It took my dear, sweet husband four coats of paint to cover it up. We chose a pale mint green that transformed the room into a peaceful sanctuary.
He humored my need to get the nursery set up far in advance of our baby arriving. I believe I had the crib assembled and set up when I was 20 weeks pregnant. I was just so excited that I couldn’t help myself!
I spent many hours searching online for things for our baby’s nursery and coming up with projects for my husband to complete, like turning wire baskets into book baskets and hanging Christmas ornaments to create a mobile. One of the most special parts of the nursery that I loved putting together, are all of the photos of Mark and I as babies. I couldn’t wait to see who our baby would look like – mostly me, for the record.
I also felt the need to redecorate many parts of our house while pregnant, buying new bedding, putting together a gallery wall, etc. Again, my wonderful husband humored me. And I went through almost every cupboard and drawer in our house to make room for our baby and all the stuff that I knew came along with them. I cleared a cabinet in the kitchen for all of the bottles and cleared out two drawers in our living room for toys and I could go on and on and on. I was going to be as prepared as I could be.
Like I mentioned, I was just so excited that I started dreaming almost immediately about plans for our home with children. I spent many days washing dishes at the kitchen sink, dreaming of turning the wasted space off of our kitchen into a play area. I also had dreams of turning our atrium into a space with a water table and easel for our kids to play in. I could already picture the joy and laughter filling up our home. I dreamed of the photos our photographer would take of us with our newborn baby in many of the different spots in our house.
And we collected many special items for our beloved baby. Thankfully both of our parents had saved so many things from our childhoods: the blanket Mark’s grandmother made him, the stocking I came home from the hospital in, the mint blanket and hat that my Nana knit for me when I was born, and a family heirloom christening gown. There were so many other people excited for Will’s arrival — we had four showers thrown for us. We received so many thoughtful gifts including many homemade blankets.
The best analogy I have for his delivery and the aftermath is that we were driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible with the top down. The sun was shining, and we were giddy and carefree. And then out of nowhere a huge semi t-boned us completely totaling the car. None of us saw it coming.
Maybe you have had a baby like Will; he just didn’t want to be born. His due date of December 14 passed right on by with zero signs of labor, then my birthday passed on December 20 with still almost zero signs of labor, and then Christmas arrived with some very mild and completely inconsistent contractions. On the day after Christmas, we attempted some natural labor induction methods and, boy oh boy, did they work! I had just always expected to be in labor for hours, maybe even close to days since both my mother and sister were and this was my first baby. But when my labor started, it came fast and furious. Two hours after feeling my first contraction, they were already coming one on top of each other about one minute apart. And three hours after my first contraction, I was fully dilated and starting to feel the urge to push. At this point we were at the birth center where we had planned to deliver, and I was in the tub working through contractions. Even though my labor came on fast and furious, I felt strong and peaceful and in control. Mark and I have always worked as a team really well, and I felt our connection and strength as a couple as we worked through the contractions together.
And then Will’s heart rate dropped but came back up. And then it dropped again. So they immediately called an ambulance to transport us the quarter of a mile to the hospital. Suddenly there were six paramedics there loading me onto a stretcher and transferring me to the hospital. Somehow in the midst of all of this, I was calm and focused on the task at hand. We arrived at the hospital and within five minutes I delivered him.
My first thought after pushing him out was how proud I was of myself — I did it! And I did it under pretty intense circumstances! And then they didn’t let me see him and no one was telling me what was happening and they whisked him away to the NICU and my feeling of pride quickly turned to shock and fear and sadness.
To be honest, what I remember most about his delivery is bright lights and lots of people crowded in a small room and everyone screaming at me to push him out. It was so sudden and so far from what I had pictured in my mind for the ten months prior. I still replay it over and over and over again in my head trying to figure out what I could have done differently to lead to a different outcome. But it’s done. He’s really gone. So I am praying for acceptance…and I’m working on not replaying it over and over again.
Oh goodness…we are still trying to cope each and every day. Some days are numb and normal and you catch glimpses of yourself before your whole life shattered before your eyes. On other days, I wake up and the tears are flowing almost immediately.
One of the best things I’ve done to cope is to accept help. Somehow it became shameful to need or accept help in our society. But you know what, sometimes we all need a little help. Sometimes you are 33 years old and need your sister to accompany you to get your haircut or sometimes you need to line up “babysitters” for you when your husband goes back to work because you are panicked about being alone or sometimes you need to stop at your aunt’s house on the drive home for a hug because the tears won’t stop flowing. We thankfully have the most incredible friends and family who have taken such good care of us.
We’ve always loved to travel and have found that is helping us to cope in different ways. Like I mentioned, right after Will died my sister booked for us to stay at a little cottage in Stinson Beach for a week. We needed that week. It gave us a chance to regroup, rest, process, and grieve as a couple without the distractions of anyone else. Since then, we’ve also taken a stay-cation to a hotel five miles from our house. We’ve found that sometimes you need a break from reality and all the reminders of Will. Of course, we are still thinking of him but the weight feels lifted a little bit and we can breathe.
And I think pretty much everyone can benefit from counseling. I, for one, will most likely be going for a very long time.
And you do other crazy things to cope like taking photos of cute whale swim trunks you want to buy at Target and texting them to your mom and sister. Someone told me you should do whatever you need to in order to cope and I believe that is so true. No one grieves in the same way.
One of the best pieces of advice that I was given was that Mark and I were going to grieve in different ways and that was okay. I’m much more verbal and want to talk and talk and talk. He’s much more of a thinker, not saying much. But I always know when he is thinking about Will, because he’s got his Will beer mug out (he’s an avid beer collector and I would say snob!). So far, through lots of work and counseling and grace for each other, this is making our relationship stronger. We love each other dearly. I am determined to not let this destroy us.
Personally, the worst for me is when people know what happened and say nothing. They don’t even acknowledge that I just lost my long-awaited, beautiful baby boy. I think sometimes people don’t say anything because it is uncomfortable for them or they don’t know what to say, and I just want to scream at them, “How do you think I feel? All of life has been uncomfortable for me since this happened!” (And I am not a screamer.)
In case you’re wondering what to say to someone in a situation like this, I think all you need to say is, “I was so sad to hear about William.” If I want to talk about it, I will direct the conversation from there or I will simply say thank you and move on if I don’t feel like talking that day.
We’ve left his room up and, strangely, it has become my favorite place to be. If I am home by myself, you can almost always find me in Will’s nursery. When it all first happened, it helped me to cope with the shock. I just sat there and wrote in my journal and stared into space and talked to God and tried to wrap my mind around the fact that my baby is dead. I still can’t believe it sometimes.
It’s such a beautiful, peaceful room. The very first thing that we bought for his nursery was the print above his crib which says, “Mightier than the waves of the sea is His love for you.” I have to believe that God knew that I would need to see and read that reminder after Will passed away. That He sees my pain, He understands what I am experiencing, and He loves me. I believe God can handle me coming to him with my questions and anger and pain.
As the weeks go on and I’m being expected more and more to be a functioning member of society, I am drawn to Will’s nursery because I feel most connected to him there. I have one of the huge photos we had on display at his memorial propped up in his crib. I sit there and stare at my beautiful boy. He was so perfect. That is what makes this so hard to bear.
The part that feels hard to me are all of the other reminders found throughout our house: opening the cupboard for the first time to do laundry and seeing the baby laundry detergent, or opening the cupboard below the sink in the bathroom and seeing all of the cute baby towels washed and folded and ready to go. So I have taken most of the things that I don’t want to see and crammed them all in the closet. I’ll deal with them another day.
It took me almost six weeks to take the car seat base out of the car. It just felt so final that we really were not bringing him home.
Yes, we will try again. To me the risk is worth it. I have just always wanted to be a mother, that’s how I have always pictured myself…surrounded by a bunch of kids and babies. The thought of trying again brings up feelings of fear and hope and panic and joy. But most of all it brings us hope.
We talk about our future kids quite a bit. But no future child can ever replace our beloved Will. We will always miss him and wonder so many things. Would his hair have stayed that beautiful shade of strawberry blonde? What would his personality been like? Would he have been tall and skinny like his dad? Would he had played sports? So many questions…
I think it’s so important to get outside the bubble you live in. Thankfully during my teens and twenties, I had the chance to do service trips to high-need areas in Mexico, Africa, and India, and I taught middle school through Teach for America in inner-city Philadelphia. I have spent time with some of the neediest and hungriest people in the world. I have thought of them often since losing Will. Because even though they had so little, they were filled with such incredible joy.
I will never forget when I was 21 years old, I was supposed to speak to a group of probably 200 young girls in a refugee camp. Somehow my speech went out the window and they began asking me the most tragic questions, like what do I recommend they do to avoid being raped? Minutes before, these same girls had been dancing and singing and praising God.
So in the midst of the greatest heartbreak of my life, I try to think about the many blessings I have in my life and all that I have to be thankful for. Even without Will, I have an incredibly blessed life. I have a husband who I love dearly, a beautiful, safe, warm home to live in, and more friends and family than I could even count. I am blessed.
So I guess the advice I would give to others is to try to find opportunities that give you perspective. If you are knee-deep right now in the challenges of parenting (my best friend’s little boy is on a sleep boycott!), find someone like me to talk to, to remind you to be thankful even when the parenting days are long and challenging. We would give anything to be cleaning up spit up and losing sleep.
And if you are currently longing and hoping and dreaming of living with kids yourself, I just want you to know that you aren’t alone. When this happened to me, I only knew one person who had lost their newborn baby. All around me are friends with happy, healthy babies and kids. It often feels like everyone gets to have a baby except me. So I just want you to know that you aren’t alone. I am sending you a virtual hug.
It’s hard to know what to say in situations like this, so thank you, Robin, for sharing what meant the most to you. I love how you’re finding comfort in Will’s nursery, and I hope that feeling of peace keeps growing in your heart. We are with you and Mark.
One more thing. The nighttime photo of Robin and Mark’s dining room? She snapped that photo herself the night before Will’s delivery. She wanted to remember their last dinner as just the two of them.
P.S. – Are you living with your own kids in a unique way? Are you interested in sharing your home and experiences with us? Let me know! We love to be inspired! And it’s a lot of fun…I promise! I should also mention, I have a goal to bring more diverse points of view to Design Mom this year. So if you don’t see yourself or your community reflected here, let’s make it happen — send in your details, or recommend a friend! Take a peek at all the homes in my Living With Kids series here.