In Honor of Sebastian James
When my husband Jamie and I got married in October of 2016, we quickly found ourselves expecting our first child. We blissfully lived through all the joy and excitement of those months, and rearranged our lives to prepare for the baby. I quit my teaching job at the end of the school year to have more time for our son, and we adjusted our finances to prepare for the new arrival. We were 23 years old and knew little about pregnancy or parenting. Each doctor’s appointment was part of this exciting adventure, and we had every reason to be confident about the health of our baby. We looked forward to holding our little guy in our arms and what a blessing it was to be worry-free.
At 35 weeks, about a month before the due date, we were on vacation in St. Augustine, Florida and our son suddenly stopped moving. After a day of feeling no kicks or turns we quickly rushed to the nearest hospital. After a grueling 40-minute wait in the sunny delivery room at Flagler, the doctor came in and said, “We couldn’t find a heartbeat.” We were forced to put our grief on hold as we flew back to Virginia so I could be induced. Our son was stillborn on the evening of Friday, July 21st 2017. During the delivery, we saw that he had died from a cord accident; the cord had wrapped around his neck two times, which cut off his nutritional supply.
We named him Sebastian James, a name we’d had picked out for a long time. He was perfect at 20 inches long and 5.2 pounds. He had a strong barrel chest like his dad and muscular arms and legs like me; all those kicks I’d experienced definitely shone through.
I barely cried while we were in the hospital. My body was so focused on giving birth that I felt numb from the pain of losing my child. The nurses and doctors were amazing and we luckily had people who guided us through each step, like encouraging us to take pictures (something I initially didn’t want, but now am so grateful for). The hospital even put a little butterfly on our doorway to indicate loss so that anyone who entered would know in advance. In some way, our days there were filled with an odd kind of peace and we cherished the moments we had with our son as we prayed, took pictures, baptized him, and marveled at his flawless little body. I only vividly remember crying when we tried to sing to him. Sebastian was dead, and we would never get to take him on hikes, teach him to throw a football, or do any of the other things parents do with their kids.
We have always been proud parents of our dear Sebastian, but at the time we would never have imagined that parenting could look like this.
After about a week, when it came time for Sebastian’s funeral, the walls that had protected me from grief came crashing down. I suddenly faced the most difficult suffering I had ever encountered. During this intense grief, God kept sending reminders that He was with us and this provided us with much comfort.
In the months after Sebastian was born, dozens of people sent cards, flowers, and meals our way. Two of my friends immediately booked flights to visit me for a week each in the first month after he died. Someone anonymously sent us flowers every month for a year. Other friends of ours pooled a bunch of money together to send us on a trip to Europe. We were showered with love and, above all, prayers from more people than we will ever know. But at the time it felt like nothing healed our pain. I cried almost every Sunday at church because it was the closest I felt I could ever get to Sebastian in Heaven.
Jamie soon went back to work, and I was offered a last minute full time substitute position at my parish school. My first day was August 21st, which was Sebastian’s due date.
I won a sunflower in the teacher gift raffle, and I know Sebastian sent it to me to assure me that God wanted me there.
This was one of the many reminders that Sebastian would send me in the coming years to tell me that God is with me. One of the most common is the butterfly—even to the point where they will practically attack me or land on me. My day-to-day work kept me busy and provided some distraction from my pain. Even though the love and support from family and friends could not make the pain disappear, it all still gave me hope and provided comfort.
The years following Sebastian’s death were truly a roller coaster, particularly the first year. Most people don’t know this, but we experienced two miscarriages within a year and a half after Sebastian’s death: Baby Peanut in December 2017 and Baby Raspberry in November 2018, both at 6 weeks. I had a D&C with Peanut and went to a wedding the next day where I pretended nothing had ever happened. (S)he was buried right next to Sebastian. I hate to admit it, but I was relieved Peanut didn’t make it because I was so caught up in my grief over Sebastian’s death.
For Raspberry I had a natural miscarriage, and I pretended I was sick when I missed two days of school. Those were very lonely days. I often felt like no one understood the pain I was experiencing, especially because most of our friends and siblings were unmarried or didn’t have kids. The 21st of every month was met with slight fear as I kept count of the months gone by since Sebastian’s death and birth. Each holiday was agonizing, and I could barely look at pregnant women or children under the age of two. But one of the greatest gifts God gave Jamie and me during that time was each other. We learned how and when to communicate our needs, and did our best to give each other the right support at the right time. Whenever I felt sad, Jamie was there for me and held me in his arms while I cried. I often didn’t feel like leaving the house, and Jamie was incredibly patient and understanding. We got better at being honest, praying together, and offering sacrifices for one another, even when we didn’t feel like it. What a gift it was that we’ve held on to each other, and how lucky we are to have our Faith to sustain us.
It took a long time but now, over two years later, I can see many blessings that God has given us through Sebastian. I’ve spent much time in prayer and deep thought, journaling, crying, talking to and reading stories of women who have lost children, and talking to my mentor about how my strengths can help me understand and persevere through my grief. Not only do Jamie and I have a saint in Heaven watching out for us, but I also believe we have a stronger marriage and I have much more confidence and trust in God’s plan.
I’ve learned that being open to life also means being open to death, and that there’s a lot of beauty that can come from that.
I am now 15 weeks pregnant, and I’m finding it challenging to put everything I’ve learned into action. I constantly go back and forth between being really optimistic and feeling nervous, wondering if this baby will survive and if I’ll get a chance to hold him/her in my arms alive. As I’m writing this, I’m even a little hesitant to bring up this pregnancy because what if this baby doesn’t live? I’m asking God every day to help me trust in His plan, and to have confidence in whatever He sends our way. Even though it’s hard, I try to let myself get excited for this baby because spending all of my time worrying is a waste of energy. I’ll never get these weeks of pregnancy back, so I might as well spend them cheerfully. Every day and every week that goes by is a gift. Jamie is much better at being confident than I am, so I’ll keep leaning on him to help me. We’ve started announcing the pregnancy to friends and family, and all of their joy has helped me be more courageous and recognize the beauty of this life within me and what a gift this baby is.
Whatever the outcome may be, we will always remember Sebastian: we’ll continue mentioning him in our daily conversations, we’ll celebrate his birthday every year, we’ll have little things around the house to honor his memory like hanging a stocking for him every Christmas. And one day I hope to have a chore chart for our kids where at the top it will say that Sebastian’s daily chore is to pray for us.