October is Pregnancy, Infant, & Child Loss Awareness Month, and all month long we will be bringing you essays from mothers who have experienced this devastation first-hand. Today’s story comes from San Francisco-based Dresden Joswig, who gave birth to her son Julian on August 20 of this year. Tragically, Julian was stillborn, weighing in at just 1lb, 8 oz, and 13 inches long. To honor his memory, Dresden and her husband have created a fundraiser to help bring compassionate care and grief counseling to parents facing stillbirth and neonatal loss at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, where Dresden received care. She’s also sharing a letter she wrote to her son Julian the day after he was born, below.
My little love,
I was so happy to see your beautiful face last night, to touch your soft skin, and see your perfect nose, ears, lips, fingers and toes.
I’ve been dreaming about someone like you for so many years, but I fell in love with you the day I found out I was pregnant. I was so eager, little Julian, that I took the pregnancy test at 5:45 in the morning and jostled your dad awake to share the news the second I saw the positive sign. He was so happy, but so groggy, baby boy.
Every minute since then, I’ve fallen more and more in love with you. I’ve woken up thinking about you every morning, opening up a silly little app to see how big you were and what skills you were developing. I counted down the minutes to every doctor’s appointment, anxious to hear your little heart beat and to see you growing inside of me. When you started moving inside of me, my heart nearly burst with joy. I lay so still, trying to feel you, trying to trick you into moving with cold foods and supine positions. Eventually, you moved constantly, surprising me with the power of your kicks and punches. Now I know it’s because you had those giant hands and feet, a hint at the big boy you might have grown into.
Your dad and I spent so much time talking about what you might be like, what animals you’d love, and how we wanted to raise you. We had long conversations about everything from the way we’d introduce you to food to how we’d raise you to be a good, good person. We didn’t get to do those things, baby boy, and that makes me so very sad. But I know, my little love, that you were so good and that we are so lucky to be your parents.
I imagined our first days with you would be joyful and exhausting and eye-opening and emotional. I thought we’d hear you cry and watch you learn to smile and crawl and walk and do all the things little people do. I even imagined how much you might hate me as a teenager, but I was sure you’d love me again…eventually. We didn’t get there, my little love, but I did learn so, so much being your mom.
I learned what it means to love outside of yourself, beyond comprehension. To suddenly focus on another person entirely without regard for myself. I learned what it feels like to be amazed by your child, by your perfect railroad track spine and tiny ears, by the little personality I could feel developing inside me. I learned about real fear and anxiety, because I worried so much about you and all the things I couldn’t control. Before you, little love, I didn’t worry all that much about anything.
I learned how lucky I was to have found your dad, and how lucky you were to have him. I’d always known he’d be an amazing father, but even I was surprised by how quickly he jumped into the role of dad, long before you left my belly or grew all your perfect little parts. I watched him pretend to cradle you in our new rocker…I heard him plan out the meals he’d make after you arrived…and we talked so much about the things the two of you would do together. You were his best bud before you even left the womb, little love.
I hope that you know, Julian, that you are the product of so much love. I knew that your dad was my person almost 10 years ago, so soon after I met him. (And I’ll tell you a little secret — he didn’t know that quite so soon, but he figured it out eventually, because we’re just a little different that way.) But worrying about you and losing you and seeing the bravery and vulnerability and love and compassion in your dad’s heart has made me love him more than I thought possible.
When you came into this world, I was in so much pain and your dad took care of me with extraordinary gentleness, not an ounce of judgment, and all the love in the world. He poured hot water over me while I shook uncontrollably in the shower…he rubbed my back and held a bag filled with my vomit while I got sick…he fed me ice chips when I was so, so tired that moving my arms to do it myself felt impossible…and he put cold rags on my forehead, my arms, and my legs when the hot flashes came.
And when you finally left the safety of my body, he cut your umbilical cord and took the very first look at your perfect face and beautiful little body. He told me that you were so small, and that it was going to be so, so hard to see you. He held my hand and he loved me while we waited to get you back, clean and bundled up.
You were so, so beautiful, little love. So, so perfect. You were everything that I had ever hoped for and so much more. You took my breath away. I am so sorry that we only had a few hours with you, little love. I am so sorry that we couldn’t share you with all the people who had already fallen in love with you. And I am so sorry that you had to fight so hard, my little lion.
No matter what comes next for your dad and me, I want you to know that you will always be my first born, my beloved son, and the holder of the keys to my heart. We will remember you and love you every day. And we will never let anyone forget who you were and how much you meant to your parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts and. uncles. I will always be so grateful that I got to be your mom, Julian.
Dresden originally published her essay on More To Mother.
To hear more about Julian’s story and support his memorial fund at UCSF, head over here.
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