Sophia’s brittle lifeless body lies on the bleak metallic scale. The digital “9” reads out the mere ounces her body weighs. Across the room, nurse Joleen gathers crucial items: the polka-dotted blanket that warmed her after birth, a yellow measuring tape that recorded her length as 10 inches, a fuzzy purple tassel from the miniature hat that covered her hairless head, a white felt dress laced with pink ribbon that would be her solitary outfit.
Delicate inky blotches of Sophia’s hands and feet are pressed, documenting her rounded feet alongside ten crooked fingers. Swaddled snuggly in a blanket, nurse Joleen places Sophia gingerly in a small-scale Moses basket. Nurse Anne continues documenting each significant moment through her tiny camera lens. A plush bear, replicating Sophia’s size, fits comfortably in the basket for the photoshoot. A pastel rainbow of blue, pink, white, and orange swirl playfully within her fur.
“We should name her Angel Bear.” Jason’s words indicate he and I are of the same mind, knowing that as we need Sophia as our guardian angel, Sophia needs this bear to watch over her. Gratefulness swells my aching heart when I realize we get to keep the sole toy Sophia will ever have.
Nodding confidently, nurse Joleen deems that all is done with Sophia. “We need to take her out of the room now. Do either of you need more time to say goodbye?”
The shakes of my head acknowledge my time with Sophia had ended earlier when she took her last breath. Saying goodbye twice would shatter my heart into an infinite number of pieces, unable to be reconstructed.
“What about you, Jason?”
“I said my goodbye to her. I feel okay with that.”
Patting my hand in gentle taps, nurse Joleen restrains her next words for a few seconds; the pregnant pause hangs between us, opening a space for the last moment Sophia, Jason, and I will be together. Twenty weeks built up to this bitter end. Twenty weeks we spent clinging to her, bathing in the comfort that when everything fell apart, her strong heart thrived. Twenty weeks to be a family of three.
Finishing her last photograph, nurse Anne overhears our desires to forgo another goodbye. Tucking the camera safely in her side pocket, she quietly carries Sophia out, pausing at the threshold. Giving nurse Joleen a knowing nod through the suffocating silence, a chilliness leaks into the room as we reclaim the label of “childless couple.” Taking the cue, nurse Joleen carries on, purporting a seamless transition.
“We’ll just have to take care of a few more things before I can let you rest.” Sitting at the computer, the sharp clicking of her keystrokes signal she has begun the undesirable task of the patiently awaiting paperwork.
“Do you have a name for her?” Inscribing a sign that is normally reserved for hanging on new mothers’ doors on the maternity floor, she carefully writes in beautiful script on the placard. Trying her best to make this as typical as possible for us, nurse Joleen doesn’t want to miss the parental benefits to which we are entitled–except our baby.
“Sophia Grace,” I proudly state officially for the first time.
“That’s beautiful,” she responds. Smiling, I know it is the most eloquent name we could have given to our ethereal daughter.
“You will get this sign with your other keepsakes.” She pauses from writing, looking out of the corner of her eye to take in the small smiles we can muster.
Slowly, in a voice meant for sharing secrets, she warily adds, “I’ll also submit her name and birth information for her birth and death certificates.”
Inhaling sharply with her words, my heart races, beating fiercely in my chest. Birth and death certificates?
The minimal smile fades quickly from my lips, sorrow descending once again. Holding my composure steady by reigning in the tears, acceptance of the finality of these documents skulks just out of reach.
Nurse Joleen adeptly waits a few minutes, watching the transitions of this unexpected news flow from a smack in the face, to a lethargic washing over us, and ultimately settling in our cognizance before she proceeds.
“There is one more thing you both will have to start thinking about.” With a fleeting pause, she eagerly examines my face, then Jason’s, and returns to mine. She looks for us to crack, to lose our composure, to fall apart. Not knowing what she will say, my eager eyes furrow with concern. Bracing myself with tense muscles and a stern face, I don’t know how much more I can take.
“Normally with pre-term babies, we take care of making arrangements for the body.” Eyes widening, I unwind and am wholly unprepared for what she launches at us next. “Unfortunately, since she made it to 20 weeks, we have to ask you to make the arrangements.” Breaking again, she holds her last respiration, gauging our expressions. In the midst of shock, my face has unfurrowed a bit.
Continuing quickly before we are hopelessly lost in this never-ending dismal abyss, she says, “We have information on different funeral homes in the area that we have had good experiences with in the past. Talk between yourselves and determine what you’ll want to do. You can set up a memorial service with them if you like, and you’ll have to decide if you want a burial.”
Funeral service? Burial? Why can’t they just handle this? Haven’t we been through enough?
My never-ending trail of tears reinitiate, pooling in my lower eyelids. Tears stream to the tip of my nose, jumping off to their demise on the wet spot on my blanket. Fear rips away the minimal relief that her birth had brought. Thinking we were done with this nightmare–that we could move on to grieving and healing–affirms the naivete that guides us. This cruel initiation into dealing with funeral homes gives rise to the leg trembles that had been in remission.
Sensing we need a moment alone, nurse Joleen gathers her pens, markers, and papers, double checking that she has all of Sophia’s keepsakes. She offers up a sorrowful smile before leaving, trying to lighten the mood. With intentions of departing on a better vibe, she struggles to revive her cheery tone. “We’ll continue to monitor your blood pressure and bleeding for next couple of hours, and then you will move back upstairs to recovery. You should be able to go home later tomorrow.”
Looking wistfully toward Jason, his perplexed eyes drown in his own pleas for a reprieve within this torment. Sitting on the edge of my bed, his hand on mine, our heads hang low. We share the same distasteful thought: How are we going to make it through making funeral arrangements?