But if it was inappropriate, then my brain has revisited that question over and over.
I might never have thought about it. Then again, it had crossed my mind during those aftermath months of joining dead baby email lists. Most of these mothers had lost children at birth. I would stare at the pictures of other peoples dead babies. I could not look away. For many parents, this was the only photograph they would ever have of their child. For that reason, I fixed on the photo, trying to understand how it would feel to have my whole identity as a mother wrapped up in that one bluish photograph. Sometimes I can convince myself that I was lucky. I had so much more. I had thirteen months and eleven days.
I sat in the parked ambulance for a long time. I kept glancing back at my baby and the team working on him; hoping to see, afraid to see. The helicopter was already there, waiting.
Waiting for too long, I thought. I was strangely quiet. I had done all the screaming back at our house, just a mile away from the heli-pad.
HELP! Is he alive? Is he breathing? Please SAVE HIM!!
I could only clench my jaw and hold my breath and stare through the windshield of the ambulance, fixed on the blades of the helicopter that was going to
They had told me that I could go with him.
They changed their minds.
It was time to go.
They pulled him out of the back of the ambulance, I jumped out of the front.
He was so tiny on that fullsized gurney.
They told me to kiss him. That I would see him at the hospital.
I looked up; they were lying.
They told me to hurry.
I kissed him. I kissed him three times, I told him I loved him with all of my heart, I touched his face, I reached for his hand and then they told me I had done a good job.
Good job, Mom.
They raced him to the helicopter. I began to sob. I asked the ambulance driver to take me to the hospital but he told me that my husband was waiting for me at the end of the road.
What? My husband? Had already gotten back up the mountain after dropping our toddler off at a friend's house at 3 am, as instructed? And why was he here when I told him I was going in the helicopter?
I ran out to investigate. He was, indeed there. Someone had told him to follow the ambulance, and he had complied. Supergirl was there too. In her carseat and clutching her blankie and sucking dearly at her pacifier.
I started yelling again.
Why are you here? Why is she here? Take her to Cate's house! Meet me at the hospital! Leave now!
The sound of the helicopter was long gone.
I sprinted back down the gravel road to the ambulance, and then I saw something that I was truly not meant to see.
Five or six EMTs, paramedics, firefighters, all hugging each other.
It broke up quickly when I screamed that I needed a ride to the hospital, NOW.
When we arrived, I was guided to a small room off the hallway of the ER. I wasn't there more than sixty seconds when I couldn't stand it anymore, and stepped out into the hallway, only to see at that very moment, a group of six doctors and nurses walk out of an enclosed area; each of them was crying. One of the doctors started walking straight for me. I began to back up, back into the shrinking room, so he could get past me and deliver the sad sad news to the other family. But he kept coming for me, he kept walking toward me, he kept looking at me. When he reached me, I said it,
He's gone. He's gone, isn't he?
I have never before or since in my life wished so very hard to be wrong.
He nodded. There was someone else there. She must have known what was going to happen next, because she caught me before my buckled knees let me hit the ground. They shut the door; I think they expected me to scream.
I didn't scream.
Those moments are not clear to me. They are a blur of reliving time and willing time to reverse and pleading with the universe.
But I did not scream.
They asked me if I wanted to hold him.
I was brought to a room at the end of the hall. There was a chair; I sat in it and waited.
A nurse brought him to me. He was wrapped in at least three blankets, which made him seem very bulky. When she handed him to me, this baby we had spent thirteen months coaxing every single ounce upon him, he seemed very heavy.
When I drew him to me, and sniffed, his smell was still there. He smelled warm and sweet; not dead.
He had an endotracheal tube taped to his face, but other than that he just looked like he was asleep. He always was a deep sleeper. He was so warm. He was so heavy.
But when I nuzzled his neck, he was unmistakably dead. No matter how asleep he was, he would always nuzzle back.
I rocked him, I told him how sorry I was for letting him die. I knew I had ultimately failed him as a mother; I had failed to keep my child alive.
At some point my husband joined me. We took turns holding him, bowing our heads together and sobbing over this soft sweet warm dead boy.
We were told not to take the trach tube out; we complied. Dh carefully removed the tape from his cheeks; I remember thinking be gentle, don't hurt him.
We unwrapped his blankets to touch his soft belly one more time and then lovingly snapped his pajamas back up.
Hours went by, and still, he was warm. Not cold, not blue.
But still, he was still.
We passed him back and forth, our son, and the room was still and silent and waiting.
Finally, he said he was ready to go. He needed to leave this place, he said, and go now to our living child. Child, I thought. Not children.
I knew what he meant; I even agreed.
I looked at the door, and then back again at Elijah in my arms. Who I would never see again, once I walked through that door.
I was not ready.
But we had to go.
It took many false starts, many attempts at placing him in the kind nurse's waiting arms.
I have often thought about that little detail and been grateful - that I was not required to put him down on a gurney, but allowed to place him in another woman's arms.
But at some moment, I don't know how, I knew I had to go.
How could we walk away from him forever?
How could we leave him there?
There were no other options.
So we kissed him one last time, breathed him in one last time, and touched him one last time before we stepped back into the too bright, too loud, too functional world, to reclaim our lives as parents.