Donating Through Grief: Gavin, “My Little Sunshine”
By Cynthia Connery
There will be a time in your life that you question your strength, your faith, and your ability to push through, regardless of how powerful you always thought you were. For my husband and me, that day was July 13, 2016, my 20-week ultrasound.
Earlier that year, we found out that we were expecting our first child. I was due the day after Thanksgiving. We had long waited for this moment. It was the most beautiful feeling, thinking that we would have so much to be thankful for that year. Our close friends and family were excited too.
We were especially excited for the day that we would no longer call him or her “Baby Connery”. We didn’t tell anyone when our 20-week appointment was, for we knew their inquiring minds would want to know the gender before our reveal party, which was planned that following Saturday. Our nieces and nephews had colored a bright, beautiful box with the words, “Boy? Girl?”, written all over, and it was perfect. We were preparing for blue or pink balloons to fly high out of that box.
As we drove to this most anticipated appointment, we spoke of baseball caps and football helmets vs. pink bows and pig tails, reminding ourselves how different our conversation would be on the drive home. We thought of how beautiful the holidays would be this year, celebrating with our new baby and large family. I had been humming the song “You Are My Sunshine,” hoping that he or she would feel the vibrations of the tune from inside. That was our song, the one that we enjoyed together. We were feeling so bonded then at 20 weeks.
So, we arrived, high on life and excitement, to start our anatomy scan. We thought we would hear the words, “it’s a….”, to be followed by “boy” or “girl”, and then call it a day and go home. That’s what was supposed to happen, right?
“Length is good, heart rate is good, measurements are great… Want to know what it is?” “YES, PLEASE!” “It’s a boy. But, I want to bring the doctor in.”
There he was, a ‘he’, our sweet boy Gavin George. Our baby boy diagnosed with a severe case of congenital diaphragmatic hernia, the cause of which is unknown. The likelihood of bringing our baby boy home was about 50%.
We weren’t expecting to walk out those doors entering a new world but it was one that had changed within a mere 30 minutes. Our conversation home in the car was not at all what we expected. The holidays were now a heavy, heartbreaking unknown.
The next few days brought three more ultrasounds, additional medical testing, local specialists, and a second-opinion hospital appointment. We focused on researching the best medical team available and preparing for the unknown.
I continuously told myself, “Just breathe, Cynthia, catch your breath.”
We did as much as we could before telling our family. They were so excited for our beautiful gender reveal party that then had to be cancelled. Not only did this devastating news knock us to the ground, but we were then kicked while we were down in having to respond to our parents, our siblings, our extended family, close friends, and co-workers. We received so many texts and calls, “What is it? Boy or girl?” It was all so difficult to absorb, yet nobody’s fault, and completely unexpected.
“Just breathe, Cynthia, catch your breath.”
At that point, I was on an emotional roller coaster, which I cannot fully describe. Thank God for my husband. He was my rock, picking me up, literally at times, when I was at my lowest. I would find myself on the floor, next to a pile of prayer cards from family and friends, crying and praying every day, 10 times a day. This was now a part of my morning ritual before work, praying to God, telling him that I need my son more than he does.
This is what my life had become. The short description above is but a small fraction of what it was like for those remaining weeks of my pregnancy. I had an “aha!” moment, though, when I realized that I needed to fight through these emotions. What would my first steps of being Gavin’s mother be if I didn’t teach him to fight? I would have to fight if I expected him to do the same.
We didn’t tell anyone outside of our immediate family, at that point. I hid as best as I could from everyone close to me. I wanted to spare them the emotional breakdown that would follow any well-meaning comments. I strategically avoided such encounters by not shopping locally or attending any of the parties or events that we were so kindly invited to.
I couldn’t share how I was really feeling. We were scared, devastated, and confused. And, selfishly, I felt robbed of being able to enjoy the experience of having my first baby. The uncertainty of our situation deprived us of that typical new baby experience. I didn’t get to feel the way my friends and family did because I was numb and afraid, knowing we had so much yet to endure.
On the day of my induction, we finally broke the news more widely on Facebook. People asked, “What can we do?” I said, “Please don’t say ‘I’m sorry’, as those few words hurt the most. What we need are your encouraging words telling us that we can do this, as that is the only thing fueling us right now. And prayer…whatever faith it is that you believe in, please pray.”
I knew that as soon as others knew, we would be flooded with emotional support. While that was much needed, I knew it would be far too overwhelming for me in that moment, and so I had delayed sharing our news for as long as possible. We considered ourselves to be private people but we realized that we could not just sweep this under the rug.
I had to find my sense of Zen and cling to whatever calm I could because I was Gavin’s lifeline while he was inside me. However, I knew we were nearing our next, very difficult fight. This round would be for us as a family of three, backed by an overwhelming number of supporters praying for us.
And so, my husband and I placed our lives on hold and moved from Connecticut to Massachusetts. We needed Gavin to have a chance. It was important for us to show him what love looked like, what it felt like, and what it sounded like.
We welcomed him into this world on November 8, 2016. The delivery was very controlled. During his fight to stay alive, there were unexpected twists and turns. I kissed my baby goodbye more times than any mother should, but he held strong during some very difficult moments. I gave birth to a warrior. How many people can say that? I am incredibly honored that he chose me as his mother.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine….” It was still our song, but when I sang it, I would only hum that last line. I never wanted him to hear me sing that part.
God called my sweet boy to be with him on January 18, 2017; a day that will forever be the worst in my life. I didn’t have the chance to hold him during his time here because he was so fragile. I did not want to leave that hospital without holding my son, whatever the situation, and so he passed away in my arms. Every day since has been emotionally exhausting. My whole being misses him.
While in the hospital, I pumped breast milk for Gavin. I always saw the same flyer in the lactation room about donating milk for sick infants. A very kind and comforting lactation nurse eventually helped me realize that I needed to donate all of the goodness that I pumped over those ten weeks.
It is one thing that I am able to say that Gavin and I did together, which is so special to me. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to contribute to Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast for my sweet boy and also thankful that his journey and donation were acknowledged by placing his name on a leaf on their memorial quilt tree. It warms my heart.
Please know this… Gavin did not lose. Heaven just had bigger plans for him there than here on earth. Although my heart is aching and my home empty, I find comfort in knowing that he is in a place of beauty, one without pain and medical IV’s.
You are my sunshine, sweet boy, and you always will be.