Remembering Sophie: The Day Our Newborn Died

Eye on Culture

Six years ago, my life changed forever. What was suppose to be one of the best times of my life, with the plans of our daughter’s arrival, became a nightmare. Shortly after my partner gave birth to Sophie, we knew things were not right. The limited cries, the concerned doctors and nurses, and our inability to hold her meant things were not as they should be. Within a few hours, her heart would stop, the “code team” was called, and we were on a helicopter searching for someone to save our daughter.

I wrote about my pain last year in the following way:

Our joy and excitement would quickly turn into devastating agony, with our daughter ultimately succumbing to an infection, dying in the early morning of October 3rd.  In an instant, we had lost our child – a tragedy that was beyond our imagination. Even though its occurrence is too common throughout the world.  Every detail of that day sits with me: getting dropped off at the hospital; how sick my wife looked when I entered the room; the sights and sounds when Sophie entered the world. More vivid and painful are the memories of where I was sitting when she went into cardiac arrest, the clothes I was wearing, the hospital smell, and the sounds of “code blue.”  To this day, I still cannot see a helicopter without thinking about the 60+ mile trip I took in the dark, so close to my dying daughter yet unable to help or hold her.  I cannot shake these memories nor can I shake those moments alone in a sterile and quiet hospital at 3am where I obsessively watched the various monitors as evidence of her continued life.  Just closing my eyes now, I can still see myself in the waiting room – waiting for things to turn around, waiting for my wife to arrive, waiting for the pain to stop; waiting . . . waiting, only to see her die in front of us, holding her one time before we drove those 60 long miles home.

Today, the visceral memories are still with me. The sight of a helicopter still elicits painful memories. Every time I drive pass both the hospital and the funeral home – I am immediately brought back those vivid but blurry moments of my life. From the food I picked at in the Spokane hospital to the number of tissues that littered our car during our drive home without Sophie; from my mom’s facial expression when she arrived at the airport in hopes of seeing her grandchild to the day I packed up all the clothes and toys in Sophie’s room, I can feel each and every moment of the last 6 years.

At the same time, I am less and less haunted by these memories. They are with me; they are me but they don’t constrain me as they did in more recent years. I have not forgotten but am now able to sit and live with these memories. This has not been easy, but with family and friends at our side, I have been able to move forward with these memories. Therapy was tremendously helpful not to “make sense” of the tragedy or get beyond it, but to get comfortable with the pain, to learn to cope with those memories. I am not at peace with her death but am able to live with this state of unease.

My initial therapy sessions required me to relive each and every moment, to picture and return to those moments of pain, anxiety, trauma, and anguish. More than getting to the point where I could sit with those memories, therapy helped me understand my emotions, forced me to communicate my feelings, and to understand myself better. It allowed me to see myself in new ways. It allowed me to see my partner, my family and life in new ways. This hasn’t been easy. Even writing today – these words are tremendously difficult because her death tore me apart. My inability to hold and hug her on her birthday pains me. My yearning to talk to her, to look into her eyes, burns inside of me. “I love you, Sophie” is something I often say, but I wish she could hear my words; I wish she could say them back to me.

One of the hardest parts of moving forward wasn’t simply coming to grips with my sadness or evening shaking the flashbacks but coming to grips with my unrelenting fear. Each and every day I find myself scared, paralyzed by fear, wondering what tragedy would crash down upon us. The illusion of safety, of a scripted life, was put to rest on that day. I am always scared now but have gotten to a point where that fear doesn’t control my each and every move. Not beyond it, but with it.

What remains a struggle is the feeling that “I have moved on.” With two beautiful children (our son was born almost one year after her death), a wonderful partner, and a great life, there are times where I feel guilty. I feel as if I don’t deserve to be happy. I feel sad that I have “learned” and “grown” from the experience. Why did her death have to teach me? Why couldn’t I have learned with her by my side?

With all of this on my mind, and with my thoughts with our Sophie and the many other families who have lost children, I continue to move forward with her memory. She remains my most important teacher.  In her brief life, she taught me so much about fear, love, family, and the importance of moving forward with her to help others.

So, to say I love you and to say Happy birthday, I am donating 10.02 (her birthday being 10/02) to Save the Children so that the number of babies who die throughout the world declines (see here for details about their efforts to combat neonatal death).  I would be honored if you could do the same, donating 10.02 to pay tribute to the lost lives and the future saves.


David J. Leonard is Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University, Pullman. He has written on sport, video games, film, and social movements, appearing in both popular and academic mediums. His work explores the political economy of popular culture, examining the interplay between racism, state violence, and popular representations through contextual, textual, and subtextual analysis. He is the author of Screens Fade to Black: Contemporary African American Cinema and the forthcoming After Artest: Race and the War on Hoop (SUNY Press). Leonard is a regular contributor to NewBlackMan and blogs at No Tsuris

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