The 1 in 4: Axel Wyatt's Warriors
When I was asked to write for the Anna’s Grace blog, I was so excited and immediately said yes. Throughout this journey, I have found solace in reading quotes, poems, and stories from other parents. Their emotions, their experiences, and their thoughts – it helped me to feel not as alone. Because of that, this post is raw, it is real. I wrote this in hope that if another grieving parent reads this, they too, will find solace. Everything about my experience was traumatic, from his birth to the NICU stay to, of course, his passing. I knew that there was so much I wanted to say, about my son, about my journey, about grief. But how do you even begin to formulate the words of such a deep, inconceivable pain?
I guess I’ll start with my pregnancy. When we found out we were pregnant, I was in shock. We tried for a year to get pregnant with our daughter, and we weren’t even trying for a second yet. Our daughter, Blakely, was only 9 months old at the time. I was terrified of having two under two. Dare I say it – I was upset about being pregnant. In my mind, at that time, I was worried about my daughter. How could she manage without my undivided attention? Would I miss out on her milestones because I would be so focused on the new baby? Getting pregnant meant the end of our breastfeeding journey, and that was neither of our choices, and I resented it to an extent. As natural and normal as these thoughts were, they now cause a huge sense of guilt and will forever haunt me. As the pregnancy progressed, however, I realized that I would have had all of these fears no matter when I got pregnant with 2.0. I began to get so excited about having two under two, 17 months apart to be exact. They could share friends, share interests, and they would always have each other.
After 6 weeks of bleeding, low fluid, and four weeks of bedrest, Axel Wyatt was born on September 14, 2018, at 24 weeks and 1 day. His entrance into this world was tumultuous, as we flew down Airline Hwy to the hospital and arrived just 18 minutes before he was born. He weighed 1lb 10oz and was 11.8 inches long. We decided to name him Axel Wyatt. Axel was a name we had agreed upon prior, and Wyatt we decided on the night after he was born. Wyatt means “little warrior,” and he was just that.
Axel was on this earth for 24 days. Some of the best truth I received was that the NICU was a rollercoaster, a rollercoaster that we soon learned was filled with ups and downs, squeals of joy and tears, hope and despair. With this in mind, we were able to focus on the beauty of the little things: his first poop, getting to change his diaper, his first time getting breastmilk, every gram he gained.
On October 7, 2018, we knew we would be spending our last moments with our son. Ken and I sat on the couch and prayed. We prayed hard. We called our pastor to baptize him. We called our family and friends to come say their goodbyes. As my husband and I were standing there, talking to Axel, the realization that our daughter, Blakely, would never get to meet her younger brother hit us, and the awareness of that reality completely shattered me. (She was under 2 so she was not allowed in the NICU.) Thankfully, though, we were given permission for Blakely to come back and meet her brother.
My heart was crushed because it meant Axel was going to die, but I also felt joy, because my children would get to meet, if only for a brief minute. My heart was so full seeing Blakely look at Axel; and simultaneously, I couldn’t shake the pain that was looming overhead. The nurse captured this moment, and gave us the one and only picture we will ever have of all four of us on this earth. After Axel passed, they let Blakely come back in, and she gave her little brother a kiss. I am forever grateful to Woman’s Hospital for capturing those moments, as they are pictures that we will treasure for a lifetime.
Our sweet Axel Wyatt left to be with God that day. Looking back, I remember parts of it, but the rest is a complete blur. It’s like it was an out of body experience. I see us sitting on the couch, holding each other, crying. I see the nurses bagging him and performing CPR. I hear the doctor tell us they can stop all interventions if we would like. I see family and close friends coming in to say goodbye. I see a room full of hospital staff, the curtain blocking the window, the charge nurse taking pictures. But when I see these things, I see them from someone else’s perspective. It’s like I’m hovering in the air in the corner and watching the events transpire. Axel passing away was the worst moment of my life, but it was also peaceful. This tranquility came in seeing how peaceful he looked after he passed and in knowing that he was not in pain but instead, in his greatest possible form in heaven.
We are only three months removed from that NICU rollercoaster, and I vividly remember all the feelings. I don’t know if those memories will dull with time or not, but I almost don’t want them to. Holding onto them makes me feel connected to him. It reminds me that he was here, he was with us. It wasn’t a cruel dream or an out-of-body experience, Axel Wyatt was actually here.
Losing a child is unlike any other loss. It’s one that no parent should ever have to go through. It’s not just the loss of a child, but the loss of hopes and dreams, the loss of the future. Grief is a funny thing; it comes and goes. It will hit me like a ton of bricks, seemingly out of nowhere, and other times it is just a little voice in the back of my head. It’s never not there, it will always be a part of me. But there are good moments, laughs, and smiles amidst the pain.
These moments bring about a sense of guilt in me, though, that I’m “moving forward” with life, without my son. Guilt has been overwhelming for me throughout this experience. I know that these guilty thoughts are irrational, but I cannot shake them. I feel guilty that my body failed Axel, failed my family; guilty that I couldn’t do anything to save my son; guilty that I wasn’t standing by his side when he took his last breath; guilty that I have to carry on with my life; guilty for smiling and laughing.
I have had so many people tell me that I am strong, I am brave, that they don’t know how I’m doing it. But here’s the thing—I’m not. I’m barely hanging on. This quote puts it perfectly, “Grieving is like having broken ribs. On the outside you look fine, but with every breath, it hurts.” I put on a face in public and grieve in silence, silent tears and silent agony. But when I’m alone, the tears flow, in the shower, in the car, while watching TV. I’m not as strong or as brave as everyone thinks I am. And that’s okay.
When I need the catharsis of a good ugly cry, a release, a real moment of vulnerable grief, I’ve turned to music. I created a Spotify playlist that I listen to when I need to let it out. It’s what I do to when Axel is heavy on my heart and mind, when I need to dive into the memories, or just when I need to feel close to him. Music has been my outlet, my way of coping.
One of the difficulties I have encountered in my grief is seeing pregnant women, seeing newborn babies, or babies that would be Axel’s age, hearing women complain of how miserable their pregnancy is or how their baby is keeping them up all night. And all I can think of is that I would do anything to have those things. I would do anything to have made it to the miserably uncomfortable part of pregnancy. I would do anything to be up all night, holding my little Axel in my arms, rocking him while he cries. I would welcome getting spit up on and pooped on a thousand times a day if it meant he was here with me.
I only got to hold Axel twice, but those are the best memories I have—sitting in the chair next to his isolette while the nurse gently placed my 12 day old son on my chest for the first time. I can still feel those emotions like it is happening right now. I can still feel the joy, the excitement, the relief, and the overwhelming feeling of peace and calmness. Everything was right in the world, if only for a moment. When I’m having a rough day, I’ll think back to these moments, and all those feelings wash over me as if he is in my arms again.
Axel may have only been here for a short while, but in that time, and in his absence, he has taught me so much. He taught me about love and friendship. He taught me that I have to accept help from others. He taught me to appreciate what I have and that each moment is a gift from God. And the biggest thing of all, he helped me grow in my faith.
My faith is also present in a way I never would’ve imagined before. In turtles. Yeah, you read that right, turtles. Turtles became Axel’s spirit animal. As luck would have it, we had a stuffed turtle that I held onto tightly throughout the car ride, that I held as I screamed at the doctors protesting his premature arrival, and that I squeezed tightly as Axel made his entrance into this world. Unexpectedly, he was placed in the turtle unit of the NICU, and it became clear that the turtle would always be special to us. I found comfort in this symbol, this animal. Its rich symbolism of endurance, persistence, and longevity provided me with the comfort of knowing that our little Warrior did everything he could. According to Native American symbolism, turtles remind us that we need to walk gently and remember that life is sacred. By the grace of God, I was able to stay focused on the present with Axel and live in the moment with him – hand hugging him and having his tiny hands hold my finger. I find joy and comfort in the symbolism of longevity because it reminds me that even though Axel isn’t physically here with us, he will live forever in our hearts.
On March 24th at the Anna’s Grace Quarter Marathon, you will find Axel Wyatt’s Warriors rocking our turtle shirts! We will be walking gently, honoring his endurance and persistence, knowing that his life was sacred and has a meaning deeper then we will ever be able to comprehend.
To join Natalie and her family in the Anna's Grace Quarter Marathon, visit https://www.annasgrace.org/quarter-marathon.
About Anna’s Grace Foundation Anna’s Grace Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supporting families in the Greater Baton Rouge Area who experience miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss. Each and every day one of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, or family members will experience the devastating loss of a baby, and Anna’s Grace is there to provide emotional and financial support so that families can focus on healing. The Anna’s Grace Quarter Marathon is on March 24, 2019. For more information or to register, visit http://www.annasgrace.org/registration.