Below is a personal story that I shared just a few weeks after losing our firstborn son Joseph in 2014. Since losing Joseph, we’ve been blessed with another little person, a little brother to Joseph, & his presence in our lives has brought us a lot of healing. However, as any person who’s experienced the loss of a loved one, nothing or nobody can ever truly replace the void left behind by the other. We think off, & ardently miss Joseph every single day, and we hold onto the hope of one day meeting him in heaven.
Joseph (jo-sef) : God Will Increase
Arye (a-rye) : Lion of God
This is a different kind of post. Not about work, or weddings, or portraits. It’s not someone else’s story, but it is a story that has & will continue to change my entire life.
This story is about my son.
A little baby boy, who I was blessed to carry for 23 weeks & 3 days. Who’s life I was so excited to celebrate, but with his passing, am left more heart-broken than there are words to describe. But as with every story, I would like to start from the beginning & a little about me first.
I am a Christian & very open about my faith, hence much, if not all, of this story involves my faith & references God throughout its entirety. I have acquaintances & friends who would find this bothersome, frustrating & irritating, but as I don’t mind offending anyone, & as I am not easily offended, I will assume that you too, will have the maturity to look past your anger, bitter experiences or misgivings about religion & read my story as it is, narrated by me, a follower of Christ, more in love with Jesus than you could begin to imagine.
I have had an inconsistent relationship with God since I was a child. When I was 8, after being told in church that I was expected to love God with all my heart & soul, I openly told God one night, that I didn’t love Him, but that I hoped one day I would learn to. Through my childhood & teenage years, God took me through many turbulent experiences, other stories for another time, but most notably, in my early adult years, God brought me through, what I considered then, to be one of the hardest of my life. The age of 18, was a turning point in my life – a year that tested my beliefs & core values. I felt that I was at a crossroad where I could choose to walk away from my faith, or walk closer towards it.
I decided to choose God.
However, even with this decision, things didn’t necessarily get better, but it no longer mattered to me if they did or didn’t. I was no longer choosing to be a Christian because of how Christ could serve me, I was choosing to remain a Christian because I loved & chose God, because Christ sacrificed everything for me… & I didn’t deserve it. I didn’t give myself life or value or love, He did. I didn’t do anything truly note-worthy & I couldn’t ever be completely selfless in my motivations in the few good things I did do… Not anywhere or comparably even close to the selflessness that Christ showed me at the cross.
I realised that God’s love for me, & for you, is beyond all human comprehension. And that simple truth, changed the trajectory of my life.
It has now been almost 10 years since my relationship with God, went from being inconsistent as a child & teenager, to the most beautiful, constant, life-giving, joy-filled relationship I have had the pleasure of enjoying throughout my adult life.
On the 3rd of February this year, we found out that sometime in October, a new addition would be added to our family. I can’t even describe the excitement we felt. After a very early miscarriage on January 6 (a little someone I named Noël), I believed whole-heartedly that this child was here to stay & I was so incredibly grateful to God for this little life growing inside of me.
On the 19th of March this year, the day my husband & I celebrated 4 years of marriage, we had our very first ultrasound of our little, tiny gift, who was then just 10 weeks & 4 days old (but technically 8 weeks & 4 days after conception). This beautiful little 4-5cm silhouette came directly on the screen, unmoving & quiet at first… and then all of a sudden it seemed to startle & gave a huge leap, moving & rotating the rest of our ultrasound viewing, so active & full of energy. We were head over heels in love. I was carrying something so beautiful & intricate inside of me; life.
On the 22nd of April (exactly 6 years after my husband & I shared our first kiss), when I was just 15 weeks & 3 days pregnant, I felt our little baby move for the very first time & at the early gestation of 16 weeks & 6 days, my husband felt our babies kicks from the outside too. We couldn’t believe how strong he was! Each morning, before beginning my day, I would wait & wait just to feel him move, & throughout the day, my babies kicks were a constant & sweet reminder of what October would bring. On the 23rd of May, a day before I was to reach the 20 week mark of my pregnancy, we went for our morphology scan & saw the most beautiful face profile we had ever seen, & were also told that day, that we were going to have a son, something I felt God had already revealed to us. We watched in awe at this little boy who seemed fast asleep during the ultrasound, only moving to put his thumb in his mouth & giving the sonographer grief because she couldn’t confirm the 10th finger was truly there until he finally took that little thumb out of his mouth again.
Through the cold winter that followed, & the busy end of financial year that both my husband & I were going through, the expectation of meeting this new little person soon, was enough to make even the most tedious tax return bearable. I couldn’t wait to wrap up all my biggest deadlines by end of June & work at a more relaxed pace the following months. Whenever my baby would kick or move, I couldn’t help but admire this beautiful life inside of me & be grateful that God gave me him. I was working late one night on the 7th of June, & Joseph had been kicking & moving for a good hour when I finally decided to stop all that I was doing & poke my fingers through my belly back at him. He suddenly stopped when I did that, waited a few seconds, then kicked me back, much harder than before, in the exact same place I had poked him. Then to my greatest surprise, he seemed to stop & wait again, almost as if he expected another response… so I poked him back again, & then he repeated this all over again, each time kicking me, & then seemingly waiting again for me to reciprocate. Without any exaggeration on my part, this went on for what I recorded to be a full half hour. I couldn’t believe that this child had the consciousness to recognise a pattern at such an early stage of life. I cannot describe the bond that I created with my baby, despite the fact that I was never given the opportunity to hold his life in my own arms. Earlier in the year, I felt God had given me a vision of our son before I even knew I was pregnant, of a beautiful strong little boy, with large dark curls & a beautiful happy face, a lot like his dad in personality & with an incomparable sweetness about him. I couldn’t wait to see the reality of his beautiful features & character.
Then came the 17th of June, 2014. A day in which I recount as being even more excited than usual about our baby days ahead. A day when I sang to Joseph, a little louder & worked a little less. A day when I opened my first baby book & drank in all the words with absolute bliss. A day when I couldn’t stop imagining all those little nursery ideas I had planned out for his room-to-be. A day when my rather amazing husband came home with coloured roses in his hands just for me. A day when I called up my best friend to wish her well on her birthday. It was such a good day, until I had an uneasiness creep over me. By midnight, I realised Joseph’s kicks that day, had been rather few & inbetween, & that the last time I felt him kick actively, was at about 3:30am that morning. I began to massage my tummy, to poke my fingers all around to wake him up, make him move, but for two more hours, there was only stillness. I wasn’t too worried, it wasn’t incredibly unusual for him to not be very active, maybe he was sleeping more than usual that day, I told myself. By 2:30am, I didn’t know what to think anymore. I thought maybe if I laid down, the change in gravity would wake him up… but it didn’t. I crept back out of bed & stayed in the lounge area. I wouldn’t sleep, until I felt him move. I massaged my tummy, I poked at him, I drank ice cold water – I could even feel where his head was & in which direction he was laying… but he wouldn’t move. I cried at intervals, prayed every other moment & hoped that I was over-reacting, that re-assurance would come soon. For hours he still didn’t move until 5am, exhausted from lack of sleep, I almost thought that I felt his little hands moving, like they often would when he would touch his own face, or want to suck his thumb like I’d seen him do in his ultrasounds… with a little glimpse of hope, I crept back into bed & fell asleep.
At 9:00am, my husband gave me a kiss me good-bye on his way to work. I woke up in a daze, & then I remembered the evening before. I told my husband everything that had happened & how I thought I felt him move at 5am, & that I had hoped he had been active while I was asleep. We both tried to make Joseph move again, surely he couldn’t be this inactive again today… but to our horror, there was only silence. I was desperately clinging to the hope that he had been active while I was sleeping, I convinced myself this must be the case, but my husband felt uneasy & told me I should call my midwife. By 10:30am we were waiting in a hospital room. By 11:00am, a nurse came with a doppler machine – but they couldn’t find his heartbeat, only the breaking of mine. They told me there was still hope, so I hoped. They called the doctor, he checked on one of their most basic ultrasound machines to see the heart… & then he said those dreaded words… “It doesn’t look good… but we’ll send you for a proper ultrasound”. My husband broke down… I couldn’t cry, I was numb with disbelief & shock. On the way to the 9th floor, in the lift, I could feel Joseph’s head through my belly & I still hoped they were wrong. The sonographer prepared the final ultrasound & in those few minutes, unmovable storm clouds crept over our lives as they confirmed the worst… Our baby was gone.
I knew what I heard, but it couldn’t possibly be true. I had life inside of me, & now it was gone? I was carrying our son, our little boy… I knew him, I’d seen visions of him, I’d imagined our whole life ahead of us with him in it. How could they say he was gone? But Joseph’s own silence in my womb, spoke louder than anything a doctor could tell me. His little feet, no longer kicked, his little hands, no longer moved – all I could feel was his lifeless body. My baby, my beautiful, beautiful boy… never to be held by us, never to open his eyes for us, never to be raised by us, never to be comforted or kissed, or nurtured by us.
My heart was breaking in a million pieces, my dreams shattering against this cold, bitter winter – my hands felt more empty than they ever had before.
Several difficult days were to follow. We were told there may have been a hemorrhage in the placenta & that they had found most, if not all of Joseph’s blood in my bloodstream. Two days of grieving & learning to accept this different, unforeseen future, but still hoping & praying for a miracle. Then a 48 hour induced labour, painful & difficult, seemingly impossible, but Christ & my husband helped me through each minute, each hour.
And then we saw Joseph… he came out entirely with the amniotic sac intact, feet first, little hand up to his face, his thumb had been in his mouth in his last moments, his little mouth open… 32cms long, almost 700grams in weight, 2 weeks ahead of his gestation in size.
Joseph, you are so beautifully made…
My frame was not hidden from you when I was being formed in secret intricately and curiously wrought as if embroidered with many colours in the depths of the earth…
Those little well padded feet, tiny toes, perfect hands, little fingers, strong legs, so well built, broad shouldered, strong, gorgeous tummy, little knees, elbows – all these features, just like his dad. In his face I saw the making of a baby nose, just like my own had been, the outline of eyes that may have been like my own, heavy lidded & big with little lashes already formed, a head full of hair (already!) – I had so much wanted a baby with a head full of hair. That little mouth… that gorgeous little mouth. What curious questions & sentences we could’ve listened to, what laughter we could’ve heard!
But none of that envisioned future would be ours now… Another path had been drawn out, long before we even knew of it. The consequences of Joseph’s loss, seem to weigh heavier on my heart each day, especially as October draws nearer, & each day I had planned, has become such a different reality. There are constant hourly reminders of the child I love wholeheartedly, but won’t see again in this lifetime. My emotions are turbulent, changing direction each day… The sun rises & sets, the stars come out. We sleep, we dream, we wake up with an ache in our hearts. Small tasks are left incomplete, & it seems so difficult to start or finish one single thing in a day. People come & go, I smile for them, maybe more-so to give them courage & assurance, than any I can give to myself. There is an open-fire battle in my mind & I am in constant search of strength from God – to not be bitter, or angry, or jealous. Wave after wave of oppression seems to hit my shores, bearing me down with fear, with guilt, with hopelessness, & at the end of each day all I can do is open my hands & surrender all I am, & all I do have, to God – His will, not mine.
Yet sometimes, in the moments between the crashing of the waves, when the storm seems to hold its breath, in the quiet of each sunset & the days last light, I feel God’s overwhelming peace, His assurance, His comfort, His promises, His love wash over me. It gives me strength to hold on again in the face of the storms wrath, through the long, restless nights, & the overwhelming pain. When He seems far (though I know He isn’t), I seek Him instead – when I cannot hear His voice, I try to speak out His promises – when I cannot understand, I surrender it all – when I forget what His love feels like, I remind myself of every dark valley he rescued me from & of the tears He always shed with me. Over & over again, I will keep holding on, till we see this storm through. You see, I’d rather the pain, than to not have known Joseph at all.
I am a mother. I have a son.
No day of his life here on Earth was in vain. I’m so thankful God chose us, to be his parents, to love him the way we did & will continue to do, to shed our tears for him, to have our hearts ache for him & to have our days ahead, our entire life from here on, filled with our memory of Joseph Arye.
I praise God, all glory be His, for He gives, & He takes away.