I stood with Henry.

I sat up straight and smiled at the dermatologist walking in the room. She smiled back, sat down, and explained my diagnosis.

“Julie, you have a hair loss condition called Telogen Effluvium. Your body went into shock immediately after the loss of your nephew and almost losing your sister. Three months ago, those two events were enough to shut your body down momentarily. Your fingernails stopped growing too. Your body seems to have corrected the shock. I see where your fingernails grew again. Your hair will do the same but because hair grows in a cycle, it will take about a year or maybe longer for your hair to grow back. It’s a rare condition but a temporary one. I’m so sorry for the loss of your nephew.”

The divots in my fingernails are almost grown out now. My hair loss slowed down and I have new hairs sprouting around my scalp. I don’t cry when I wring my hair in the shower anymore. Yet, I still avoid brushing it or pulling it back in a ponytail because it is much thinner than it used to be.

I stood six feet from my nephew today.

I knew Henry wouldn’t hear my voice. He wouldn’t feel my feet above him. Or smell the lotion I put on this morning. I stood anyway. I stood six feet from my nephew for the first time since I held his sweet face 200 days ago.

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Just Henry and me, under a giant tree.

He slept and my chest felt heavy.

I looked around. I was surrounded by babies. Quiet, sleeping babies. I saw a bundle of yellow flowers against the fence, next to the giant tree with branches over my head. I walked over. I didn’t see any headstones. The flowers must have blown with the leaves and stopped at the fence. I picked up the flowers and placed them on Henry’s headstone.

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I whispered the only words in my head.

“There you go, Henry. Aunt Jules will hook you up.”

I got in my car. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to wake the sleeping babies.

I started my car and drove towards the entrance. I got lost. I drove past Henry and his yellow flowers three times – and one time in reverse – before I figured out how to get out. And when I finally made the right turn out of the cemetery, the heaviness on my chest lifted. It shocked me. The weight on my chest was real.

My shoulders lifted too. I didn’t know my shoulders had bricks on them. The air filled my lungs. I didn’t know my lungs needed the air. My body lifted up.

My hair tingled.

I stood with Henry.

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Henry.

I don’t want to write this.

I don’t want a lot of things but I especially don’t want to write this. I suppose when you need the right words, you turn to a writer.

That’s me. A writer.

My name is Julie. My parents are Tom and Abbie. I have three younger siblings – Jessica, Jon, and Jenna.

Jenna.

I met Jenna when I was in Kindergarten. I remember the day she was born. I remember waiting in the waiting room with my two siblings and my aunt Mary. A male nurse ran in to tell us my mom had her baby. I asked if I had a brother or a sister and he said he didn’t remember. A few hours later, my dad handed me my baby sister. I still wonder how a nurse forgets such a thing.

Jenna and I are six years apart. That’s a huge gap when you’re growing up together. Jenna started Kindergarten when I headed to middle school. Jenna was in middle school when I left the house for college. Jenna became a first time aunt to my daughter, Emma, when she was still in high school.

But then Jenna married Steven. Jenna gave birth to Evelyn four years ago. And then she gave birth to June two years ago. I was in the room during June’s birth. Jenna looked up at me with the baby crying on her chest and whispered, “Her name is June Elaine. June Bug. She’s a bug too.” Jenna and Steven named June after my nickname “bug” and Jessica’s middle name, Elaine.

The six-year gap between Jenna and me doesn’t exist anymore. Jenna, Jessica, and I became the same age when we became mothers. Aunthood and motherhood – it’s the same with my sisters and me. All three of us gave birth to Emma, Kate, Gabby, Evelyn, Savannah, June, William, and Jenna’s little boy – due in June 2017.

We never knew the name of the little boy Jenna carried.

On May 13th, 2017, a nurse knocked on the waiting room door. Our heads shot up. Our swollen, blood-shot eyes stared. The nurse seemed flustered.

“Jenna is still in the operating room. We’re doing everything we can. Steven and Henry are on the 2nd level. I will escort you to down there. We offer our deepest condolences.”

Henry.

His name was Henry. Henry Steven Flanery.

They say babies can hear outside of the womb. Henry Steven Flanery must have known us all. He knew his sister, Evelyn, and her voice of song. He knew his other sister, June, and her screams of laughter. He heard his dad, Steven, take aim and fire at a box that exploded blue powder, announcing his gender to the world of Facebook. He heard our families cheers of joy. Henry knew us and he knew our love for him. Above all, he knew his mother, Jenna, the most.

I held Henry. He was beautiful inside his mom’s womb. The ears he heard us with were his mom’s ears. I held the same ears 29 years ago, only they were my baby sister’s ears. Henry weighed 5 pounds, 1 ounce. He was 18 inches long. He looked like a sleeping newborn. I stroked his face and touched his light brown hair. He had a small dimple on his chin. I held Henry but I never met him.

Henry wasn’t in my arms. He was two flights up in the hospital with his mom. I met an angel on May 13, 2017.

After five hours of waiting, one of Jenna’s five surgeons knocked on the waiting room door. Jenna was stable but in critical condition.

During the early hours of May 13th, Jenna started to throw up. She started a giant contraction that wouldn’t let go. A doctor would know this means the placenta tore away. Usually there is bleeding with this but Jenna didn’t bleed. Her pain and condition worsened and she went to the hospital around 6 a.m. By the time Jenna was at the hospital, the doctors couldn’t find a heartbeat. Henry passed away due to placental abruption and lack of oxygen.

There are three risk factors women generally have when the placenta tears away from the uterus – the woman is on drugs, the woman has high blood pressure, or the woman suffered trauma. Jenna did not have any of these. The five surgeons could not tell us why her placenta tore away at 8 months. We will never know why.

Jenna delivered Henry with ease. She was able to hold Henry and see his face. Then she started to bleed. The blood wouldn’t stop. Doctors had to put Jenna under while they worked to save her life. The surgeon tried every trick she knew to stop the bleeding. Jenna wouldn’t stop. It was like water flowing out of a sink. Jenna lost 8 liters of blood. She lost as much blood in a non-pregnant body. Not only was Jenna losing blood from her uterus, she was also filling up with blood in her body cavity. In order to save Jenna’s life, surgeons removed her uterus. The surgeon took her uterus to a table and searched everywhere for a hole. Jenna had to have been leaking; the surgeon was determined to know where. The surgeon couldn’t find the hole. This is another answer the doctors could not give us. We don’t know why Jenna bled outside of the uterus. We will never know why.

The five surgeons told us they have never seen a hemorrhage this catastrophic in 25 years of practice.

Jenna lived.

Henry never cried that day. He wasn’t in my arms. He was saving his mom.

There’s nothing I can do for Jenna but be her sister and I will write this story for her even though I don’t want to write this.

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Many people have asked what they can do to help. We set up a GoFundMe page for Jenna and Steven. If anything, we can relieve the financial stress with medical bills and funeral costs. If you would like to help my sister, please consider donating. 

The Flanery Family Go Fund Me

Thank you for your prayers and love as we mourn the loss of Henry and continue to support Jenna’s healing.

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