Sophie, My Christmas Angel
I tried so hard to find something to concentrate on. The hum of the machines, the constant beeping. The whisper of the nurses in the corridor outside the room. The white lilies in a vase on the window ledge. The sun shining through the window as the snow continued to fall outside. None of it was distraction enough. None of it could make me forget that I was sitting in ICU while my daughter fought for her life.
It was December 23rd, my daughter Sophie was born on December 22nd. I was still trying to put the pieces together in my head. I missed her birth, all of it. I didn’t have contractions, I didn’t feel the excitement of what was about to happen. I didn’t push; I didn’t feel that final surge as she left the comfort of my womb and entered the world. I didn’t have that moment when the nurses checked her over to make sure she was breathing and counted her fingers and toes before they handed her to me with smiles and congratulations. I didn’t hold her in my arms and touch her sweet face and have that instant moment of bonding that you hear about. Instead, all I remembered was falling. My partner had come home from work in a foul mood and beat me. He pushed me down the stairs and as I fell the last thing I remember thinking was, “Please protect my baby”. My daughter wasn’t due for another five days.
When I woke up in hospital, my hand instantly went to my stomach and I knew that there was nothing in there. Where was my baby? I didn’t know if she was dead or alive. Everything hurt. There was not a part of my body from my head to my toes that wasn’t screaming in pain but my heart. My heart screamed the loudest. I was trying to get out of bed as one of the nurses came in; she tried to calm me down and keep me in bed. She was trying to tell me about my injuries. Later I discovered I had a concussion, fractured cheek bone, fractured arm and cuts and bruises but all I cared about in that moment was my daughter. She called another nurse in and they closed the door. One nurse sat on the bed beside me while the other pulled up a chair in front of me. I knew, I knew it wasn’t good news. They told me she had been born with severe brain damage as a direct result of the beating and the subsequent fall. She wasn’t breathing on her own, her heart wasn’t beating by itself and they didn’t hold out much hope of her living through the next 24 hours. At this point she had already been fighting for almost 14 hours. I wondered if she knew. I wondered if she knew that those 14 hours I had not been with her?
They took me to her. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment, a moment that haunts my dreams to this day. I won’t share that moment as it is too distressing both to hear and to share. They told me to talk to her, to sing to her, to read to her, anything to let her know I was there. I could put my hand through the small door in the incubator and touch her but I couldn’t hold her.
The next few days are still a blur and I don’t remember every detail. The only time I left her side was to go to the bathroom, to brush my teeth and to go get coffee. I didn’t shower for days. I was taken back to my room occasionally so that the doctor could check me over and tend to my injuries but for the most part they left me alone with my daughter.
I told her stories, sang lullabies to her. I told her over and over again how much I loved her. I whispered to her that if she fought, if she stayed with me I would spend the rest of my life making this up to her. I apologized for being the worst mother and promised to do better. I prayed to God longer and harder and with more sincerity than I ever had before.
As visitors came for other patients with cards and gifts for Christmas, I was oblivious. A few friends came and went but none of them knew what to say to me. I didn’t have many close friends and those I did have were scared, so they stayed away.
One of the nurses called my mother and told her what was going on. The first time the nurse called, my mother told her that I had my own life and had to deal with the consequences of my actions. The second time she called my mom was December 26th, Boxing Day. She told her she was calling to tell her that Sophie wasn’t going to make it and that if she or my family wanted to see Sophie or say goodbye, they had to come now. My mother’s words to the nurse were, “Call me and let me know when it’s over”. They called my mom before they told me what was going on; they wanted someone there for me but when they told me and I asked them to call my family, the nurse had to tell me my mother’s reaction. As I looked at my daughter lying there, so frail and helpless, I felt such a surge of overwhelming and all-consuming love and I knew that if I could, I would give my life to save my daughter’s life. I wondered where that sense of love was with my mother right then.
They asked me if I wanted to hold her. I said no. As long as she was in the incubator, she was safe, she was being kept alive. Every fibre of my being was aching to hold her but by doing so, by allowing them to take her out of the incubator and place her in my arms, I would be admitting defeat. I would be allowing myself to believe that she really was going to die. In my heart I knew it was happening but my mind was in denial. As long as she was still attached to the machines that were breathing for her and keeping her little heart beating, there was hope.
After a few minutes of trying to persuade me, the nurse simply took Sophie out of the incubator, unhooking her from everything and placed her in my arms. We were both bawling by this point, me and the nurse. They sat me in a chair and gave me a blanket. They turned down the lights and they left me alone. A few minutes later another nurse came in and asked me if I wanted a picture taken and I immediately said no. Letting them take a picture felt like I was signing her death certificate myself.
Sophie wasn’t small. She was only 5 days from her due date when she was born and she weighed almost 8 pounds. She had fair, wispy hair and the softest skin. Most of the bruising had faded considerably and aside from a small indent above her eye, there was no sign of the trauma she had endured. She looked just like a normal, healthy baby that was sleeping peacefully.
I touched every inch of her soft skin. I held her close and breathed in her sweet smell. I kissed her, held her against my heart so she could hear it, all the while hoping that it would be enough, enough to make her want to stay with me. It was so hard to believe that instead of getting ready to take her home, I was being told to say goodbye to her.
There is a book called Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney that I was given by one of the nurses the day they took me to see Sophie for the first time. I must have read it to her hundreds of times in those few short days—short days that at the time felt like the longest of my life. As I held her I recited the words of that story to her from memory. “I will love you to the moon and back again”.
My daughter died in my arms on December 27th 2006. My Christmas Angel left this world on the very day she should have entered it. Who else can say that they have their very own Christmas Angel?
The rest of that day and the one following I don’t remember. They sedated me and just let me sleep, hoping that my body would begin healing physically so that I would be able to start healing emotionally.
The day I was leaving the hospital, two days after Sophie died, the nurse who had been there every day handed me a small box. In it were the book I had read Sophie, the teddy that she herself had bought for Sophie, a lock of her hair, her handprints and footprints, her blanket and a picture. Even though I had said no to having my picture taken with Sophie, the nurse knew that when the time came, I would regret not having one so she took it upon herself to take a picture of Sophie for me. It is not the same as having a picture of both of us but at least I have a picture. The nights I wake up in a cold sweat with the fear in my heart that I am forgetting her, that I can’t remember what she looks like, all I have to do is take out the picture.
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I was angry for a long time. I was angry at myself for not being able to protect her. I was angry at my family for not being there. I was angry at God for taking her and I was even angry at Sophie for leaving me, for not loving me enough to stay with me. She would be six years old this coming Christmas.
It has been a long and painful journey. I have veered off path many times, gotten so lost that I believed I would never find my way again. More than once I didn’t want to be found. I just wanted to be left alone in my darkness and in my hurt. I didn’t want to feel better, I didn’t want to live. I felt guilty if I smiled, if I felt happy even for a second. I felt guilty for every little change I made in my life, thought that she would think I loved her less for moving forward without her. The guilt and shame consumed me as much as my love for her once had. It took over.
Then it came to me. It wasn’t that Sophie didn’t love me enough to want to stay with me. It was because she loved me so much that she left. God spared her. He knew I was strong enough to deal with losing her so that she didn’t have to live a life of pain and hurt. He needed her more than I did and he knew that I would find a way to see that. Who knew what our life would have been like had she lived and I had taken her home. Would he have beaten her too? Would he have killed both of us? She saved me. Her strength and her courage gave me the strength I needed to leave and to start my own journey of healing. She doesn’t think I love her less by healing and moving on. She knows I love her more.
At the beginning it was all for her; it was all in her name and in her memory. All that I did was for her. Since the day she was born and even after she died, Sophie continues to teach me daily. I realized recently that it is not enough to do everything for her. I have to do it for myself. I can hold her in my heart as I continue my journey but the only way my journey will take me where it is supposed to is if I do it for myself. She taught me that I have to believe in myself, even when it feels like the world is against me.
She is my greatest gift. Without her I would not know love—true, unconditional love. I would not know hope or trust. When God gave me Sophie, he did so for a reason. I was too hurt and too angry to see it at the time but I see it now. I will be forever thankful that I was given her for those few short days and that I was given the chance to hold her.
Her full name is Sophie Louise, which means wise warrior. She will always be my wise warrior, the one who taught me what true strength is and the one who passes her wisdom to me even now. She knows what my heart sounds like from the inside and she is teaching me how to listen to my heart, how to follow my heart. She is teaching me how to simply BE.
Paintings courtesy Leslie Escoto, host of Tell A Story Online.
If you are moved by this story, the writer, KA, would love to hear from you! Just leave a comment for her below. ♥ Mali & Joe, authors of The Soulmate Experience: A Practical Guide to Creating Extraordinary Relationships