I have spent almost all of my time mourning Melissa and not enough mourning my expected son, Matthew. In some ways this makes me feel like a terrible person, in other ways I understand that the loss of Melissa is just too big to set aside even for a moment. That this is not fair to Matthew, a child who did not get to be a child, is something I have to work through. I have not been able to yet, but know that I must.
Melissa and I delayed having children. When we first started dating her stance on the subject was "10 years". As those 10 years came and went it became a bit of a running gag. With each new niece and nephew it became less funny. Having someone to call our own became a mission. The delay stemmed from our concern over her history of seizures and our serious lack of a diagnosis for them, neither of which were anyone's fault. After throwing caution to the wind and trying for a couple of years we resigned ourselves to the possibility of adoption. Because God is nothing if not ironic, it was at that moment that we learned that Matthew was on his way.
Melissa told me about Matthew by waking me up from a sound sleep at about one o'clock in the morning on a Tuesday. I can say with some laughter and honesty that my initial reaction was not great. I was more annoyed at being woken up than I was excited for the news. More along the lines of, "couldn't this have waited until morning? I have to get up early".
After that initial faux pas, the full magnitude of the news hit home. We would be parents, at last. Over the next few weeks we kept it like a secret. Something just for us. We were satisfied with this new wonder and apprehensive about how much would change after 15 years of just the two of us. Eventually people started to figure it out. My Mom was the first. When Melissa didn't show up for my Mom's early morning retirement party 'because she didn't feel well', my Mom put 2+2 together. Melissa's sister was the first person we officially told.
Once the cat was out of the bag we buckled down to the serious business of being pregnant. Melissa had a solid four months of morning sickness, but refused to let it get her down. This being our first pregnancy and having some health concerns, we enlisted the help of a "high risk" OB. We also redoubled our efforts at Mayo to find a cause for her seizures. For a time things seemed to be going well. She had one scary seizure at about eight weeks, during a tutoring session on Skype. The demons otherwise seemed to be at bay. Our neurologist sought to put our minds at ease by claiming that nature would know when you were pregnant and the seizures could be expected to subside for at least a little while. Our OB agreed, and cited her other epileptic patients as case studies. Things were looking up.
Until they weren't. Melissa suffered three seizures in two weeks, the last being her last. That this would happen at such as joyous time is the cruelest part. The God or universe that would do this to someone so happy, so expectant, is what bothers me in those early mornings. That this also captured Matthew in its grip has been the most difficult part to accept.
The day that it happened was the start of our 20th week. That morning I finally picked up "What to Expect When You're Expecting". Melissa had been leaving it strategically around the house for me (read: in the bathroom) for months. I read about the 20th week, fascinated to learn that this would be the time that our son would start developing taste. Armed with this new knowledge, I suggested to Melly that we go to Whole Foods that night and start buying foods we'd like him to like. Stuff I never developed a taste for like fish. We figured it would make our lives easier down the line. That afternoon Melly and I went about our errands, agreeing to meet back up in the early evening to go to the store. When Melly came home around 5:15 that night we made our plans to go in 'a little while'. A little while never came. I am here and they are not.
That Friday at the time we were scheduled for our 20 week ultrasound I was instead at a funeral home making other arrangements. Life is normal, until it is not. In the midst of life we are in death.
In the weeks that followed I learned more about Matthew, including that he was big enough to be legally considered his own person. He would therefore need his own death certificate. When I first heard this it crushed me all over again. The medical examiner called with the pretense that they needed a name for the document. Right then and there. I had to name my son. A name that Melissa had signed off on only a couple of weeks before. Matthew James Piotrowski. 'Born' and gone in the same phone call. In shock, I told our families of the name and the news.
It was my sister that gave me the perspective needed to make it through that moment. Her words, Matthew was a person, Melissa was his mother in the eyes of the world and the law. It was something Melissa always wanted, and it was the gift she received. Matthew was our son, and let us not forget him.