By Megan Coker
My daughter Eden took six deep breaths in her 40 minute life.
She took more, but there were six full, visible, refreshing breaths. I counted them:
One. Oh, she’s alive. She lives. Thank you, God. She’s beautiful. She looks like her daddy.
Two. She’s on my chest. I feel her weight. This is heavy. The weight of her life on me is heavy. It’s tangible. I feel it. Thank you, God.
Three. She’s being dedicated. There’s a cross. There’s oil. It smells so good. Will Heaven smell this way? Thank you, God. Here you go, God.
Four. Kisses. Kisses from everyone. On her head, on my head. Then quiet. The sounds of her daddy’s tears falling on her cheek. I’m humming to fill the silence. I don’t want to remember silence. You are my sunshine. A song comes. Thank you, God.
Five. He’s reading. “I love you all the way down the lane, as far as the river,” cried Little Nutbrown Hare. She smells so good. She’s still breathing? Thank you, God. She’s still breathing.
Six. “It’s okay, you go.” The words come out. They don’t sound like they’re coming out of our mouths, but like they’re coming from down the hallway. I don’t recognize my voice. But I repeat it. “It’s okay, baby. Thank you, God.”
And then, shortly after, she was gone. I didn’t count any more big breaths. She left so peacefully, without pain or struggle. She stopped breathing and she was born into the arms of the Lord before she ever opened her eyes.
And I think I stopped breathing myself when she did.
I held my breath for days. I was waiting for something? No, I was expecting something. My own death? It didn’t come. Then I ran out of Percocet to numb the physical pain of post-birth, and I couldn’t hold my breath any longer. Like a few friends remind me all the time: feelings demand to be felt. I gasped, and in with the air came all the emotional pain of fresh, first-timer grief.
It hurt. It hurt so badly, down deep in my bones. There’s a permanent ache in the place my chest rises. Burning like ice as it came in through my nose, taking its time getting out through my mouth. It hurt. But it also felt so good.
I had to let it in. I had to catch the ugly, awful, gut wrenching breath that meant I would go on living without my only baby. And I had no idea that this would mean the beginning of my life, because in that moment I was sure that it would mean the end. I’ve taken my own big breaths since that first one. I’ve counted them too:
One. Writing. I wrote it all down. Everything I remembered, and I asked for the memories of others to supplement mine. That was first. I got it out. I said her name. Deep, refreshing, breath, “Eden” on the exhale. It was like she was doing it herself. Thank you, God.
Two. Getting help. I allowed myself to be treated for postpartum depression. I let go of my pride and got help. I left my therapist and got a new one. Then I picked up my camera. I rehashed my business. I named it after her. I had new purpose with that camera. Thank you, God. Beautiful, satisfying breath.
Three. Standing up for myself, my family, and for her memory. I cut toxic people out of my life. I looked at her daddy with new eyes. I clung to the sight of her in him. I clung to his careful love for her and for me. There’s evidence she was here as long as we don’t forget to exhibit it and don’t allow others to hijack it. Oh, that feels good in my chest. Lighter now. Thank you, God.
Four. Helping someone else. Who? Just holding my hand out, it was taken over and over again. In wanting to help them, I was able to let them help me. Thank you, God. My baby has friends.
Five. Living as if she had. We went away to Mexico for Christmas. I gave myself permission to talk about her without it being only sad. We decided we would continue our family, as we desired siblings close in age.
Pregnancy Test: positive.
Thank you, God.
Four days later: miscarriage begins.
Inhale. Hold your breath. Hold it.
Phone call: Identity theft using your baby’s pictures.
Don’t breathe. If you hold it long enough, maybe you can suspend this all?
Phone call: HCG: 1.
Exhale. Spit it out. In a panic. In anger. Feel it all so intensely all over again. It’s okay to not be okay. Just as long as you keep breathing. Keep breathing.
Six. Getting the crap out of my heart. I let the retreat gifted to me console my heart. I’m getting my outreach project off the ground. Hosting meetings. Being blessed. Taking the pictures. Hugging grieving parents. Hugging myself. Giving myself a warm bath. Giving myself a day in bed. Even if it’s short, taking the breath. It’s beautiful. Thank you, God. I’m alive. That doesn’t mean I’m all “better”. That doesn’t negate the pain. It just means there is still something good to live for.
She couldn’t breathe. That was her defect- almost non-existent lung development thanks to CDH. She didn’t have lungs. And here I was with two perfectly healthy ones… holding my breath. Selfishly, unhelpfully, holding my breath. Not anymore.
Every single breath I took after the hardest first was for her. Every single one I’m taking now is for Eden and her sibling I never met and for my husband and for our family and for everyone I can help… and for me. I’m breathing for me, too. Because my life is changed and better for the grief and though I thought I would die from the pain, instead I’ve come alive in just six big breaths.
Megan Coker is a photographer, blogger, and lover of life. She and Ryan currently reside in Washington and miss their 2 babies every day. To honor their lives she captures the beautiful moments in the lives of others through Eden’s Garden Images, and she also cofounded “Provisional Light”- an outreach to bereaved parents in the military community. Find her on her blog, on her personal Facebook, or on her photography Facebook.