I’d like to announce the birth of my grandson, Jackson, was born on Thursday, June 8, 2017.
My daughter lives in New York, and he was early. So I wasn’t able to make it there for the birth. All I’ve seen are pictures.
People always ask about the statistics—length, weight and all that. So here they are: He was born at 5:22 P.M. Eleven inches long. One pound, 1.5 ounces.
Jackson was a special little kid … so special that God decided he needed him up with Him right away.
It turns out pictures are all I’ll ever get to see.
My daughter doesn’t want me to share the pictures. She doesn’t want it talked about on social media or anything. That’s why this story doesn’t have an author’s byline.
Jackson had something called Potter Syndrome. I’ve never heard of it. Most people haven’t. It’s a problem with the kidneys. They don’t develop properly, which leads to a variety of other problems.
This is interesting: Amniotic fluid? That’s the “water” that breaks right before someone gives birth—the fluid around the baby in the womb. Turns out, that’s mostly made up of urine … from the fetus. It has to go to the bathroom while in utero.
Most people I’ve told this to had no idea and don’t believe me, at first. But it’s all completely true. You can look it up. It makes sense that people wouldn’t know. It’s not exactly a pleasant thought … that we all develop in a bag of our own urine for nine months. In fact, one of the only times it is brought up is when there’s something far more unpleasant out there that we don’t want to discuss … like what happens when it’s not there.
You see, if a baby’s kidneys aren’t developing correctly, it’s not going to urinate as much … or at all. And that means that there won’t be any amniotic fluid to protect it and help it develop. It’s one of the ways Potter Syndrome is first diagnosed—the amniotic fluid volume is far too low early in the pregnancy.
When they told my daughter, they filled her in on the next piece of a very sad puzzle. One of the things that the fluid is supposed to do is help with lung development. The baby “breathes” the fluid in and out, helping to strengthen the lungs. So … if the kidneys are undeveloped, so are the lungs. That meant that Jackson’s life span would be at most a few hours after being born, even if he went full term. There was also a chance he wouldn’t survive the delivery at all.
I know which of those happened on June 8, but I’m not going to tell you. I know that it’s probably very important, legally, to know whether Jackson was able to get in a few shaky, uncertain breaths outside his mother before his lungs gave out. Politicians and activists would think this is a very important distinction.
It’s not. He should have taken more than 672 million breaths in his life. The number doesn’t matter when you come up that short. If anyone feels very strongly about this, here’s what I ask: look at a picture of your daughter, still exhausted from delivery, looking down at her lifeless baby, cradled in her arms. After doing that, I’d be willing to hear your argument.
Jackson wasn’t originally going to be his name. Like I said, Potter Syndrome means the baby doesn’t develop properly. When doctors did ultrasounds, they initially thought he was a girl. My daughter and Jackson’s father picked the name Jade Denise for what they thought was going to be their little girl.
Instead, a short time after he was born, doctors realized their mistake and announced, “It’s a boy.” I suspect that’s why he has a pink hat in some of his pictures.
So Jackson didn’t actually get his name—Jackson John—until after his life was over.
The hospital has a program where they work with local funeral parlors to have a cremation, at no cost to the parents. My daughter will leave the hospital with a box of ashes, instead of a baby. I don’t know what she will do with them. I haven’t asked yet. I doubt it’s something she’s had the chance to think about.
I don’t know if they’ll pour them somewhere special and say a few words then, or if they’ll have a memorial service, or if they’ll keep them in a nice urn or vase. I don’t know what I would choose to do. Throughout the last few months, I’ve had no idea what I would do if I were in my daughter’s position.
I do know there won’t be a classic graveside service. There won’t be any pallbearers. No mourners holding umbrellas against the weather. No minister telling us there was a reason this happen. No loved ones giving a eulogy.
So I thought I could at least do that for my grandson.
Jackson would have been a great kid. A handful for his mom and dad, but great kids are often handfuls.
He would have been quiet. My daughter would have started worrying at about 18 months, the age that books say many babies begin to talk. She’d have considered getting him tested at two years old, but there was no need. Jackson just didn’t have anything to say. But he was watching everyone and taking it all in. And when he felt the time was ready, he’d speak and set his mom’s fears to rest.
That wouldn’t have ever changed. He’d always have preferred to watch and listen, and let other people spout off, rather than speaking himself. But once you learned the slight smiles and scowls, once you learned to recognize the mischievous glint he’d get in his eye, then you’d have a pretty good idea what was on his mind.
He wouldn’t have liked to read.
He’d have been fast. When he got going, he would have been able to run like the wind. He’d have won a few races at middle school track meets, but the practices would have gotten on his nerves. He’d always have had an excuse about why he had to sit out practice.
He’d have worked hard in school, and he’d have learned a trade. Plumbing or electricity. Something like that … something his grandfather was bad at.
When he would come over to my house—likely griping before he did so but doing it because his mom wanted him to—to fix whatever plumbing or electrical problem his dottering old grandfather had, I’d have told him stories about when he was little. About how I used to sing him completely inappropriate songs when I held him and rocked him—kind of a tradition in our family. I’d chosen a couple of good ones for him: “Smack That” by Akon and “Sexyback” by Justin Timberlake. They were two of his mom’s favorites when she was in high school.
He’d have rolled his eyes and listened to my stories while trying to figure out how I broke whatever it was I needed him to fix. Then he’d refuse to take my money, hug me and leave.
That’s the life he could’ve had. That’s the life he should have had. Instead, he just passed through, in a short, torturous trip through our world, leaving us all bobbing in the water as waves of pain wash over us, again and again.
I’m usually good with words. It’s kind of my job. But I haven’t found any that are at all useful for months now. I tell my daughter nonsense that doesn’t help—her or me.
I bought her something today. It’s a pendant, made out of jade, the baby’s name when we all thought it was a girl. On it are inscribed the Chinese characters for health, happiness and love. I hope she comes out of this with all three. I hope she wears the pendant close to her heart.
I hope she keeps Jackson there as well. After all, he was here.