Life in the Silence
Infant Loss Awareness Month
By Kristine Zimmer Orkin
Jacob entered the world silently.
There was no collaborative gasp of joy with the final push that announced his arrival. No newborn wail of indignation as his warm little body emerged and felt coldness for the first time. No congratulatory cheer at the declaration “It’s a boy!” Only hushed whispers among medical professionals. Just a mother’s muffled sobs and a father’s stoic silence. A chilly hospital delivery room, warmed by the respect of random people brought together, celebrating this tiny gift of life now faded.
We weren’t prepared for the silence, Jacob’s dad and me. We never heard his cry, his laugh, his voice. Not his infant babbling and toddler mispronunciations, nor his squeaky transition from boyhood into manhood. We never came to know his giggles, outbursts of anger, squeals of excitement, or cries of frustration.
We came to know the quiet. But we weren’t prepared for the larger silence. The irreparable hole in our family. An obvious incompleteness, especially during holidays and family pictures. On Mother’s Day. In the headcount of grandchildren, making sure to include him. The uncertainty of how to answer, “How many children do you have?”
We felt his strong presence, yet couldn’t see or touch him. Sometimes, in an ordinary moment, we’d hear the tune we’d sung to him while he grew in my belly. A message from Jacob? “I’m here. Don’t forget me.”
Our marriage struggled to survive as others divorced after the loss of their child. We grieved the buried sadness in our older son, afraid to show his hurt or ask his questions because it might make Mommy cry. We feared pregnancy, of investing emotionally again. Of another hushed delivery room.
We were not prepared for the blessings that arose out of the silence. For the families after us that we’ve been blessed to comfort through their stillbirths and infant deaths. For the occasions to educate doctors, nurses, and chaplains on child loss. For changes in hospital protocol we’ve enacted to help parents through the silence. And for opportunities to share our story, to support you in your story.
Though he never took a breath outside my womb, Jacob breathed life into our family from the moment of his conception, and he continues to bless us now, thirty years after his quiet entry into the world. He lives loud and strong through us. His life has a purpose. HAS. Present tense.
Kristine Zimmer Orkin believes that blessings can be found everywhere, even in the most tragic of life circumstances. She and Philip Orkin have three sons: Joseph, Jacob, and Jonathan. In June 2007, Jacob welcomed his daddy Home at Heaven’s gate. The two have had ten years of quality time together.