Defining moment: a moment in time that defines something, such as a person’s success or failure, achievement, demise, or talent; a point at which the essential nature or character of a person or group is revealed or identified.
I am sure we all can identify our defining moments; HS or college graduation, landing that dream job, or becoming a parent, just to name a few. Most of us probably have more than one that we can identify. My defining moment came on July 23, 2002. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it until several more months down the road, on November 4, 2002. Those dates are the birth and the death dates of my second daughter, Elizabeth Grace Atzen.
Elizabeth was born early in the morning, just as the sun was coming up after a very quick and uncomplicated labor. She was born almost 3 weeks early and had a full head of dark brown hair. Of course, it was love at first sight. Our older daughter, Olivia, was 3 when Elizabeth was born. She was so excited to be a big sister. I can still remember her coming into my bedroom every morning asking “where her baby was”.
After 14 years, some of the memories of November 4 are blurred in my mind, but some remain very vivid. I remember my secretary standing in the doorway of my office telling me my babysitter was on the phone (normally she would have just transferred me the call). I remember the phone call to my mom while I was being driven to the hospital by my boss. My mom, in true mom form, tried to calm me down and reassure me that everything was going to be fine. I remember seeing my husband, head in hands, sitting in a chair in the ER, waiting for me to get there. Together, we watched them perform CPR on our lifeless baby. I was there when they said there was nothing else they could do. I remember seeing my sister crying and hugging my dad in the hallway at the hospital. I am sure I don’t need to explain how our lives were turned upside down when Elizabeth died. At that moment in time, I could not have understood how this tragedy would change me and would come to define me as a person.
It wasn’t until several years later as I was visiting with a patient who also had suffered the loss of a child that I began to realize the impact. A very large part of my journey through grief was the parent support group that I was a part of for 10 years following Elizabeth’s death. I was suggesting such a support group to my patient and she told me she “didn’t need it, she and her husband did not want to be defined as the parents whose baby died”. Her statement made me think, “Is that such a bad thing?” “Is that how people define me?”
Through my job as a nurse midwife, I have had the opportunity to care for many families who have experienced loss. It was always my hope that I was able to portray my empathy and to let them know that I truly understood their pain. Those of us who have experienced the loss of a child are a unique group. I have met many wonderful families who have experienced a pain that most cannot imagine. We all understand when we say that we would not trade our friendships for anything in the world, but we all wish we had never met each other.
Are we all defined by our losses? I like to believe we are not, but that the loss is just a moment in time, a moment which helps to shape the person we will become. You can choose to be better, or you can choose to let it destroy you.
The person I am today is not defined by the the fact that I have lost a child, but it is definitely the most defining moment of my life. I made a conscious decision to come through this tragedy a better person. I work as hard as I can every day to be the best mom that I can to my other three daughters. I became involved in the community and founded a project to honor Elizabeth’s memory, a project that I hope will have a positive impact on other families.
The Elizabeth Grace Sleep sack Project was started in 2014 at Genesis Medical Center. Through this project, all babies born at Genesis are discharged with a sleep sack for use at home. Sleep sacks reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by eliminating the need for other loose bedding in the crib. The Halo 5K is the primary source of funding for the sleep sack project. To date, we have raised more than $10,000 towards the sleep sack project. This year, the Halo 5K will take place on August 13, 2016. To register, and for more details visit our website www.halo5k.org. You can also make a donation directly to the sleep sack project through the Genesis Foundation.
No matter what you identify as your defining moment, choose to be defined as a better person. I hope to see many of you at the Halo 5K this year, and thanks to QC Mom’s Blog for always being a huge supporter.