A parent should never outlive their child. No truer words have ever been spoken. It is the most unbearable, excruciating, unrelenting pain a parent can experience. I’d like to share with all of you my story about Sydni. This will likely be the longest and most difficult blog I’ll ever write.
Sydni Elaine Summerlin (b. September 23, 1996 – d. January 17, 1997) was a beautiful little girl. She was born healthy (or so we think) and quickly became sick after being put into daycare. Understand I am not blaming the daycare because the truth of the matter is I don’t know that is the cause and blame doesn’t help in these situations. What I can tell you is that a few days after she was put into daycare she came down with what we thought was just a cold. She never got better.
Sydni was a child born out-of-wedlock. I have to admit my guilt here in that I had an affair with a married man. He was separated from his wife and their divorce had been filed, but that didn’t make him any less married. He was a police officer on campus where I worked and I saw him daily for months before we decided to go out. His wife also worked at the university but at an off-campus location. So her, I never saw…at least not until Sydni got sick.
C.S., Sydni’s biological father, was a decent enough man in the beginning. We did not date long before I found out I was pregnant. He hung in there with me for about five months or so before he decided he was no longer the father…interesting conclusion since sperm isn’t retractable at that point and I was already huge by then. Nonetheless, that is the conclusion he came to. It was a bit difficult for him to undo being the father as he’d spend the months up until that time bringing me weird food at lunchtime(I had cravings) making sure I ate, he hung around a lot, seemed even a bit happy about our child. He did not hide it, everyone in my office and the police department knew what was going on. We had NO plans to be married because that was not what either of us wanted and I was perfectly content knowing I’d be raising her as a single mom. I was excited about it even! I could not wait for her to be born so when he decided he wasn’t the father anymore, it was not much of a crushing blow. I did not love him and I did not care that he would not be part of our lives.
Now, before anyone chooses to comment that her death was my punishment for sleeping with a married man, let me stop you. I don’t subscribe to that theory so please do not waste my time with it. My daughter will NOT be disrespected in such a way so keep it to yourself.
While I was happy about having her, I was miserable the entire time I was pregnant. Very sick for almost the entire 9 months. It was the year the Olympics came to Atlanta and I had to work downtown during that time so that wasn’t much fun either. It was summer and it was HOT and any woman who has been pregnant during the summer is aware of the misery! Sydni was breach and this meant that having a C-section was likely. My doctor suggested we try to turn her so for her sake and safety I went along with the plan.
It was early morning, September 23rd when I arrived at the hospital. The truth was, going in, I did not expect to deliver her that day. The plan was to simply try to turn her then let nature take its course and I had certainly had no idea the amount of pain involved with trying to turn her! What a shock! I admit it…I screamed! My Daddy had to leave the room, my Mom hung in there with me but it was obvious by the look on her face she was as shocked as I was. Bless their hearts, I’ve got amazing parents. Anyway…there were two attempts to turn her and neither were successful. I mean they were in the sense she DID turn (which is a feeling that I can’t begin to describe) but she popped right back both times. She was determined to be a breach baby! After the 2nd try, the doctor said, “Well, let’s get you ready!” and before I knew it, I was being wheeled into the delivery room and about 20 minutes later I was a mom! It all happened so quickly and the memories are a blur, the few that I have, but I do remember holding her for the first time and being in complete and total awe that this beautiful perfect little one was actually mine. She was a true miracle like no other. All children are.
I spent four days in the hospital, typical C-section visit, with no complications whatsoever, except for one…the very vivid and over-powering feeling that I knew she would not be on this Earth for long. It is so difficult to try and tell you what that experience was like. It was not necessarily this sense of foreboding or doom, but more of a “knowing.” I honestly feel that a Higher Power was at work, almost warning me, that she’d not be with me for long. So I knew. It didn’t make it any easier at all but I was aware of what might happen.
Things progressed nicely for the first six weeks we were home. I was on maternity leave, happily being a mom, taking care of this little miracle. My Mom NEVER left my side for one second and was and is the most amazing Grandma in the world. Wow, she LOVED that little girl! She did everything for her, for me, for us. She uprooted her entire life from Valdosta, quit her job and sold her house just to come be with Sydni and I. Mom made some incredible sacrifices just to be with me and Syd and I tear up now thinking about all she did for us. Just incredible. Anyway, we set up Syd’s room – she had a serious Winnie the Pooh theme going on! Syd never cried, she was not a fussy baby at all, although she wasn’t particularly fond of bath time. Still, she never pitched a fit but you could tell by the expression on her little face that was not her favorite activity! We enjoyed every second we had with her until it was time for me to go back to work.
It was not until maybe the 3rd or 4th day of her being in daycare that Syd became sick. We honestly just thought it was a cold, a daycare germ she’d picked up that is so common with babies, and for a short time we thought nothing of it. We took her to the doctor, was told it would pass, and went with that until Syd just became sicker. She wouldn’t eat, she ran a fever and she just wasn’t getting well. So, on to the doctor again and again…and again until finally it was decided she needed to be hospitalized, tests needed to be ran, and she’d need an IV for nourishment since she by this time she was barely eating at all. Again, this happened so quickly, faster than her birth, that my memories are fuzzy. It is all such a blur. One minute I had a healthy little girl and the next my baby is laying in a hospital bed, hooked to tubes and not one single doctor can tell us what is wrong. She was tested for EVERYTHING and by that I mean they’d tested so much of her blood for so many diseases it got to where they could tell me I’d had Mono as a kid! They worked tirelessly and endlessly and nothing conclusive was ever determined. Again, Mom never left her side. At the time, I had a less than compassionate boss who gave me a lot of grief when I stayed out of work to be with Syd. Mind you, I was not out taking her to the park. We were sleeping at the hospital and at times I just laid down on the cold linoleum to catch a nap because I was so exhausted. I had to work though. I had to have the insurance to pay for the doctors who were trying to help my daughter. So it was back and forth, hospital to work and the occasional trip home for clothes and what have you. I might add here that my Stepmom checked on Mom almost every single day bringing magazines and food to the hospital room so Mom wouldn’t have to leave, sitting with Mom talking…not all Stepmoms are evil! I happen to have a good one.
I can not tell you the events that led to Syd being in a drug induced coma. I don’t remember them. I do remember the doctors allowing us to take her home on Christmas Eve so she could spend that day with family, at home, (we had to take her back to the hospital the day after Christmas) but other than that I have no memories. I’m sure it is because I’ve chosen somewhere in my head to block them and I can live with that. I have no desire to resurrect them nor will I try to do so. But she was put in I.C.U. and the coma was induced and then began the meetings with medical staff to try and determine the best route to go. My family was with me as we discussed whether or not Sydni would ever get better. She didn’t.
I remember taking a break long enough to go home, take a shower and change clothes and as I was on my way back to the hospital, the doctor called to tell me Sydni’s heart had stopped. This is NOT news a mom needs to hear while driving. He told me they had resuscitated her and that I needed to get back as quickly as I could. I don’t think it would’ve been possible for me to drive faster or to be more hysterical. I arrived to find that her heart had stopped a second time and again they were able to bring her back, she was on life support and now I had a decision to make. All eyes were on me as the doctor asked me if I wanted to keep her on life support. How in the hell does a mom make that call? I’m not God. How can I know she’ll never get better? How does a mom even know how to begin to make that decision? I knew the doctors strongly felt that she’d never get better and that if she was able to breathe on her own her quality of life would not be good. I had to go with that right? I knew that I did not want my child to suffer. No mother wants that. I remember it being very important to Mom that Sydni be baptised so arrangements were made and the hospital clergy stood with our family at Sydni’s bed and we prayed. It was the first and only time I’ve ever seen my Daddy pray. It was a profound moment.
Shortly after, her heart stopped one last time and that was it. My baby was gone. I asked the doctors not to put her through anymore. They wrapped her in blankets and then I went and I held her and rocked her for a time. I remember the room being very quiet. I remember the other parents in the room with their children looking at me, no doubt silently praying they would not have to hold their dead child. I remember kissing her and telling her how much I love her. I remember the nurse coming to take her and thinking at that moment how much I hated that woman because she wanted to take my daughter away from me. I remember having this completely irrational thought that if I bolted and ran with Sydni somehow things would change and she’d be alive again. But I had to let go. I had no choice.
Another note here: if any of you think of judging me for asking the doctors to not put her through any more, don’t. I don’t want to hear that either.
Decisions and questions did not end that day. The doctors were completely baffled and still had no idea what had caused Sydni’s illness. The only thing they did know was her spleen had basically stopped functioning but could find no reason for it so I was asked permission for an autopsy. It was like a slap in the face. I immediately said NO. I had just lost my child and I would be damned if I’d let anyone cut on her. Now, at this point, I’m not sure who but someone called a friend from the university who was the campus psychiatrist. I knew her, had sessions with her in the past and it very well could’ve been me that called her for help. I just have no recollection. But she came and she sat with me and talked with me for quite a while about the autopsy. She helped me understand that this was a necessary evil…if the doctors could deduce from the autopsy what had made Sydni so sick then it might go a long way to helping other kids. I was naturally resistant at first because at that time I couldn’t have cared less about other kids, but in the end, I relented. My only condition was that the cuts could not be visible and at no time did I want to see them. The doctors promised me I wouldn’t and so it went. The autopsy was done. It was a few days after Sydni’s funeral that I learned they’d still discovered nothing to determine why she died.
I did not plan her funeral. I did go to the funeral home. I was present in body but it was mostly like I was sitting outside myself looking in. It didn’t seem real and I was unable to help. Stepmom and Daddy took care of the arrangements. I know Stepmom bought the gown Sydni was buried in…it was white with lace and so pretty. I remember the funeral home being packed wall to wall with people during visitation. Oh, here is where I should mention again the wife of the man who was Sydni’s biological father. She showed up during visitation. In fact, she showed up at the hospital before Sydni died. At the hospital I did not care whether she was there or not but when she showed up at visitation it flew all over me. I remember saying to my best friend “Get that bitch out of here before I kill her.” Needless to say, Best Friend handled it and the woman was gone. I never saw her again. At the funeral it seemed there were even more people in attendance. I can remember being shocked at how many people had shown up. I remember standing at Sydni’s coffin with Best Friend, talking although I can not tell you what we said, but we did put some things in the coffin – a note, a stuffed animal. There was a point, when I was walking down the aisle of the chapel, that I almost passed out and Stepmom had to catch me to keep me from falling. It was a surreal experience. I know all of those people were there but I never really saw their faces.
Sydni was to be buried with the Summerlins in Sandersville, Georgia. Daddy has arranged for limos to take us to the cemetery. My ex husband, of all people, stayed with me that entire day along with Best Friend and my parents, of course. If anyone else was there with us I do not remember. Another surreal experience. Unfortunately, I have no real memories to share here because they escape me and again I will not try to bring them back. The entire day is a haze and I’d prefer to keep it that way. Her headstone has a lamb on it.
It was days before anyone would leave me alone. I was surrounded by my friends. Every time I got up to go to another room someone would follow me…afraid I’d kill myself? Probably because the thought did enter my mind more than once. Best Friend knew me well enough to know I was considering it and I’ve no doubt she put everyone on guard watch, working in shifts to keep me alive. When you bury your child you really feel as if you have nothing left to live for at all. You begin to question your existence. Leaving the house without her was like leaving without a limb. You feel lost, hopeless, desperate, without a soul, and completely broken. It was awhile before I felt I had any reason at all to live. I’d gotten to a point where I was holding on to ANY reason to live, no matter how trivial At some point I made the decision to go to church. Keep in mind at this time I hated God. I mean truly hated him. No God of mine would take away my baby. But that nagging feeling that I needed to turn to him even while I hated him was there so I went with it. If you know me at all you know I’m not a very religious person. I do consider myself spiritual but I don’t get into organized religion. My older brother belonged to a nondenominational church at this time so that’s where I went. I had no expectations of feeling better, I went in to each service with a pissed off attitude, but every single time I left I felt a little better, a little lighter. I began to feel as if I might have a purpose for being on this planet. I didn’t know what, but that didn’t matter as long as I kept moving forward one day at a time. This went on for several weeks. People began to clear out a bit and life resumed.
Mom and I left the house we lived in with Sydni. She moved to an apartment in Mableton, I to a condo in Marietta. It was about a year after Sydni’s death that I finally was alone enough to have my breakdown and I did. It was a morning like any other, I’m getting ready for work and without warning I just lost it. I stayed holed up in my condo for however long just crying. Didn’t eat, didn’t want to talk to or see anyone, hating the world and crying. I went through every single “what if” you can possibly imagine. I questioned every single move I’d made, all of the decisions and choices, wondered about every place I’d taken Sydni…could she have gotten sick at any of these places? The thoughts and questions that went through my head were endless and staggering. I remember being so pissed off at the entire world, at myself, still angry at God (although I’m still praying during this time)…it was just so overwhelming that I can’t really find the proper words to describe it.
This ended, of course. I had to snap out of it. I am one of those people who can pull myself out of a crisis. Oh sure, I have breakdowns -who doesn’t? – but there comes a time when I realize my hysteria solves nothing so I have to work on getting myself out of the hole. I did eventually. Life went back to normal, or as normal as it could be. I’ve visited the cemetery only a handful of times. It isn’t something I find necessary in order to remember my daughter.
Fast forward to 2001 and I find out I’m pregnant again. I was NOT happy. It took Emily being born for me to understand she is my purpose. This is what God had planned for me. He wanted me to be a Mom but Sydni simply was not meant for this Earth. She was to be an Angel. I’ve always spent my life pulling positives from negatives. It’s something I have to do in order to make sense of a bad situation. I was, after a time, able to do that with Sydni’s death. I don’t claim to have all the answers or reasons for why she was here only four months and I never will, but her birth brought our family closer, it reunited friends who’d not spoken in years, my Daddy prayed (this is a big deal if you know him)…my little one made miracles happen during her short time here with us. She truly did.
I wish I had the knowledge to be a grief counselor but I don’t feel that I’m cut out for that. I don’t feel I have enough wisdom to be helpful to any parent who has lost a child. It’s such a personal experience and something one has to go through in their own way, in their own time. Grieving is a process. We have to give ourselves permission to go through every stage of grief and we must understand that with the passing of each phase things do get better. I could never sit down with a parent and tell him or her that the pain goes away because it doesn’t. It becomes tolerable but it never leaves. I don’t have the ability to tell a parent his or her heart will completely mend because it won’t. There will always be a piece of us that is broken from this kind of experience. I don’t feel as if I could sit down and give a parent hope because it’s something we have to find on our own. We can’t give up, we can’t lose faith. No matter how tragic our circumstances are we must keep moving forward and believe that everything in our lives, especially the bad things, serves a purpose and has reason. If you lose hope, then you have nothing.
R.I.P. Sydni Elaine Summerlin…you will never be forgotten.