Losing a child is likely the most traumatic, excruciating experience parents can go through. One couple suffered this tragic loss and found themselves coping with grief while expecting another child.
Alexis and Aaron Chute are 35 and 37 years old respectively. Alexis works as a visual artist and Aaron is a school principal.
The two were fortunate enough to have a healthy first baby named Hannah. However, their second newborn would tragically live for just a few moments before passing away in 2010.
Everything was going fine until 26 weeks into the pregnancy when they discovered there was a tumor around their unborn child’s heart.
Their son Zachary was born at 30 weeks, and lived for only a few moments before passing away in his mother’s arms. He would have been 9 years old this October.
Ignoring GriefAt first, the couple was in shock. They would discover that they would cope with Zachary’s passing separately from each other.
Aaron returned to work almost immediately to distract himself from the tragic loss of their son.
“I needed control in my life, and I needed something I could control,” Aaron said.
Alexis went into what she calls her “year of distraction” where she did everything except grieve. She would fill up every hour of the day with work or with spending time with their 1-year-old Hannah.
Alexis felt like she lost her identity as a woman, as a mother, and as an artist. She didn’t work for almost a year after losing Zachary.
“For me, art felt dangerous,” Alexis said.
In fall 2011 she became pregnant again, and the healing journey would begin for Alexis and Aaron.
When Alexis became pregnant again, she found herself excited but fearful at the same time. It wasn’t until this next pregnancy that she realized she needed to go through the grieving process for Zachary.
“I realized if I didn’t address my grief and face it head on and choose to be brave in those moments that I would probably carry that grief with me in an unhealthy way for the rest of my life. I didn’t want that for myself and I didn’t want that for my family,” Alexis said.
Alexis returned to her artwork, and found it was a safe and healthy place where she could explore her feelings.
Coping While ExpectingAfter the couple became pregnant again, their friends stopped asking about their loss and began asking about their new pregnancy.
“It was almost like the pregnancy, in everyone else’s mind, blanketed over the fact that we had lost a child, and everyone kind of was relieved,” Alexis recalled.
All of the support for the loss of their child quickly disappeared. That’s when Alexis began to heal more intensely. She began going on walks and experimenting with meditation in an effort to cope with the grief.
Aaron found himself initially disconnected from the pregnancy but focused on Alexis’s well-being. It would take him a while to connect with how special and important this pregnancy was for both of them.
“I think I lived in this state of fear. I was detached from this pregnancy, but as Alexis’ belly grew and she got closer and closer to that due date, I definitely became more connected to it,” Aaron explained.
The couple was cautiously optimistic about this pregnancy. Alexis learned how to practice positive affirmations in order to reduce her anxiety and negative beliefs.
Healthy NewbornsIn June 2012, Alexis gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Eden who is now 6. The couple also gave birth to Luca, who is now 3, in January 2016. Hannah is now 9 years old.
“Even though we lost Zachary, when Eden was born it definitely was like this light,” Aaron said.
“When they were born healthy and alive and kicking and screaming it was like the best days of my entire life. I felt insurmountable joy,” Alexis said.
Alexis and Aaron continue to celebrate Zachary’s birthday, and always do something as a family such as going swimming or planting a tree. They also strive to talk about him with Hannah, Eden, and Luca, and keep him in the family’s memory.
Throughout the entire journey, Alexis and Aaron learned how to support each other. At first, they had coped individually before they had learned how to cope together.
“When you’re dealing with your partner, I think it’s really understanding that they will not understand your grief, and you will not understand theirs,” Aaron explained.
How to HelpAlexis and Aaron suffered an unimaginable tragedy, but they also learned how friends and family can help those who have lost a child.
The couple had friends who organized meal deliveries for a couple of weeks following Zachary’s passing, which was immensely helpful for the couple because their grief had made it difficult to do simple activities such as cook.
“It was one of those survival times. [We] did not have any energy to make food, and just probably would have died in our pajamas it if it hadn’t been for that really compassionate and practical gesture,” Alexis said.
Family and friends should not shy away from the uncomfortable conversations that follow the loss of a child. It’s important to ask how the couple is doing, and to use the baby’s name.
It is also important to not compare the loss of a child to something else like losing a pet. One may mean well, but it doesn’t help to try to empathize in an off-handed way. It’s crucial to empathize in a simpler way such as saying “sorry that happened to you.”
Furthermore, it’s helpful if friends can check in regularly, even years later, as the loss is something that will be with parents forever.
“It’s not something we move on from. It’s something that becomes a part of us. It doesn’t have to be this pain that destroys us forever. I now can think about Zachary, and I do often, with joy, and reflection, and wondering what his life would have been like,” Alexis said.