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The lost boy - Paul Steven Robins

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

I decided this morning to write it out, as I just couldn’t face talking about it yesterday, especially late in the day. So here is my story as I remember it. Feel free to ask me any questions about any of it.

We were living in New Orleans on Walmsley (having moved from a tiny place nearer the lake that was just too small for the 4 of us). New Orleans was a shock after living in Philadelphia for so long—hot and sticky, no friends yet, sad remnants of segregation carved into stone walls on canal street—White entrance, Colored Entrance. Your dad worked long hours and I barely saw him—so it was good to live on Walmsley with neighbors I could talk to. A Tulane professor next door, an Italian family with 3 kids on the other side (Matt, Mark, and Kathy). Suddenly I found myself pregnant, unplanned—Charles still in diapers. After getting over the shock, I started looking forward to a new baby.

During the pregnancy, I made reservations to go to Buffalo via Philadelphia with the boys—we stayed with Anna Franklin for a day before I came down with the flu. I was so sick they put me in the hospital, mom came and flew to buffalo with the boys, and Birdie came later when I got out of the hospital and we went to Buffalo by train (heaven only knows why—by TRAIN?) I remember thinking that the trip was endless.

By the time we got to Buffalo, both of you boys were sick with the flu too—and mother was taking very good care of you. She was not happy that I had gone to Philadelphia just to see a friend—how could I. But I was so friend starved in New Orleans that it seemed a good idea at the time. I always wondered if that flu contributed to the death of Paul. That and smoking. I was still smoking Viceroys in 1963. I stopped cold without a problem in 1964.

The birth at Trouro Infirmary on May 8 was uneventful, but the day after, the large round-faced pediatrician came in to break the news that Paul was having trouble breathing and had Hyaline Membrane Disease. That same summer, the Kennedy baby, Patrick, also died of the same disease. Ironically, a few years later they discovered that infants could be mechanically ventilated (with careful attention paid to air pressure and oxygen levels) to greatly improve survival rates. I don’t think Paul was ever put on a ventilator, because I stood for long periods of time at the window watching him breathe in his incubator. He was a beautiful baby with lots of dark curly hair. On the second day, a nurse walked into my room with a baby and said here’s your baby and I went berserk and screamed at her—you’ve made a terrible mistake my baby is very sick and if that’s him he shouldn’t be out here!!! She turned and ran out of the room. I was hysterical. They tried to calm me down. Later that day (May 10) the doctor came to tell me he had died. I screamed at him and still in my nightgown ran. I ran down the hall and right out of the hospital. I ran down the street. Your dad finally grabbed me and put me in the car and took me home. Yes, I was a total basket case. I don’t have much memory of the next days.

A few memories surface. My mother came to help take care of you boys. She was all business and didn’t want to let me talk about the baby and what I was feeling. Your dad was the same way. So I just cried and cried all day by myself. Yes, it was pathetic, but those were the days before they understood how grief operates when you lose a baby—even when it aborts. All I remember is crying and crying, standing in the shower with my breasts aching and dripping. I took giant pills to stop the milk.

I didn’t want to have anything to do with burying Paul—I know that sounds so strange—even to me now. I continued to run from the whole thing and everyone seemed to help me do that instead of sitting me down and talking about a service of some kind. Oh how I wish someone had been wise enough.

One day I was watching your father get up and go to the shower to get ready for work. He had on his boxer shorts and that was odd, because he usually slept naked. When he came out I questioned him closely—he finally admitted he was sick with mumps. In his testicles. They were swollen and terribly painful but he hadn’t wanted me to know because I kept talking about wanting to get pregnant again right away. My goodness, looking back, how very very sad.

The autopsy report was sent to our house and I read it.

I went through some terrible weeks having to see people again and most of them avoided me or avoided talking about the elephant in the room. Only the Italian neighbor (I wish I could remember her name) was willing to be sad with me. The prof and his wife next door were useless! And as we were fairly new in town, I had no other friends. A few months later I made a new friend, a woman who had survived the holocaust—she had a young son too. I remember thinking, oh, so there ARE worse experiences. That seemed to help a bit. (not really)

In August that year Patrick, the Kennedy baby died. Read this article It’s about how the death spurred huge changes in infant care. The year that Paul died marked a turning point—now 95% of babies with HMD survive.

In November of that year, Kennedy was assassinated, and the tears flowed again—huge rivers for all of us. That month I got pregnant and finally was able to stop crying. The rest of the time in New Orleans is a blur—your dad had to finish his first year of residency and report to the Navy sometime in July or August of 64, close to when our rainbow baby was due, but to report exactly when and where was unknown. So I had to go to Buffalo in June and stay at the beach. As her birth day approached, I moved in with Auntydele and Uncle Leonard. (Susan was home and she made a small sculpture of me—wish I had that!)

Finally Jennifer was born and healthy and wonderful. Mother again helped us land in Tarawa Terrace, Camp Lejuene, North Carolina. Thus began two years of lots of friends and kids and fun. I knew at some point we had to go back to New Orleans so your dad could finish his residency. The thought of it was horrifying to me—so I started to make plans to go back to school. Facing New Orleans again without some purpose was impossible. That sent me on my way.

Ironically, this experience was key to my relationship with Kathy. When I met her in 1987, she had just lost her newborn nephew, John and Kelly’s first son, who died shortly after birth from a heart defect. Neither John nor Kelly could manage their grief enough hold the baby so Kathy did, until he died. We were at Asilomar in Monterrey, and she was telling someone about it at the breakfast table and teared up. I was sitting next to her and listening to her story brought up my old pain and I started crying (I have since been in therapy and worked through a lot of it, but back then, it was still just raw. She put her arm around my shoulder and that bond was set forever. The feeling of being met in a place of pain and being so vulnerable. After that weekend, we were rarely apart.

There you have it . . .

Now it’s up to you guys to ask me questions.

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