Kay Kremer was in a therapy session for perinatal depression when she felt her baby stop moving. She was 32 weeks pregnant, far enough along that a fetus usually makes its presence known through near constant jabs and wiggles, even pelvic pressure signifying that it’s almost ready to press on through. That wouldn’t come to pass for the now 37-year-old makeup artist. Her son, whom she named Sullivan, was born still the next day, July 5, 2015.
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With the help of a bereavement nurse at her Shawnee, Kansas hospital, Kremer and her husband had photos taken of Sullivan, and planned an open-casket funeral at their church. “I want people to fully acknowledge Sullivan as my child and as a real baby,” she says. And so she set about to concretize this loss—to make real someone who had only been ephemeral; a life that wasn’t lived, but nonetheless existed, acutely, for her.
“I got a tattoo. And then another one. And, well, let me count,” she says, before landing on the total of seven pieces of forearm art, nine hours under the needle. First came his name, then she added a foot and handprint. A few months later came the date and time of his birth. Over time she added angel wings, the letter “S,” blue jay and cardinal feathers, and finally a black heart with a puzzle piece taken out to represent what’s missing from hers. She says the process of getting tattoos was healing: the adrenaline numbed her pain, and the ink…