I haven't held a baby since March 31st of last year. She was beautiful, and so cold. I held on for hours, telling her how much I loved her, my vision blurred with a lightning bolt migraine and an endless stream of tears. One of her doctors came in to offer his condolences; he stayed at the doorway with visibly shaking hands. He was young and I actually felt sorry for him in the moment before the first buds of hatred sprouted.
A nurse helped me dress her in a soft white onesie before we wrapped her in a blanket. Then we said goodbye, because I couldn't take the physical effects of death anymore. The walls were closing in on us and I just couldn't make her warm again. They put us in a cab and as it pulled away I saw the counsellor who had visited us through the week running out after us. Our eyes met briefly through the window but I couldn't ask the driver to stop. The look on her face had made me instantly nauseous.
We're at that age. I have friends who are pregnant, friends who are trying to get pregnant, friends with thriving, adorable infants whose photos it simultaneously kills and thrills me to look at on Facebook. Blessed with some wonderful women in my life, I constantly wonder what it will be like when the first one holds out a newborn for me to hold. Will I hold it together? Or will I crumble?
"She'd be tottering around back here by now, just learning to walk." I gesture over my shoulder from the patio table toward the green lawn in our backyard. Hold my arms out like an idiot lacking balance to demonstrate.
He smiles just slightly with acknowledgement, nodding.
"And there'd be shit everywhere."
"Yeah. Toys and stuff. You know. Baby shit."
Understood. The good kind of shit, not the dirtied diaper kind.
There are a few advantages to working for the same company as your spouse. We travel together in the morning, reading the free daily on a swaying train. We get caught up, decide who's going to cook that evening. Occasionally we bicker and I tell him we shouldn't travel together anymore. We have our coffee guy. Our bagel guy. I only need one Christmas party outfit.
The downside is that he's been there for almost ten years. People have known him a long time. They knew him before, when his wife was expecting. They collected their heavy shrapnel-like coins and a few generous notes in an envelope until there was enough to buy us a congratulatory gift. They noticed his two month absence after she died.
Over the past year or so I have been able to tell every time I'm introduced to someone new whether or not they know. I recognize the moment it clicks. The hear the accent and the familar surname. There is a flash of recognition in their eyes, replaced just a second too late to be hidden by the forced and cheerful smile that follows.
There are a handful who just plain old avoid me altogether. Actually look to the floor when I walk past, and hell maybe I'm imagining it with my all sorts of crazy, but I'll bet it's not unlike the way they look at a person who's terminally ill, or whose spouse is cheating on them and they're the only one in the whole goddamn building who hasn't clued in yet.
They're the ones I want to get up real close to. So close that our noses touch and they are forced to look me in the eye when I tell them that I'm not contagious.
There are babies I do like being around. In line at the grocery store, gumming away on a soother, holding it out for my inspection when I catch their eye and smile. There are the ones on the train after work. Sat cozily in slings against their mother's chest, waving their arms and staring at everyone innocently.
I make it a point to sit next to them, getting a little anonymous fix in. One goofy look and the cutest ones pay back in spades, kicking the air and coo'ing at me with interest. Mostly their parents smile at me and laugh, proud and chatty to the blonde who they see as a harmless kid lover.
"Do you have any?"
I just shake my head no. Nothing further required. All they see is a friendly woman of childbearing age, engaging with their perfect kid. Maybe they believe I'm secretly pregnant, or hoping to be. They don't know, and I don't have to explain the truth. In those ten minutes until my stop I can enjoy sweet baby bliss under the gaze of someone who will never know my story, and who will never be searching for the crazy reaction of the woman who lost her own. Sadly, it's appears to be all I can handle just yet.
What was your first experience with a baby after your loss? How did you handle it - was it easier or more difficult than you feared it would be?