We are so honored to have Elaina join us as a regular contributor. Please help me in welcoming Elaina back to Glow! —Burning Eye
photo by Robert Moses Joyce
The months leading up to my daughter’s birth would best have been spent in another city, and if not possible- with my windows boarded up. Never did I know how painfully private I was until the moment they told me Agnes would die soon after she was born. I turned my head from the ultrasound screen, and something inside of me shut down. To me, she was already gone, and I felt like a fool to believe she was ever going to be mine.
My gut instinct was to turn away from her- along with everyone else- and I didn’t know why. However, at five months along, and the decision to continue the pregnancy, there was little to no room for rational thought; much less self-exploration.
I didn’t have the slightest idea how to share Agnes with the world, nor did I want to. It is hard to describe what it’s like to carry a baby you’re afraid to meet. Not having a syndrome or a group of similar diagnoses added insult to injury.
But I did share her; carefully, selectively, because I needed her to count for something. I told myself there was a story to tell, a meaning to make, a heart to inspire, a lost baby to make proud. They told me God would have the glory, if I could just find the silver lining.
And so I tried. Oh, how I tried to make the experience beautiful. I set out to be some sort of maternal superwoman- reading inspiring testimonies from other women, about healing and bonding during the wait. I tried to find the spiritual avenue to give me direction and peace. I gave my all to the questions and doctor appointments. I obsessed over the perfect burial outfit, and then walked the cemetery alone, in the wind and the cold, holding my belly while I picked out the least dreadful spot in the earth to lay her when she came; then promptly hyperventilated.
I wanted to bond with Agnes, to speak her name freely, even after she was gone. I stuffed my swollen, gauzed, stitched-up mess of skin and stomach into a control top to have a memorial service. I planted the flowers, and put pictures of her around the house. It usually felt as if I was watching someone else walk through it. Maybe I was an imposter; mimicking what I thought a good mother would do in this impossible scenario. But I felt as if I was an empty shell; dead right along with Agnes, wanting it to all be over.
I couldn’t wait to get her grave stone in. I sat next to it, caught up in wonder while the sky tinted the earth and air a unique shade of pink. I glanced up at the sky, and a flock of geese made their way overhead. As I found myself entertaining the thought this could be the universe’s version of a hug, the disturbing sound of gurgling air and water escaped through the unsettled dirt around her casket. Somewhere around this time, I let the façade go of everything this experience (and me) were supposed to be, and let it simply be what it is.
Truthfully, there was a painful ambivalence inside; an indifference that I never felt comfortable with. I wanted to stay pregnant, and then I felt selfish for it. I wanted her out, and then I felt guilty. I wanted her things visible in our house, in every room, and then I took them to the basement. I wanted to speak her name, and then I hated the sound of it.
My counselor assured me my indifference was not the lack of love I feel for Agnes, but the metaphorical equivalence to physically shielding our eyes from an object coming towards our face. When needed, we create the space in order to self-protect from succumbing to the deepest level of pain.
He is right, which is why I stop crying before it gives way to dehydration and exhaustion. It’s the reason some parents choose not to look at their child after an accident, and why I spent her short life talking nervously with the OR team as they closed me up, instead of truly in the moment. It’s why I sometimes sit at her gravestone and can’t breathe, and other times want to drive past. Some things are just too much for our minds to comprehend, and we have to love from some sort of a distance…or we will surely die from the reality and weight of it.
And so, every day I try to forgive myself for the messiness that was my pregnancy with Agnes. There are times I feel an overwhelming guilt- unable to entangle my self-worth from her broken body, unable to know in the deepest parts of myself that this was not my fault.
In the aftermath, I realize we were enough even on the hardest of days. I was enough, and she was enough. Without cause, or reason, or meaning, or justice, or blame…we made it through together, both doing what we needed to do to survive our time together.
I love my sweet Agnes. I know this to be true, because the love I feel is both what causes and frees me from the wreckage of the aftermath that is life without her.
When have you found indifference and ambivalence in your loss? When do you need distance?