Error and trial

art by  Jack Teagle

What did we miss?

Tired, defeated, deflated, we, with weary eyes and a fogged mind, did we see only what we wanted to see, and not what we needed to? Did the night’s awakening cry, a cry that jolted us, brought me tumbling down the stairs, a cry from a baby who never cried at night, did the cry not shake us up? Enough? Did we not, hawk-eyed until then for any signs of distress in our tiny three-month-old, read anything into that cry? Why then did we just call the doctor, a doctor who was on call that night, and had never even met her, why, why did we just call and not take her to the ER?

It was just that night, just the other night, can we not go back and change what we did? Why did we not do what we know now we will? Yes, we will, we will call the ambulance, tell them our baby is crying an unusual cry, she needs to be taken to the ER, I’ll be the frantic mom I was the next morning when she had stopped breathing, I will scream on the phone and beg them to send an ambulance right now, they will, and she will be rushed away, and she will be fine. She will live, we would have won another battle, we would have braved another storm. How uncanny it would be, and we would laugh with her for years about how she almost fooled her parents, but they caught her trick just in time. And they braved the storm on a night there was indeed a storm raging outside. We would laugh, and she would tilt her head back in a carefree laugh, her beautiful bright eyes twinkling like her Baba, and their eyes would meet, and I would gaze at them. My beautiful man. Our beautiful daughter.

Here is where I hear a screech. A piercing screech as shrill as my visceral scream the following morning. Here is where my light-footed imagination, flying around me like a pixie, touching me with its little fingers, sometimes brushing its delicate wings over my arms, sprinkling its magic dust lightly on the nape of my neck, here is where it comes to a screeching halt. Stopping midair, it flutters its wings and stares helplessly at my face, as I try to make sense of reality, the heavy-footed monster who is stealthily wrapping his cloudy shroud all around me. And somewhere in between my airy imagination of what would have been, and my burdened reality of what is, lies a thin strip of sharp doubt and a shapeless reason.

A relentless questioning of what we did, and a desperate effort to make sense of why we did it, and why it is all we could have done.

But she stopped! Flipped over her Baba’s forearm, she could release all the gas that must have built in her tiny tummy, and she stopped crying! No, I did check her for signs of distress. She sighed, yes, I remember she let go of a tiny sigh while I still talked to the doctor. But she was perched in her Baba’s lap, looking around, turning her head as her brother danced around her! She did not cry again, right? She looked perfectly comfortable when we lay her down …

But what the hell did we miss!

Again the questioning starts, rotating around in my head like a twisting whirlwind, picking up every shred of reason and tossing it around, thrashing it against the walls of my head until it almost explodes, and all I can do is gasp. I look for the fairy. She is long gone, but she’ll come back I’m sure, but I don’t know if I can trust her anymore, if she is a friend in disguise, always making way for the beast. Tears roll down my eyes, but I cannot cry, choking in doubt, drowning in fatigue, and yet, it doesn’t let go. The blinding storm rages on, dissecting every strand of my memory of that night with a thin, sharp blade, piercing its claws into the thinning wall of resistance I try to build.  

She stopped crying, we had no reason to suspect anything was bothering her anymore. She fell asleep, no, she did not look like she was collapsing. We were not callous or lazy, we can move mountains, and we have, for our children

I throw darts in the wind. I aim well, I focus hard, and I pick my choicest arrows from the quiver hung over my shoulder. Arrows against blades, answers against questions, piercing eyes against piercing claws.

This is a strange cacophony, these voices in my head. They lie mangled in the crevices, hibernating under the fumes of strong antidepressant medication. And sometimes, very often these days, maybe they feel threatened by how pseudo-peaceful I’ve been, or how my reasoning in conversations with my husband or myself has been seemingly invincible, and like snakes, they rear their hissing hoods. They slither in the darkness, and form a strange arrangement, like soldiers in a battlefield. I can feel the mutiny brewing, days before it lunges at me. I can feel those pulls in my head, those divided tongues letting out muted hisses … But you were too tired that night … you shouldn’t have taken chances … she had just come out of the NICU … she was fragile … that cry … that cry … was not usual … you could feel she was trying to tell you something ...

Guilt, the sharp-toothed animal, snakes in place of a tongue, hissing, biting, cursing, blaming, you should have, you must have, you did not … The other face of imagination, uttering the same what if and if only over and over again. Ravaging my head, eating me alive, not letting me sleep, for fear of waking up to find her dead.

After my arrows are exhausted, I slowly lay my bow down on the ground, and surrender. There is no grace in this defeat. I crumble into nothing, I explode into everything, and empty, broken, I beg. Please, please, I did not let her down. I was the mother the nurses called “hawk-eyed,” remember? I climbed mountains for her, and was always on top of everything. I never forgot, I never let go, I fought for her, I waited, I stayed alert. I was superhuman while she was at the hospital, right? Yes, I was scared, yes, I was sad and tired that night, but I did not let her down. Please. Please, I could not have known. Her forgetting to breathe was meaningless, it was unpredictable, it had nothing to do with her cry. Or anything we might have missed. Please, I did not miss.

The trial continues.  

Have you been plagued by pangs of guilt over the loss of your baby or babies? Do you fight, do you surrender, or both? Do you think you’ll ever come to terms with the what-ifs and if-onlys in your head?