Flying without wings

 photo by  Eric Norris

photo by Eric Norris

Today we welcome Nada as a guest writer, whose son Riyad was stillborn on November 4th, 2016. I found Glow—or Glow found me—in the midst of the darkness of my grief journey, she says. I write to keep his spirit close and his memory alive. 


When I was younger, I went skydiving. The sheer adrenaline of sitting in the fragile, rickety plane as it takes off, pummelling straight-nosed through the sky like a dagger, takes your breath away. Your cerebrum registers fight or flight, but you are plastered against the seat of the plane, lightheaded and paralyzed as you soar up to 18,000 feet. The air thins, you struggle to breathe, your skin prickles with nerves and you realize: You are way in over your head. There is really no way out of this any longer—

Then, instructors at your back. Grabbing your hips, pulling you upright. You get up and suddenly you are floating in the plane, there is no possible way to stand rigidly on your own two feet. You are at the mercy of the instructors, the thin air enveloping you, the sky pulling you, threatening to suck you straight from the plane and into free fall. They fling the door open, sunlight flooding the tiny aircraft that shakes as its suspended in the sky, and your body is pulled closer to the entrance.

You see nothing but clouds; clouds enveloping the vast blue with thin, fog-like fingers. No semblance of the world at this height. No going back from this. Nowhere to go but down.

And he does so, your instructor, he screams at you to get out, to float, to trust him. You do, because you have no choice. Your legs are propelled into the air, and suddenly, you are weightless. You have no control over your body, your fate, and your future. It is all in the hands of the man behind you with the parachute and the blue void of nature before you.

You jump. He jumped. Whichever order it came in, it doesn’t matter.

You are free falling. Your stomach sinks. Tears prick your eyes as the air penetrates your sockets. For minutes, the wind’s strength pulls the skin back from your exposed arms, your face and you are staring down, down, down, as you fall weightlessly, without any direction but down.

But today, my parachute is not pulled. I do not fall to the ground. I do not hit the earth head-on, ricocheting towards my death. I am still free falling.

It’s your fault.
You should have known. You should have gone in sooner.
You should have saved him.

In my head, I am in the hospital bed, paralyzed and helpless. The instructors are the doctors, hovering around me. Their heads hung low. My stomach is flipped inside out, my breath is thin, and all I can see is a void. Not blue, but black. A blackness enveloping me, my cerebrum registering fight or flight, the adrenaline pounding in my veins with no place to go.

“I am sorry, there is no heartbeat.”

There is no parachute. Nothing to pull to escape the free fall.

I will fall forever, away from the comfort of that plane, from the promise of my baby’s sweet coos, the innocent stare in his eyes, the tiny wriggling fingers and toes.

You failed him.

Instead, a box of memories. Photographs are snapshots of a child’s lost future. Glimpses of what should have been. His tiny handprints, hands that should have been held—nursery doors shut closed, shower gifts abandoned in an empty room.

Where is the logic in all of this?

They tell me, in an endless spiral, that it’s not my fault. It was a fluke. It was an accident. It was God’s will. It was out of my hands.

How could it be out of my hands? I am his mother. I am responsible for him. He was inside of me. How can you tell me such lies...

Logically, I understand. The human brain is adaptable, its reasoning incomparable. Logically, I know the numbers, the doctors’ favorite statistics: 1 in 160, 1%. And yet and yet and yet—

This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Why did this happen to ME? How could I have lost him? I lost my baby, how is he just gone? What did I do wrong, that everyone else did right? It’s not fair.

Assurances I did everything right. Assurances this won’t happen again. A band-aid on the gaping wound; you can have another baby! Hollow words to placate the mind, but what about the heart? What about my empty arms? What about my son, the boy I lost? Nothing can replace him. Not your words, not your numbers, not your empty promises.

+++

The reflection in the mirror is a blank-eyed stare. Not the worn eyes of a mother lacking sleep, attending to the whims of her newborn. Instead, they are the worn eyes of a mother yearning for her lost one, tinged pink with the aftermath of tears.

The brain assuages the searing pain in the heart; the heavy weight of falling.

Am I still a mother?

Of course, the brain coos, of course you are, you held a baby in your womb, a baby in your arms.

But he isn’t here, but I want him here.

Arms aching, the pain does not subside, but it is pushed away into the heart, where sometimes the weight pulls her to her knees and she wishes to do nothing but wail. Wail, scream, and keen, for hours and ages, just so someone can hear her cries, so someone can acknowledge his existence. She wants to shave her head and crawl along the streets, a woman without her child. She wants to will the world to listen and scream with her, to grab their faces in sorrow and fall with her.

But this isn’t how it works, the brain says. You must be strong and move forward.

But he’s gone. He’s gone and it’s my fault.

Not your fault.

A mantra, a song, a pleading hymn for rationality. Pounding in a head dizzy from lack of air, dizzy from this new reality.

Not your fault. Not your fault. Not your fault.

+++

Months out, I am still free falling. The air is still thin. The pain is still there, a knife between the ribs, the sinking feeling of the stomach as I plummet thousands of feet through the air, without any promise of landing.

The brain is not a safety net. When you are hard-wired for the adrenaline, the need to run and save your child, the need to fight the invisible forces that stole him from your womb, to find a way to pull the parachute and land, far away from this reality, this new portrait of a slanted life…

How do I accept this reality? I refuse. This is not real. My baby can’t be gone. How did he leave? How does this make logical sense? How can anyone just accept this?

I am still falling.

I get up in the morning, wash my face, drink my coffee.

Where is my baby? Where did he go? How did he just leave?

I get dressed, make breakfast for my husband, plaster a smile onto my face.

I miss him. I should have gone in sooner. I should have known something was wrong. How could I not have known?

I get in the car, put the keys in the ignition.

Why did this happen to me?

I put on my seatbelt.

I shouldn’t be doing this. I should be at home, I should be with him.

I drive to work.

I am still falling.

 

If you are within the first year of your loss, how do you feel? Have you found flashes of normal life yet, even intermittently? Or are you still in shock? Those readers with more time under their belt: what comes after the free fall? What reflection would you share for those who are still in it?