It is the crux of nightfall, the moon suspended high above the horizon in a looming crescent. I am with my husband, walking hand in hand through the happy throngs of a wedding celebration. Rather than soaking all of the joy in, the ecstatic ambiance of being guests to a happy occasion—which my husband is gladly doing, a broad smile on his face, cheerily chatting with friends and acquaintances—my mind is somewhere else.
My left hand clutches my phone in a white-knuckled grip. As we socialize through the tightly packed room, I alternate between biting my lip and smiling blankly at whomever catches my eye. Try as I might to blank out my mind, to enjoy the present moment, my brain travels to the confines of my home; an anxious astral projection.
Is my baby okay?
I take a deep breath, as if I am gulping air between undulating sea waves, yet no water engulfs me. My heart flutters and I wonder for the umpteenth time if I have the babysitter's number stored in my phone. You don't, the rational side of my mind murmurs between flickering panic, you left the contact info with your husband, or else you would be texting her like mad.
I spent the night vocalizing to my husband between drinks and dancing, asking if our daughter is okay, do you think she's asleep? He smiles and reassures me, in his all-knowing way, that she is just fine. My brow furrows as I bite back my words: 'how can you still be so naive?' Yet they never leave my pursed lips.
His phone dings throughout the night, the usual texts from friends or family, checking in to see what we're doing, how we're doing, how baby is. Each message runs sweat down my spine. I await the dreaded phone call from the sitter, a strangled scream in her throat, panicking, sobbing:
She's not breathing!
She's having a seizure!
A million infinite possibilities, all ending in my child's sudden demise, my own anguished cries, another child lost again to the chaos of the universe. My anxious thoughts are elaborately strewn, a needle to a black, abysmal thread: on days that my husband watches her, I sometimes envision his voice on the other end of the phone, sobbing, screaming. The imagined screams replay in my head on a broken record, the most horrible soundtrack in the world.
My daughter's birth ignited a flame within me, stirred me awake from the cold depths of grief. She has painted color back into our lives, in stark contrast with the gray depression of losing our son. Gradually, as she lives another day, grows and thrives, rationality persuades me that she is not just a fragile figment of my imagination, but will perhaps become a permanent member of the rest of our lives.
Yet despite the loving moments, watching her grow from a fragile newborn to a bubbly, babbling, smiling 3 month old, I still fear that we can and will lose her, at any odd moment.
Lightning will not strike again, the naive fondly say. Yet lightning will still strike, sure as the sun rises and sets, and our attempt as mere humans to quantify the statistics of our predicted misery at death and loss is nothing in the hands of fate.
For now, my love for my child burns brightly in its barest form: survival. While a part of me is able to enjoy her, to properly love as a doting mother, the overwhelming mother within me seeks to constantly protect her.
I lost one child, it says, with tear-stricken eyes and clenched fists, I will not lose this one, too.
And so I watch her tiny chest rise and fall throughout the night, a confirmation that she is still here, still whole, and my world has not yet shattered again. I hold her carefully throughout the day, tucked into my arms like a warm vice, wondering when I will inevitably trip and fall.
I am left awe-stricken at every morning that she opens her eyes and smiles her cherubic smile, her chubby cheeks upturned, eyes alit with love for her mother.
While my daughter has lived another day, life has stolen another day from my son's short life. As sure as the wind blows, as sure as the sun rises and sets.
I accept the fact that I cannot protect my child when lightning strikes; when sudden accidents upturn your life in the blaze of a vicious wildfire, a sudden devastating car crash, the inexplicable ceasing of breath from a child's lips...
Yet in the natural order of things, she may just be okay. I clutch to that frail hope, as fervently as I hold her to my chest, whispering in her ear about how she is loved and protected, for just a precious moment more, and another moment after that.
For those of you so far who have worked up the nerve and blind luck to try again after loss, how has the experience of infant death colored your experience—and parenting—of infant life?