I wasn't sure if I could contribute anything positive to the anthology, considering my overall experience in hospital was not a pleasant one. But the night before I was due to respond, I remembered just one thing. A single moment: in the delivery room, my doctor and anaesthetist took care with my baby. Not as a stillbirth or miscarriage, but as a baby. They asked her name. A bereaved mother knows the significance of this simple act of acknowledgement and kindness.
I thought another child would stitch some of my wounds closed. I thought she’d allow me to walk confidently into the next baby shower, naturally ask spontaneous questions about the pregnancies of others, not cringe when I walked past the New Baby section of a greeting card aisle. I thought I would stop crying behind closed doors when so-and-so announced she was pregnant. That none of this resolved neatly is another revelation, another betrayal.
I begin to wonder if perhaps no one sees me. I don't utter a word, but no one says anything to me either. Maybe I am an apparition. Maybe I have died and am floating around looking at other people carrying on. Maybe I am visiting from another planet. Maybe my species cannot be identified by the human eye. No one seems to notice I exist. I am not sure if I do either.
I bear the weight of each new loss while they dare to continue to draw hope (for me!) from what happens to the average woman. Perhaps I could hear the compassion in their hope if they were willing to acknowledge my interlaced fear. Right now my own hope is too desperate, too fragile. I reluctantly allow some slivers of it in, but these moments feel intensely private.
Perhaps there is another reality out there, across some vast time-space divide, some wormhole that had been breached when the nurse could not find his heartbeat. Another place, where I meet my son alive. Where I can watch his chubby little fingers curl around my husband's hand. Where I watch him enter into fatherhood, where I am properly reconciled into motherhood.
I look at the documents open on my computer. I need to write a story. About what I can do. How and where I fit. How much I want this. I picture myself, a broken me, as a piece in the giant machinery of an organization. Maybe my cracks will not show from a distance. Once I’m part of the bigger puzzle, maybe I will fit in and play my role in completing the picture. But for now, I need to tell my story the way it is. No, nothing positive really came from the loss. But it sucked the wind from under my wings. I am trying to get a little bit of it back. I hope I do it with you.
We are among each other, even when it feels distant. We pass each other on the street, sit together at concerts and potlucks, perhaps never knowing. Sometimes, with a plate of barbecue on our laps, we blurt out something we generally try not to, and the other doesn't flinch but puts a hand on our forearm and says 'Oh my god, you too?' Uncooperative bodies and recurring nightmares, c-section scars, syringes full of gonadotropins for polycystic ovaries, urns we can't imagine keeping or dispersing. We are us.
My son wants the brown bear in every picture. 'It feels like she’s my sister,' he says. The brown bear we love so much. The one that should have been hers. Merry Christmas Zia Bear. +++ To you, I won’t say Happy Holidays. I’ll say live. It's all we can do now. Live, rambling on about the ache in our hearts and souls. Ramble on the untold story. The incomplete tale. Hers, mine, ours.
“We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.” Signing up for my seminar, students don’t exactly expect to be discussing the inherent dignity and value of every human life. In that discussion, and in coming back to the quote throughout the semester, I hope to help my students develop some immunity against the very human desire to redeem the uncomfortable stories.
I know you’re out there, ready to pull the covers way over your head this holiday season, hoping to wake up only after “the most wonderful time of the year” has passed. I see the way you quietly choke back your pain in everyday settings, and I know the pin-prickly feeling on the backs of your eyes as you finally submit to the hot, stinging tears. There’s the awareness that there will never be another holiday with your child, that in some way this otherhood will always exist, even if time or circumstances eventually bring you a little closer to a recognizable way of life.
We are the only two people in the world who know what it was like to be Nathaniel’s parents. Many people feared it would tear us apart, but this shared heartache has cemented us more firmly together. It won’t be easy for us to create another child. We are, it turns out, 'differently fertile'. Trying to conceive is terrifying for all the unknowns it contains, and the constant shadow of “What if it happens again?”
I struggle. I find myself mirroring the jovial spirits of my peers, returning their utterances of “Happy Holidays.” As I say this, I wander inside myself, an unwiilling participant of this merry time of year. Instead, I turn inwards—the Ghost of Christmas Past, trapped far back in time.
Your sister died but you became a big brother nevertheless, and I can see you itching to fulfil that role. If only you knew how much I want you to experience the healing that would come with a brand-new life. Sometimes when we talk about babies I will put my hand protectively over my lower belly but I don’t tell you about the changes going on inside. You don’t need to know how often our babies die, you don’t need to share my fear. So I just hug you and tell you that I would also like to have another baby, very much, and that I hope it will someday happen for us.
It is a box really, if you ask me. Nailed on four sides, it could be a coffin, except I cannot lie dead in one. Too real. And not true. Instead, I live, dead, stuck in a box, breathing sixteen millimeters of stale, dark air. Some days it feels like a trap, a tricky contraption, carefully designed to stifle me, slowly, painfully, and yes, alive. Other days, it stands empty like a junction, a stop sign, where I paused, before my life took a very wrong turn.
We are so many different things. We are happiness, sadness, madness, brokenness. All these things make us, complete us. I wouldn't want to erase any happy memories of my life with my husband or my living son. Why would I want to erase the only memories I have of my daughter?
No one here wants a rousing speech. Or maybe you do. I don’t know. We do not speak a common language, or share common customs. We hold different politics, different faiths, different aesthetics. We are connected, but only nominally. In reality, 'babylost' covers an extraordinary diversity of experience. There are so many ways for babies to die. It still shocks me.
Rattled, I listen to Neil deGrasse Tyson as others might listen to a preacher. Science in the face of the fear that comes with being human is the only thing that calms me. And not just science for its own sake, but the joy in science. The marvel at all we don't know. That we feed on flora and fauna, and then die to feed flora and fauna. That we are, actually, made of stardust, and so is everything, right down to every grain of sand on Hirtle's Beach.
I didn’t win the parenthood game in the conventional sense. Yes, it feels like the confetti is falling in great abundance on everyone else, while the hurt in my life grows deeper and deeper. It stings, burns, and rattles me on a daily basis. With child loss, there’s no stopping that confetti, no delaying it, no pretending it’s not coming.
Relationships live in the spaces between people, are held in place by those people, each one on their own end. When one person drops their end, the other one is left trying to find ways to hold the entirety of the lopsided connection on their own.
We would live happily ever after, the remnants of our eternity filled to the brim with milestones, coos, first babbling words, innocent giggles, and wide, chubby smiles. Then the fairytale was flipped, shattered and warped into a gothic nightmare. The princess holding her dead little prince in her arms, dressed not in white but in black, her bright world gone dark.
In my conscious attempt to steer clear of catastrophe, I had been focusing too much on the “how,” when it all comes down to “what” and the absence of “why.” That it is always a life too short, a death too soon, and the meaninglessness in between. So I visited Ground Zero last fall and this summer. For the first time in the four years of living barely an hour from it. I stood there in silence, daring to open up to the lives I knew were ripped apart that day. I allowed myself to believe that I knew every single parent, sibling, spouse and child who forever lost a part of their heart that day. I need not imagine. I knew.
Having grown up with two older brothers, I had always romanticized a house of women and girls. We would be that house, and I was thrilled. Dominating bathroom counters and get-ready times. Un-shy about tampons and maxi-pads and midol. Borrowing clothes and scents and make-up secrets while the bewildered males looked on. Instead, you died.
I used to think our lives were a series of stories; everyone talks about them as such. It's evident as people frantically search their minds for a spiritual explanation when something horrible happens; it's difficult to let something just exist as it is without reigning it in. We're a people obsessed with redemption in the face of adversity and great loss, but our life stories do not have a beginning, middle, and end.
There were times over the last few years when I have carried my loss around like an old favorite coat. No matter how heavy it got, I didn't want to shed it. It fit, hugging me gently in all the right places. Someone sitting too close to me would be able to smell its foul odor—it was that pungent. Still, I refused to wash the coat. Why would I? The dust mites that burrowed into the fabric were perfect. They were at home in my old coat and so was I.
Ten years later, I still feel an excess of unspent love—there is no place to put it, aside from into the air around me, along with the wishing, the longing, the dream of him. I still play with the active designing of my own afterlife: I die an old woman and revert to my 34 year-old self. I enter into a room and see Liam waking up clammy, whole, and gurgling in a crib. This is my daydream, my most divine and deepest regret spun into active language, a positive state. It’s different now. I can love him, forgive myself, and breathe.
We see it in the flowers, the leaves and the trees, in the plight of the caterpillar and beauty of the butterfly. The days of the week, the months, the years, the seasons; all one pattern that keeps swirling. As much as I don’t want the time to pass, it inevitably does. The more time passes, the further I am from that moment when I kissed her little head and tasted birth and death at the same time. I lived and died in that moment, along with her.