Three days after we’d arrived at the hospital I was standing over her, staring in amazement. Her legs and arms were cycling away, occasionally bumping herself in the head, not used to the weight of a heavily bandaged arm. How could this beauty possibly be sick? My little Munckin. She smiled at me, a real smile, for the first time. My heart came close to exploding with something a thousand times stronger than love.
“Oh, Munchie! What are we going to do with you?!?”
In spite of our surroundings, I was ecstatic to see that perfect miniature grin.
“I thought you would be rolling on the floor, screaming and inconsolable.”
“You’re so strong.”
“Do you know how many women would have ended up in a mental ward?”
“I don’t know where you find the strength.”
“My God Jen, you’re just so strong.”
When they told me she was gone I didn’t understand at first. A woman, who remains faceless in my memory to this day, appeared at my side. She knelt down next to me and I think she took my hand. We had been pushed to the side to give way to the chaos.
“But... but... they’re still working...?”
Things still seemed to be happening. I was waiting for the miracle I just knew would happen. I was confused.
“I’m so sorry. No. Sadie’s gone.”
Four NICU doctors and nurses who had minutes before raced into the room still stood around her tiny bed, doing what they do. The yelling had stopped, but they were still moving. Machines continued to beep. It wasn’t until we walked to her side that they all stopped and looked up. When I saw how reluctant they were to look me in the eye, I knew. Two stayed with us, unhooking her as they asked if I wanted to hold her.
There are days that are darker than others. I want to call the office and be free to say, “Sorry, but I just can’t do it. It’s all meaningless don’t you see, because today I’ll be useless to anyone but her. She’s dead and I can’t bear to wash my hair and I really just need to stay at home to be with her.” I start to cry in the shower and hate the world for expecting me to stop and get on with it. The only her left for me to be with is not one anyone else understands.
Yet it’s exactly what I do: stop and get on with it. I smile and charm and make plans for the weekend. I maintain what others have built for me and wonder what parts, if any, I can actually lay claim to.
It was my husband who told me he’d expected me to be inconsolable. It was meant to be a testament to my strength. Like every other grief related ‘compliment’ I’ve had since. My dear partner, who on the darkest of days when I can’t bring myself to utter a single word, hugs me tight through my fragile silence. Having learned it’s easier to not make me vocalize, he simply holds my hand, finds me a tissue.
“It’s ok honey, cry.”
I am silent. I turn away. No words, inside or out, seem able to do what I feel justice. I wipe my tears and will myself to regain control. I want to tell him how bad it still is, but can’t help but feel guilty for forcing it all to his surface when he seems to have found a safe and quiet place to keep it. I know he hurts. I love him to my core and don’t want to magnify his pain with my own unyielding grief.
I prop myself up. I make my most valiant effort to be what everyone sees. I hope for balance at best. I wonder if the continuous memories playing like home movies in my mind make me a little too broken still.
What I can’t tell people, the fear I barely allow myself to acknowledge, is that I am terrified of what would happen if I did let go. What if my so-called strength is really just a farce? What if I did give in, outside of my own head, and found I couldn’t make it stop? It feels entirely possible. I can’t bear the thought of being so exposed. Like a fish in a bowl, examined from every angle, unable to escape the waiting eyes of those who used to call me strong. The jig would be up.
In the list of adjectives I’d use to describe myself, strong doesn’t even register.
I’m still so utterly raw; seven and a half months later, but most days feel I’m now left to navigate this journey independently, even with a supportive and loving partner. I wonder if other Babylost Mamas feel an obligation to keep up an appearance of togetherness after a certain amount of time has passed?