Sunday, November 7, 2010
In the days before we lost our baby Orion and I had been bouncing names back and forth. We couldn’t agree on very many. Finally I suggested Jonah. I don’t know where it came from or why I thought of it, but it was one of very few that we both liked. “Isn’t there some kind of biblical story about Jonah?” Orion asked me on Thursday night, as we were both falling asleep. I couldn’t remember, “something about him getting swallowed by a giant whale and living inside of it” I answered, “Unless I’m confusing him with Pinnochio, wasn’t he swallowed by a whale too?” We decided to look it up when we had some time and went to sleep.
Sunday, the day after we found out the baby had passed, I asked Orion to try and find the story of Jonah. We didn’t even own a bible before that week. Orion’s been going to RCIA and they gave him one at his Tuesday night class. He read it aloud to me, and it was like something clicked in my brain. The story is about being tested and Jonah has to learn to trust. God asks Jonah to do something very difficult and Jonah tries to run away. It is only while he is in the dark belly of a fish at the bottom of the ocean does Jonah realize that he must do the thing he thinks he cannot do. He learns courage, but more importantly he learns mercy.
Right now, we are in the belly of a fish. The grief is so acute that it is like our breath is being sucked from our lungs. But in the midst of our grief there are also moments of extreme gratitude. We were chosen to be the parents of a being that was so perfect, she only needed to exist for a very short time to accomplish everything she needed to. We are so grateful for that. She taught me strength and perseverance. She taught me to be a mother. We learned how lucky we are to have such an amazing support network. We got to be parents for a very short time, but that does not make our child’s life inconsequential. If anything, it makes it more important.
The night before we found out our baby had died I said to Orion, “this has been the best month of my entire life. I wish I could just rewind and keep living October 2010 over and over again.”
I’m finding it difficult to lay out the events journalistically. Where did it go wrong? When did I know that we were never going to meet the baby that was growing inside of me? After re-reading this entire blog I know that in some way I always knew. Many entries seem to be advice I was writing for just this event, particularly the one about gratitude. It’s almost like I was comforting the future me, the one who was going to go in for an ultrasound on a Saturday morning and come out a completely different person.
This was a complicated pregnancy from the beginning. I remember watching that tiny heartbeat flicker on the screen at 6 weeks and having this feeling like it was so vulnerable, like I was so vulnerable. Did I know then? I remember having this horrible nightmare at 7 weeks that the baby had fallen out from inside of me. I woke up when someone said, “Don’t you get it? The baby is gone. You aren’t pregnant anymore.” It unsettled me, but did I know then? That would have been the week the baby died. I can’t help but think the dream was real. Especially when the ultrasound tech turned the screen on at 10 weeks and 3 days and all I saw was an empty sac. She seemed to think I was confused, that I had my dates mixed up. “I see a gestational sac, so you’re definitely pregnant, but it looks more like 5 weeks than 10.” I had to keep repeating that no, there had been a baby in there. I saw it. I saw its heart beating. How did it disappear? Where did it go?
When things like this happen, it’s tempting to try and take all the blame. I think people do this to try and feel powerful at a time when all of your power has been taken away. If I say, “I did this, I caused it” it allows me to feel some sense of control over what happened. But the reality I know deep down inside is that there was nothing anyone could do or not do to change anything. Rationally I know that, but emotionally I can’t help thinking about every single time I worked out at the gym, every time I stayed up too late, every cup of coffee I drank, every time I made love with my husband those tenuous first few weeks. There are so many things to feel guilty about, but more than anything else I regret the decisions I made about my healthcare. I let other people make me feel bad about myself and doubt my abilities as a mother. What would I do differently? What could I do differently? The answer is nothing because I had to learn from these things. I had to learn to trust myself and be my own advocate. I had to learn that no one knew my baby or my body better than I do. I had to learn to be easy on myself, and merciful.
On Halloween, my husband and I decided that there is no worse day in the entire year to lose a baby. While our thoughts couldn’t escape the tiny being that no longer existed inside of me, small children rang our doorbell all day. Our pain was palpable, visceral. We couldn’t escape the feeling that we were in some way being punished. Was God really so cruel? The day before, literally the day before we lost our baby the downstairs neighbors brought their newborn son home. So now, even as we wade through the complicated strains of grief we also have to listen to a newborn crying downstairs. Even when I dashed out to the corner store to buy tissue because we’d used every napkin, toilet tissue, and Kleenex in the entire house, I stood in line as the mother behind me repeatedly scolded her daughter who had the same name we’d chosen for our daughter. It seemed sick. Like a bad joke. Because I was on progesterone injections I maintained “pregnancy” symptoms all throughout this. Yesterday my morning sickness seemed especially cruel because I know there was no baby inside causing it.
I am the type of person who tries to eke out every glimmer I can. I needed to find things to be grateful for, I needed to feel like there was some purpose behind all of this. I could let myself cry and grieve but I needed to let go of the bitterness to make it to the other side. There’s just too much that can drive you crazy to think about. I needed to find things to be grateful for or the pain would destroy me; I needed to let go.
I started listing things I would always remember, small moments I could take from this and hold close. My husband’s face when I walked out of the bathroom holding the test, how we clung to each other and wept. Listening in when Orion told his parents. What it was like in the dining room when we told my family on Orion’s birthday. Holding my hands to my belly and the warmth of knowing we had made a new person. How the ultrasound tech touched my knee and quietly left the room so that my husband and I could grieve. There are things so personal and moments so intrinsic that they remade me. We are different people now, we are parents.
At first we were sorry we had told so many people. The number was overwhelming. I immediately vowed to never make that mistake again, but now I’m doubting that it was a mistake at all. In life there are no guarantees. At what point as a parent can you say, “okay, we made it this far, we don’t have to worry anymore”? Something can always go wrong. We could have lost our baby in the second trimester or the third. We could have announced that I was going into labor on facebook and then delivered a stillborn child, we could have lost a infant to SIDS. We could have lost a toddler to any number of things, we could have lost a grade-schooler, a high-schooler, an adult child. There is no “safe point” and as a parent you’re never out of the “danger zone.” It never gets easier or more justifiable. It is never easy to tell people that you’ve lost your child. But I am comforted by our families and our support network and, oddly enough, by the children in my life. I am so grateful for them. My nephews, my little niece- I am comforted by the tiny ways they empathize, by their humanity. My 3-year-old nephew Nick came up to me today and asked me how the baby died and where it went. As we talked about it, I think he sensed my distress and he put his little hand on mine and said, “My mom lost a baby inside of her, but then we got to have Lucy. You can have another baby.” My sister tried to shush him, but it was such a beautiful moment. So honest and true.
I know, even in my pain, that we will have other children. My husband is an amazing dad. We have so much to look forward to. I feel so lucky that I got to hold our first child so close to my heart, even for such a short amount of time. I feel lucky to have been her mother. I am grateful for my family. I have gratitude. I have hope.