I have struggled with myself regarding these re-run posts. I don't want the blog (or myself, I guess) to be completely defined by these topics. I also don't want to come across like I am seeking sympathy or trying to corner the market on grief. I'm not sure that last one makes any sense at all. The point is this sharing again feels risky and vulnerable, so I don't wanna do it. On the other hand, I feel compelled, led even, to do so. This morning I was thinking of other women I know who've suffered great losses, and this thought came to me: even the smallest wound runs the risk of infection. The spiritual and emotional parallel I draw from that goes something like this. Pain is pain and grief is grief. If you are hurting, the best thing you can do is seek treatment for the pain, and protect that wound until it is healed. The worst thing you can do is deny, ignore or minimize it, because chances are it will only get worse, or it will come out in a way that hurts other people too. I am not so great at doing this all the time, but that doesn't mean the principle is any less true. Thanks again for taking the time to read.
My worry was only subconscious when Dr. Martinez suggested we consult the ultrasound. But everything became clear when I looked at the screen. There was no movement, no life on screen. All was still. The baby that happily rolled and flipped around three weeks before, sat upright and stock still at the bottom of my womb. His little head was slumped over, like he‘d fallen asleep in an airplane seat. I stopped breathing at the sight. When I looked at my doctor’s face I saw the truth. Finally I asked, “Is something wrong?” “I’m afraid so,” he said.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, what he did next was exactly what I needed. He pointed out for me the place where there should have been a heart muscle pumping, where we should have seen a steady wink, wink of movement. Then he tried to measure the baby’s head, but the angle proved to be difficult. Still, he could tell that the baby was not much larger than he was at the last visit, and he guessed it had been dead for over a week.
The morning after my surgery, Sam and Laney crawled into bed with us and we told them that the baby in Mommy’s tummy had died. Laney was really too young to understand, but Sam knew. The look on his face as his eyes turned red and teary was incredibly hard to look at, but nothing could have turned my gaze. My nearly six year old son, knew what it was to bring a new baby home and he’d been looking forward to it “more than anything,” he told me, “more than going to the zoo,” (the first grade field trip, planned for the next week). I hugged him tightly and John told him, “Sam, this is a mountain, not a molehill -- you can cry as much as you need to; it might take a long, long time to get over it.” Sam gulped back his tears, looked up at his Dad and said, “I know.” He looked as wise as a ninety year old.
The next night we went to the mall. Looking back, it was probably not the best idea; but we wanted to get out of the house. We needed to breathe air that came from a different place than our house, air that didn’t suffocate us with grief. So, we went to dinner at Chili’s in the mall. I ended up not being able to eat anything and was feeling pretty woozy after the meal. We decided to take a slow walk to Books-A-Million.
That’s when I first saw a very pregnant mother. Next I began noticing babies. I saw one baby after another, sitting in strollers, floating in arms, hugging tightly to necks. A toddler taking wobbly steps -- he’s the one that did me in. The other babies we‘d passed, I’d just looked away, quickly turned my head and kept going. But that little boy was so beautiful, I had to look. He had soft brown curls that were long and thick. His big brown eyes were smiling and his legs bounced with joy. I nearly sobbed out loud. I had to hurry to the bathroom at the back of the store. I was afraid people would think I was a madwoman.
It was Monday evening when we held our own little family memorial. Sam wrote a note and drew a picture for baby Jake (or Gwen, in case it had been a girl). Laney also scribbled something down. John printed an epitaph alongside our first ultrasound picture and I too put my goodbye down on paper. Then we rolled them all up and put them in an old green wine bottle that I’d scrubbed the label off of.
It started raining right before we went outside, so we put on jackets and headed to the boat ramp across the street from our house. Our neighbor was outside rolling up the windows on his light blue pick-up. He gave us a curious look as we walked across the parking lot, our heads down to keep the rain out of our eyes. “Just need to take a walk,” I told him and looked away as he slowly nodded his head. Uh, huh -- cuckoo, he must’ve thought.
When we reached the edge of the dock, we just stood there for a few minutes, looking out at the water. We finally decided to pray. John led us, and when he finished Sam spoke up. “Please, please, more than anything, let us see baby Jake in heaven,“ he cried to God. I think he was hoping for the skies to open up right then, the way they had when the dove descended on Jesus and John the Baptist. I had not thought to explain to him that it would be in the very distant future, when we’d get to see his lost sibling.
John gave Sam the bottle and told him to throw it as hard as he could. We all watched quietly as the current brought the bottle back toward us before taking it out to the bay. When we turned to go, I felt like we’d just put baby Moses in the Nile. I didn’t want to leave. I hated to see the bottle drifting away. I wanted to dive in the water and somehow, do the impossible, bring my baby home.
When Sam was a baby we hung a painting by Van Gogh in his nursery. It’s called First Steps, and you don’t have to be a parent to see the pride in the faces of the adults. Of course John and I are big fans of the one and a half eared man, and we’ve adorned more than one wall with his work over the past eight years. So it caught me by surprise the other day when Sam told me he liked Picasso. He brought home a watercolor he’d done at school and was showing it to me. I looked and said, “What is this trees and a pond -- I really like it.” “Yeah, he told me, “I didn’t have time to do the bridge. We were supposed to be imitating Water Lilies.” “Oh? Monet, huh? I like him.” “Yeah,” Sam said, “but Picasso is my favorite.”
A few days later, I asked Sam why he liked Picasso so much. “Because he paints abstract stuff -- it’s all about lines and shapes and colors,” he told me. I was pretty impressed until he said, “You can just scribble, instead of painting something specific, and that’s easier.” “So what is your favorite piece by Picasso?” “I don’t know,” he said, “I’ve only seen one and it was half man and half abstract man.” He went on to tell me how his music teacher had shown them the picture while playing different styles of music, but I confess, my mind got stuck on that picture, and I didn't hear much else of what he said.
I was imagining myself as the abstract work and trying to figure out why the sight of a newborn baby isn’t so hard for me anymore, but I still catch myself staring at pregnant women. I just can’t take my eyes off the large bellies that walk by everywhere I go. I look right at them, and I don’t really know what I feel. Envy is certainly there,but the thought of carrying another child in my womb scares me much more than it inspires me. My eyes probably don’t show it, but I feel appreciation for the two children I do have. They’re the reasons why I want to be whole, why I want to work through these feelings. I don’t want them to be overlooked because I can only focus on my self.
I tried to tell Sam that it takes a really good artist to make something that’s abstract and still beautiful, but I’m not sure I believed it. Maybe it is harder to be specific. It’s hard to describe, specifically, how you can mourn someone that you’ve never held, how you can love someone whom you’ve never seen. It’s also hard to describe how you can feel such joy and pain in the same moment, how you can be better a year later, but still have memories of someone you never knew. I can’t adequately, specifically describe it, but unfortunately, or heck, maybe fortunately, I know it’s true.