Grief is like a snowflake.
An ugly, muddy snowflake.
Each one nightmarishly unique.
No grief like another.
Snowfall brings a blanket of fresh beauty,
grief coats the world in sadness.
Everyone and everything around you,
dusted with your sticky sorrow.
It seems to soak beneath your skin,
right into your soul.
Even as I write this it seems garish and melodramatic, embarrassingly over the top. But that was how I felt 10 years ago today, when my baby was born.
On April Fool’s Day that year I call Glen at work and play an elaborate “I think I’m pregnant” trick on him. With a 2 year-old and a not quite 8-month-old at home, it seems like a good laugh. He wasn’t amused. But I laugh my butt off at the sheer panic in his voice.
Well the joke is on me. Exactly one month later on May 1st I call him at work again and say, “It’s not April Fool’s today. This is not a joke.”
We have been hoping to have more children. We were also hoping to have a little more space in between. I am breastfeeding and we have taken some steps to avoid this, but apparently we’ve been overruled by a larger force (or our cheapness in the b.c. department).
I am, and have always been, a baby-crazy kind of woman. But my first reaction is… exhaustion. I am too tired to be shocked. I’m sure this baby is why I am already so VERY tired.
Over the next few months I don’t feel much better, but I am beginning to look forward to my newest addition. At only 15 weeks I feel him move for the first time. Fourth pregnancy in 4 years means I’m a Rock Star at discerning those little bumps and wiggles. Suddenly I am talking to him and getting my girls to do the same. We start making plans and settle on names – Abigail for a girl, Simon for a boy. Now it’s real.
My friend Shannon is staying with me for the weekend when my 20 week ultrasound comes up. I leave my girls with her for the afternoon and meet Glen at the lab. I try to think of it as a date. I hate this part.
After losing our first child, Noah, we find these kind of tests nerve-wracking. The first few with my oldest daughter were a vale of tears and the absolute certainty that something must be wrong. The next baby was easier. And this one, is only a flicker of concern.
Of course, I have to pee. Which makes me feel nervous. Which makes me feel like I need to pee. It’s a terrible cycle. I chalk my unsettled feelings up to that.
Mostly, we are looking forward to finding out the sex of the baby. I’ve heard that they won’t actually tell you, here in the Lower Mainland, that you have to wait and find out the results from your doctor. But I’m dying to find out. It’s important to me, to call my baby by name. It makes it easier to look forward to him coming, to feel confident that we’ll actually bring him home. It’s not something other moms might worry about, but after Noah, it’s an issue for me.
I sit in the waiting room and obsess about this. Will they tell us? Won’t they? What if I cry? What if I tell them the whole sad story? Also, I have to pee more than anyone has ever had to pee. Think dry thoughts.
We get situated in a dark closet-like room and I run through my customary spiel. I know she can’t give us any information, that she needs to take measurements and talk to the radiologist, and won’t show us the screen until later, but we’ve had such a terrible loss and need immediate reassurance – please let us know that the baby is alive, right away. That’s all we need.
She smiles at us and pats my hand reassuringly.
The next part is familiar. Cold jelly, the smooth glide of the wand, mildly uncomfortable pushing against my bladder… but it’s quiet in here. So quiet. She’s not smiling anymore. I crane my neck to look at the screen, but it’s turned away. And she’s so quiet.
She pops out of the room, telling us she just needs to talk to the radiologist about something. Glen looks stricken. I feel something growing deep inside me. A dark, chilling dread. I know this feeling.
The radiologist comes back in with our tech girl. He looks like a kind man. He looks sad. He pushes the wand around on my belly a few times, then slowly puts it down. He puts a hand on my arm and looks me in the eye.
“I’m so sorry.”
I have no words that are adequate to describe the next part. I know we cried together. My belly sticky with jelly, huddled on a paper sheet in a dark closet, we held on to each other until the numbness set in. I’m pretty sure we called Shannon, and our parents, and some friends from church. We called our obstetrician and made our way to the hospital. It was a surreal blur.
We were officially 20 weeks and 1 day. I’ve never been so thankful for the passage of a few days. It meant the difference between delivering our child in the ER and having labour induced in the maternity ward. It’s the difference between stillborn and miscarriage. It’s semantics. I would have grieved no less 2 days before. I would have needed no less support then either. But I was glad for every sliver of validation, no matter how meaningless.
It sounds cruel to send a couple to the maternity ward, with its cheerful staff and ebullient new parents and cries of healthy newborns ringing in the air. But this wasn’t my first stillbirth. I knew now that as much as the juxtaposition might sting, it speaks to the realness, the depth of our loss. I couldn’t bear for the rest of the world to downplay or minimize or try to alleviate the horror of it. I needed them to feel it with me.
I gave birth that night to an exquisitely tiny baby boy. I held my breath and hoped, that maybe it was all some terrible mistake. I built an elaborate fantasy where he not only cried, but miraculously survived being born so early. I never believed it, but I wanted to so desperately.
It’s not all nightmare. There are moments of peace. Moments when God speaks to a heart ripped open with despair. Moments when we felt loved. Moments when we felt joy and wonder at this tiny, perfectly formed little boy. He fit into the palm of my hand. His feet were the smallest I’d ever seen. Each little hand the width of my finger. He was beautiful.
We named him Simon Matthew, after Glen’s brother. We held him and sang to him and said goodbye. We knew all the things we were supposed to do this time. We didn’t even read the pile of cheaply printed brochures they had given us. We took pictures. We made memories. We arranged to have him cremated and buried his ashes under the waterfall in the woods near our home. We had a small memorial service and sang “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord” through our tears. Although we’d only lived here a few months, we leaned into the care of our new friends and neighbours. We did everything right.
I thought I’d be good at this by now. Having blundered my way through the grieving process before. Having mentored many others along the same path. Having read everything I could on the subject. I thought I’d be an expert.
But there’s no such thing. Each grief is entirely unique. This one knocked me on my ass. I’ve never completely recovered.
Today is your 10th birthday. Our family visited your waterfall. I asked God to give you a hug for me. Whatever heaven is like, existence outside of time and all those questions, I believe he does things like that. I believe you’re there with your brother and your Great Grandparents and my Auntie Omi. I believe I’ll see you again and hold you and be your Mom the way I’ve always wanted. I miss you. I’ll never stop missing you. But I’m glad you came along and surprised us all the same.
I love you. Happy Birthday.