I’ve sat down to try to write this story many times and it was just too hard to go there again. But today is his birthday, so I gave it another shot.
For six months I carried your life inside me.
The year felt new in the most profound way that January. I waffled between dramatic excitement and disconcerted illness. I remember thinking, “How scary this must be for teenage moms… pregnancy feels like the plague.” I leaned heavily on that fierce desire for parenthood to get me through. You were so wanted.
We wrapped up one blue bootie and one pink, and sent them out to each of our parents. First child. First grandchild. First great-grandchild. You were already adored.
I wore denim overalls to the Victoria Day picnic, all the rage in maternity fashion in those days. But I felt beautiful, like the lyrics to “Natural Woman” suddenly made sense. Your Dad had more swagger in his step too, so I wasn’t the only one feeling the difference. You made us feel complete.
I felt something new that night. Something uncomfortable. Something alarming and outside the parameters of Baby Centre e-mails and our dog-eared copy of “What to Expect.” Although he looked right at me, I could HEAR the resident OB’s eyes rolling. He confidently diagnosed it as “bad Chinese food” and all but patted me on the head. After all, we were very young first-time parents, and the pain wasn’t even in the right place. He brushed off my past kidney problems and mollified us with a quick doppler exam. The steady wickety-wick of your heartbeat was beautiful. Nothing else mattered as long as you were okay. You were already the centre of our universe.
I’m not sure how we spent the next week. Most likely, packing up our little basement suite. Napping at my desk during lunch breaks. Planning furniture and paint colours and nursery themes with all the gravity of a proud new homeowner. Classic Beatrix Potter was in the lead.
When the nightmare hit, we were completely off guard. There was blood and pain and horrified looks on the faces of the nurses. There was good news – just a kidney problem. There was bad news – no one really understands what’s going on. The days and nights in the hospital should have been scary, but they weren’t really. I wielded my faith like a shield. I prayed with complete certainty. I basked in the prayers of others. You would be fine; there was no other option.
I had absolute confidence that this would one day be an interesting footnote in your baby book. I watched you suck your thumb on the hazy lights of the ultra-sound machine. I relished every kick and nudge.
My heart stopped when yours did. You were gone.
Sure, that traitorous muscle kept pumping blood through my veins like nothing was wrong, but my world, everything that made sense and held life together, simply ceased to be when the doppler fell silent. I can’t remember if I cried during the solemn scuffle of nurses and doctors and sad speeches and condolences. I know I waited for someone to say it was a mistake. I know I held your Dad’s hand. I know time passed for everyone else in that room but us. You really were gone.
For one week I carried your death inside me.
That time is mercifully clouded. Too broken to pray in words. Too hurt to care about my body. Too numb to feel alarmed about my kidney surgery. Too drugged to remember the ICU or the days that followed. Your Dad was so scared. Your Grandmas stayed and held us together.
They gave us pamphlets and advice and sent chaplains to talk to us. One was terrible. She said all the wrong things and made everything worse (Grandma Barb almost overcame her pacifist leanings when it came to this one… sending her away). The other woman was a Godsend. She was gentle and sad and understood how important you were.
It seemed strange and unnatural, to think of holding your tiny body and saying goodbye. But they were right. It was important. It was necessary. It was a gift. We counted your little fingers and your little toes and dressed you in the tiny premie clothing that was still much too large. Not every parent gets to hold their babies to say goodbye. You were beautiful.
For 14 years I have carried your life, and your death, inside me. They are sadly intertwined for me, the love and the loss, but I would not trade one to purge the other. I carry you with me, because the alternative is unthinkable.
There’s a little place in this mother-heart that is yours alone… where grief has softened, but remains… where maternal instinct lingers, unspent… where dreams are born of who you would-have-been, and who you-are-right-now, and what it will be like to hold you someday.
Each year I remember you. Each year I pull out your little treasures and your sympathy cards and your tiny blue sweater and celebrate the most unusual birthday. Another year without you.
But also, another year closer to seeing you again.
My belief in an afterlife is no longer academic.
Not since you slipped there ahead of me.
So here’s to you, my firstborn…
Happy Birthday Noah William!
You are loved!