Last week, I was out for a walk with my two-and-a-half-year old daughter, Marisen. The sidewalks around our house are uneven at best, and she was wearing her pink Crocs (her “garden shoes”), which are frequently the cause of tumbles and spills. I was two steps ahead of her and I didn’t see or hear her trip. I just happened to glance back and see her falling toward the pavement in that strange slow-motion gravity of dream sequences and old cartoons. Marisen hit her already-skinned knees first, then her hands, and as she was losing her center of gravity and going over her hands with her face heading straight for the sidewalk, I heard her say, “Oh, nooooooooo!” Every muscle in her body was bracing for impact, and dreading the moment of pain, and yet she was pretty much powerless to stop it–as was I, frozen in horror at the sight. Luckily for Marisen, her chin stopped just a hair above the cement, and she was spared a full concrete facial. Her hands and knees were barely scraped, and she was revived with a few kisses and the promise of band-aids. I was so grateful she wasn’t really hurt, but what haunted my heart the most was her tiny little voice crying, “Oh, no!” as she fell. Her resistance was so natural, and so strong, and for her, it paid off.
I, on the other hand, have been falling down in excruciatingly slow motion for over a year, bracing my heart and mind and soul for impact, and screaming with every fiber of my well-controlled, Type-A, achievement-oriented being “Oh, noooooooo!” And I, unlike Marisen, finally hit the pavement in a heap of tears and loss and struggle. I have delayed the complete and utter breaking apart of my heart and my world, but I have not avoided it.
Sixteen months ago, I lost our second baby just as I entered the second trimester of my pregnancy. “Lost” seems like a funny word, like I misplaced her. “Miscarried” isn’t right either, since there wasn’t anything amiss with the way I carried her. The truth is, she died before she could even be born, and we’ll never know why.
Many times I have told and written the story of how we came to find out our baby girl was gone – the routine 15-week appointment that turned my heart and soul inside out forever.
In the days following that desolate moment, I denied my grief. Then I began to ignore it, then measure it, then analyze it, even describe it in a few journal entries and talks with friends. I masked it with work, travel, wine, shopping, and eating.
Most of all, I buried it under a newfound zeal for trying to get pregnant again – this obsession took over my life and filled up the empty part of my heart where my baby should have been, or where at least my grief for my baby should have been. When the one-year anniversary of my loss came around, I wrote this in my journal about my desire for another child:
Last night as a I blew out the candles on my 34th birthday cake, I totally forgot to make a birthday wish. I was fixated on my little daughter helping me blow, and trying not to blow any white candle wax across our new dining room table, and grateful that my hubby had brought home cake in the first place. I guess you could say I was completely in the moment – something precious and rare for me these days and especially this week.
Ten minutes or so later, Steve asked me, in charming spousal shorthand born of myriad hours of longform conversation, “So, birthday wish?”
I was suddenly and painfully returned to the not-in-the-moment, disembodied state of yearning in which I’ve lived the past 365 days. My wish: a baby. Well, to be brutally honest, despite the fact that living in the past is a futile and unhealthy way to spend one’s life, my truest wish is go back to this day last year, and forever erase the Dr’s words “I don’t have good news,” and instead welcome a healthy baby in the spring like we had planned.
But secondary to that loss, as a way of maintaining my humanity and my grip on any sort of human compassion and my claim to motherhood, I wished for another baby. Another chance. Another little someone to honor us and humble us and keep their precocious older sister in line. Another burst of hope in my heart, another round of fiercely protective feelings in my muscles, another opportunity to pass beyond and through myself and into the world through the fresh eyes of my child.
When we lost our baby at 15 weeks last year, just three days before Thanksgiving and the day after my birthday, I was hollowed out and yet strangely bouyed up by the idea that this was nothing more than a devastating pause in our childbearing. I was strong and positive and disarmingly convinced that we’d have another healthy baby as soon as menstrually possible, and the whole lost November (as I’d come to think of it) would disappear into the background of diapers and sleepless nights within just a few months. Well, 9 months, maybe 10 if my body needed a little time to adjust. But certainly soon. And CERTAINLY within this year. It never once crossed my mind (thank God) at that time that I’d face this milestone date without a newborn in my arms. I couldn’t even conceive of such an idea.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to conceive anything else all year. My strange elastic strength in the aftermath of our loss gave way about February. Doubt set in in March. Angst and fear? Probably around May. And over and over, every 26-28 days, I faced the painful realization that, once again, we were not getting our wish. Over and over I was knocked back to my knees in front of an unfamiliar altar of loss, disbelieving. Over and over again I lost that child, and the possibility of the next child, and the next, and the next. Over and over I watched the spacing between our daughter Marisen and her younger sibling grow ever wider, and I watched the chinks in the armor of our marriage get wider, too. Over and over I let myself trust that this time, this time was it, this time I felt different, this time I must be pregnant again.
As the months went by, my trust in my body waned and turned ugly – I grew angry with myself for each false monthly symptom. It’s bad enough to have sore breasts and blotchy skin and trouble sleeping, but add to that the resentment those things don’t mean what you wish they meant, and you get a pretty ferocious style of mood swings and emotional cycles that make average run-of-the-mill PMS look kinda charming.
At what point does a wish cross over the threshold into something more? Something almost tangible, something more along the lines of an imperative? Along the way this past year I have wished so hard and dreamed so much and doubted so fiercely that I simultaneously always believed and yet never believed. My wishing has become so much a part of me, it’s the background track to everything I do. It’s the ultimate double life I’ve managed to lead: all the while it LOOKS like I’m sitting in meetings and running errands and raising my kid, and in reality only half of me is there because beneath the surface I am practically vibrating with the desparate wish that consumes me.
So I guess the fact that I forgot to make a wish on my birthday candle is ok, since my wish has long since been registered with the universe and my wishfulness continues to bounce back each month for another go. But I sincerely hope I don’t have to blow out 35 candles without this year’s wish – no, I would say my life’s wish – coming true.
In all the ways I attempted to express, deal with, and work on my grief for 16 long months, I was missing one key thing: to feel my grief. To let the emptiness and sadness and pain just wash over me. To surrender my heart, allow it to break, and to let my family and my friends and God help me put the pieces back together. Believe me when I say I literally tried e v e r y t h i n g else. Along the way I knew something was wrong. I knew that the effort it was taking me to get up each day and go on living was abnormal. I felt like I was outrunning something so large and overwhelming, I must delay it or avoid ti at all costs.
Finally last week, I could neither run or hide any longer.
I was like a cornered wildcat. I was furiously mad, fighting for my survival against this horrible pain that threatened my heart. I was confrontational and mean. I was the smallest a person can be, attacking the people and things that would not let me be.