Monday, July 22, 2013

Charlotte came to Alberta once, when I was first pregnant. Greg's dad was turning sixty, and they had a huge party for him. We brought our little presents with us, a baby bottle and a bottle of baby wash and wrapped them up and gave them to his parents and told them they were things they might need in the coming year. Everyone was just beside themselves. I danced my heart out at the party and worried people might think I looked fat. Most people didn't know the news yet, you see.
Now it has been ten and a half years, even more, since that day. We are back in Alberta for perhaps the eighth time since then, and on the table of our house here is a pink candle that Greg's mom purchased to sit on the table at the big family party she hosted last weekend. On a little scrap of construction paper, cut with scrapbooking scissors to look fancy, she wrote the words, "We remember Charlotte Amelia". I was touched and glad that in the context of a party that included everyone, my baby girl was not forgotten.

Monday, May 13, 2013


It is now six thirty. I have felt labor as my epidural wore down, and been told I should push the baby out.
How am I supposed to do that? I pictured myself pushing my baby off a cliff. When she was born, she would be dead. This would be real.
It will be the hardest thing you ever do, my midwife said. But you just have to do it. She was right. And I did.
Charlotte was born at 2:14. I pulled her right onto my belly and clung to her. She was the most amazing, beautiful, perfect little person I had ever seen. The heavens opened and the angels began singing and golden, streaming light poured down, just like with every birth, except for the voice in my head screaming NO, NO, NO.... as I simultaneously realized what I had been gifted, and what I had lost. I had had no idea about either prior to this moment. Suddenly it was truly real.
I learned in that moment the most intense, heart wrenching, magnificent lesson I've ever learned: which is that it is better to have loved than to have never loved at all. In that moment, even as I realized that she was already gone and I would never get to keep her, I felt incredible, huge gratitude to know the feeling of a mother's love. I held my own, sweet newborn tightly against my breast, ran my finger over her delicate nose and tiny lips, and traced the curve of her ear. I learned my baby girl by heart and felt the most beautiful, sweet, pure love I had ever felt. I knew instantly, even as the truth of what was about to happen-- her departure from me forever-- that I was going to feel forever grateful for having had her. I knew that her loss, and the huge impact that loss and grief would have on my life, would not ruin me.
It is now six thirty. We have not slept in thirty six hours. We are waiting for Greg's mother to come and meet our baby. She is on a plane from Virginia. His father is coming from Calgary, their second home, and will not arrive until after nine. We have already decided that we cannot wait for him to arrive. We are too tired. We will have to say goodbye to our baby girl before he gets there. I do not know why we decided this.
We pass our baby back and forth, kissing her, admiring her beauty. We are afraid of her body changing, although it has not yet. She is still warm from our bodies, but we are afraid. We want our memories to be sweet.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.


It is now past noon. In my mind, the rain pours down and the sky is steel gray, though I cannot see it through my window. As I type the sunlight is warm on my legs, but I can feel that cold rain. A social worker has come to see us. Gently, she has told us we can call our families to come to meet our baby. She tells us that people often take comfort in spending time with their babies after they are born, and take photographs. We think this woman is lovely and kind, but her ideas don't appeal to us. We want no witnesses to this tragedy, this failure. We require no documentation.

Yet only an hour or two later, after the epidural is in, and I have dozed through tears and held Greg for some time, I realize I want my family here. I want my mother's arms around me. I need to see the earnest blue eyes of my father, even as they weep for me. I bring the social worker back and tell her I want to call my family. Her eyes are warm. "They are already here," she tells me. She goes back out, to the solarium family room which has been cleared of all other waiting families so that my family can have a private space to grieve. I learn that as my sister entered the ward, she heard a baby cry and collapsed onto the floor in grief. The social worker warns me of my sister's emotion, but when Stephanie comes, she offers nothing but love and support. She knows to channel her grief out, not in.

We are hugged and loved, but only for a short time. Our stamina is low. We needed only a moment, and then they are gone. My mother cries after she leaves, wondering how this blossoming, beautiful, healthy looking daughter could be handed such a sentence. They return to our home, and begin to pack and make phone calls.

Moments ago, on this real day, ten years later, I sat with Maeve in the rocking chair. She slept in my arms, and I hesitated before lying her gently in her crib, Charlotte's crib. I thought about how ten years ago, this room became a museum. Ten years ago this moment my mother and sisters combed through every inch of the house and picked out every thing that tied us to parenthood and put it into a blue tupperware bin which they then deposited into the nursery. Fortunately, somebody had told them not to touch the nursery.

In a book, upstairs, pasted in a memory book as if it were a document to treasure, is the phone bill, which itemizes each long distance call that went out from our home that May 13th. Each person from afar that needed to be notified of the sad news. Most of the calls are one to two minutes long. There are three pages of calls. I kept the bill. It is part of her story.

Right now, those calls are happening. I am in shock, wide eyed and confused in a hospital bed. My body is laboring, but I can't feel it. At home, my sisters and my mother are on the phone, telling everyone the same thing: The baby is dead. It hasn't been born yet. We don't know what happened.

5:30-8:30 AM

There is a space that happens between last night and today. It is the space between hope and loss, between optimism and despair. Somewhere in the middle of the night lurk those dark hours, quietly patting around the house, water leaking. She was dying. I had no idea.
When I woke up this morning it was already five thirty. I don't know if I've ever slept all the way through the fours before, this being when I was told that she died and my world collapsed. By five thirty I was already calling my dad. "It's not good news," I told him. "The baby died. We don't know why." I was sitting in a room that I remember as small and white, although I now know that my memory is not accurate. Perhaps that memory was just the world closing in on me, squeezing me into a space that was smaller and smaller, until I could no longer breathe myself.
Right now it is eight thirty. At this time I was moved to a birthing room. My labor had all but stopped from the shock. There was talk of induction, of maybe even an epidural. I had told my family not to come. I was hugely pregnant, freckled, suntanned, healthy. I was in a birthing bed, surrounded by pretty furniture and a big window that opened to a courtyard. Outside, the lilacs were blooming, and a heavy rain fell. My baby was dead. I had no idea what to do.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Already it is almost happening. It was an almost-day today, one full of sunshine and wistful smiles, where our family moved as if behind frosted glass. There had been plans, but we abandoned them and  hunkered down like a family should when they are waiting for something. I should rephrase that, because only two of us are waiting.
Today is May 12th, also known as last day. Ten years later I would have to return to my archives to re -read what I did, precisely, exactly on this day. I know I went to Deals and Steals, but I have now forgotten what I purchased. I know I swam in the pool at Smith. I know I sat for a time on my couch, drinking orange juice, talking on the phone to my sister. I wanted to wake the baby up before my swim. It took a little while, but you know what they always say. Babies slow down at the end. I was 41 weeks pregnant. She was probably already dying, but I was about to go for a swim. I don't remember what I did in the middle time, or what time I woke up that morning. I'm sure my house was as neat as a pin, every dish neatly washed. Who was there to make a mess? The lilacs were nearly open, but not quite. Apple blossoms were in a vase on my dining room table, waiting for the baby.
Tonight at 5:45, when the little girls were in the bath, I knew that ten years ago I was in my yoga class. I remember sitting there with the other moms and feeling proud that I would, inevitably, be the next to go. This is a moment I return to often: myself in the only place where she could have, perhaps, been saved. She was alive. I did not know what would happen next.
Our nursery has not been changed. The walls are still yellow, the ceiling pale blue with stars painted up the gabled roof. The red gingham curtain I sewed for Charlotte still hangs at the window, the bedskirt has not changed. Right now, Maeve sleeps in the crib that was purchased for her biggest sister. She does not know that her sister is dead. To her, all is well and good.
The pure white onesies that I washed and folded for Charlotte are probably in my doll-clothes bin. Her diapers have been worn by all her siblings and turned into washrags. Her first clothes, gifts at her shower, are currently being worn by my niece Avery, who is the sixth child to actually wear the tiny tee shirts and suits that should have been hers. Someday, when they have made the rounds, I will re-collect all the newborn clothing with "Charlotte" on the tag, but for now I prefer to see them used.
Ten years ago, it was not Mother's Day. That was yesterday, and a lady at the diner had given me a rose. It was on the kitchen table, back when we had a kitchen table. It was a symbol of motherhood, and I cherished it. Today is the eleventh Mother's Day I have celebrated. I have been pregnant or nursing a baby every single Mother's Day. This has been a long road.
Tomorrow I will wake up and it will be the un-day. My children will seize it from me with their incessant needs and requirements, but I will not take them to school. I will keep them close, and allow them once again to move me away from my pain. I would like to curl up on the couch right now and listen to the music Charlotte was born to, to feel the tears stream down my face and wet the pillow beneath my hair. But instead I will go upstairs and read my book and go to sleep, because it's easier sometimes to follow a routine, like a machine, than it is to feel sad.
I will lie in my bed, with the enormous window frame filled with photographs of Charlotte over my head, but I won't look up. I won't ruminate on the sadness of the moment. It's too hard. I crave, and need, time absolutely alone right now to do this work. Ten years. I have never done anything for ten years, not ever. I have worked so hard at missing this baby girl for ten whole years. I realize now that this goes on forever, that one day it will be twenty, thirty, forty. And I will still be here, missing my baby girl.
Tomorrow, it returns.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I'm still here, you know. My life whirls beneath my feet, children at all ends, and yet I am still not full. I will never be full. There are days still where I want to lie myself down at their feet, my four children, and let my tears pool around their little toes. I am so grateful for them. I want them with me, around me, on me, and I never want to let go. They are growing and changing and my family is getting bigger and older and I don't want to leave any of this in my past. I want to keep it here with me forever.

 Can I ever make this feeling go away, this desperation for a baby that haunts me every day?

When I was pregnant with Maeve, and Fiona was herself a baby, I felt somehow certain that this was it. I felt full, complete, and done. But that lasted so briefly.  Now that Maeve is growing older, I entertain myself every single day with fantasies of having another baby some day, one day. Not soon, as my life is most definitely full right now and my body and mind do require some break from the intensity of parenting a baby. But some day, some day far down the road, when everyone is in school I could, (couldn't  I?) conceive one, last, only child to quench my thirst for mothering the young. I dream about this every day.

I know part of this is a long standing obsession with having babies and mothering babies, but I also live in constant fear that I will never again love anything as much as I have loved having babies and young children around the house. As I am still in a stage of my life where I could conceivably have another child, I find it so difficult to willingly leave this stage of my life without looking back. What if it never gets any better than this? Would it be possible to extend it?

I could go on, and on, and on. Every day things happen that make me grieve the loss of just having a baby in my home. This is not a loss. I have had a gain. But still I grieve somehow.

In my mind's eye my empty arms are still reaching, reaching for that baby to hold. They still crave just one more, just one more. Foolishly, they think they can regain what was lost. I know they are wrong, but I still can't stop dreaming.

Monday, February 25, 2013

I am at the YMCA.
I see a woman whom I haven't seen in two years. Her son was in preschool with Aoife. She marvels at Fiona and Maeve, their dexterity on the climbing structure, their height, their vocabulary. Last she saw me they were a baby (who could not yet walk) and a big bump. This seemed recent.
And then she says to me, and the older three are at the charter school?
Yes, I say. And I think to myself, did she just say three? But the room is noisy. She must have said two.
How old are they? You have five, right? No, four? Five?
Four, I say, correcting her.
Oh, four, she says. I don't know why I thought it was five.

I do.

(she was one of the few people in my life's history who came to my house and saw something with Charlotte's name on it and asked, with beautiful innocence, "Who's Charlotte?" As I'm leaving the Y, I remember this story with complete clarity. And I am betting that as she left the Y, she also remembered why she imagined me with five.)

P.S. So what is it? Four, or five? What do you say when you are ten years out (almost)?