Monday, January 14, 2008

The Last Moment

There are very few moments about my brief time with Charlotte that I try not to remember. Mostly, I am straining to remember every detail of the hours we spent with her. The ways I held her, the different angles of her face that I can remember when I held her, and when Greg held her. The feeling of her tiny little bottom in my bare hand, of her soft hair in the crook of my elbow. If I concentrate really hard, I can even smell her, for the briefest, tiniest second. The memory of her smell is so fleeting that by the time the olfactory recall has flashed through my mind I have forgotten it again, but it is there.
I work very hard to remember Charlotte, so that I can keep her with me. But then there are the moments that make my insides sieze up, the ones that I have to make sure I am in the right place, at the right time, to remember. One of those is saying goodbye to her.
I feel so deeply sorry for myself that I had to say goodbye to my firstborn daughter only 6 or 7 hours after I met her. I really do. It is the part of me that I want to just pull out sometimes when somebody else is having a "really bad" day. My trump card. The card I wish I didn't have anywhere in my hand. I can't believe I had to say goodbye to my child forever.
I will never know why or how Greg and I came to the decision to say goodbye to Charlotte. I think I was afraid that she would begin to seem dead to me. She came out so perfect, looking so real and just like a sleeping baby to me. We kept her skin-to-skin the whole time we had her, so she stayed warm against our bodies. It seemed surreal that her chest did not rise and fall, but it didn't. I imagined breathing life into her lungs. I wondered what would happen if I just tried this, for a moment. But it would not have done anything. When I think back to those last hours, when all our family members had come and gone and it was just us, our own holy trinity of me, and Greg, and Charlotte, I can remember this feeling creeping up on me: you are going to have to do it. You are going to have to give this baby up.
I think it was when this became real to me. I realized that this was reality, that my baby wasn't breathing, and her heart wasn't beating. As sweet and as lovely as it was to sit there and cradle her in our arms, we were not going to be able to stay that way, naked in a hospital bed together, forever. It became real that we were going to have to eventually move on to the next step, face life without her.
In a strange way we had had a glimpse of life without her before she was born: when I was expecting to give birth to something without life. But when she was born, she DID have life to us. She was this amazing, immaculate creature, so clean and fresh and new, made of our flesh. Her face was all her own, yet we could see ourselves in her. The beauty we saw was unprecedented. The love we felt was new and surreal. She was alive to us.
But then we knew what would have to come. A small, slight panic set in, and we suddenly felt like we either had to do it now, or it would be impossible. Impossible. Which it technically was. Imagine, for those of you who have not lost a child, if, at the tender age of 6 or 7 hours, the nurse had come and told you to kiss your baby goodbye, and then you would be free to go? Impossible. One would have had to drag you, kicking and screaming from that baby, which was what I was imagining. I said to Greg, "I think that when they take her from me, I am going to howl like an animal." I imagined this, but when it happened, there was nothing left with which to howl.
So we told the nurse we wanted 10 more minutes with her. I suppose this gave us a parameter for saying goodbye. We wrote a poem for her, describing her little body and our love for her. We kissed her all over, from head to toe, and tried to just breathe her in as much as we could.
There was a knock at the door. Trudy came in with two little blankets. I had wondered how they would bring Charlotte out of our room. On a guerney? I could see now that it was not to be that way. She was just a little baby. Trudy would carry her, swaddled in blankets, just like a regular baby. She laid down the blankets. Greg had practiced swaddling in our childbirth class, and so he did it, as his tears dripped onto the blankets. We kissed her, and held her one last time. Trudy started to walk out.
I could not stand it.
I could not stand it.
I cried, I need her back. I need to kiss her again. I felt weak at that moment, like I had just done the most difficult thing in my life and now I was going to have to do it again. But I took her, I took my daughter back and kissed her more, and more and more, and then as Trudy gently lifted her from my arms for the last time I turned into my Greg and laid in his arms, limp and defeated, unable to even breathe for the pain that burnt the very core of my soul.
I watched Trudy's back as she crossed the room, ducking behind the white curtain which went across the little hallway that led to the door.
And then, for a brief second, I saw her back again, through the crack between the curtain and the wall, and the door opened, and as she turned to close it, I could see my daughter's little, elfin face peeking out from her burrito of blankets, nestled in Trudy's arms.
The door closed.
The door clicked shut.
She was gone.


Team Harris said...

I can't even begin to imagine what that was like for you. I have tried to imagine it, but it's so painful that my mind won't let me finish the thought. And yet you were brave enough to see it through. I cannot imagine.

Anonymous said...


you're strong. strong for writing it out. i feel faint and weak and unable to breathe just thinking about if that had happened to us with our son's birth.

she's beautiful.

Hennifer said...

I have tried to write this to mamas before. I feel unentitled to say a word. They all seem so weak. I cannot begin to even imagine. Not today, not 6 months ago, certainly not hours after having my children so safely in my womb. I relate to the inability to breath from the pain. That is where I suffer my pain, maybe it is the property of that chakra, all in my throat and chest. I wanted to take away pain for each of you. I realize now it is your pain, you don't need me to take it. If only it was that simple. We do what we have to to survive. I love how "you" survive. Even when it feels like you aren't, or that all you are doing is surviving. I thank you again dearly for sharing with us.