Monday, April 14, 2008


It would be fair to say that I have always been slightly baby-obsessed. As a teenager, or even pre-teen, I sought out any babies and little children in my neighborhood and gladly babysat whenever I was needed for the enormous sum of two dollars an hour. By high school, my rate had risen to 4 dollars an hour. I used my earnings to ride the red line into Harvard Square on the weekends. There I would sit, in my doc marten 10 hole boots and my weird dress, with my hair kind of long and hanging in my eyes, feeling very, very cool indeed. I would sometimes spend money on things like CDs (Mighty Mighty Bosstones, early years, and the Pogues). Then I would ride the T home with my super cool friends, get picked up by my mom and dad, throw on some jeans, and go and babysit some more.

I loved the babies. The little lumpy, sweet, drooly little beans that kind of hung on my shoulder and seemed to really need me. I could hold them dearly, maybe not put them in bed at exactly the time their mom said, but let them sleep a little with me, and I would daydream that I was the mother, that the sweet, fat face belonged to me, and I would smooch it and wonder why I really cared about ska bands and weird boots when the real meaning of life was lying right on my lap.

Fast forward 15 years and I am pregnant with Charlotte. You can only imagine the excitement and joy for me to be carrying this, the fruit of all my ambitions. I had completed my masters degree only two years before, but, as I had told people, I was only teaching to bide the time until I could have a baby. There was no question in my mind, as long as I had a baby, I would work nowhere else. We would figure the money thing out. I had had this job planned out for my whole life.

Having Charlotte die only made the baby obsession multiply exponentially. Now, having a baby wasn't just something I wanted. It was something I absolutely required in order to stay alive. I had given birth to the exact thing I had spent my life longing for, and then 6 hours later a nurse quietly walked out of the room holding her, and I went home the next day with my empty car seat. My house was full of all the baby things I could ever need. It was as if the whole thing had been a cherade, a fun little game where I eagerly acted out the part of the expectant mother, but never quite got the prize. The things that lay about the house served to make me feel as if I should have a baby.. should have had... but never quite convinced me that I really had had a baby.

This is the strange confusion of having a baby die. Did I have a baby? Really? Was that woman in the movie I was watching, the one in my head where I saw myself walk into the hospital, be told my baby had died, pushed her out, fell in love, and went home, was that really me? Do these stretch marks really prove I had her? This milk? These clothes? This love?

So then the quest began, the real quest, to have a baby. When I became pregnant with Charlotte, it was all a game. What fun! A baby. I will buy things, I will get excited, I will call all my friends, we will place bets on when the baby will be born. (These statements are intended not to demean my true, sincere joy at being pregnant: just to emphasize my complete innocence of possibility). This quest to have a baby was quite different. It involved no clothes, no delighted phone calls with joyous news, no plans whatsoever for "what we'll do when the baby's born". It involved getting from this minute to the next without the baby dying. It involved a birth plan which was written with four letters: LIFE. In this birth plan, dimmed lights, squatting or kneeling, did not come into play. Only one thing mattered.

I got what I wanted.

After my sweet, dear labor, and my harrowing, frantic cesarean, (see January 12 for the birth story), my baby boy was placed near my face. Not in my arms, but this was close enough. I could see his chest heaving with breath, hear his whimpers, feel his hot breath on my cheek. His little, purple hand darted out, like a fish out of water, and grabbed my hair. He would not let go. An oxygen mask was over my face, and I was crying profusely. Liquid seemed to be pouring from my face.

"I want to kiss him," I said, but there was the mask, and the tears, and nobody could hear me. I said it again, and they moved the mask aside in order to hear me, and the doctor moved Liam's face closer to me, and my lips pressed against my newborn son's little face.

Then he was gone, away to be suctioned and wrapped.

I was alone on the table, flat on my back, arms outstretched and seemingly pinned down like Christ. My uterus, meanwhile, was outside of my body, being stitched up, a scene my husband accidentally witnessed while standing by Liam's side.
I lay there and cried, tears pooling in my ears, knowing that 11 months to that moment earlier, I had been across the hall, curled on my side in a birthing bed, my body heaving to deliver a body whose life had already passed.

The interconnection of emotions that I felt at that moment could hardly be called joy.

But what else could I call it?
It was the moment I had been thrown back into the life I had always longed for. Always. With my little girl's spirit tucked under my arm, close to my heart, I would carry on, and I would bestow all the love energy that I had planned to put into her, into him. I would use all of the things she had taught me to be a better mother to him. She would be there. And he was here.

Moments later, my little boy was placed in my arms. I was unhitched from the wires and stitched up tightly and wheeled back into my own room, where my labor had begun. My tiny boy curled into my breast, sleeping there as if he always had.

He, this absolutely miraculous child, who was never meant to be.

Never meant to be.

Here, my most difficult thing to imagine:
If she had lived, he would not be here.

Would not.

Could not.

Liam, the most beautiful, peaceful, joyful gift that had ever been bestowed upon me. My beautiful son, who has brought me more joy, and beauty, than I had ever imagined possible.

This miracle of a child, who not only had pulse and breath, but whose very existence would have come and gone if his sister had stayed.

I will never forget this, this happenchance of his existence, he the joyous, beautiful side-effect of this tragic accident. He who I could never live without.

My baby boy turned four years old yesterday.

What more can I say to him, this child who saved me?
This baby upon whom my very life depended?
This tiny, innocent creature who pulled me out of the deepest, darkest place, and lifted me, exalted me?

I love you, little Liam.
You are so perfect for me, and you always will be.

1 comment:

kp said...

oh, this made me cry. i feel exactly the same about my second daughter, who wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the stillbirth of her sister. it's sad but true that motherhood is sweeter having lost your first baby.