Monday, May 12, 2008

Waiting for it to happen (5th time)

It is, as I write, 7:06 PM.
I could hazard a guess that five years ago, at this very moment, I was walking, with my little yoga bag over my shoulder, out of the hospital. I was there, in that place, on this very day: this day I call last day.
Last day.
Last day seems like it was yesterday, while the days that follow it seem a lifetime ago.
On last day, I slept in quite late. Each day, I figured, was an opportunity to bank sleep for the weeks to come. When I woke up, I ate my breakfast, and then headed out to go swim laps.
Before I left, I noticed that my baby hadn't been very active. I sat in a chair, drank some orange juice. Enjoyed her kicks, bouncing my belly up and down. Let my hands wrap around her, holding her in my hands, loving her, willing her to come out and join me.
I swam, and then went and returned a video (the Bourne Identity) to the little store in downtown Northampton, and then went into the discount organic food store across the street to buy some black beans and some salsa. These things all happened, but it is at this time, this seven o'clock, that I come back to, because I see myself walking out the door after my yoga class, leaving the hospital, the place where she could have been saved.

(I revert to previous writing here, I am exhausted just thinking this)

In the early evening of that Monday I was in the place that could have saved her, the place where the next day Charlotte would indeed be born, on an unlucky day, to an untimely fate. I was there, tucked into a small conference room with a dozen other swollen mamas breathing deeply, connecting to our babies. It was prenatal yoga, and three of us were due that week. There were a lot of giggles and encouragements for our little ones to emerge, quickly! before we popped. I remember back and see myself, as if in a movie, laughing, with hands on my egg shaped belly, walking out of the hospital to my car, driving away.
"Stop!" I try to yell to the woman in the movie. "Go back!" Resist the urge to feel happy and safe. Climb the 20 stairs, that will leave you breathless, and go to the childbirth center. Feel worried about something, ANYTHING, ask them to put you on the monitor, just to be sure. They can take care of you there, they can perhaps detect a little shudder in your tiny daughter's pulse, perhaps suspect something might be wrong.
But the woman in the movie doesn't hear me, and she's getting in the car, and I can see her beautiful little girl is curled so gently and comfortably in her womb. The cord that gives her life is tucked dangerously under her arm, cushioned only slightly by a small pocket of amniotic fluid that will soon be gone. And the woman doesn't know.
That woman gets into the car, and drives home, and it's not me anymore, it's just that character from a sad movie that you want to rent again, but can't bear to because it's just too sad. She gets home and kisses her husband and the eat quesadillas in the semi-dark, virtually untouchable in their state of expectant bliss. The phone rings, near the end of dinner, and it's Peter, calling from Cooley. Baby Henry is born! They talk for an hour, their minds filling with the images that they imagine they will soon encounter themselves. It's all so exciting. And they're there together, a family. Three beating hearts, two of separate blood, and one of mixed that binds the three eternally in love.
The little family climbs the steep stairs to the gabled attic bedroom and piles into the big, wooden sleigh bed. The lights are warm, and they pick three stories: Where the Wild things Are, The Maggie B; and My Crazy Sister. Daddy falls asleep in the middle of the Maggie B, but wakes up to sing the Beatles (Hey Jude and Yesterday) to his bouncing baby girl, who is enjoying her evening calesthenics. Then he goes to sleep and the woman, the mother, reads silently with a tiny lamp, her book rising and falling with her breath and every now and then jolting with the life of the little girl within.
And technically, then, last day is over. But for this family we shall extend Monday for an extra two hours, just for this occasion, because that is when their world stopped. The mother never knew, and she never suspected, and neither did the dad. And in the darkness of that Monday-turning-Tuesday, they took their little bag, and drove with the baby clothes, and soft cotton diapers, and the car seat and unborn baby Charlotte, and they did climb those stairs to the Childbirth center, but by then it was too late.

Too late.
Too late.
Too late.
Too late.
No matter how many times I retell this story with different parts, in the end, it is always too late. The baby is never saved.

This is what it feels like for me on the anniversary, like today is the last day that maybe I can do something, and by tomorrow, the day that for me does not exist on the calendar anymore, the day that is a wash, and where I am in an abyss far from earth, all hope will have been lost and the year will start anew.

I have spoken before of how I measure time, the calendar of my year. Well, tonight's the night. It's New Year's Eve. Tomorrow begins year 6 for me, with a full 5 years of Charlotte-less life behind me.

It's not really Charlotte-less, though, is it? This is a nice way of putting it, and when I am not feeling depressed, I can be really optimistic about how present she is, and how much she's changed me for the better, and how she affects my every decision and is thus so present.

But the sucky truth is that she is not here to wet her bed, or talk back, or get sick and throw up in my bed, or learn to ride a bike, or go to kindergarten in the fall, or learn to read. She doesn' t write her name, or make me artwork for my fridge. Nobody calls for her on the phone, I have never heard her name in a doctor's office waiting room. She has never done anything naughty, she doesn't have any hobbies, and she has never had a friend (except maybe Henry). She never had the chance to make anyone laugh, to play a mean trick, or to fall down and get gravel stuck in her knee which would be so painstaking and awful and gross to pick out but I would do it anyway, of course, and give her some ice cream afterwards.

It is like a dream, like the greatest fantasy, like when you are 13 and have a huge, major crush, and you're imagining yourself married to this boy you are crazy for. This is what it feels like for me to imagine myself with Charlotte here in my home. I want her so desperately, still. I can't imagine this will ever stop.

Oh, baby girl, I do love you do much, and I miss you so much. I want you to come home to me. I just want to be your mother. I want to brush your hair, and braid it. I want to lie in bed with you and rub your back, and sing your songs that you love. I want you to choose the things that you love to do, and I want to do them with you. I want to know what you would love, who you would love. I want to hold your hand downtown, and I want to talk to you about what's bothering you, and about what you think is funny. I want to pick out birthday presents for you that I know you will love, and watch the delight on your face as you tear them open.
I just want you here.

I always wished for my baby to be born healthy. I wished on stars, even prayed to an uncertain God, just in case.
I didn't even know I also had to wish for her to be born alive. It seemed so obvious at the time. I wish I had known.

It is now 7:33. I have gotten home. The hospital is long behind me. My daughter has about 7 hours left to live, and I have about 9 hours left to be the person that I once was.

Then, the world explodes.


Jen said...

Oh Carol. I just don't have words, only tears, after reading this.

I am thinking of you and Charlotte tonight and surely all day tomorrow as well.

Shannon said...

I was going to send you an email to ask if it gets any easier after 5 years, but I guess I won't have to. I'll send you a virtual hug instead.

gina said...

I am thinking of you and Greg today and of your lovely Charlotte, wishing I could know that 5 year-old girl, wishing you could be sad about her leaving for Kindergarten in the fall and not about her leaving this earth. We miss you Charlotte Amelia.

Rebecca said...

"I just want to be your mother" you say. You are being her mother in the best way you can. As you have written, mothering a child who has died takes so much energy and you do it very well.