My first daughter, Charlotte Amelia, was born silently into the world on May 13, 2003. Since her birth and death our family has welcomed four living children. Joy and gratitude prevail in our life together, yet my sadness is always with me, tucked alongside the beauty of every day.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The Random Accident
I read this post today, on the blog of "Awake" about how her small daughter very nearly walked into the road, in the mere seconds while her attention was elsewhere. The title of the post was "twenty seconds", referring to the amount of time it might have taken for her to walk into the road had her mama not scooped her up.
These are the random things that happen: these moments where the best meaning parents and the best behaved children somehow lapse, and something happens. We all do it, it happens to all of us. Have you ever had a moment where you looked at something on the side of the road, and then had to quickly adjust the wheel? Then realized that it might have been you who caused the fatal crash, had you not turned your head and adjusted at that particular second?
My most haunting moment was when Liam was a baby, almost a toddler, really, and I was folding laundry in his room. He wanted to get in his crib, so I put him in. The side was down, and I thought about putting it up and then said to myself, "No, if I put it up, he'll think I'm locking him in here for bedtime. We'll just keep it casual..." I folded laundry for a while, stacked diapers, and then suddenly I saw him, out of the corner of my eye, he was falling head first out of the crib towards the floor.
His head tucked underneath him, and he did a somersault, and ended up on his back, staring at the ceiling. I don't even think he cried, but I did. The scene replayed over, and over, and over in my head: except this time, his head didn't tuck, and it landed at an awkward angle, and his neck snapped, and it was all my fault. It was a moment when I was paying more attention to laundry, and less to him, and my mistake was the cause of his fall. I had intentionally not put the side of the crib up. The replay happened again, and again, and again. He wasn't even hurt, but I could just imagine the alternative; and it would be all my fault.
I know that because of Charlotte, because of imagining what it would feel like to pile guilt on top of all of the agonizing trauma that I know so intimately, that I try to be more careful with my children. That I am perhaps slightly more hesitant, and concerned. But I also believe so deeply in the blessing of the skinned knee: I want them to be out there, to experience their world, to try things and fail, to learn how their bodies work, to know what is and isn't safe because they've tried it, not because mama said so. I want them to be independent, and to feel independent, and to feel that I trust them. I want this so much.
I wonder what it feels like if you aren't like me, if your baby died because of something. Does it make a lick of difference if you have a reason, if it isn't accidental? My intuition tells me that no matter what the cause it feels the same, because dead is dead, and none of it makes sense. But for me, I can never quite work out for myself how it feels that my baby's death was a complete, random accident. It confuses me. Because in a lot of ways, nothing really went wrong, it's just that things were arranged a little funny, and the timing was off. If any number of things had been different, she would have almost certainly been absolutely fine. If I had had a different doctor who didn't let me go so overdue, she would have been fine (this is not to say that I fault my doctors- I can honestly say I probably would have fought them tooth and nail if they had tried to induce me at that point, because I felt so damn natural). If I hadn't told the midwife that my cycle was 32 days and they hadn't changed my due date, I might have been induced in time, or at least had a non-stress test or two. If my labor had started before my water broke. There are so many things. I could go on. Charlotte's death was about as random as a car accident, or a strange fall, or something like that. She was perfect and fine, and then something went wrong, and she drowned in me. Oh, oh, oh. I wish I could have known.
It was an accident I could not prevent. Unpreventable, they say. Was it? I will never know. And so, while I do so desperately want my children to be free, I also want to watch them so closely. It is another paradox, of wanting to both give and experience freedom, but also wanting to reel them in underneath my feet, and to keep them with me forever, and never let them go.
Here they are, in their glory. Beautiful, creative, funny spirits who bring me the most amazing joy every single day. Tonight we went for dinner at some wonderful friends' house who have two joyful girls of their own, slightly older. The adoration factor was astonishing, my children were simply drunk on these girls. Aoife discovered the Disney Princess collection, nonexistent in her playroom of trucks, blocks, trains, art table, and a few dolls. She donned sparkly pink dresses and, best of all, pretend glass slippers. Her eyes were as big as saucers. She could not believe that life could, in fact, get that good. Meanwhile, Liam discovered a large, yellow, tonka dump truck, similar to many in his collection. He asked if he could borrow it, and was delighted when our hostesses said yes.
The differences between them continue to amaze me. This is one case where I have to admit my mother was right. Boys and girls really do like different things, and it hasn't seemed to matter what I've given them to play with. But that's a conversation for another day...
And tomorrow? Summer vacation begins. My porch beckons.