Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Nursery

I just came down from there.

The night is cool now, but it's steamy in the nursery, with its two sloped walls and low ceiling, making it seem like a tent on a summer evening. My sweaty, sleepless daughter was calling to me. I scooped her up out of her bed and rocked with her in the big, old, black rocking chair. I sang an old ballad and patted her back. Her head rested on my shoulder, her arms around me, her legs heavy on my legs. Her little body seemed so big, in contrast to the tiny bean I used to prop on my shoulder as I read at night, patting her back to lull her to sleep. So much has changed, yet so little.

She fell asleep in four minutes. I laid her in her crib, the crib which has stood in that corner of the room for almost six years. We set it up when I was pregnant with Charlotte, after I had lovingly painted the walls a buttery yellow colour, and the ceiling a smoky blue with stars shinining. I pulled up the side, turned on the monitor which allows me to hear her, but also promises to beep if she should cease to move (i.e. breathe, or if she scrunches down so low in the bottom of the bed that it can't detect her breathing). She is over two years old but that monitor still brings me comfort, I need to hear its silence to know that my daughter is still there, waiting for me in that nursery.

After Charlotte died, nobody moved anything in the nursery. They did go around the house and take all the things that seemed like they would be painful-- the parenting books, the pregnancy tea, the cards, the baby book lying await, and they put them in a box and put that in the nursery. Then, they closed the door. When I finally mustered up the courage to go up the stairs in my house, about 10 days after I arrived home, I saw the door closed and burst into tears. The little, embroidered, handmade sign still hung from the doorknob, "Baby sleeping". But she was not. It hurt to see that door closed, the door itself was a sign saying, Chapter closed, baby gone, nursery not necessary.

I opened the door and went in, and her things called to me. I surrounded myself with the material goods that had been meant for Charlotte, and somehow having those things made me a mother at that time. It brought logic to the ache in my heart, made right of the blood flowing from me, the milk in my breasts. Here were the banners: You had a baby. Everyone expected her to be here. She was here, she is yours. Somehow I needed the evidence, that everyone else could also see, to help me grapple with the mystery of what had happened.
For that year, the nursery was my sanctuary. Greg and I went there every night. We read Charlotte's Web to each other, we wrote letters to Charlotte, and we built towers out of her blocks. I arranged and rearranged her stuffed animals in the little cradle. I straightened all the memorabilia from her birth that lay in the crib. I looked at the curtains and bedskirt and the stars on the ceiling and remembered how I had sewed and painted and sweated over all these things with such love, never imagining that it might all be for naught.

Liam arrived, and with the exception of the things deemed truly hers, such as a few stuffed animals, her things from the hospital, her going home outfit and blanket, and the cradle, he moved right in. It gave me a sense of greatest relief to see the things used. I wanted what had been hers to become useful, to become somebody's. It felt not just okay, but right for me to use her things for her brother.

When Liam was two, Aoife was born. We moved him out of the nursery, mostly only because we didn't want him to associate his being booted into a new room with his sister moving into it. So he got a new room, and a new crib, and the nursery didn't really have an occupant for about six months while Aoife was getting acquainted with the outside world, and slept in my room. But it was still considered hers, and her clothes were in the wardrobe, and the changing table had her diapers in it, and we used the room some. So it was not vacant. Thank god.

And now? I grapple with what I will do, as my careful and naive plan to have another baby when Aoife was two-and-a-half has not happened, and my luck seems to be running thin. What if there is never a new baby? Already Aoife has two rooms, her "special" room, which was decorated for her in April and where she can play and have an upstairs space that is all hers, and then the nursery where she still sleeps. I would be happy to keep her in the crib until she is three, because then she can hang out there while she doesn't sleep during "naptime".
But what then? To me it seems impossible, just utter defeat in so many ways, to take down the nursery. This room holds such power over me, it has functioned in so many ways as a source of excitement and wonder, of sadness and woe, of new joy, of new babies and soft diapers and sweet smelling hair. What would I turn it into?

Don't worry about it, says one friend. Just leave it up. Surely some day there'll be a new baby. And I know she is right. Probably, given the technology available at this point in time, I will have a new baby. But what if it isn't for a while? I simply cannot have an empty nursery. That says too much. It pulls at my heart in a way that she just can't understand.

I don't have to decide now. I can keep Aoife there for the next six, or eight months, and see what the future might bring. It's just that from where I sit now, where the easy part has now become the hard part (my three children all having been conceived within two weeks of us deciding to have another baby), my babylost brain has spun me into a web of nevernever land, where I am once again a defective product, incapable of producing what seems to be so simple for so many. * I can't see the probable positive in the future because my darkness has moved in, reminding me that I am in a different category from all of them, that I can take nothing for granted.

So it was in the rocking chair tonight that I sat, rocking my heavy little daughter (all 23 pounds of her) on my shoulder, feeling her sweaty hair against my neck, and breathed in the details of that room: the darkened curtain, the sharp edges of the wardrobe that Greg build with his own two hands, the soft, white wicker of the changing table. Nothing had changed, but yet so much has. What beauty I felt in that 23 pounds of girl leaning against me, the love and the trust and the soft sound of her falling-asleep breathing, that almost lulled me into sleep myself.
Today, my nursery is full. I am focusing on strength to remember that today, my nursery is lived in. This is the most beautiful thing, and I won't forget it.

*Out of the flow of my writing, I have to clarify this statement to say that since I have lost Charlotte I, by no means, have ever felt that any part of conception or pregnancy should be taken for granted and is in any way easy. Here, I am simply referring to the syndrome whereby when you are having difficulty in any arena, you look at the world through tinted glasses where everyone else seems to effortlessly produce babies as if it were as easy as baking a loaf of bread. This is what it looks like to me right now. It feels risky for me to be writing about this here. This subject has not felt public to me yet, and it probably won't again for a long time. But tonight it called to me.


Rixa said...

I know a little about the frustration of others (seemingly) taking things for granted. It took us several years, expensive and unsuccessful fertility treatments, and lots of begruding other pregnant women even while being happy for them, before my own daughter came along. Now that she's 20 months and my cycles returned a few months ago, I find myself longing for another child and wondering if I will ever be able to have one again.

Shannon said...

It does seem so easy for some people. I'm in that frustrated place right now. The scary part is, if I even get pregnant for a third time, will I get to keep that baby?