Sunday, June 3, 2012

My friend's baby died, people write to me, at least every few months. It is still happening all around us. They write to me grasping at straws, hoping I will possess the magical formula to make it go away. I do not have any such magic; I do not even have the words to give them to help their friend. We all suffer in isolated pods, each needing something different from the other.
The only thing we all need is that friend, who is the one who has taken the time to write to me, the friend who is trying to figure out what to do. The friend who will hopefully put her hand on that empty-armed mother's shoulder, and say, I am going to be your friend even while you are sad. I am going to sit with you even though you are crying, and I'm going to say your baby's name. This friend's tears will fall onto her pants, leaving wet spots, while she sits silently because she can't find words. This friend will come into the house and humbly put some food or some muffins on the counter, feeling embarrassed that all she could come up with was lasagne or cookies. But it's really all she can do, isn't it?

I am a mixed blend right now, of a mother who really wishes people would mention and ask about my first daughter, and the mother who cannot bear to take herself back to the place where pain surrounded her from all sides. I remain fiercely loyal to Charlotte as my daughter, yet when people bring her up, I find myself feeling closer to an awkward teenager trying to find words than the proud, devoted mother I feel like. Long ago I remember reconciling the fact that there was nothing left to say; the story had been told, the tears had been shed. These days I feel the absence of tears belie the truth of my loss, yet I can't sit well with the discomfort of others all the same. I am a stone-faced survivor, removed almost completely from the truth of the agony of the loss, trying to remember the love for my girl while I try even harder to divorce myself from the terrible pain of her death.

My sister gave birth to my first niece on the ninth of May. She was three days early, and I heaved a sigh of relief that Charlotte's day would remain sacredly hers. Little Eleanor June arrived with a beautiful bellow, and when I went to see her in the hospital, it was love at first sight. I wanted to swallow her whole, to drink in the sweet smell of vernix in her hair, to wrap myself around her tiny, frail, limp newborn body. I spent a lovely few hours with Eleanor and my sister and her dear, dear husband, and I was in heaven with them.

It was only when I was driving home that it flooded back to me, an image I had never actually seen. It was me, looking so much like my sister, slim and freckled with my dark hair tucked behind my ears, but in this image the baby laid limp across my chest, her eyes closed forever.

Was that really what it was like, I thought? Could that moment really have been real, that I was robbed of that beauty of the living baby curled in my arms? It made my stomach boil with a real, acidic nausea to imagine the hand I had actually been dealt. My daughter, born in the second week of May, to a young, healthy mother and devoted, true father, had been robbed of everything. She had, indeed, lain dead in my arms, and today she is not nine years old. She is nothing, and I have nothing left of her but a pregnancy and a day worth of memories.

The sadness stuck with me for quite a while that time.