Two years ago, I was lying in a hospital bed, watching the John Adams HBO series and waiting for the Cytotec to kick in. The day before, I had been told that my daughter was dead, but now she needed to be born.
I didn't get much sleep that night. I was numb, in shock, trying to just keep focused on the next thing I needed to do to get through. There was no way out but through. I kept telling myself that.
Really, I didn't totally believe the doctor. Part of me, a desperate, completely illogical part of me, thought that when I finally gave birth to my daughter she would come out screaming after all, that it would prove to be a horrible mistake and everything would be fine and she would look into my eyes and I'd look into hers and we would be together.
But it didn't happen like that. When she finally slid out - all too easy, a silent, limp, five and a half pounds - I gasped for air, but she didn't. My husband cradled my head against his chest and said, "Don't look yet, honey." I didn't. I didn't want to know what they were doing to clean her up, my poor darling daughter, my firstborn child, my baby.
She was dead. Nothing will ever, ever bring her back. Even now, sometimes, I cannot believe it.
They cleaned her up and wrapped her up and put a little knitted hat on her. I guess they cleaned me up, too, I don't really remember what happened between when she was born and when she was put into my arms, a solid bundle, heavy, so still. I clutched her to me like if I loved her enough, her heart would start beating again. I tried to memorize her face, her too-white face, her beautiful lips, the shape of her nose.
She is ashes now.
I couldn't bear to give the ashes to the earth and sky. We hiked up one of the foothills after we collected her tiny, achingly small marble urn from the funeral home, but I couldn't stand to let her go. We just kept the urn in the backpack and carried it back down the mountain to our house. Abigail rests in peace on our mantel, with the little certificate they gave us with her footprints on it. That is all that I have left, that and her baby blanket that my mom's friend had crocheted - for a living baby, she'd thought, that was the plan - yes, and a few photographs that I can hardly bear to look at now.
After her birth, I looked at them all the time, dozens of times a day. I just remember waking every morning, clutching the baby blanket in my arms, and knowing, the moment I awoke, that I would have to live through another day without her.
The days got easier, slowly. Not because my grief subsided; it still rages under my surface, sometimes deep, sometimes close, threatening to burst. No, the days got easier as I began to learn to bury my grief, as I realized I could not survive in this world if I did not begin to turn away from it.
Grief is cruel; it is as harsh as can be; it flays you alive and raw. I felt like the walking wounded, scarred, handicapped. I carried my daughter's death like a twisted-sideways limp, only you had to know where to look in order to see it.
I still feel scarred, although like all scars, it's fading with time. I imagine it clearly: a long, thick welt twisting vertically through my soul, top to bottom.
I think if I hadn't had another child, my daughter who lived, that my grief would have destroyed me in the end. Every baby I saw was a reminder: my body had killed my child. I had conceived her, I had created her cell by cell, and then I killed her, and if I had just done one of a dozen things differently, she might be alive today. I could be preparing for a half-dozen two-year-olds coming over to the house and be wrapping presents while she sleeps soundly in the next room, her round little stomach rising and falling with each precious breath. I could have a cake all planned out, or cupcakes, even.
I never in a thousand years could've imagined she would die. It didn't even occur to me that it was possible. And for that, because of my ignorance, I thought I could wait until my next doctor's visit when I was worried she wasn't moving enough. And so, it is my fault she is dead. It is my own fault I never got to look in her eyes, or hear her voice. I will never get to hold my daughter in my arms again, but I will carry that guilt for the rest of my life.
Christ, how I miss her. I still hold her, fiercely, in my heart. I always will. It is the only place left where we can still be together.
I wrote a lot of poetry those first few weeks. Most of it is not fit to share, but these two are my favorites. If you're my friend, you may have already read them on my other blog.
Songs for Abigail: III
It’s rained every day since you died.
As if the world weeps with us
and the clouds could swaddle our grief.
An empty place in the world
echoes with your absence
the space where you should be, and aren’t.
I can almost feel on my pinky finger
where your grip should curl, and surprise me
with its strength. But your hand lies motionless.
It is hard to believe our hearts can keep beating
when yours is silent forever.
That was not the miracle I expected from your birth.
Songs for Abigail: VI
Still the bells and muffle the drums;
with solemn step the parents come.
With weeping hearts and lowered eyes
they curse the day that Abigail died.
Let the trees shed their leaves in the summer field
Let the autumn harvest refuse to yield
Let the birds fold their wings and forsake the sky
The world must be broken, that Abigail could die.
Tell the mourners in a somber throng
To quiet their cries and swallow their song
Let the silence beg the question why,
of all that is possible, Abigail should die.
Stop the waves on the ocean’s shore
Stop the seasons’ changes evermore
Stop the sun in its eternal sky
Let the world mourn that Abigail has died.