Fifteen months ago, my daughter died. I held her lifeless body in my arms. I kissed her black hair. I had her cremated and to get close to her I have literally tasted her ashes. This reality will be with me for the rest of my days. She is our second child, and she’s gone.
Somehow we crawled our way through the past 15 months with out her. Somehow we did it while facing the daily anxiety of another years' pregnancy. And here we are. Older. More wrinkled. Less naive. Much more empathetic. Perhaps even more fully human.
As I reflect back on this year, one thing is incredibly clear to me: I am not as strong as I once thought. I have discovered over these long months that there are things in this world that can truly break me. Death is no longer some abstract reality that, as I once believed, is simply a part of life. It is bigger, more painful, than I knew. It sweeps through a persons life and threatens to destroy everything. It knocks you to the ground; it breaks you.
Living through this year has been unbelievably traumatic. It's not just the day you lose your baby that breaks you, it's the living with out one of your children, day after day after day. It's the ongoing trauma of facing the world with our her. For five months, I barely ate. For nine months, I cried every day. Even now, although I can finish my food when I think of her and I can string together several days with out tears, I have come to realize that much of this sorrow will actually never leave me. She will always be mine. And she will always be gone.
And yet the truth is, my world has not fallen apart. My friends and family have supported me. Spoken her name. Cried for her. Held my hand as I walked the terrifying journey of subsequent pregnancy. They kept calling when I couldn't pick up the phone, kept knocking on my door when I couldn't answer, and kept asking how I was doing when all I could do was cry for months and months. My living daughter has danced in my arms and covered me with kisses. And my husband...well, there are never the right words for him. We walked this road the way we always do, together, side by side, with deep love.
Often I think that the reason my world did not crumble to ash (like my heart did) was because it was held together, not by me, but by the people who love me. And I can hardly believe my good fortune to have them all.
These days, there is a saying that keeps going through my head. It's something my doctor said to me when I asked when I should deliver Leo. "Let's get to 38 weeks, and then let's take the money and run."
Take the money and run. That's what we did, six weeks ago, and my baby boy came alive into this world. And now I think of that phrase all day as it pertains to making peace with this life we are living.
Take the money and run. Don't be too greedy. Accept. Make peace. Seize the joy while I can. Let go - not of her - but of the hard truth that this god awful tragedy happened to us. Be grateful. Hold my first born and now my third born tight in my arms and weep for all we do have. Because it feels as if it could all be taken from me at any moment, and I don't want to look back and wish I could have reveled in the good while it was mine to have.
I’m finding that hope and peace and relief are washing over me in waves, more and more, each day of Leo’s life. My body, the physical "me," hurts so much less these days. I have felt an acute physical longing for my daughter for all these longs months. It's as if my body had been continuously searching for her, looking for my missing child. When Stella was born, I remember that leaving her in order to run errands or go to the gym felt like leaving a part of me - a vital internal organ of some sort. I felt tethered to her by a kind of invisible umbilical cord, and I never felt quite right until I returned to her. I had the same feeling for Margot. But there was nothing on the receiving end of that longing, only absence, emptiness, ashes. It hurt in a place deep in my bones, a place I can find no adequate words to describe. (This pain is part of why I barely touched another infant over this long year. I have not held or tickled another baby, even though there are many in my day to day life that I love. Mostly, my body forced me to look away, stay away, because the emptiness of my own arms would threaten to suffocate me.) And then Leo entered the world and suddenly this layer of pain just...lifted. My body took a deep breath, pulled him close, and some evolutionary need was satisfied.
[In the same breath I feel that I must be clear that Leo’s life does not help me feel any more ok about Margot’s death. I can imagine that most of the world (even perhaps myself in those early days) would assume that somehow his life would make her death more palpable. I’m sure this is what my old babysitter meant when she said, “now you have a new baby!” But even though my logical brain knows that Leo would not be here if M was, I’m shocked how little that matters to my heart. I gave birth to all three of my children. And I want them all.]
Mostly, in spite of the heart ache, right where I am is a good place. Happy even. I can smile with out holding back and wishing there was another expression I could make besides a smile - something between a smile, grimace, scream, sigh and cry - that would better reveal my state of emotion. The sunshine no longer mocks me and the happiness of the rest of the world no longer stings. In many ways, I feel myself coming back to the world, as if waking up after a long winter of sadness. My heart ache for my daughter is ever present, but there is room in my heart now for happiness as well. I feel the urge to travel again, my most beloved of interests, and that desire alone shows me that I am evolving, that I no longer need to spend every night on the couch crying and talking about how we will get through another week. It's hard to believe that every single night for 13 months, we talked about M, about losing her, about surviving with out her. I would say that in a way I grew very used to sadness. So now, in this new spring, it might just take me a little while to remember how to be happy again. But I'm so damn glad it's time.