(Note: As a writer, I feel that it’s important to let my fingers type whatever they are moved to say when it comes time for me to write these blog posts. As a parent, I think that the impact of pregnancy and infant loss is not discussed nearly enough in our society. But as a human being, I recognize that this topic can be uncomfortable and upsetting, so I offer full grace should you choose to close out this window rather than read on. For those of you experiencing a similar struggle at this time of year, those I’m aware of and those I’m not, know that my heart has been with you while writing this.)
It starts the first week of December, the remembering. I had felt her move for the first time in the car driving home from a Thanksgiving trip to Florida, which is why I suspect my anniversary grief stress begins so early. I subsequently gave birth to her, stillborn, on New Year’s Eve…seven years ago.
It happens the same way every year. I’m putting away orange and red paper leaves, changing them out for twinkling lights, when suddenly it dawns on me that I’m snapping at my husband and I’m impatient with my children. I burst into tears when my football team loses a game…or wins. A friend doesn’t answer a text and I’m more positive than usual that she is mad at me and that I’m not a good enough friend or wife or daughter or sister or mother…and what is wrong with me???? Then around the second week comes the “Oh.” Sometimes the “Oh.” comes from myself, and sometimes my husband or a dear friend has to remind me. And I realize all over again that my body remembers first. Before my mind. Before my heart.
It makes sense that it happens this way. An unborn child lost doesn’t begin or end in the world or in a woman’s mind. The process happens inside her body–to her body. I believe that at a cellular level my body remembers dividing to create that child. My blood cells remember carrying nourishment to her. My womb remembers holding her for all of those months, and only my womb knows the secrets of why my baby so suddenly stopped growing, and also why it declined to alert me for several weeks after it was too late for anything to be done. There were blueprints and a map that my body followed for 21 weeks. A body doesn’t forget.
The remembering is painful, especially when it makes its way finally into my conscious thoughts. Remembering the moments of anxiety when I didn’t seem to be getting bigger or feeling her as much, remembering the pure joy when my oldest daughter lay on my stomach and sang carols on Christmas Eve for the baby to hear, remembering the rush to the emergency room on the worst morning of my life. It comes back, all of it, every year. The memory stretches into every muscle.
I know I’m not the only woman to have experienced this intimate loss. As I am reminded again and again, it’s actually quite common. But what is lost in that particular message is that to every woman pregnant with a wanted child, she is the only mother and her baby is the only baby in all of the universe. Her body gives itself to her child as though this is the first and only miracle that has ever existed. She watches herself growing, daydreams her way through the months, and marvels at how her body knows exactly what to do. She feels the life within her preparing and hoping itself into existence right along with her. So when the map leads a woman down a different and unexpected path, her ache is also the only ache in all of the universe.
It is not lost on me that my particular remembering takes place during a month when much of the world celebrates the anticipation and birth of another beloved baby to another besotted mother. And as I sing “…holy infant, so tender and mild,” I find myself imagining Mary holding her newborn son in the hay. And I imagine the long night I held my sleeping daughter in the hospital. And I imagine all of the holy places where we mothers have held our own personal miracles for the first (maybe last) times. “Souvenir” is a French verb meaning “to remember,” and I try to see this month–this visceral experience of loss and remembrance–as a souvenir, a relic, a reminder of the gift only we mothers give to the world, the pure magic that is each and every mother and baby coexisting for any period of time. How fragile it all is, yes. But how miraculous every second of it is too.