Thursday, January 27, 2011

When Every Good Thing Was Still Possible

At one point, I confessed to David, sobbing, that it would be easier if Eliza had never existed at all.  If we could just pretend that I'd never been pregnant and we were going to start trying to have a baby in the new year and we could just be hopeful instead of heartbroken.

The moment I said it, I felt beyond terrible.  What kind of mother wishes that her baby had never existed?

You may think that was a rhetorical question, but it has a real answer:  The kind of mother whose baby has died.

Which, of course, begs another question:  Would I really wipe it all out if I could?

And that is just a stupid question because of course the answer has to be no.  Her life has to have meant something.  It did mean something.  It meant everything to me.

Shortly after we were home from the hospital, my mom said to us that parenting opens you up to great joy and great pain and it is truly unfair that we get all of the pain and we're robbed of the joy.

Eliza's death does feel like a robbery (and I know Mark Twain thought the same about his daughter).  But even in the darkest moments of those early days, I had to protest when my mom suggested we only got sorrow.  Yes, we absolutely got more than our fair share of that.  But before she was gone, Eliza had brought us joy.  Eight brilliant months of it.

From the moment I got two pink lines on a pregnancy test, we were thrilled.  It was Mother's Day, and I declared that morning to be my First Official Mothers' Day.  And then we went back to installing our new floors, giddy with excitement.

We loved Baby Duck from that moment on.  And we quickly starting stringing together celebrations in her honor...

* The first ultrasound.  We saw her on the screen and the lovely ultrasound tech exclaimed, "There's your little peanut!" as though she truly found our baby as amazing as we did.  We heard Baby Duck's little heartbeat "wow-wow-wow-wow" and I gripped David's hand and stared at the blob screen with a huge grin plastered across my face and tears welling up in my eyes.

* Spreading the news.  We waited twelve weeks before we even told our parents.  I just wanted to be sure, you know?  Once I was obviously pregnant, I never minded people asking me about the baby (a big belly forced me to be more social with strangers than I'd even been before).  I used to tell people that we were almost as excited about the baby as my parents were.

* Finding our she was our girl.  We had this carefully orchestrated plan with the ultrasound tech and the receptionist at the doctor's office and the bakery near our house so that our cake surprise could be ordered without us knowing the color of the frosting...  David and I opened the envelope over dinner at the park that evening, just the two of us, sitting and looking out at the water while the storm clouds rolled over the Grand Basin (I look back now and think of those clouds as a sign of the storm to come, but still that night was pure joy).  I had been saying all along that she was a girl and I was thrilled to be proven right.  A mother's intuition, I told David with delight.

* The fuss of the "Gender Party" with the gender-surprise-cake.  Our friends and my parents helped us much such a big deal out of her, what with the taking of boy/girl votes and the cutting of the cake:  "Pink or Blue, May your wish come true!"  We cut the cake and everyone squealed over the pink frosting and we took pictures.  I gave my parents a pink striped baby outfit that said, "I love Grandma and Grandpa."  And when the party was over, I wrote my first letter to Baby Duck, telling her how lucky she was to have so many people who loved her already.

* The shared excitement with so many of my friends who were also expecting.  In my close circle of friends, four of the girls and I had overlapping pregnancies.  Our babies were going to grow up together, have playdates together, start kindergarten the same year, graduate in the same class.  I love these friends so much and it was so amazing to see all of us embark on this new stage of life at the same time.

* Our trip to Korea.  Baby Duck scored me a seat on the subway at the end of long days spent sightseeing.  We bought her a children's book about Korea at one of the museums, imagining the day we'd read it to her and tell her about the trip she took to the other side of the globe when she was still in her mama's belly.

* Buying baby things, planning a baby registry, decorating the nursery.  I was so particular about everything.  We both were.  Between the two of us, we researched virtually every baby item we purchased.  We were determined to be well prepared and I spent so many hours looking at different cribs, different mattresses, different car seats, and imagining the baby girl who would use them and how it would feel to be a mom.

* The clothes.  Oh my word, the baby girl clothes were so much fun.  I tried to restrain myself from going totally overboard but by the time we got through two baby showers, a few clearance sales, and three enormous hand-me-down boxes from her cousin, we might never have had to go shopping again.

* The baby showers.  Surrounded by my best friends and then a week later by the women in my family, I felt so happy and so loved.  I hoped that some day my baby would have such amazing girlfriends.  I couldn't wait for her to be part of our family.  I knew how lucky I was.  I really did.

* Prenatal yoga.  It was an hour a week that I didn't want to miss, no matter how much grading I had to do.  One hour to spend feeling connected to the baby, to laugh with other women about pregnancy symptoms, to stretch and relax and feel like I was doing something positive and healthy for myself and my baby.  Oh, yes.  I was smug about it, too.  I felt like I was already being a good mom, making her a priority.

* Childbirth classes.  Taking the Bradley classes meant that David and I spent an evening a week focused on the pregnancy and the baby and on working as a team.  We read and learned and discussed options and possibilities.  It helped me feel confident that I was a healthy mother.  I had a low-risk pregnancy.  I was worried about the IV (needles!) and I wanted to avoid an epidural.  My "worst case scenario" was a c-section and a premie.  I was certain that there was nothing I couldn't do, as long as I had carefully researched it and read about it first. 

I truly had a joyful pregnancy.

Of course, I can't pretend that it was all sunshine and rainbows.  I was surprised by how heavy and uncomfortable I started to feel, and I was shocked by the unexpected discomfort of carpal tunnel and the grossness of sensitive gums that would sometimes bleed when I brushed my teeth.  And my feet were freaking tired by the end of the day. Not to mention they had just started getting swollen like elephant feet.

Above all, though, I was so excited about having a baby.  No matter how much I wanted to bitch about pregnancy symptoms, I knew it would be worth it.  The one time I got really pissy about having a double chin in every single photo, David reminded me, "It could be worse.  You could be not pregnant," and I got over myself and my chin(s).  We looked forward to every minute with that baby and I would have endured anything to get her here.

She brought us an incredible amount of joy in those eight months.

But then, so much sorrow.

And then, so much sorrow.

The thing is that the sorrow does not cancel out the joy entirely, although it still feels that way most of the time.  It is incredibly difficult to try and figure out how they can exist side by side.  I can't think about any part of my pregnancy without being overwhelmed with sadness.  But I hope that some day I will be able to separate the pain of losing her from the happiness we had while she was still in my belly and every good thing was still possible.


  1. I hope you can too. And when you do, please let me know how you did it so I can do it too.

  2. Beautifully written. I'm glad to hear about the joys.

  3. I was preparing for a sermon and reading John 16:20-24 and tears started rolling. So then, I typed in your blog address... I guess what I'm thinking for both of us is that we must keep asking. That's where are hope is. I don't know what it means to have complete joy now...but I think that it has to happen. It must happen. Really. Love you.

  4. I think one of the remarkable things about us DBM's is that we would do it all again, even knowing the outcome, just to have them in our lives for that brief time.

    Somehow, the joy and sorrow coexist. Some days, the sorrow wins and others the joy. I am so glad you have so many good memories of anticipating Eliza. She is so loved.

  5. I'm glad that you remember joy. I don't. I didn't make time to enjoy my first pregnancy, it just happened, and I will always regret that. There were good moments, but it's not the same.

    part of me now feels that that first baby might as well not have existed, for all the difference s/he makes to my life today. i hate that. i really do. i'm the only one who still misses that baby. even D doesn't any more, and that hurts.

    her life did mean something. it was incredibly important.


  6. ((hugs)) the pain is so deep because the love is so deep. unfortunately for us - the ones left behind. ♥

  7. Oh Brooke, this made me cry, big puddles of tears, all over my lap top. The love you have for your sweet Eliza shines through every word you write here.

    I keep having to remind myself of this, and sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn't; the joy and the grief can and do coexist. (Most often, it makes my brain hurt to try to wrap it around that concept.)

    Sending so much love to you.

  8. Oh, and PS - I have said and thought the same thing - that it would be so much easier if he just had never existed. But tonight, I was packing toiletries for the trip and in the back of a drawer, there they were - the pregnancy tests I took over a year ago - and there they were - those two pink lines that told me he existed....

    "Hi Otis. You did exist, you were really here, I love you so much..." The words echoed in my head.

    And I smiled.

  9. I am so sorry for your loss. Although my story is not exactly yours, reading your blog is like seeing my own thoughts on the screen. I am here because I googled "Anne of Green Gables first baby died" to seek comfort in the fact that one of my childhood heroines survived this kind of grief. Our baby Elizabeth was due December 21, 2010. She came one day early. In any other time or place she would have been stillborn, but the doctors did a c-section and revived her and now we are in week six of being NICU parents. My husband and I have dropped everything to spend our whole days in the hospital with our little Roo. She was born with severe brain damage from an umbilical cord accident. She cannot see or hear or eat or breathe without help, but we feel her relax when we hold her, and although she does not cry, her expressions tell us when she is in pain. The doctors are allowing us to take her home in a few more days, so that we can love her in a better environment for as long as she is with us. Every morning I wake up confused and have to figure out which universe I live in - the improbable hell that is reality or the life we had planned. Like you, we celebrated our baby girl's life from the moment of conception - ultrasounds, a cake frosted pink on the inside, belly cast, prenatal yoga, natural birth classes, a Netflix cue full of baby movies, a dresser full of clothes carefully washed and sorted several times...we speculated about what baseball team she would support, what her favorite national park would be, where she would go to college, who she would marry. All of that was taken from her in a freak accident, and now all we can do is hold her and feed her through a tube and know that she will never say "Mommy" or "Daddy" but instead is just giving us these few precious moments of loving her. It is so horrible to see her in pain, though. I didn't mean to write this much. What I really wanted to say was thank you for making me feel less alone tonight and that I'm so sorry about your Eliza. You sound like a wonderful woman, wife, and mother.

  10. I yearn for those days, those days when anything was still possible. Because for me those days are long gone. My three dead children have made me what I am. And I don't like it. Not one little bit.

    I wanted to be a mother to living children. Not to dead ones. I wanted to love and joy watching them grow. Not pain and grief for their deaths.

    The joy they brought me, they joy they brought us, is not enough to override the sadness, the pain, the grief, the anger.

    My husband and I no longer live happy, hopeful, productive lives. We have become shells of the people we were. Our bodies and minds are racked with grief, and joy seems but a distant memory to us.

    I hope that it will not be so for you.