Can you scoot over a little bit? I'm getting a crick in my neck. Better yet, why don't you hop out and swim alongside? I'm feeling a little self-absorbed this week and I need to stretch my legs.
In my real life I don't talk about R very frequently. I may throw in a cautious self-deprecating remark about my less-than-ideal experience with pregnancy or a veiled comment about the 'hard year or 2' after C was born but even those are few and far between. It's not that I don't want to talk about her or can't--I don't want to hear what other people think about R or her birth or her death or my reaction to it.
On the few forays I've made into the world of public grieving (i.e., expressing sorrow in front of people without dead babies) I've been advised to 'find something that will help me turn that negative energy into a positive result' or to 'stop worrying because it won't bring her back.' My former boss suggested I use the time freed up by trauma-induced insomnia to get more work done. I've also been ignored because, as we all know, if you want something to go away, you should ignore it.
The birthday has passed. We are now in our 3rd grief season (it may actually be the 4th given the circumstances leading up to their birth). This year's theme is apparently “Self-indulgent Prick.”
T pointed out that I cannot get annoyed by family members and friends who behave as though R never existed if I'm the one leading them in this direction. It seems I have made myself a tiny little bed with room enough for only me and a 3 lb. 12-day-old baby and I now have to lie in it.
In my mind I'm trying to spare everyone. The monumental R-shaped hole inside my heart isn't really fit for company. If I lay it out in full view it is both impossible to ignore and hideous beyond imagining. It will mock your kid's asthma* and kick you right in your arthritic knee. It wants you to know what it feels like to kiss your dead baby's forehead in the back room of the funeral home. And, goddamn it, if you don't stop talking about your Tar.get boycott, it's going to rip your head off and shove it up your ass.
In preparation for the kickass birthday party we had planned for C, I did the mannerly thing and wrestled Old Ugly into submission. After all, this was the first time all of these folks would be gathered together since I married T back in 2002 and I wanted it to go smoothly.
My family did not appreciate the effort. In fact, they didn't even notice. So, in a fit of pique I cracked open my laptop and executed the blogging equivalent of kicking the dog after a hard day at work. There I was, Monday morning, lounging with my feet in some undeserving person's face, complaining that the lifeboat lacks luxury appointments. But, you're all too decent and supportive to point that out and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.
I think of myself as a fortunate person. I've always been healthy, capable, free of any crippling mental, physical, or emotional handicaps. For most of my life I've 'had it to give' or at least felt like I didn't need to take anything from anyone. Then my Dad died and then I became a mom and then one of my daughters died and I've been struggling to reconcile my former carefree self with this new baggage-laden version ever since.
Sympathy has never come easy for me. Like most fortunate people I always thought that I had earned a life that ran smoothly. People with problems could just work their way out of them or not but, that had nothing to do with me.
You'd think that I'd be a font of sympathy now that I know the truth about suffering but it's really not that simple. My well of caring is miles deep but only an inch or two wide. If it doesn't have to do with death or imminent death of a young human, I really can't get too stirred up. (OK, maybe I can get a little weepy thinking about the polar bears drowning for want of pack ice but mostly because it reminds me that children living in low-lying areas of Bangladesh could be swept away by rising seas.)
Everyday I get up, take a shower, head to the train and somehow manage to walk the walk of a conscientious, upright citizen but it feels like such a sham. I weigh everything against R's death. At the slightest provocation I find myself back in the family room of the NICU watching T hold her out so that the doctor can listen for a heartbeat and call the time of death. Sometime right around 4pm on Sunday, August 26, 2007, the universe collapsed into a pinpoint and everything other than R and C and T ceased to exist.
Over time, the pinpoint widened to let in other families struggling to recover from babyloss but there's still nowhere near enough room for mundane complaints of the non-grieving, non-fatal variety.
On Wednesday it will be three years since R took her last breath, Thursday will be three years since she died. I'm not sure how I thought I would feel after three years.
Last year I was completely adrift on August 26. I had just started reaching out to other folks via the blog. I was living in my mom's house and wondering if we'd ever manage to get pregnant again. I walked down to R's playground and looked for some type of sign that R still existed somewhere. And I suppose I found it.
This year I feel less alone and more settled. On Friday morning I got a card from Awesome Angie (R's first and only birthday card). Several of you sent messages of support here or through email or on FB. We're in our own house. At some point last fall we decided that we really don't want more kids which is great because I don't think we can produce anymore anyway. T recently started a new job that suits him perfectly.
We are where we want to be...except that R isn't here with us. These days, missing her is just a part of daily life--easy as taking a breath. Truthfully, it's probably easier than it would have been to parent her if she had survived.
On Thursday, C and I will drive down to the beach for a reunion with some of my grad school classmates who are now mostly happily married with (100% living) children. I'm sure that we'll get caught up on life since graduation--the choices we've made, the opportunities we've missed. I will endeavor to stay focused on the conversation but my mind will likely be off and wandering, trying to figure out how I could have failed my daughter so miserably and how I can go on growing my career, making decisions about our future without her.
Whenever I talk to other parents about topics other than parenting I always wonder if they've also demoted everything else. If it comes easily, if they can crank out living babies with no trouble at all, do they sit at their desks some days wondering how the hell they got there? Do they ever feel like jumping up from the desk, running back home and never leaving the house again? Do they ever spend an entire day mulling over the power random chance has over our lives?
Do they ever dig up a puny little tree and replant it in the yard because it might be a sign from the universe that we're all part of something too great to comprehend?
Do they realize that you can learn everything you need to know in 12 days?
*NOTE: After I published this I had instant remorse about that asthma comment. I know that asthma can be fatal and is terrifying for parent and child alike. I thought about deleting and replacing it with something less horrible but I left it in because a) I already pointed out that I'm feeling lousy about being a prick b) it highlights exactly how unreasonable I can be when feeling sorry for myself.