I say by way of explanation To my colleague in the Math Department, A justification for the Discrepancy in the math: Five pregnancies but only four at home, Three girls and a boy. I want credit for that fifth pregnancy, The hardest of them all, even though half as long, As if it were some achievement to put on my resume Instead of my body’s greatest failing.
“We lost a baby,” I say, Then quickly apologize for the absurdity of the euphemism As if We had lost you at the grocery store in the bread aisle, Or misplaced you in the woods somewhere, Or left you behind at the gas station on some long summer trip. As if You are my car keys, perpetually lost in the cushions of the sofa, A victim of my absent mind, my inattention. We did not lose you; we know exactly where you are; Though some days, it seems that we are the ones who are lost.
“We lost a baby,” I say by way of explanation To the nurse gratuitously taking my obstetric history Because computerized medical records are inexplicably ephemeral. Because of the absurd shortcomings in the terminology: “Gravida five, para five,” you can count miscarriages and stillbirths, perhaps, but Not severe complications that lead to prematurity and a 20 hour life. Your line of questions gives me the option to skip the story completely, lead you to believe there are still five; there are no problems here, everything is fine. But I always chicken out, assume it might be important for you to know that there was a hemorrhage and abruption and a Loss, I find a way to stammer out the truth, face your professionally sympathetic words, your personally sympathetic face; let’s move on, and talk about the date of my last pap smear.
“Our baby died,” I say in shock, to the cheerful nurse on the phone from the insurance company, calling 6 weeks after your birth (your death), A woman who only wants to congratulate us and remind us of the importance of back sleeping and well child checks and vaccinations. I want to hang up on her. I want to write a letter complaining about the insensitivity of the robot overlords running the company, programming the computers, but instead I try to comply sweetly with her diverted line of questioning. She’s so sorry for our loss; do we have support? Can she tell us about some resources on the website?
“We lost a baby,” I say To the casual acquaintance who did not want to know we lost a baby, I should have said “We have four.” But I am quick to comfort her in her discomfort, I explain “For us it wasn’t anything like losing an older child. Everyone grieves differently.” But I can see in her eyes that she doesn’t believe me, that she thinks I’ve known a pain deeper than any other. There is no socially acceptable way to explain to her that years of mental health struggles, before and after, are many orders of magnitude more painful. “Have you grieved for the loss of your baby?” my therapist asks. “Everyone grieves differently” I say.
We repeat the ritual each year, Silk flowers on your grave the day of your birth, Until I cannot go on your third birthday because I am in the hospital, giving birth to your little sister. God has a sense of humor, or maybe a sense of Grace, God is a practical Joker, or maybe a divine engineer, Maybe He is a parent who also lost His firstborn son Not a loss, really, more like a voluntary sacrifice– And I look at the Four that I have to keep And am thankful- I cradled you in my arms while you drew your last breath; I whispered how much I loved you, over and over, You stretched out your arms on the cross while You drew your last breath, crying out that You loved us, that we are forgiven. And while my womb could not contain you, nurture you, keep you safe, I have hope Because the grave could not contain You; death could not defeat You.
We lost a baby, and We fumbled our way through those dark days, the pain, the sorrow, the funeral home, the memorial service, the graveside, We saved your hat, your hospital bracelet, “Maybe some day they’ll be important, they’ll mean something” we said. They’re in a box on the top shelf of the closet, stored away for someday. I tell my therapist, “I want to understand Why. What does it mean?” He says “You may never know why.” How can the inexplicable be explained? No one tells you how to do it, how to grieve; everyone grieves differently.
Before you lose a baby, No one tells you how much you’ll long for the end to come quickly, For the suffering to be over, That your biggest fear is that your child will live with serious disabilities, That you’ll never overcome the guilt of having had that thought. After you lose a baby, You feel a sense of relief. The great stress is over. Now all that remains are the rituals of death. What would we wish we had done later? We take pictures, we name you Everett. We let the girls pick your middle name and they choose “Zechariah.” It’s on your tombstone: Yahweh Remembers.
But if we had to do it over again, that’s the only thing I would change. Now, I would name you “Everett Resurrection.” Because I have learned, in these years, that you are not lost; and really, is there anything else that matters? You are not lost, you are safe and we will see you again. Before you came to us I thought I believed in Heaven, But then realized, I’m not sure I believed that Heaven was real Until you went there, before me. And because I know you are there, I know it is real, and I will join you there someday.