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One of my closest friends is pregnant and is due on February 21st, just 6 days after Eliana was born. Needless to say, we have had many discussions about the various emotional responses we’ve both had. I am both terrified and excited about the possibility of her child being born on the same day. What an incredible cyclical sort of irony there would be in that-a living testament to the reality that life goes on. It never occurred to me to ask, but I realize that her baby must have been conceived somewhere around the time that mine was dying.
To be honest, there are few people in this world that I could have been truly happy for if they had told me that news at that time. She happens to be one of them. It has been both painful and healing to watch her go through her pregnancy. It’s like watching a fuzzy movie of myself one year ago. The discomforts, the growth, the expectations, the waiting-all the things I went through at the same time I went through them, but from a distance.
Because it’s her, I don’t hate her for her pregnancy. I don’t hate her for her happiness, or for her complaints. Because it’s her, I don’t assume she is naive about the fact that sometimes babies die, and I know that she does not take this gift she’s been given for granted. She knows, and that makes all the difference.
I have a much harder time with strangers, or for that matter, with acquaintances who know I lost Eliana, but who never said anything to me about it. It may be unfair, since I don’t know for sure what has happened in their lives, whether they have ever lost a child. Unfair or not, I have to fight the resentment I feel over the thought that they don’t know how lucky they are, and anger over all the times I have to sit and listen to them griping about inconveniences I would give anything to have back. I want to scream at them to shut up and go hug their babies, that they might not have them tomorrow. But I don’t.
Would I have listened if some crazy lady had started ranting to me about appreciating my kids while I still had the chance? Would I have understood if a newly bereaved mom had cried to me to not wait until it was too late? Was I only able to truly let in the horrible, unbelievable truth of child death after it had already happened to me? Was it just too terrible for my mind to accept until I no longer had a choice, because I was living it?
Does my anger and resentment toward the clueless really just stem from jealousy over their lack of knowledge of this agony I now call my life? That may be it. I’m jealous-of not knowing, of not feeling, and of not understanding the grief of losing a child. I don’t want to know what this is like. I want to be clueless too.
I wish I could go back. I’d give up my greater empathy, my fundraising, my collection drives, what I’ve learned and how I’ve grown, who I’ve helped and all the people whose lives have been touched by my baby’s story. I’d give it all up to turn back the clock. It was too high a price. Losing Eliana is not worth whatever I may have gained from the experience of going through it. Selfishly enough, it’s also not worth whatever others may have gained from it.
Nobody is given a choice, though, about whether they want to go through hard things. I would certainly never have chosen for my child to die, no matter what good may result from it. And I suppose if I had been given a choice, I probably would have thought that going through my friend’s pregnancy, with it’s eerie deja vu timing, was way too hard too. Better to put it off-too hard to deal with right now. But as soon as she told me, the whole thing just felt right-difficult, but right.
And now, I’m greedy for this baby, so anxious for him to be born. I want to hold him in my arms and be comforted once again by the thought that most babies are healthy, that most babies don’t die. I need to cry on his little head, both in sadness over Eliana being gone, and in amazement over the miracle of birth and life. He is both a reminder of the past, and a hope for the future. I need to love him, but from a distance. I need to test out the waters of opening up my heart again to a baby, to work through the fears and confusion and guilt of loving again after losing her. I’m grateful to my friend for loving me enough to put up with all the weird, convoluted emotions I already feel for her little boy.
The people on the grief support forums have a term for a child born after they’ve lost one-a rainbow baby. That’s what this unborn child is to me. He may not be my rainbow baby, but he is the rainbow baby. He’s the baby born after Eliana, the baby that represents promise-promise for his parents, promise for me, promise for the future, and promise for the world. There will always be pain, but there will also always be joy that follows it, just like the rainbow after the rain. Sometimes it appears right away, and sometimes we have to wait a while to see it. It has been a long, rough storm, and I’m looking forward to seeing a rainbow.
I’m drowning again. That’s the horrible thing about living in these uncharted waters. They are totally unpredictable. The surface will be calm for a couple days. I’ll bob along, thinking I’m handling everything pretty well. I might even venture to take a little swim, try to move away from this spot where I seem to be permanently tethered, like some sort of pitiful human buoy.
Then BOOM. The thunder crack is so loud it feels like my head is going to split open. I know what’s coming and I cringe. The storm is building inside my mind, inside my heart, but no one else can see it or feel it but me.
The lightning strikes, electrifying everything around me-my relationship with my husband, my friends, my daughters, strangers. My body feels like it’s on fire, burning with all the raw emotion that losing a child brings. The current racing through me doesn’t hurt just me. It’s ready to leap to anyone I come in contact with. I’m charged with pain and couldn’t contain it even if I tried.
The clouds start rolling in, covering any light I thought I was starting to see. They build and build until I can’t see anything else, only my anger and sorrow and grief.
The rain starts, if you can dare to call this downpour by so gentle a word. It stings at first, thousands of tiny pinpricks of pain, all the memories of her life and death. It starts raining harder, all the despair pouring out, burning my eyes, but freezing my soul. It seems it couldn’t possibly get worse, but it does. The tears won’t stop. The flood is covering everything, washing away all the broken scraps from the shipwreck of my old life, my old self. I have nothing left to cling to.
The waves begin to crash. I struggle to stay afloat, but they keep pulling me under. They toss me back and forth, pulling me, pushing me. I gasp for air, and am only choked by the sea for my efforts. I can’t breathe, can’t think. I’m drowning, and there is no one around who can save me.
I begin to think how much easier it would be to give in to this sea, to just quit fighting it and let it take me. Would I float down, down, peacefully to the bottom? Would I be able to see her face again, there in the depths, far away from the storm raging on the surface? Would she be there waiting for me?
But, for better or worse, the human body, the human spirit, won’t give up without a fight. The primitive takes over and drags me back up to the air. The storm has once again exhausted itself and the waters have calmed. A single, tiny, blinding shaft of light forces its way through the clouds. It hurts. I don’t want to look. The thought of living once again in the light makes me ache almost as much as trying to live through the storms. Why should I get to experience the sunshine when she never will?
My battered body once again bobs gently in the waters. I know that someday, somehow, a long time from now, the sea will finally be done with me. It will wash me up onto the shore, and I will have to learn to walk again on the land.
I will have to deal with the people who live there, the ones who have never been tossed into the ocean, never lived through its furies. They are as foreign to me now as I am to them. How could they possibly understand when they’ve only watched from the water’s edge? How will they help but recoil from this broken figure dripping with anguish and regret? Will we even be able to understand each other’s language anymore, when they speak of hope, and I speak of hopelessness?
Maybe someday I will be able to sit in the sand again and watch the storm without it crushing my soul in the waves. Maybe someday the rains will fall softly again, and I’ll be able to think of her with a smile. Maybe someday I’ll be able to see the beauty again, when I’m not swallowed up by the suffocating grayness of the clouds. Maybe someday I will be able to take the wreckage of my loss, and build it into something new, something worthwhile, something meaningful. Maybe. Someday. But for now I must go on, swimming in my sea of grief.