It's Remembrance Day here in Australia, the 11th of the 11th, a day we traditionally remember who have died in the service of our country.
I have my own Remembrance Day. This is the day my first-born baby boy Jack was due to be born. Even though statistically few babies are actually born on the EDD appointed them, I laughed through my pregnancy about how convenient it would be to remember his birthday if he would oblige by turning up on that day.
He chose another day, and for that reason the week of mourning the lost loved ones of 9/11 has its own private resonance for me. He was born on September 14, 2001. He would have been 6 this year.
There has always been within me an acceptance of the order of things in relation to Jack's loss. We grieved him, separately and together, and we reflect on him as thoughts and memories surface through the years. The wee man's pregnancy was particularly emotionally charged at certain times, especially since by then we had lost another four babies through early miscarriages. But there is a sense I have that things are as they are meant to be, and the losses we sustained pale in comparision to some people's suffering, and make the birth of the wee man all the more precious a gift.
I'm not maudlin, and this post is as much a celebration of life as a marking of loss. I thought I'd like to post a story I wrote a few months after Jack's death. At the time, I was an addicted subscriber to Stories.Com (now Writing.com, I think), and this piece received a huge, loving and incredibly healing response from that community of writers. Then, I called it "In My Heart"; now, I think of it as...
In my heart, I was a mother from the moment I knew I was pregnant.
My pregnancy was blissful. I was one of those incredibly annoying women who had no morning sickness, no insane cravings, no stretch marks. (Annoying, that is, for every woman who has endured these trials and more.) My skin and hair shone gold with health - I never got sick of people telling me how I seemed to glow from within. I was in love with life, my man, the world, and, most of all, the incredible alchemy which was taking place inside me to create this wonderful new being with whom I was already deeply in love. I was completely at ease with the idea of becoming a mother, as only those completely new to motherhood can be. I had spent years idly longing for a child, but now we were ready. Now we were committed; there was no going back from my blooming belly.
So, it was a deep sense of shock that I stared at the deep red blotch on the tissue I held. At 32 weeks pregnant, I had become used to the siren song of the toilet in the middle of the night. After all, there is only so much space in the average abdomen. I didn’t begrudge an inch to my beautiful passenger, and willingly got up as many times a night as necessary to keep my bladder empty. I normally waddled throught the house in the dark, sat in the dark. This night, I put the light on - don’t ask me why. At three am, you have to trust your instincts - your brain doesn’t function too well.
By then, I had absorbed enough pregnancy literature for 20 pregnancies . I knew spotting was not a good thing, not at this late stage of the pregnancy, and especially not if it was bright red. I knew it was probably a warning sign, and therefore not to be ignored. I knew that in another 2 hours, my partner’s alarm was going to go off, rousing him for another day’s work. And I knew I couldn’t wait that long.
I took a moment, though. I sat at the kitchen table, sipped a cup of chamomile tea, and focused every ounce of awareness on the baby within. Two days ago, I had been joking that Pumpkin (we hated the whole ‘he/she/it’ business) was dancing up the walls of my uterus like Fred Astaire, in that classic scene where he dances all the way up one wall, across the ceiling and down the other side. My partner and I were endlessly fascinated by the ever-changing panorama of my stomach, where the skin stretched and heaved to silhouette one little limb, or a rump, or an elbow, or an (amazingly large!) foot. Better then television, was the general conclusion.
I sat and remembered all the times Pumpkin had rebelled against the scans and monitors we were regularly subjected to, on our visits to the Antenatal Clinic. It was becoming a little joke with the midwives, how much this baby squirmed and wriggled to avoid the invasive pulse of the ultrasound, or even the smaller wave of the sonogram seeking the baby’s heartbeat as part of our regular check-up. I couldn’t help feeling proud, though, at how considerate my child already was - although incredibly active when I was awake and moving, Pumpkin almost always settled to a peaceful sleep when I lay down or rested. My prayer, echoed by all around me, was for that deliciously convenient sleep pattern to continue after the baby was born. Well, we can dream, can’t we?
My hands resting on my curving abdomen, I sat in the kitchen and waited for movement. I felt nothing.
Later, when we had driven through the deserted early-morning streets to the hospital, and been quickly ushered into the assessment area, I felt nothing again. Nothing, to the tune of a silent heart monitor strapped to my belly. The wide, sympathetic eyes of the doctor and midwives said it all, before the doctor ever opened her mouth. Oh, I cried - we wrapped our arms around each other and sobbed with the shock, the defeat of our dreams. I reduced one midwife to tears, when she comforted me while my man began the painful task of ringing our loved ones. But inside, I could not believe, nor fully feel the loss. I waited to feel movement, life.
The greatest blessing of that day was my completely natural labour. By the time the midwives examined me, shortly after the defining monitor, I was nearly 5 centimeters dilated. Startled, they enquired after my pain, and offered me pain relief if I required it. Physically, I was experiencing nothing worse than mild menstrual cramps - nothing they could give me could ease the pain I could feel sitting quietly in my heart, waiting for the right moment for its own birth. A labour ward was cleared for me, and we were whisked away. My man was by my side; the waiting room began to fill with loving family and friends, come to support and grieve with us. Labour anchored me, gave me focus; I could not be a mother, but I could give birth.
Seven hours after I awoke and stared at a red blotch, Jack Lightning was born. His birthing was brief, intense; easy, as so much else of his short life had been. His father declared that nothing was more beautiful than me, giving birth to our son. Even knowing that our child was stillborn, I was intensely proud of every contraction and drop of sweat I exerted on his behalf, and of the resolute courage of my man, who’d never known how he would handle the whole birth experience. It was the very least we could do for our son, who left as he had arrived: perfect in every detail, brilliant as a lightning flash, gone in an instant.
Now I am a mother without a child. I am one of many. There are mothers who have lost babies as miscarriages or stillbirths, mothers who have lost a newborn or infant to illness or misfortune, mothers who have lost a child, large or small, to hunger or war or murder. There is a space in our hearts, in our arms, under our roofs, in our photo albums, in our family gatherings. We are still mothers. (C)TR 2001