Six Years Out: Other People’s Children

Over at Glow in the Woods, there is a conversation about dealing with live babies after babyloss. There are a variety of experiences of babyloss, from miscarriage to fetal death and still birth to the loss of a twin. At what level are we able or willing to be around live babies after our own losses? In the case of an absent twin, there is not even a choice. It got me thinking about the year that Gabriel was born.

When I got pregnant with Gabriel, Dr. Bro’s wife (WonderSIL — WSIL for short) was pregnant with her second. DearDR’s best friend’s wife (BFW) was pregnant. H was pregnant. My other SIL, Earthmom, got pregnant.

It was a happy time, right up until June 4.

I got out of the hospital on June 10. We all (my parents and sister, DearDR, my ILs) went out to eat. There was another family there, with young children — one a baby. The looks I was getting from my family were like, “Should we stay?” I smiled wanly and said, “I’m going to have to get used to being around babies sooner or later. May as well start now.”

WSIL’s son A had been born about a month before we lost Gabriel. I don’t know what possessed us (possibly the simplicity of an extended invitation), but DearDR and I went over there on Father’s Day. I looked at my husband with a sleeping baby on his belly. It gave him peace, was healing for him. I couldn’t even hold A.

I kept flashing back to an evening at Dr. Bro’s house when DearDR and I were dealing with A’s diaper change. I was still pregnant. DearDR and I were giggling helplessly at the situation, especially Dr. Bro’s instructions: “Don’t forget to clean well around the balls. That’s very important.” WSIL exclaimed, “These people are going to be parents?” In this context, it sounds cruel, but at the time it was hysterical.

I cried on the way home. I was numb and yet not. DearDR was unsure if he was being true to Gabriel’s memory, to hold another baby. I told him I could tell it had been healing for him. And that was okay.

H had A Boy in late May, but she was in St. Louis. I never saw him as an infant. He’s an adorable boy, though, and even now, he makes me think of mine.

BFW had a boy, also, C, in mid-July. DearDR and I went to the hospital. I was still in shock. I held C — he was the first baby I held after we lost Gabriel. I spoke easily (I think) with BFW. She had had an emergency c-section, and that, more than anything else was the topic of conversation. DearDR also held C. He kept smelling his head. When we left the hospital, he said of the head smelling, “I couldn’t stop. Gabriel smelled just like that.”

Visiting my SIL Earthmom in the hospital after she gave birth in October to my nephew L — whom I love very, very much, just to be clear — was an unmitigated disaster. I burst into tears as soon as I walked through the door to her room. I congratulated her, looked at my nephew, and walked back out. The numbness that had gotten me through my interactions with babies up until this point had disappeared.

I was supposed to be her — in the hospital, with the first grandson (on DearDR’s side), celebrating. But wait, if I felt that way, did that mean I wanted her to be me, the one with a dead baby? No! Jesus Christ, no! But I could not put aside my envy of her, my envy of her live baby, my jealousy that she was granted what I was denied. I don’t remember holding L as an infant; I cried throughout most of his baptism a few weeks later.

(Earthmom had wanted me to be L’s godmother — DearDR is his godfather — but fortunately she talked to DearDR first, and he talked to me. “No,” I said, crying and shaking my head. “No, no, no. I just can’t.” I know it was even more confusing because DearDR and I were C’s godparents. But, looking back, I was still numb from shock at the time of C’s birth and baptism. I spent the majority of that summer in a surreal bubble, truly believing that this was not my life. Thinking I would wake up with my baby restored to me and my poor, hurt husband.)

I survived this time, these babies, not by holding myself away from them or by immersing myself in them. I took it instance by instance. Even today, baby boys — especially infant baby boys — can pierce my heart. Is it any wonder that I want to have another boy?

Also to be clear: my interactions with all these “babies” — now, suddenly, 6-year-old boys — are normal. They no longer hurt my heart in that way. Often when I am with family and all the children, I feel Gabriel’s absence keenly, still. My missing child. But it doesn’t crush me any more; it doesn’t collapse me.

In part, of course, that’s because I’m trying to keep Bun from running into traffic. But primarily I think it’s the passage of time. Time doesn’t erase grief — nothing erases babylost grief — but it eases it. After six years, there is still sadness. But this IS my life. I know that now.