Friday, March 6, 2015
I read somewhere that the world record for holding one's breath is around twenty-two minutes. Impressive, sure, but it's no nine months.
I think about things this time. Will he or she look like you? In all of the normal, non-morbid ways, of course, but I also ponder other things. Things that existed before you, only I never thought about them. Things like fingernail color: will this baby's be pink, as the blood vessels expanding beneath them? Will they be gray, as yours were, from the oxygen depletion?
I used to fear these thoughts, ashamed of these changes within myself. The awkward, off-putting, scattered ideas that chase well-meaning friends away. The ones with the choices I no longer possess: the option to turn away from the picture. Not to read. Friends who live in worlds where gray remains in the Crayola box.
And they pick it up from time to time, and it adds a beautiful shadow to their pictures, but they have never birthed the color. It is never their creation. They have never held it, still and profound, turned it lovingly in their fingers.
For months I would check this baby's heartbeat, and there is only one thing I would say.
Mostly I would say it to myself, silently in my head. Sometimes it was aloud. I have said it in the storage space behind my classroom, on carpets and on couches, in hotels and while on-hold with insurance companies, shaky hands gripping thick, white plastic. I have said it on Thanksgiving morning and on Christmas Eve.
"Please," in bed before closing my eyes.
"Please," at my computer desk.
"Please," in the car after work.
And I know what I am begging for. It's what I begged for the day you died. We were moving your brother to his new room...to make room, for you. Sitting just beneath the window that morning while sorting a trillion Lego pieces I felt you kick me. And I'm not sure it was the last time, but it's the last time I can remember.
Gently, I pulled your brother to my lap. "Here," I had said, placing his hand. "Can you feel your sister?"
And there was nothing. There was nothing for the longest time. And I remember saying please.
Please don't leave me.
Please, I need her.
Please don't let this happen.
The other day I noticed something. While parking for my 24 week ultrasound I felt this baby kick, so strong and so sure from deep inside that I nearly jumped the curb. I never miss one anymore. This perpetual anticipation, this constant longing for proof of life.
Minutes later as I sat in the waiting room a wave of panic came over me, as it often does now. For no reason and without trigger, my heart will run and my hands will sweat and I will know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this baby is gone.
I set down my magazine, and I asked the receptionist if I had time to use the restroom down the hall. "Just use this one, hun," she pressed the button, opened the large doors to her left.
And I walked, hurriedly, past the rooms. Past the curtains hiding pregnant mothers just inside, heard the heartbeats of their babies on the monitors, the varying accelerations loudly thumping in my head. And I was shaking. And I was sure I wouldn't hear it again.
Inside the bathroom there was barely time to flip the light and I was sitting, back against the wall, sprawled on the floor. The cold, gross, white tile bathroom floor that gets mopped once a day if I'm lucky. The beautiful, isolated, holy ground where I would search in vain. Where I would surely learn my baby has died for the second time.
I pulled the aloe from my purse, then the Doppler. Five seconds crawling by and then I heard it, one hundred forty-two beats per minute.
I pictured myself walking back down that hallway and into the parking lot, driving home in a haze. I saw myself telling your father, your brother, heard the vacuum collect the dried rose petals. On my tongue, the pungent mustard from the donated deli sandwiches, the bitter chocolate from the edible arrangement.
In the twenty steps to this room I had lived another death, only there hadn't been a "please," and I realized something then.
I realized that I will always be scared. You have left me this way, but because of you I will always be something else, too.
The words left my mouth as they had a million times before, but I felt them in a way I never used to. I felt them in a way I never could have without you, without the gray. Feel them now in a way others cannot.
These words I must have said, but never truly felt in all of your nudges from within. This gratitude, aloud to my cold, tile audience on a Thursday afternoon.