Jun 17, 201110:38 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
Right Where I Am: Five Years, Three Months
The Right Where I Am project is kind of like the It Gets Better project, except for dead babies rather than gay teens. There is a better explanation and a link to other people’s posts here, but in a nutshell, it looks at how long it has been since your loss and how you’re coping.
Both James Ellroy and Elizabeth McCracken have said, “Closure is bullshit” – McCracken in reference to her own stillborn son – and I think that’s largely true. Or, in less vulgar terms, as one of my favorite teachers wrote to me after my friend Jim died, “There may be closure for a chapter, but the book never ends."
I lost a baby 14 weeks into my first pregnancy. It felt, to me, like less than a stillbirth but more than a simple early miscarriage and thus made it hard for me to know exactly where I fit in the grief hierarchy. And I was pregnant with Ruby two weeks later. I jumped headlong, ready or not (I wasn’t), into the world of high-risk pregnancy.
Many people, even people very close to me, assumed that Ruby healed me. They assumed that because I had a baby in my arms so quickly after losing one, I couldn’t be sad anymore. The truth is that although I can’t imagine my world without Ruby, my grief over the loss and my joy over her presence are separate things – even if they are hopelessly intertwined.
The day after I found out the baby had died inside of me, all I wanted was a sandwich. Cold cuts are forbidden during pregnancy, and so – along with wine and coffee and sushi and everything else I love – I had given up sandwiches. Once the baby died, there was nothing left to lose, but coffee and sushi still nauseated me, and I didn’t trust myself to start drinking. A turkey sandwich, though – that couldn’t hurt.
But when I walked into the deli, the owner was behind the counter wearing her infant son in a sling. All I could see was his tiny pink face and his tiny blue hat, and suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. It was the keenest, purest moment of grief I have ever felt, and I ran for the bathroom as if I were going to be sick. Instead, I locked the door, leaned against it and cried the most primal tears I have ever cried.
I walked out of the deli wordlessly, red-eyed, greasy-haired, shaky-kneed, my breasts already starting to ache with useless milk. And here was the woman behind the counter, plump and smiling and glowing, such a perfect example of motherhood.
About a year later, when Ruby was maybe two months old, a friend invited me to lunch at the deli, and I agreed without thinking. After we ordered, I set Ruby’s car seat down on the floor, and the same baby boy, now a year old, crawled over to our booth and sat himself up right by Ruby and patted her arm, wide-eyed. “Yes, honey,” said his mom, still plump and smiling and glowing. “You see the baby. You see the pretty little girl.” And then, an aside to me, mother-to-mother, “Sorry, my son is such a flirt."
I nodded and smiled and tried to look casual, but I’m sure I failed. It absolutely wasn’t casual; it was one of the most complex moments I’ve ever experienced. I was happy. I was sad. I was grateful. I was jealous – but for something I couldn’t put my finger on. Somehow, though, that baby boy, wrapping his chubby fingers around Ruby’s soft pink arm, made me feel healed in a way her birth had not. That’s not where I am, not exactly, but it’s also not exactly where I was. In some ways, that moment is always going to be where I am, so perfectly encapsulating both the complexity of it all and the absolute simplicity of life and death and birth and babies.
So sure, It Gets Better. The grief eases, as it always does. But for me, the loss is always tangled up with Ruby’s existence, and while I spent the nine months of my pregnancy with Ruby almost resenting her for taking up residence in my womb so soon after it became vacant, I am now sometimes scared by how close she came to not existing at all.
And every milestone with her is viewed through miscarriage-tinted glasses – framing my loss while making me see what a miracle I have with more clarity.
The first time Ruby saw the ocean should have been pure joy. She was 2, and Jamie and I were on a Save the Marriage vacation. Ruby was overwhelmed and thrilled and scared, clinging to me and squealing with equal parts joy and terror, which is pretty much how I feel every time I see the ocean, too. But suddenly, in the midst of our shared joy and terror, I realized that the Other Baby, the Dead Baby, would never see the ocean.
What I did next was irrational and melodramatic and probably also bad for the environment. But that night, after I’d read her her nightly allotment of stories, after I’d tucked her into the hotel’s double bed with her special blanket, I told Jamie I’d be right back, and I went out to our car, where I knew I still had ultrasound pictures from that first pregnancy. And then I walked, barefoot and solemn, from the parking lot to the beach, which was deserted at that hour. I waded out, past my shins, past my hips, and I let the ultrasound picture go underwater. “This is as close as you’ll get, baby,” I whispered, feeling crazy and yet also feeling at peace.
That’s also not where I am, and it’s also not exactly where I was. In some ways, though, that moment is always going to be where I am, so perfectly encapsulating the wonder I feel at what I have and the realization of what I’ve lost.
About a year ago, a friend of a friend announced her pregnancy at a barbecue, five weeks along. In one moment I thought two completely different things. Bitterly, I thought, "I'm sure her baby will be born perfectly fine." And I thought, "I absolutely hope her baby will be born perfectly fine."
All of my friends have had easy pregnancies, and I am happy for them, and I am jealous of them. When I was in high school, I had a friend whose brother tried to kill himself. He got the mental help he needed and was soon doing much better. I confessed to a mutual friend how jealous I was that her brother got help and mine didn’t, and my friend whirled around and said, “I can’t believe you! You’re terrible! You want her brother to die!” “No,” I stammered, shocked at the accusation and feeling terribly, terribly misunderstood. “No! I do not want her brother to die! I want my brother to have lived!"
I do not want my friends’ babies to die; I want my baby to have lived. And yet, I feel the strangest mix of pity and envy for these people who announce their pregnancies so very, very early – scared for them that they have so much hope to potentially lose and honestly, the weirdest mix of pride and sorrow for myself, as though I have accomplished something by knowing how very many ways things can go wrong.
This happens every time someone announces a pregnancy, really. If they announce it early, I think: “God! It’s so early! Don’t tell yet! Don’t you know what can go wrong?” If they wait until the end of the first trimester, I think: “I waited until 12 weeks, and I still had to un-tell everyone. Do you think you’re safe at 12 weeks? You’re not always safe at 12 weeks!” And then, no matter what, I feel like a total asshole, and I hope and pray with all I’ve got that their baby is safe.
And this is also not where I am and not exactly where I was. In some ways, the way I feel when someone announces a pregnancy is always going to be where I am, so perfectly encapsulating the blend of worry and envy and ambivalence I feel about other people’s early weeks of pregnancies. I feel lonely. I feel smug.
I guess, really, there is no where I am, definitively. I’m not mired in grief. I haven’t forgotten.
I mean, I can tell you my age. I am 30. But there are days when I still act like a spoiled toddler. There are days when I still act like an insecure tween. There are days when I still act like a manipulative teenager. There are days when I still act like an irresponsible college kid. I am 30, and I am everything that has come before.
Five years, three months, one week and three days – and one amazing kid later – and here I am. I am fine. I am happy. I am sad. I am changed, for better and for worse.