Thursday, February 20, 2014

"How Having a Baby Changes Your Life"

Dear Ellie,

I'm still getting e-mailed "baby updates" from  I could disable the updates, I suppose, but its an interesting mental exercise to keep reading them.  Usually, they send weekly updates describing what the fetus looks like in utero, the changes taking place during pregnancy, and things of that nature.  Whenever they arrive, I like to think of what I'd be doing right now, if you were still tucked inside your mother and we weren't all in the NICU.  Every day is a weird dichotomy between where we thought we'd be and where we are.  Every day has a parallel existence.  When I wake up early in the morning, in that daze between sleep and wakefulness, sometimes I wonder which one I'm in.

Today's BabyCenter update was a bit of a switch from the usual, though.  "How Having a Baby Changes Your Life," it was called.  I paused.  There was a terrible disjunction between what it meant to me and what it was supposed to mean.  A bitter, unintentional irony.  I thought of your condition, now.  About how the prospect of your death had stepped away from abstraction and again toward reality.  There was an unwritten subtext to that title.  It was: "How having a baby will fill your life."  But to me, it sounded instead like: "How having a baby and seeing her die will empty it."

I clicked the e-mail against my better judgement.  There was a picture of a mother in a nursery at home.  She was cooing over a plump little baby.  A crib was in the background.  Soft, white light spilled in through the window.  It was a painful thing to look at, because I had imagined it in our home so many times before, and then seen it disappear.

When we were house shopping years ago, we looked for a house with one more room than we needed at the time.  One day, we would need a nursery, after all.  When we closed on the right place, we didn't bother to furnish that room because wouldn't we be putting baby things in there eventually, anyway?  As the years went by and no child came, though, it became harder to go into that room.  That room where the plump little baby was supposed to be.  The room that was supposed to have the crib and the soft sunlight.  Going in there and imagining those things was like imagining rain in a desert.  A cruel mirage.

There was a few times where it didn't hurt to be there, and we even decided to fill it with a few of the things that should be there.  Like a little newborn onesie.  We did that kind of thing during those tiny periods of time when your short-lived siblings blinked in and out of existence.  Kindling of humanity, promising hope, then quickly sputtering away.

The room became a place to go when we were sad.  Or wanted to be sad.  But most of the time it was a place to avoid.  An emotional black hole sealed behind a door.  The baby things we were so careless to buy became fetishes of our grief, so we buried them in that place deep in closets or in the bottom of drawers.

Right now, the room is filled, wall to wall, ceiling to floor, with your grandmother's furniture and belongings.  When we moved her things in there, it came as a relief.  When it was a big empty room, it was so much easier to imagine the baby and the crib and the soft light.  But with all of the furniture?  It's harder to imagine that bittersweet image.  It's simply crowded out.  I'm too scared to imagine those things in that place again, because if I did, you would be there also.  These things, furnished by my mind, have disappeared so many times before that I'm afraid you'll disappear with it.

1 comment:

  1. Hope Ellie is fighting. It is so very hard that all we can do is pray.