Thursday, January 31, 2008
At the end of the summer 2006, I discovered — shockingly — I was pregnant, and when I went in for a check-up, was horrified to discover how far along I was (nearly done with the first trimester). I had no symptoms at all. None. Not to be indiscreet, but I got what I thought was my period for a few months; I mention this because I wouldn't want you to think that I was THAT stupid. My body tricked me.
I'm not proud of this now, but prior to the pregnancy, I often wondered why intelligent people couldn't just be satisfied with leaving legacies with their talents, rather than their biology; the drive to have children made no sense to me.
I was 37 years old, using birth control, and was arrogantly childfree-by-choice. So, I was utterly jarred by the predicament, and spent about a week staring at the wall and weeping. But one day during that phase, Glen came home with a teeny pair of hockey skates and announced that no matter what, his kid was gonna play hockey.
When he did that, my attitude shifted, and I realized that we could — specifically I could — do this. We weren't married at the time, but were in a long-term, loving relationship; we had a decent home, decent cars, and lots of wonderful pets: a perfect environment for a kid. Hormones — much maligned hormones — probably helped a bit too. I suppose some people behave badly under the influence of hormones, and that's too bad: they are merely fuel for human life, just like food, or information, or love, and they helped me bond with my baby, though I think that would have happened anyway, since we were sharing the same space. The fact that everyone we knew was so happy for us really helped, too. We grew pleased to have had the wrench thrown in our "who needs kids?" plans. We were part of something special.
Our home is a fixer-upper and it's a long way from being done, so as we approached my due date in January last year, we decided to make the whole house baby-ready, with cribs, and bassinets, and pack-n-plays in almost every room; blankets and diapers and wipes were tucked into the corners for convenience. We developed opinions on diapers, and breast-feeding, and circumcision, and even though almost every baby shower I have ever been to has left me feeling yucky, I had my own. I even wore the stupid hat made out of bows. Maybe I sold out, maybe I caved in; or maybe I was just getting ready for motherhood. Sometimes the paths we don't choose for ourselves are the most remarkable ones.
I went into labor in the early morning hours of January 31, 2007, and we were giddy with excitement, knowing that this was the day our whole lives would change. But when my midwife arrived, she couldn't find a heartbeat. I figured there was no reason for my midwife to not be able to find a heartbeat, when she was always able to intuitively plunk her fetal steth on exactly the right spot of my belly, so I assumed her steth had just broken, right then. We went to the hospital, where I assumed the more high-tech equipment would hear our little one, and everything would be fine. But, no. It didn't happen that way. There was no segue. No transition. The baby who was so active just the night before, was no longer alive. It made no sense, even to me, and I lived through it.
Catherine was born at 4:21 that afternoon. Since I was in labor when I found out she had died, it was not possible for my brain to process the information. Labor and delivery are tough stuff, and after ALL of that work, I expected to hear her cry, but instead, I heard the wails of my husband and sister, and the weeping of the midwives and nurses. That is the moment, suspended like a photograph, that does not ever go away. Our lives did change that day, but certainly not in the way we expected.
Her umbilical cord was pinched tightly under her arm, and that is the suspected cause of death: her lifeline got cut off. She was beautiful, and perfect, and fit so well in my arms.
It has been a very, very hard year; and I spent nearly half of it in shock, and grappling with tremendous guilt: I felt, because of my attitude prior to getting pregnant, and the resentment I had when I discovered the pregnancy, I was being punished by the universe. I was the only one in direct contact with her, after all. It was something I did. We are pretty sure we know HOW Catherine died, but not WHY, and I was convinced that my personality defects and spiritual deficiencies were ultimately at the core of the WHY. It took a long time, and so much hard work, but I've more or less come to the conclusion that each of us is on our own journey, and no one else can know the details of anyone else's journey, not even the mother of the baby growing so well inside her. Even though we will always wonder WHY this happened to us, we have come to accept (not happily) that there are mysteries in this universe, and why Catherine died is one of them. We humans are just not meant to understand everything, even though it's in our nature to want that understanding.
I emerged from my deep fog around August of 2007. I had been participating in a support group, and listened to a lot stories about how other women had to get back to work, and how some of their coworkers were so compassionate, and others, not so much. I got it in my head that they were somehow getting stronger for having to deal with other people, even the insensitive ones. I was convinced that their work projects must be giving their minds and hearts a rest from grieving. I work from home, and my main client cut more than half my workload in March, two months after Catherine's death (cutbacks, they said; bad karma, I think). I had a little bit of work to keep my mind occupied, but not enough. I started the blog as a way to reconnect with my community in a safe, but meaningful, way, and also, to prove that I could successfully write about issues other than infant death and heartbreak. But today, Catherine would have been one year old. And she is my motivation for this online journal, and she changed my whole life; so, she needs to be acknowledged here.
Glen and I asked our family members and a few close friends to contribute an artistic item for a memorial for our daughter, and were moved by the outpouring of love that came our way. I photographed and/or scanned each item and arranged everything just so, and had it all printed for everyone who participated; the group memorial was mailed out a few days ago in the hopes they would arrive today, or just before. In this last year, I have met a few too many people who feel entitled to behave badly because of their loss, and I suppose, for me, the memorial proves that the beautiful and remarkable can come to be because of tragedy. We are entitled to our dark feelings, but should not exist only in those dark places; we need to remember just how precious and tentative our own lives are. Also, I know there are people who have been through some kind of gut-wrenching loss, like we have — our story is not as uncommon as you might think — and I'm hoping that those people might find Catherine's story here and feel less freakish, less isolated. Finally, I desperately want people to know how one wee being has touched so many lives, especially my own. A broken heart is an open one. So the memorial we printed and mailed is available online, and I would be honored if you would take a bit of quiet time with me today, so we can hold Catherine in the ways that we can.
I made three separate pages, all linking back to one another, so feel free to start anywhere you'd like, but if you would, please check out all the links.
The Group Memorial Project