Seventeen months. It’s been seventeen months since my son died in my arms. And yet still, there are days when I don’t believe that this happened. I have 7 weeks and 6 days until this baby girl is cut out of my body in a repeat c-section. We haven’t picked a name. We don’t talk about her much, my husband and me. It’s like we’re holding our breath and waiting.
In the last few days, I have been having a prolonged and slow breakdown of sorts. My nights have been fragmented into 2 to 3 hour blocks of sleep. I bolt awake, my heart racing, and pace the house at 3am. I look at my life and feel no connection to it. There is a blank numbness where once there were emotions, feelings, an existence of sorts.
It has only just come to me tonight that this is the time when we found out that James wasn’t growing. I knew the dates were approaching, of course. It’s not something I ever forget. But I didn’t put together my crumbling mental state with the time period, for some reason. My therapist says that the body always knows before the mind. And again, she is right. My body remembered first.
These pregnancies have been like twins, since this baby is due mere days before James was born. The two year anniversary of James’s diagnosis approaches. And I am carrying a baby again. This one appears to be healthy. And yet, I feel no sense of connection to her. I have tried. I have tried to feel joy when she kicks and turns within me. I remind myself that I will never be pregnant again. This is the last time. But there is nothing there. No, there is worse than nothing, there is fear and anxiety and 4am panic.
Others tell me that this will be a healing pregnancy. After spending time with and talking to other loss mothers farther along this journey than I, I know there is no real healing. There is only growing around the loss of my son, allowing it to slowly become part of me, a stone that I always carry in my pocket, until at last, I can myself die.
Someone told me today to let myself be open to this baby healing me. And while that’s a fantastic notion, it isn’t realistic. I know it was said with concern for me. What I heard was “it’s time for you to start healing. You’ve mourned enough.” Seventeen months. It hasn’t even been two years since I did the unthinkable and placed my son’s body in a casket and watched that casket placed into the earth. What is more realistic for this baby’s birth is that I will become even more sleep-deprived, hormonal, and hyper-vigilant, waking at every sound, staring at her breathing through the night, the specter of SIDS haunting my nighttime hours.
I was lying in bed last night, trying to sleep. I now have a terrible cold, and I have developed restless legs syndrome (apparently common in pregnancy). Sleep was not coming. Suddenly, I remembered with shocking vividness what it was like to kiss my son’s warm little clenched fist. I remembered brushing it against my cheek as I cried in the NICU, wondering how long we would have him. And I remembered doing the same thing with his cold, clenched fist, on a freezing, windy day in January, after he had died and before I laid him in his coffin for all time. I felt as if a chasm had opened so wide inside of me that I would fall in and never find my way out. How could this have happened? How can I keep getting up and going on, day after day? Why do other people get to keep their children, and I had to give mine back?
How am I going to make it another 7 weeks and 6 days? I am utterly alone. I know this cry for help, like so many others before it, will go largely unheard by those I need to hear it the most. Everyone has a life. Everyone has stuff going on. But at least I am making it. At least I am here, screaming to the world that nothing is ok when your child dies. Nothing goes back to normal. And pregnancy after loss isn’t some miraculous, healing time but instead a morass of fear, anxiety, broken sleep, and waiting – constant waiting for the other shoe to drop.