I want to tell you a story that is very painful and hard and scary. It's not for faint-hearted ladies, no. There's no funny sewing anecdotes, nor tidbits about home remodeling. So you'll have to be prepared for that.
I want to tell this story in detail because there are other people who have been through this and when you tell your story to one of these people- and I mean really tell it- you are drawing a circle around them and you. You draw this circle to show that it's not just them, it's not just you now: it's us.
I am drawing this circle around my friend Rose and I today, and along with it, I am drawing a bigger circle around all the other people who know what it's like to lose a baby before you've had a chance to be its mother out in this world.
After Phinny and before my twins Annika and Griffin came, there was another little guy.
The pregnancy wasn't strong, according to the glamour shots of his yolk sac that Drs. began taking at the moment the pregnancy was confirmed. There was a mysterious fragility, according to the numbers and the measurements. In defiance, we named our little embryo the "Aamazing Aardvark" after Julie's "AA Grade" eggs (so labeled in the petri dish before implantation).
Week after week, he grew just enough to amaze our favorite ultrasound tech, Elizabeth, who hugged us and told us, "she had seen it happen", she had seen little ones like this make it. With her smiles, hugs and hope, Elizabeth drew a light, cautious circle around us, every week. Amazing Aardvark grew for a couple more weeks and showed us his fluttering little bean of a heart. He grew for a few more and he showed us on the screen that he was tiny but mighty- that he could move in there! The geneticist told us Aardvark was a boy. On the same day, which was the same incredibly early week Phinny had given me the sign- I felt him move inside me.
When I was three months pregnant, on the way home from IKEA, I started to bleed. Badly. I knew it wasn't good. I went to the bathroom as soon as we got home.
Of course, Amazing Aardvark let go. He just died and then came out into my hand. Against all reason, he was born there suddenly without any blood on him, without any amniotic membrane, without his cord. He would be leaving that with me. He was just laying in the palm of my hand, perfect. He had ten fingers and ten toes already.
When it happened, I made a sound that is unlike any other sound on earth, I think. It's a sound stored in a particular cockle of the heart and it is reserved only for this one terrible occasion. Julie had been outside in the garage and had heard the scream and come running up to the bathroom. I couldn't speak- I just held up my open hands and slid to the floor.
We called our friend Chrissy. She came, so quiet and so calm. She helped get me into bed. I needed her to see our baby, to help make him more real, so I opened my hands and showed her. She cried and then silently drew another circle around all of us. She called another friend, Abby, who came and drew another circle, one that showed us that our tribe will always arrive in times of need.
An hour later, Julie convinced me to set the baby in a tiny silver box with an 'S' inscribed on it, lined with royal blue velvet. Who knows what that box was from originally, but it was perfect for a three month old stillborn baby from our family. We went to the hospital to be sure I wasn't going to hemorrhage
We went home, me holding the silver box in my hand and I slept with it on the table beside me. In the morning we called to try and find out about burial plots, and I called my mom to tell her. I called my older brother, Steve, who lives an eight hour drive away, and I said, "I need you. Can you come here, right now?" He said, "Of course."
Then was the most terrible day. A day in which we had a dead baby in our house.
That morning, I looked at him and he was still perfect- translucent and peaceful. We had made a plan to bury him on the grave of Julie's maternal great grandparents in a cemetery nearby, but we had to wait for my mom and sister and big brother to arrive at the end of the day, then go through the night before the burial morning. A full twenty-four hours away.
And here's the really hard part to write.
I was worried the baby would dry out. I put a few drops of water over his glistening body once that morning and I checked him frequently. But by noon, my anxiety had grown and I worried frantically that he would dry out and start to...change. Maybe smell. The thought of it terrified me so much that Julie and I decided together on a horrible, horrible thing.
We put him in the freezer.
Julie will read this and she will cry. So hard, like am right now- an actual torrent of water coming out in broad sheets across my face. She will say, "Please don't tell people we put him in the freezer."
But if I am to tell this story, if I am to draw a strong circle around us, friend, reader, and sisters who have lost a baby, I want that circle to be true and continuous. No gaps.
My family came and they were beautiful. My keepers. We drove to the cemetery and found the plot.
And then another awful thing occurred to me.
We hadn't brought a shovel.
How do you bury a baby without a shovel? I can tell you how. Your big brother digs a hole with his bare hands. Steve said, "It's okay, Lis, I think I can just dig it," and we sat there while my brother dug and scraped and pulled dirt out of the earth for me to put my impossibly tiny baby in.
"Do we think that's deep enough?"
"No," I say, "But you don't have to dig anymore, you're going to break all your fingernails. It's okay."
"I can go deeper. I will dig as deep as you want, Lis." he said. He dug a few more inches, just for my heart's sake.
In that act, my brother drew a beautiful, unforgettably strong circle around us. It was awful- and blindingly beautiful. We put the silver box in and he covered it so softly with his big, dirty hands, because he knew it hurt to see dirt going onto that silver box. He patted it gently like he didn't want to break any dirt apart in front of me.
And then we walked away.
After that, I let my heart and body bleed for some time.
And then I stood up straight.
In a few months I got pregnant again*...
*And was willing to squat next to a pig sty at 7 months pregnant with twins, for the benefit of my child. Warrior.
...and I breathed shallow for months until these two showed up*:
*Sorry about Boobs on Blog, but I like the look of calm confidence I have about just birthing two humans in this picture. We haven't seen that expression since.
And the reason I was able to breath at all, was AND IS because of the people in my life who show up day after day, drawing circles around me. Showing me over and over that I am not alone in whatever happens. That I am not alone in grief, or joy, or stupid hard work and all the messy stuff that makes up every day with a family.
And after an excruciating loss and beautiful, immense gains (along with UNBELIEVABLE number of diapers), we're still standing. Because of those strong circles.
So today, my sweet warrior friend, Rose- after a happy and hopeful morning message from you, I draw a bright circle around us and make a wish for you and Dan that your little person finds you soon and joins us in it.