Fifteen years later.

image

Do you remember the worst day of your life?

My middle daughter is my rainbow baby. A rainbow baby is the child born after the loss of another. They’re the child that can never erase the pain of who you lost but remind you there is joy in the world.

The worst day of my life happened in 2001. I didn’t know when I woke up that anything would be different. In fact, I was looking forward to the day ahead because I was 15 weeks pregnant and was going for an ultrasound that day. The pregnancy was hard from the start. At 5 weeks I had begun bleeding – sure I had miscarried I already had grieved the loss of that baby. The next day I went for an ultrasound and saw a tiny bean floating unscathed. A repeat ultrasound a few weeks later after the bleeding stopped showed a flickering heart beat. The tech saw a shadow of something though and said I should go to the Royal for a better ultrasound. That was the one I was scared for. But there they waved the wand over my stomach, the gel cold on my skin and declared everything perfect. They told me to book in later for a follow up but everything seemed great. Perfect.

By 15 weeks I thought it was just a cool chance to see my baby again. I felt like it was a boy. My stomach had already begun to swell beneath my pants, I had bought the next size up and joked I would need maternity clothes soon. I could feel the faintest of butterfly wings sweeping inside me as he swam in his watery cocoon. I had picked names. I wondered what Christmas would be like this year with a tiny baby. I wondered if my daughters would be excited by their new sibling.

On the worst day of my life I lay in a thin table in a dimly lit room while my husband sat beside me anxious to see our baby. A woman I had never met squirted gel on my stomach and a smooth wand glided across the small rise of my abdomen.

I knew instantly something was wrong.

Here was my baby who was waving his arms and legs in a greeting, here was his rounded stomach and tiny face. But, oh, his head. I can never describe the quiet of that room. The silence as she repeatedly went back over his skull and viewed how misshapen it was. From the front on, he was a baby like any other. From the side, his skull stretched upwards, elongated and almost twice the length it should be. I kept wanting to say to her to please go back to the front view. I didn’t want to see what I was seeing. And I couldn’t pull my eyes away.

“Excuse me,” she said, and left the room.

The quiet between myself and my husband hung thickly in the air. What comfort could I possibly offer him at this time when I knew in my heart that something was terribly wrong? My thoughts spun out in a thousand different directions. Our baby is sick. Something is wrong. I thought of all the ways they could fix babies now, even doing in utero surgery. This was terrifying but they would fix him.

The woman came back with a man. I could walk past him in the street and never recognise him. I have no idea what he looked like. But his words are scarred into my memory. He looked a long time. And then he spoke, “What do we have here? Well, what we have here is a bad baby. A very bad baby. This baby is incompatible with life, a nurse will discuss your options.”

He left and I excused myself to the detached bathroom leaving the woman and my husband alone in the darkened room.

Incompatible with life, incompatible with life, incompatiblewithlife….

A mistake. It wasn’t. They could fix it. No they couldn’t. My son was going to die.

I didn’t want to cry. I gripped the sides of the basin in front of me and stared into my own wild eyes and whispered through gritted teeth, “Stop it! Stop. It… Don’t.”

And then all at once I broke. I keened. I sobbed raw, wretched cries, painfully aware that on the other side of the flimsy sliding door my husband and the woman stood awkwardly listening to the sound of a heart breaking.

On the worst day of my life I was ushered into a room in the antenatal clinic and spoke to a nurse about therapeutic termination. I spoke to a doctor who was efficient and kind and explained the process.

This was what was wrong with my son. He had encephalocele. A severe neural tube defect that made his skull bones fail to fuse. His brain was exposed to the amniotic fluid. He would likely not survive that much longer. He would never survive delivery. He would never take a breath.

The procedure would be a series of pessaries inserted near my cervix to begin labour. After some time I would give birth. He would be sent for autopsy. They would cremate him. His remains would be interred at the hospital. There was a service once a month for the babies like him. Babies too young to be legally recognised as babies. Babies born before 20 weeks. “You won’t have to have a funeral,” they said by way of a comfort. As though the fact that his existence could be erased so easily would be a comfort to me.

On the worst day of my life I set a date to come back. We rode home in silence, my swelling stomach a painful reminder of what we were going to lose.

When I came back to the hospital days later I laboured for 7 hours. They offered me morphine because there is no danger to taking drugs when your child will not survive. I refused because I needed to feel everything. My water broke just after 7pm. A midwife came in and delivered the tiniest fairy of a baby you have ever seen. She announced he was a boy. I couldn’t bear to look at him so she took him away. The placenta wouldn’t shift so I was wheeled to theatre. The shot me full of something that made me sleepy and calm. My face was a blank stone. Tears rolled from my eyes unchecked. A nurse opened the curtains and looked alarmed. “Are you in pain?” She asked. I shook my head, mute and stared at the ceiling. She stepped forward, laid her hand over mine, dry and warm, “Just your heart, hey?” She whispered. My eyes met hers, I gave an imperceptible nod. She gave one back.

They put me to sleep.

The next day they brought him to me. His hands and feet bore blue ink from where they had printed them. He was wrapped in a blanket. I didn’t shift it from the top of his head, not willing to look at the defect that had stolen him from me. I was scared to touch him because I knew he would be cold. I stayed with him a long time. I admired his long feet and tiny toes. Riley.

We went home. I stayed in bed for three days.

Riley would be almost 15 if he were alive today. If I look at his siblings I can almost patchwork together a picture of how he would have looked. For years after his short time on earth, spent entirely within the safety of my womb where he was nothing but completely loved and wanted, I felt his absence often. Because of who I am I wanted an answer why. I researched everything. I second guessed myself. Two years after his death I called the doctor and she patiently went back over everything with me. The hardest things to deal with is when there is no why.

I met a woman a couple of years later who had recently lost her daughter in the same way I lost Riley. She was the biggest comfort to me, someone who understood completely the Worst Day, who knew the helplessness, the agony. Who else could I explain to that even though he passed away, my sorrow was mixed with a joy, because he had also lived. That what you wanted was not always to brush him away as though he never existed but to talk about him. We passed our children’s names to each other and held them like a gift. We could speak freely of regret and sadness and love. I will love her forever for the space she gave me to talk of my son. I hope I gave her some comfort to talk of her daughter.

Now, years later we both have more children. Rainbow babies whose presence in our houses smooth over some of the cracks in our hearts. Children who yell and laugh and dance and sing and remind us that joy can be had.

You may wonder why the worst day in my life was not the day he left me, the day he was born. The worst day was when I knew I had to give him up, never the day I first saw him, a fleeting glance before the nurse took him away. I could never regret that. Seeing him was one of my best memories, however tinged with sadness.

For all the babies who we carry in our hearts, whose mothers and fathers silently sing their name. Whose place in the house is a Christmas ornament on the tree bearing their name, a statue in the garden, a photo on the wall. You were never forgotten.

City.

image

Image by Hyggelig Photography – Melbourne

We were outside Starbucks in the city, people walking around us with the sunlight filtering between the buildings. The rush of the city was a shock to the system after so long. Did I really walk here? Nearby is an escalator I kissed a boy on once – a lifetime ago. Would my 15 year old energy still be floating around in the ether there somewhere?

I was nervous to see him, the last time had been in the forest alone and quiet. A private place to unlock the mysteries of his lips. Darkness creeping into the clearing as I slid my hands under his shirt. His lips softer than I expected. He had grazed his mouth slowly along my neck, his eyes closed as though he were drinking me in. His hands cradling my face as he turned it upwards…

But here in the daylight it would be different. He walked up to us and sat down, he didn’t touch me but he proximity had all my nerve endings electrified. The girls left and he asked if I would like to take a walk. When we stood up he took my hand as though he had been taking it for years. Naturally. We stopped at traffic lights and waited with a herd of people for the ‘walk’ symbol to flash green. He came around in front of me, slid his hand up my cheek until his fingers were tangled in my hair, leaned forward and out his lips to mine.

I felt hyper aware of everything. The cars in the street, the people surrounding us, the smell of him, the warmth of the sun, the feel of his lips, his tongue gliding over my lip and my sharp intake of breath…

The daylight was different, but still magical.

Spark.

Your fingers pull at the threads of my soul.  They coax words from me like coddling flames from dusty coals.  I thought I was ashes and dust. A memory of a fire long burnt out.  But the words pour from my veins.  I write on slips of paper, in coffee stained notebooks.  I write on the wind and sky.  I write.  A flame flickers to life.  The words weaving the tapestry of our love.  The fire dances.  And I write.  And I write.

The Constant.

I met him the first time through my bedroom window. It was an ordinary weekend when I was thirteen and he was one of three boys who came knocking on my window in the dark to talk to me and my best friend who was staying the night. I don’t recall why they didn’t use the front door or what we talked about or even if I truly saw his face, shadowed as it would have been by the plants outside my window. The first time I met him, the earth didn’t stop spinning and there was no indication something amazing had just happened.

After that day he would often stop by, usually using the front door after that and we would take a walk, joke or lie on my driveway and discuss the stars. He took me into an abandoned building, he drove me too fast in an unregistered car, he sneaked with me into the park near the dam after it was locked up. He never touched me until I asked him to. And that was a surprise because during my teenage years boys would try their luck wherever they could. Announcing their lust with pointed looks, whistles, touches, attempts to kiss you. But he never did that at all. One summer it was so hot I stripped off to bra and underwear and waded into the cool water but he sat on the edge and never ventured in.

I remember the day he told me he was leaving. And there was no warning at all. Why? I asked him. I tried to convince him to stay. I asked why he hadn’t told me sooner. I think when I eventually realised he was truly going I hugged him, and that was the first time we touched. I can’t imagine what he thought when he returned. I guess it was not what he expected. Maybe he thought he would come to the door and I would still be waiting. Maybe he thought he could tap on my window but it was my brother’s room now and I was suburbs away living in the garage of my boyfriend’s house, 8 months pregnant. It is really lonely when you are sixteen and pregnant. No one really talks about that. They tell you about motherhood and labour and birth but no one talks about the months before when your body stretches and scars and how you can’t find anything to say to your friends anymore. That they stop calling. That you don’t really care when they do because you no longer have patience for their teenage romances when you’re becoming the doorway to life. I was surprised when he visited me there. I am actually still shocked at his bravery because it is quite remarkable for a teenage boy to show up at the home of another boy and ask to speak to his pregnant girlfriend. He didn’t know that at the time I wasn’t actually anyone’s girlfriend because my baby’s father had told me he wasn’t ready but I had no where else to go so I had stayed. He didn’t know that for me the days had been spent crying because I had been told all the ways I was ugly now that I was carrying a child. He didn’t know that that day, when he sat on my couch was the first time I had been truly happy in months. He didn’t know, because I didn’t tell him. And after I had the baby and moved back home he would come to see me all the time and his visits were the bright spot in my days.

When he began dating someone I panicked because I realised I didn’t want him to be with anyone else. I wanted him to be with me. And it terrified me deep inside because he was my best friend and what if I was all those things I had been told? And I guess, on some level, I didn’t think I was good enough for him. What if one morning he woke up and saw me for what I really was and he just stopped coming at all? We dated anyway. And I’m going to be honest here, it was basically a disaster. Because I didn’t know how to be this boy’s girlfriend. He knew too many things about me, like that I was scared to be doubled on a bike and I hated toads and I didn’t hold my liquor real well. He had seen me half naked when we were friends so what mysteries could I possibly serve up to him? I had told him everything and prior to that in all my relationships or flirtings with boys I had maintained a clear boundary. I wasn’t the real me with them. And I couldn’t figure out how to be the girlfriend to this boy who had already seen the real me. One day we had a silly argument and he left. I wanted to run after him. But I didn’t because I was stubborn, because I was scared, because I didn’t want to give him anymore of me than he already had because it felt like he had too much of me already. I didn’t understand why he could push me out of my comfort zone when no one else could. It unnerved me. By the time he came back, my baby’s father was at the house. And he left again.

Throughout the years that followed I would marry, have children, buy a house, move to the country. And at times he would drift across my thoughts like dandelion fluff on the breeze. I guess I never really thought I would see him again. He would always show up when I belonged to someone else. He was always too easy to give me up. To think I was happier without him.

When he asked me to meet him I begged off. I made excuses because I was scared that I would see him and he would unbox all my feelings in one swift move. I was scared I would see him and he would make me happy. I was scared I would offer myself and he would disappear like smoke again. And our messages over the years, either brief or long winded and months between would always seem to dance around a point.

When I finally did agree to meet him I knew that the moment I did I would set into motion something I couldn’t take back. I knew that before I went there.

I went anyway.

We met for the second time in a hoop pine forest. It was autumn, the afternoon light was dappled through the trees, I waited for him in a blue dress with a circle skirt I had sewn myself. While I waited I turned circles like a girl, watching my skirt fly up around me. When he arrived, I stood. I didn’t know where to put my hands, I didn’t know what to say. When he hugged me hello I fit into his arms like the missing piece of a puzzle. And a little while later I would think to myself, just look at him, look into his eyes and you will know. And I did. And that time the earth stopped moving and my soul fused with his and what I saw there, in his eyes was that he loved me. I had a moment to be shocked, I thought, “Oh. After all this time? Still?” Time did not stand still but moved in all directions at once, stars were born and cities burnt to the ground in the time that look took. Everything became clean and clear and I saw that every road had always pointed to him. All my heartaches, tears, triumphs, every broken dream, every breath I had taken had been for this one moment. Somewhere inside me a voice said, “So, this is it. This is what you were waiting for.” The ink was dry.

We threw caution to the wind. We cast our fortunes in together. I knew this would work because it was always supposed to. Our love was divinely ordered. It was written in the stars.

And how silly I had been all those years ago to believe I couldn’t be in love with my best friend, I always was. Love is when he is the bright spots in your day, it is when he sees the real you, it is when his company warms your soul and comforts you. Every day with him is a gift. Love is when he will always come for you. He is my constant. I have always been his.

image