expecting

“I didn’t know you were expecting again,” she says.

 

I put my hands

to my twenty-seven week belly.

 

Expecting

to feel my baby’s last kick,

the deep abyss of stillness that follows.

 

Expecting

the hollow silence

underneath my lone heartbeat.

 

Expecting

every day

my daughter will die like her brother.

 

My friend’s baby—

a rainbow—

over a year now,

pulls on her legs,

gives me a suspicious look

over her shoulder.

 

“Yes,” I say.

 

I rub my hands over the skin where

my daughter sleeps underneath.

Later, she will wake up,

gently kneading hands or feet,

crossing or uncrossing legs,

pushing into my right side

like her brother used to do.

 

For a moment,

I will be reassured.

 

Expecting

her first cry

as she is placed

on my chest,

new and wet.

 

Expecting

to swaddle her,

name her,

bring her home.

 

Expecting

my daughter to live.

 

“Yes,” I say. “Yes. I am

expecting.”

 

*        *         *

One more week. Or less. Expecting–wishful thinking, really–each day to go into labor. Saturday is Week 39, our voluntary induction day. It’s time to meet this little girl on the outside.

 

© Burning Eye

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Advent

A. turns to me in bed and asks, “How do you explain nostalgia to a child?” I wait to see where she’s going with this. “Like, how are we going to explain to our children why we have so many crèche scenes? Neither of us is exactly religious.”

I wonder in the darkness if I should quibble with her characterization of me. Am I religious now? I certainly used to be. I decide not to derail the conversation and turn it towards my idle curiosity about my own faith since Joseph died.

We have just put up our Christmas tree, strung lights, unwrapped some of our ornaments—there are two new ones this year for Joseph—and found places for the four manger scenes around the living room. The beautiful pop-up crèche advent calendar that A’s dad gave us this year already sits on the coffee table.

A reminds me every year or two that her mother used to put their Wise Men figurines far away from the stable, and move them closer every day. They had several crèche scenes, as did my family. We each bring different childhood traditions to our Christmases together, but this is one thing we have in common.

My parents had a little crèche from Latin America when I was little. Its doors opened and closed on paper hinges. A lover of all things miniature, I was drawn to the ornament and played with it each year, opening and closing the stable doors on the colorful little family.

We also had a larger crèche of hard wax figurines that got unpacked out of a rickety wooden stable year after year. They were old, my grandmother’s, and some of the detailed coloring was scratched off. One of the shepherds was continually losing its head, which I tried multiple times to melt back on. The one angel that ultimately remained was missing her feet and wouldn’t stand. But still, I loved it. I played with it like a dollhouse, arranging and rearranging, strewing dried pine needles across the stable floor for authenticity.

“Well,” I say to A. I don’t really have to think about it, but I am surprised I already know the answer. “It’s about family. A new mother and father, a baby born. Christmas is about family. ”

 

I have always loved the Christmas story. Though from year to year, my relationship to it has changed—I cycle through folktale, pagan origins, Biblical scholarship, fervent religious belief in the birth of a great Light in our world, which I’ve sometimes called Christ. I am drawn to Mary, a young mother pregnant for the first time, afraid, tired, unsure of this burden God has given her. I feel tenderness toward Joseph, the man who has taken Mary and all her controversy into his house to care for her and protect her and be a father to this prophetic child. I admire the incredible faith they both had.

When I found out I was pregnant with our son, I dug out the journal I had been saving for this occasion since I was 18 and turned to the inside flap where I wrote out the Magnificat. My soul magnifies the Lord. I felt blessed. I was so happy. My journal from those months, when I wrote, was full of God. I was full of God, full of love, full of faith. Being pregnant felt like the star on top of the tree, the final piece of my life’s dreams falling into place.

I was pregnant through Advent. Like Mary, expecting a baby. Christmas was exciting. We bought our first real Christmas tree, and dreamed about how this would be our last Christmas without children. Maybe next year we wouldn’t travel, we’d make our family come to us. After all, having a little baby entitles you to certain privileges.

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When we decorated gingerbread cookies with my dad, I did myself as Mary, in her typical blue robe and blue veil. I added a little icing baby floating in my belly. (Decorating elaborate cookies is one of my favorite family tradition.)

 

How different I feel this December, pregnant again a year later. I am tentative, protective of the little sparks of hope I sometimes feel. Nowhere in my journal or my letters to this new baby do I talk about God.

It is painful to think of Christmas as the birth of anything good in the world. My first baby died on Christmas day. It is hard to think about Mary, her joyful song to God, awaiting the birth of her own baby, year after year throughout history. And yet, I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. Remembering that she, too, lost her son. The baby she carried and birthed and raised. Something in this knowledge softens me towards her. Something in this tragedy makes Christmas a little more sorrowful.

 

This year, we buy another real Christmas tree, hang a wreath and stockings. I listen to Christmas music all day. I play my flute for the first time in months, drawn to Advent songs in the Methodist hymnal I grew up with. This nostalgia for the Christmas season is powerful. We are both surprised by how these parts of Christmas come so naturally, so easily.

Beyond that, I’m not sure how to think of Christmas right now. I am afraid of it. I am afraid it will pass like any other Christmas, that I will unintentionally shut down emotionally just so I can hold it together. I am afraid I will be an emotional wreck, that nothing we do to honor Joseph will feel right, that I’ll get angry, I’ll be inconsolable. I am afraid to feel relief when this first stillbirthday passes. I am afraid to remember, afraid I will forget.

 

And in the midst of all this, I wonder what this Christmas means for this new baby who thumps and rolls in my belly. I dare to hope that this time will be different. That the earth will turn again and Light will be reborn in our lives.

© Burning Eye

bed rest with bathroom privileges

I come to the hospital to get a chest x-ray. The midwife I have just seen at the office tells me the quickest way to get it read is to come to Maternity Admissions, so I drive over in the rain, call A on the way and ask her to meet me there in an hour with dinner. I expect them to set me in a triage room, run all their tests, and tell me everything looks fine still, it’s still just a virus, and send me home. Hopefully before midnight, because I am planning to get up and go back to work in the morning after a week and a half out.

I have been sick for nine days now, low energy and running a mild fever that seems to creep back in any time I try to stop taking ibuprofen. At first this is my only symptom, that and the aches and chills and muddled brain that come with a fever. The cough creeps in, and I am sure it is just acid reflux, that it’s only the air turning dryer with the coming winter. My lungs start to hurt and I am up more in the night coughing. By Tuesday I am winded walking a few steps and struggling not to cough with each breath.

We have our anatomy scan in the morning. Count the baby’s toes, fingers, ribs. Watch it open and close its mouth and smoosh its face into the placenta. Watch its heart beating (beating!). Watch it turning and rolling and scrunching and stretching. “Baby looks beautiful,” they tell us. Everything is developing normally.

I go home to take a nap before heading in to the midwife for the third time this week. I feel better already, knowing I have an appointment. I feel silly, like suddenly I don’t really need to go in. It’s daytime, and all my middle-of-the-night fears have dissipated. But I remind myself they told me to call if new symptoms developed.

“I’m worried it could be pneumonia,” I tell the midwife. The latest in my series of 1am self-diagnoses. Listeria, toxoplasmosis, mono.

So I feel a moment of triumph at the hospital when the curly-haired nurse who attends me pops her head into the triage room open and whispers, almost cheerily, “You have lower right lung pneumonia. They’re going to admit you!”

Ha! I think. I was right!

And then, as we wait and stillness settles in, I think maybe I’ve misheard. Maybe they got my chest x-ray mixed up with some other woman’s. The nurse comes and starts an iv, eyeing my veins with a gleam in her eye. “What a juicy vein!” she chirps. We wait for the midwife to come in and confirm the pneumonia. I could be in the hospital a few days, she says.

A goes home to sleep, and I spend the rest of the evening and into a sleepless night in shock. At 2am tottering to the bathroom to pee yet again, dragging my iv pole with me, I’m no longer vindicated I have a diagnosis. I’m thinking about what it means to be admitted to the hospital. Stuck in one room. Interrupted every hour or two for a check of my vitals, or medication, or, it seems, just to be interrupted. I’m not really sure of anything at all, the midwife had been so vague and brief. Why am I getting an iv? Why are my legs wrapped up in inflatable compression sleeves? What does it mean I’m on bed rest with bathroom privileges? Do I really have pneumonia? What is pneumonia anyway? Is the baby alright?

I sleep a half hour here, a half hour there. I wake up and watch the sky get lighter. The view is familiar, only 3 windows down from the recovery room where we stayed after I gave birth to Joseph. I remember being wheeled down to the hospital lobby, walking out through the glass doors with empty arms. The memory cuts deep, a sharp knife. If I had any breath, I would cry.

After the anatomy scan, I had gone home and sat in the glider and wailed. Trying not to cry so hard that I coughed too much. I felt awash with stress and anxiety, and relief. A conviction: This baby is going to be okay. Paralyzing fear: There’s nothing we can do to make sure this baby is going to be okay. And grief renewed: This baby is not Joseph, not my firstborn little boy. I’m never going to get him back.

I watch the shadows shorten outside the hospital windows. Car windows glimmer on Green Valley Way. The sides of the buildings brighten. As I wait for A to come visit, to bring me comforting things from home—a blankie, my body pillow, ultrasound photos of our new baby—I rub my belly and think, I wasn’t alone at the hospital last night. I’m not ever alone anymore. I have this living, kicking, growing companion in my belly. I start to talk to the baby. “You and me, baby, we’re going to be okay.”

© Burning Eye

Absence

I go back to prenatal yoga and Joseph’s absence is everywhere.

I already know what I am going to say. As we go around the room, the other women share how many weeks, boy or girl, first or second and how old their little girl or boy at home is. I have thought about this since the day Joseph was born. Fixated on it. Wondering how in the world I would ever talk about my son’s death. If I would even want to. What would feel like a lie, and what would feel like just enough of my story.

I say my name, that I’m 16 weeks, that this is my second.

The teacher, who is wonderful, who knows all about Joseph, moves on.

The second week I am back I tell them I think we’re going to find out if it’s a boy or girl and not tell anyone else. The room erupts in conversation as the other women tell stories of people they know who. They all imagine it will be so hard. They say things like, Oh, well, you’ll have to be careful how you decorate the nursery, and, You’ll still have to shop neutral colors. They don’t know these things don’t matter to me. They don’t know I think it will be easy to lie because I don’t want to talk about this pregnancy much anyway.

Throughout class, the women talk about what their toddlers at home will be for Halloween. I thought last Halloween was going to be our last without children, I remember, and am surprised I had forgotten.

I think about how I started going to prenatal yoga last October, at 20 weeks. How strange it was for me to be in a room full of pregnant women, bellies of all sizes sitting awkwardly in our laps.

Now, this year, it is familiar, yet strange for different reasons. I have mostly avoided pregnant women for the past ten months. I look the other way when I pass the two other pregnant teachers at my school. One of them is due a week before me. I haven’t spoken to her since I found out. I am afraid of all this talk about pregnancy, about babies coming, as if it’s a sure thing.

The yoga women talk about their first labors. I chime in sparingly, afraid they will stop and ask me a question about the baby I gave birth to. Where is he. How old is he. He would be ten months, I think. And yet, he wouldn’t have been. He would have been nine months old, if he’d lived, if he hadn’t been born early. And I wouldn’t be pregnant now, again, so soon.

How strange it is that I am pregnant twice within a year. I am careful to avoid using indicators of time when I speak.

At the beginning of every class, the teacher reads us a birth story. The women from yoga who have already given birth send them to her. As she reads, she explains things to us, educates us about the specifics of this and that. She used to be a labor and delivery nurse; she’s seen it all.

I think, after my second week back, that going to prenatal yoga is kind of like cognitive behavioral therapy. Talk of pregnancy and labor and birth in small doses in a safe space. Reminders of the hospital: fetal heart monitors, nurses, dilation,  effacement, induction. Reminders of the early signs of labor I never experienced. The hospital bag I never got to pack.

I decide this immersion therapy is good for me. Good to focus on the changes in my body. Good to be reminded to breathe. Good to strengthen my muscles and practice opening.

Good to remember that I’m carrying a baby. A baby, who is alive today, whose heartbeat I chase every few days with the Doppler and tap out with my toe, not counting, but putting the rhythm in my body where I will remember it.

My body remembers.

It remembers the way to bend forward with enough space for my growing belly. It remembers holding a squat, breathing hard, lifting my abdominals around the baby to support it. It remembers to lunge wide, to put my hands on the inside of my knee, not to arch up too far or my skin and muscles and ligaments will stretch painfully.

And it remembers the weight of Joseph, where he sat, the way I moved with him and around him.

In savasana I put my hand on my belly and try to bond with this baby, to think of it growing and wiggling in my belly where I can’t yet feel it. And all I think of is Joseph. His absence. I don’t want this baby, I want Joseph, my firstborn, my little boy.

I go home and climb in A’s lap and sob.

© Burning Eye

The ground I walk on

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I meant to upload this when I posted my last poem. They don’t really go together, they were done at different times, but they feel similar. This walking on eggshells. It’s pretty abstract, but I see the eggshells as the ground I walk on, and underneath that thin layer of eggshells is darkness. I have to be really careful walking so I don’t fall through.

© Burning Eye