Today is my eldest son’s birthday. It is also the anniversary of his death.
It is a complicated story. I had triplets and then my membranes broke at 22 1/2 weeks. My first son’s death was foretold before his first breath. A real life fairy tale curse.
I knew I had no magic to break the spell. After all I am an OB/GYN and when membranes rupture so prematurely delivery is almost guaranteed by 48 hours. I needed at least 10 days. However, I am also human so by day 3 of the pas de deux between delivery and death hope began to root. Maybe I would be in that very lucky minority who hangs on for a week or even two? Maybe I would take all three home? I resented this hope because my training told me it was a lie and yet I couldn’t stop myself. Turns out hope was a better analgesic than anything science had to offer although it gives one a hell of a withdrawal. Everything has a price.
By the end of the third day I could almost see the possibility of success, like turning the dial on a radio and passing what seemed like a station if you strained really hard and listened with the ear of faith. Bias is a bitch. Then it all vanished in seconds. I was a parent and then I was not. My son lived three minutes and then I was left as alone as a human can be.
Subtraction is the worst kind of maternity math.
Everyone who came into my room wanted to know what had happened. I guess I did too, but less in a practical way (I mean I was there) and more in a why me kind of way. Over and over again I had to recount the most painful moment of my life, the story of how three became two, to visitors who ignored the no visitors sign. To medical professionals who couldn’t be bothered to read my chart or if they had they didn’t understand it. Read the fucking chart or ask my doctors I wanted to say, but my brain wasn’t working right and I was trying not to get upset and rupture the next set of membranes.
The worst was the woman from the Ministry of Miseries who insisted that keeping my son’s 1 lb. body in the morgue was some kind an imposition and if I didn’t figure out what to do with it before she went on vacation off he would go to a pauper’s grave. I just wanted him in the same building until I delivered, I had some odd notion that I needed to keep my boys physically close for as long as possible, but she was determined to make me the protagonist of a short story about the horrors of neonatal death co-authored by Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens.
There was so much badness. partly because it was a medical emergency and partly because some people were thoughtless or horrible or both and also because for the short time Aidan lived people were slamming needles and things into me so I couldn’t see him or touch him while he lived. The memories of my first-born are simply the things that were done to me to keep my other two alive. That is just so messed up there is no other way to say it.
Dealing with Aidan’s body almost killed me. If I hadn’t had my other two boys when I picked up his ashes I could have seen myself just walking into traffic with the urn. I don’t know if I would have done it, but people need to know that is how bad it can be. Maybe it was just that bad for me. Maybe not. Every time I read about a new state law forcing arrangements for fetal remains I feel this scab break. I feel the pain of these women I will never meet. Leave them alone I want to scream. Man’s inhumanity to woman runs deep.
There was kindness too. My secretary who stepped in to ward off horrible people with horrible paper work. The neonatal nurses who paid silent homage to Aidan by naming my boys triplet B and C when they were born at 26 weeks. Another administrator who stormed down to the blood bank when my boys were born and needed immediate transfusions because she was a match.
I have a photo, the kind where they dress your dead baby up to not look like a dead baby or at least they do their best. The photo arrived weeks later. It’s ghastly. Maybe I am just too much of a realist but I just don’t want that image as my memory. I do have the little outfit they dressed him in and that is something special. I feel the wool on my finger tips and there is little speck of his blood and that tells me he was real. I truly have nothing else tangible.
People knit those little outfits. That is a great kindness. Someone also did their best with the photos and the developing and such and so years later you realize there was a lot of behind the scenes kindness and that helps.
Sometimes it’s all good and you only see two children in photos instead of two and a space. Sometimes you run your fingers through two heads of hair as you are all snuggled on the couch and you feel two different textures, but sometimes your hands also search for the feel of the hair that isn’t there. Would it be like one, the other, or entirely different?
Questions with no possible answer are hard and they never stop. I am used to quieting my own voice, but unfortunately the innocent questions of others do continually take you by surprise.
“How old are your boys,” nameless person asks.
“Thirteen,” I say.
Do I tell the truth and run the gauntlet of questions or swallow the fire and say twins? Even on their birthday, now such a cause for celebration as they were the boys who almost did not live, there is no break. Especially on their birthday there is no break.
“Twins!” the person taking the order at the bakery would say. Now I just bake the cakes.
Even years later you can’t really talk about it. Trust me, nothing sucks the life out of a room faster than telling people you have a dead baby. Or had a dead baby. What is the correct terminology? It probably doesn’t matter. Or does it? I feel bad that I don’t know. So you join the saddest sorority. It’s not that you seek each other out, but knowing someone who has lost as I have and can still draw breath is a sort of comfort. I suppose it is like knowing that someone else has colonized the most inhospitable planet in the universe so at least you know it can be done.