Some of the best moments of marriage to my ex husband were the weeks following our daughter’s death.
I won’t say that they were the only good moments, because that would just not be true, but they were some of our best.
The day of Sarah’s birth and death, we were both some kind of mighty beings. After all, I pushed a human being out of my body with no drugs and after over 24hrs of not eating or sleeping and undergoing unbelievable amounts of physical pain. I actually had burst blood vessels in my eyes and when she was finally on the outside of me, they laid her gooey, curled up body onto my chest and I thought, “Huh. That’s a baby.”
I guess it was exhaustion induced ambivalence.
It didn’t take long, though before indifference turned to wonder. Drained and bleary wonder.
We were, I think, too tired to do anything that day but obey whatever was happening each moment… She fussed a lot, and I took her into the living room and tried to sleep on the couch, but she fussed. So I tried feeding her, changing her diaper. I think I may have had a few hours of sleep here and there. When her dad got up, he took her in one of those baby slings (they’re really called that) and he did the dishes with her that way.
Was it her diaper? No. Is she hungry? Well, she won’t eat. Her temperature?
We called the midwife and someone came to help us out. The helper calmly suggested we call an ambulance because by that time Sarah was a little blue in the lips and when I held her up by the armpits her body drooped instead of curling up in a new-baby-ball.
Sarah’s dad followed the ambulance in our massive, cream colored Buick. Car seat, check. Diaper bag, check.
When they took us to the NICU (after hours in emergency), he spent a lot of time calling people to ask for prayer. He called everyone, I think. And there were people back home that were already having a prayer meeting. My mental picture of them is still very vivid, though I didn’t witness their intercession.
A particular moment of heroism on his part may have only saved me. It was in the minutes when we were sure that she was dying, if not already dead. The doctor suggested we hold her for this part and as he was handing her over to us, my mind went racing into the future. What would it mean for our lives that our daughter was not going to be there with us? I spent several seconds imagining horrible futures, when suddenly I noticed what my daughter’s father was doing. He had taken her tightly bundled body into his hands and was talking to her about how he loved her. It snapped me back into the moment so effectively to realize that I was about to miss the precious little we had left.
I said that our brilliance lasted weeks and it went like this; I was in a childlike fog, still physically weak, mentally shocked. He took care of paper work and called people. He even called my mom to tell her what had happened. We came home to this silent, holy house. There were no ghosts there, though her baby things littered the place like some grandmother’s Christmas decorations. Our friends had prayed in our house before we returned from the hospital and the peace was palpable. There was a miraculous hush, like we had somehow partially joined Sarah in her eternal rest.
I think of Job and his friends who sat with him for a week after he’d lost everything. It was like that, only the week didn’t end with my friends arguing about why I deserved this. We talked and we sat silently. One morning Jessica and Emily were there and we were laughing our heads off about something. I can’t remember what it was, but I remember the laughter because it felt like healthy purging and we were doing it together. People were buying us groceries, doing our dishes and, thankfully rarely leaving us alone.
I mostly sat on the couch knitting because it turns out having a baby is like running a marathon you haven’t trained for, only you shake up your squashed internal organs, as well. Meanwhile this man who I had married was showing me more kindness and vulnerability than I had been given by any man ever.
It might seem very strange for me to tell this story because our marriage ended and everything in life is different now. I wouldn’t change where I am these days at all. I tell it because Sarah’s birthday is coming and not only am I thinking about her, but I’m thinking about how we judge so many things by their ending. When awards are given, we give them for things successfully accomplished. But if we could carve out those two or four weeks, take them right out of the arc of our brief story together, those weeks could win awards. I don’t think I would get the most applause, but certainly an honorable mention, you know, for the birthing a baby part.
Sometimes the very worst moments are also the very best.