On Saturday, I sat with my arm laid out for a pink-haired pixie girl to tattoo. The needles pricking in and out across the thin white skin of my inner arm hurt less than I’d anticipated. Today, though, my arm is red and raw and throbbing. A scab is forming over the delicate black lines, the yellow of the flower’s petals. A daffodil and the letter ‘A,’ her mark on me forever, visible.
I have two other tattoos. One, a tiny sun I had done when I was 19. I felt so brave. It was 1993 and tattoos were not yet commonplace. A friend and I went together, giggling nervously and completely oblivious to what permanent meant. I’ve never regretted that tattoo, though; it reminds me of being very young and of taking risks. The second tattoo is a turtle. It was done in 1997. A year earlier something terrible had happened to me and I had been having a hard time. But then, on a trip to Costa Rica, I’d seen a mother turtle lay her eggs on the beach and then slowly, painfully slowly, drag herself back to the water’s edge. The moment she slipped deep enough into the water to swim away was like a revelation to me: the sudden freedom she must have felt after the arduous work on the beach, weightless in the water and graceful again. The turtle tattoo was meant to symbolize that kind of freedom, a freedom I badly needed then.
For a number of years I thought I would get a third tattoo, but nothing ever felt right. Shortly after Anja died I knew I wanted something of her on my body. I have a thick dark scar to show where E left my body and while I know many women who dislike their c-section scars, I have always prized mine. Perhaps the way I feel about it has to do with E’s close call. The cut that made the scar most likely saved her life and so I wear that scar like a medal of honour: ‘we survived,’ it says.
But Anja didn’t survive. She wasn’t saved. And she left no mark, no physical mark, to remind me that she was here, that, like her sister, she lived and grew inside me, was born, held, kissed, loved. And so, I had a mark made for her. The third tattoo. A progression of events mapped on my body. The sun, the turtle, the daffodil. In them, I can trace a path from there to here, from the girl I was to the mother I’ve become. I want this tattoo to say that I am a mother of two, her mother, too. That I grew and birthed and loved a second daughter who is always with me and never with me.
The psychiatrist says I am not depressed, just overwhelmed. That sounds about right, and I am working on being kinder to myself.