M has had tummy troubles this week, but I haven’t been too worried about him because he has been his usual smiley self, his skin colour has been good, eyes bright, no fever.
Until this morning. This morning he was hot and feverish, had red rings around his eyes and just wanted to be in my arms, collapsed against my shoulder, still and quiet. I still wasn’t that worried. I gave him some Tylenol and nursed him several times, let him sleep in my arms. When the fever seemed to be getting worse and he seemed to be getting increasingly tired and listless, I decided to take him to the doctor. I was still feeling fine and in control. I got us both dressed and a diaper bag packed and said goodbye to R and E.
It was as I stood in the hall waiting for the elevator while R watched from the doorway that I began to fall apart. This was exactly how it was the night that I went to the hospital to find out Anja had died. I stood in the hallway, waiting for the elevator, while R stood in the doorway, his eyes scared, staying home with E. As soon as I made this connection, my heart began to race. In the car, M was quiet, when usually he cries. He fell asleep almost immediately in his carseat and I worried that he was too subdued, too lethargic. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. I drove up the road toward downtown, following the same route as the cab I’d taken on January 12, 2012. I remember that that night the news on the radio was all about the cruise ship that sank off the coast of Italy. I remember holding my stomach and feeling so terribly sick and anxious. This afternoon, M was quiet in his carseat, so quiet, and I couldn’t help myself: all I could think was that I was going to arrive at the doctor’s office and he would be dead back there. He was going to die in his carseat on the way to the doctor’s and it would be my fault because I hadn’t been worried enough about him and it would kill me; there is no way I could survive his death. On the bridge, the car in front of me was driving just barely below the speed limit and I had to restrain myself from screaming at it to drive faster goddamit drive faster; I was crying, shaking, my hands pounding the steering wheel.
I can’t tell my non-loss friends about this feeling. They will reassure me: nothing will happen to M, they will say. He is okay. Look, it all turned out just fine. Shhh, they’ll say. Shh.
They don’t understand how real and awful that fear was. And how once you’ve had a seemingly perfectly healthy baby die inside you, once you have had one child cremated, you do not ever again feel reassured by arguments like ‘healthy babies don’t die on short trips to the doctor,’ or ‘something like that is not going to happen to you again.’ Because why not? Why the hell not?
We made it to the doctor and M will be ok and so will I. But today was bad. Really, really bad. I feel completely wrung out and I feel old and tired and sad.
A friend texts me to try to find out what day is best for her to plan an early birthday party, early because her baby is due at the end of March, a girl.
I want to text back that no day is good for me. That there is no day in March that I want to spend with her hugely pregnant self, but that is not really true and it is mean, too.
It doesn’t go away though – this grief; the fear, the sorrow, the anxiety. I have to live with it every day, and some days, like today, I am still only barely coping. The image of my little M, my beautiful boy with the dimple in his chin and the dark eyes and crazy hair, lying slumped and unbreathing in his carseat is seared on my imagination now; it feels almost as real as what really happened. I can see that alternate ending and how it would unroll almost as clearly as I can recall the way he looked at me when I slid open the van door and reached for the buckle on his seat, my other hand on his forehead as his eyelids fluttered open, a hard lump in my throat.
It doesn’t go away.