E wants to know her sister’s middle names. She asks me again and again. “Mary and Herma,” I repeat. “After Grumpy’s mommy and Opa’s mommy.” She repeats them to herself. Sings the full name as she dresses her dolly, whose name is also Mary, and tucks her into bed. “Anja Mary Herma. Anja Mary Herma.” It is a beautiful name. I want to hear it over and over, and I am struck each time by how lovely it is, what a lovely name we gave her, even in that darkest of hours where it was decided.
* * *
E and my mom and I are eating waffles for dinner on an evening where R is skiing with my dad and brother. ‘When will I get to go skiing?’ E asks and I say, ‘I’m sure next year we’ll manage it.’
‘Unless you get another baby in your tummy,’ E muses.
‘I won’t get another baby, E,’ I say, gently.
‘How do you know? You might get one to replace Anja.’
My mom and I catch each other’s eye; my sensitive little girl looks up at us, her head lowered slightly, measuring our reaction, looking for reassurance.
‘We can’t replace her, sweetie. Anja can’t be replaced,’ my mother says, also gently.
‘I know that, actually,’ E replies. ‘I was just imagining.’
* * *
I take E skating after school with one of her friends from class. There are two other little friends there, too, and they are all whizzing confidently around the rink. E clutches my hand and takes small steps. ‘Mommy, how come all my friends can skate so fast but I can’t?’
I know the answer to this one, but I can’t tell her. I can’t tell her that it’s because last winter I was pregnant and too terrified to step foot on ice in case I slipped and killed the baby. And the winter before that, I was pregnant too, and then grieving, grieving so hard. While all her little friends were learning to skate, we were huddled in our grief cocoons, surviving, just barely.
I smile at her, and she lets go of my hand, pushes back with one foot into a longer glide, picks up speed and grins up at me. ‘I’m skating, Mommy. I’m doing it.’
* * *
I sit with another mother watching the girls at gymnastics. We talk about what is going on at school with our two girls and one other, a two-against-one game that plays out in different ways. The other mother has noticed how sensitive E is. I hesitate for a moment and then I decide to do it. To drop the bomb. ‘Well, she’s had a lot of trauma in her life,’ I start. The other mother’s eyes are questioning. ‘I don’t know if you know this,’ I continue, knowing she won’t know, ‘but we had another baby between E and M…’ Her eyes widen, and I can see the realization and horror register in them: she has never seen this other baby; she can guess what happened. ‘She was stillborn,’ I say, and her eyes fill with tears. ‘How did you survive?’ she asks me, not in the annoying way of those who try to pretend they could never be as strong so it could never happen to them. She really wants to know.
It feels cruel, sometimes, to do this to people. And also necessary. This is my life, and my daughter’s. And it will be my son’s, too.
* * *
Suzanne is in town and we go for a walk on the seawall on a beautiful sunny morning. We talk about Anja and Nathaniel. We talk about M and the joy he has brought into our family. I explain to her that as we get closer to his birthday I am feeling increasingly anxious and sad. I don’t want him to not be a baby anymore. As long as he is a baby, I still have access to her: that is how I feel. I know many people who would consider this unhealthy, but it is not as if I am confusing the two of them, or making him be something he is not to fulfill my own need. It is just that when I hold his baby self, I know what it feels like to hold a baby, my baby, and that is all she ever will be: a baby. At the same time as I wish M could stay my baby forever, I can’t wait to see how he grows into a toddler and little boy. But she never will grow; she will hang back forever in that shadowy dead baby land. And there will no more babies to hold to remind me what she should have felt like.
Suzanne and I talk about being pregnant again and if we could do it, if we could take that risk. A part of me wants more and more babies, a big family of brothers and sisters and crazy Christmas mornings. More snuggly newborns, another baby held to my breast and tucked under my chin, another little head to sniff and kiss, another ten tiny toes to wonder over.
Another part of me knows with certainty: I don’t want another baby that isn’t her.
I don’t want another baby that isn’t her.
* * *
Anja Mary Herma. You are so woven into the day-to-day of our lives. You are our daughter, our sister, our granddaughter, the story of our family. You are so missed. I don’t want another baby that is not you, but oh, oh, oh how I want you.