Five is the first birthday I didn’t mark with a post.
Five was different than any of the previous four birthdays. In the past, the anticipation of the day has been the worst and then the day itself has consistently been a frustration: it can never live up to what I need it to be – of course, because what I need it to be is a birthday for a living child, not a dead one. How can a birthday for a dead child ever be ok? This year, the anticipation was not nearly so dreadful. I waited for it to get terrible, but it never did. Today, though, the day after her birthday, I woke with a heavy, heavy weight on my chest and shoulders – familiar in its physical manifestation from those early days – and a sense of futility associated with realizing how many more of these dead-baby birthdays there will be.
The days themselves – the 12th, 13th and 14th – were okay. On the 12th, a dear friend, whose son, Toren, would also have turned five this month, and I visited a local cemetery where there is a memorial garden for babies who were stillborn or died shortly after birth in the 30s through 60s. Then, babies were whisked away from the mothers, and buried without markers in one section of the graveyard, while families were told to move on and just get pregnant again ASAP. In 2006, the memorial was created: a dry streambed with a stone placed in it for every baby buried. Some families have had stones engraved with names and dates. This year, the stones are buried in snow and as Andrea and I stood and talked about our babies, about grief and how it has changed us, about parenting our living children, about feminism, about the people who have held us up, the people who have surprised us by their kindness and the people who have let us down, we scuffed our boots in the snow, pushing the snow aside and clearing off the names of babies who died long ago, whose families missed them so, 40, 50, 60, 70 years later (of course). It was a surprisingly wonderful way to spend the morning and it was the most right-feeling thing I’ve done yet on one of these anniversary days.
On the 13th, I looked for daffodils to bring home, but it’s been so cold this year and there were none in the stores. Instead, I bought a bunch of tiny pink roses and a white candle. I put the candle in a crystal dish filled with tiny shells and shell fragments that I spent hours sifting out of the sand in Mexico when my parents flew us there two weeks after Anja’s death and birth. Little creamy pink, purple and peach shells, smooth pebbles I remember focusing on so that I didn’t have to think too hard about anything. I worked while the candle burned beside the roses and almost felt peaceful.
The 14th, her birthday, was a Saturday. Swimming lessons for E and then a family walk around the Lagoon, which is completely frozen over today. The Lagoon was full of delights: ice crystals on leaves and branches, huge puddles frozen over to ‘skate’ on, the eerie sounds of the ice shifting and contracting. The sun shone, we were together, and though my heart ached, I let myself be absorbed in the beauty of the lagoon and of E and M. Later, while M napped, E and I went out and bought a beautiful, tiny cake iced in flowers. We put five candles in it, sang happy birthday, and it was all….okay.
I wasn’t prepared for that. I wasn’t prepared to see beauty, to feel mostly love and awe. There were moments: I woke up several times on the night of the 12th with a feeling of intense dread and feelings of guilt over strange things, like how I don’t do a good enough job keeping E’s nails looking nice – feeling sick about it. I cried in the car the whole way to work on the 10th and 11th. I hid myself away in my office most of the early part of the week and was surly and short-tempered in meetings. But then…the calm of her days. Such a strange change.
We were busy today. My mom in town and E had skating and piano and there were errands to run and then a traffic accident shut down the highway on our way home from dropping my mom at the ferry so we had an impromptu dinner out while we waited for it to clear. And then now I’m up late prepping for my class in the morning. That heavy feeling is there, but so much else has been happening all day that it just sits in the background. If I’ve learned anything about grief, it’s to fear the backlash that comes after feeling well unexpectedly, but maybe things are also changing…we’ll see.
This year, I’ve thought so much of this space, which kept me going for the first two years, especially. And of all the babies, whom I’ll never forget, and their mothers, whose words and love and support have meant to so much. Andrea and Toren. Conner and Molly. Pieces of Me and AKelly and Margaret. Suzanne and Nathaniel. Tash and Liam. Veronica and Alexander. Little sun and his mamas. Brooke and Eliza. Caroline and Cale. Em and Eva. Aurelia and Chiara.Alwaysmy3boys and her third boy. Burning Eye, A. and Joseph. Typhaine and Paul. Catherine and Georgina. Amanda and Grace. . Allmyprettyones and Avalon. That is already so many babies, and there are more…So many birthdays…so many anniversaries.
So few people remembered Anja this year. Her grandparents, but not her aunt or uncle. Babyloss friends, but only one of my ‘before’ friends, one of my new friends from E’s school, none of my oldest friends. That didn’t hurt as much as it did last year, either.
I think I remembered her well this year. I spent some peaceful moments. I made beauty around me. I pulled the love of my little family in close and held it tight and somewhere in between her sister and her brother, I felt just a little bit who she could have been, where she would have fit, and then she flitted away, into the icy woods around us – I’ll be here, waiting for six, seven, eight, nine, and any fleeting glimpse of my gone girl I can catch.