Tomorrow (March 26) is the anniversary of my second daughter's birth and death. Melissa, as my DH and I named her, was anencephalic......a fact we didn't discover until I was 9 1/2 months pregnant and my OB suspected the baby was in a transverse lie. Well, she was.......but that was the least of our problems. It turned out she had only a brain stem and a small part of brain tissue, a condition the doctor called "incompatible with life".
Neither of us could believe it. How could we even THINK about planning a funeral for someone who was so alive inside of me?? It was impossible......yet I went on for three days after the diagnosis, feeling her constant jerking and twitching, not knowing at the time that these were almost continual seizures and not normal, healthy baby kicks. I don't recall much else about that time......the years, thankfully, have produced a merciful amnesia that virtually erased my memories of those dark days.
The next Monday morning, on a morning as gray and sad as the occasion, my otherwise perfect child was delivered by C-section. She lived for seven hours. And if I live to be a century old, I will never, ever forget the way it felt to sign papers allowing her body to be released to a local funeral home, or how it was to be alone in my hospital room at night, three floors above the maternity ward where all the happy mothers were.
That was twenty years ago. Thank God for the three healthy children who followed Melissa, and for my oldest child who was only 17 months old at the time and who filled my aching, empty arms the instant I came home from the hospital. I learned only after my fifth and last child was born that no matter how many babies I had, I would never be able to replace Melissa.....that there would always be an empty place at the family table, and an empty space in my heart.
I've always been a little blue around this time of year, and I've finally come to terms with the fact that I always will be. It's OK.......losing a child is something one never gets over. I got through it, yes, and even got PAST it....but it's one of the sadnesses of my life, and it will never completely go away.
A few years later, I wrote a poem dealing with my feelings about our loss which was published in an anthology of poetry the following year. It's not one of my best, but it did give voice to my sorrow, and was thus quite therapeutic for me. Here it is:
that is what the rain means to me
sweeping over the earth to wash away impurities
and make the skies clean.
Gently they came one morning
as I lay giving birth,
softly they descended over me
as I held my newborn daughter
and took her away with them.
Now, whenever the gray wings return
I watch for the rainbow
and remember that I once touched the face
of an angel.