nothing is heavier than air
that fills an empty crib
hollow and crushing
hush little nothing
nothing is heavier than air
that fills an empty crib
hollow and crushing
hush little nothing
I don’t know. I don’t know their names or their faces. Or why or what home they come from. I don’t know what they’ve been through or when or if they’ll go from here. I honestly don’t even know how we’ll do this at all. All I know is that we have to.
The day I found out I was pregnant with Margo I knew something was wrong. Hand to God the very second I looked down at those devastatingly blue lines, these words scrolled across my mind: “Something bad is going to happen.” But I swallowed them down and opened the bathroom door and on shaky feet brought the test to my husband. Five months later when we went to the hospital because I was leaking, the midwife tested the fluid and looked up at me. Not a breath passed by before once again, I knew. “We’re going to lose her. She’s not going to make it.” I knew, I knew, I knew and it did nothing. Knowing does nothing.
Two days later I sat empty and sad, hollow and soft in the thin, starchy, pink gown. The one with buttons for nursing your alive and well newborn. Hours before I sat crying alone in the dark, my arms wrapped around myself like a prayer. Like maybe if I held on tight enough I could stop my backstabbing uterus from contracting around my fragile daughter. Eventually my ever so steadfast crisis mode clicked on, the tears stopped, and I stood to pack my things for Labor and Delivery. And somehow my heart kept beating. Ever since that day it has been a whisper and an ache in my bones – foster.
I don’t know how, but I know I have to. There have been things in my life that I wanted to do. In fact, my anxiety makes anything I want to do something I want to do badly; I don’t like waiting. Even with all that urgency in my veins I have never felt anything like this. This is not a “thing I want to do”. I mean, it is. But, it’s not a thing. It is a calling. I like that word. Calling. I use it a lot in regards to my faith. We are called. We are called to do that, and that, and that. I am called to do this.
Call. It has become a heavy and fervent word.
Since beginning the process to get our license I have second guessed myself a thousand times daily. Save for the days when everything is magical and easy and I think to myself, “Oh hell yeah I’ve got this. Look at me – parenting the shit out of this tough cookie. Well done, Rachel.” Very quickly however, the universe realigns itself back into chaos and I wonder as minutes and routines pass by, “Where is a stranger’s baby going to fit into any of this?” At 8pm when my toddler is running naked through the house, being chased by her father wielding a toothbrush, I look inward and upward to ask, “How?” Faithfully the answer always comes, “Just show up.”
And you know what? Thats exactly what I am capable of doing. I don’t get it perfectly. A lot of the time I don’t even get it well. I curse and I shop at Target too much. Our house could use some new carpet and we have frozen pizza every week. But I can show up. Ragged, but here. This has become my mantra when I can’t possibly understand how my meager offerings will be enough. Just. Show. Up.
Just show up. With your store bought muffins and your dying plants. With your endless fatigue and no bra. Bring your OCD, your anxiety, your depression. Come with your car on it’s last legs and your walls with peeling paint. Bring your debt and your yoga pants. Show up and watch God feed the multitudes with your tiny townhome pantry.
They are here now – right now. They don’t have the time to wait around for perfect people. But they can make do with me.
“Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the case of the fatherless;
Plead the case of the widow.”
It happens when I catch sight of her name – artwork others have made in her honor, or a necklace with her birthstone, or the church bulletin clipping held to the fridge with an alphabet magnet. Or when Rosalyn whispers in awe, “Oh, a baby!” as she marvels at a stranger’s infant. Or when someone says something stupid and insensitive and never seems to realize the damage they’ve done. The world spins and I grip the grocery cart in front of me, trying not to be whipped into a sharp pile of jagged thoughts and spaces in time. I will smile for them but never have the corners of my mouth felt so heavy.
I think about Rosalyn and the sisterhood stolen from her. It cuts me freshly every day.
I think about the number of times I’ll have to forgive the small but wounding transgression that is a pair of eyes darting quickly down to my empty belly and back up to me. As if they’re seeking visual confirmation. Yes, she is gone. Still. Why the fuck are you doing that to me?
I think about the NICU team. And how when it was time to deliver they stood dutifully by the premature bed and equipment, ready to receive a baby they knew they could do nothing to save. They knew and still they came. They couldn’t save her, but perhaps they could save me. Perhaps they could share even a droplet of my agony and grief. How many babies have they seen go from this earth? How many times a day do they feel helpless but gather their strength for the mothers? They knew Margaret Olivia Redmon would make their death toll creep higher. And still they came.
I think about nurse that greeted me in L&D and led me to my room. How she paused after learning I was only 22 weeks along. How I looked at her and said, “I know. It’s OK. Just tell me.” I felt I should comfort her. You’re not the first to break my heart – don’t worry, we can do this.
I think about how badly I wanted a VBAC, but not like this. I think about how much more intensely painful contractions are when there’s no amniotic fluid to cushion the blow. I think about how it took four incredibly skilled medical professionals and countless needles to find a vein for the morphine that did nothing. How I still had to go under anesthesia because I couldn’t deliver the placenta. How it all seemed like a sick cosmic joke and I actually laughed. There comes a point where there’s so much pain coming from too many directions and you just stop feeling.
I think about how she was perfectly fine in there. How her heart kept beating until my body forced her out.
I think about how much time has passed since I last thought about her. It’s getting longer. I think about if that’s good or bad. I think about how people must be getting tired of me. It’s been years after all. No, wait – it’s been a little over two months. Fuck.
I have tried to compartmentalize, tried to keep the wreckage pushed into the corner. Somewhere I can visit when I want to. But somehow I keep stumbling and bruising myself on pieces that have drifted out in the open. I put another band-aid on and drag it back to where it belongs. Lift with your knees, not your back. Before I can return I have to rest, seated amongst the rubble. If I dig deep enough I can still find embers.
There’s nothing else I can do. So I sit and I think.
I made ornaments. For us and for each pair of grandparents. They each contain blanket scraps, a hospital bracelet, and a set of hand and foot prints. They’re beautiful. I loved creating them. It felt so nice to make something for her, to do something for her. My veins frosted over when I realized – it felt like mothering.
Just as I agonized and enjoyed creating a nursery for Rosalyn, I painstakingly selected and placed each flower and leaf for Margaret. Just as I carefully swaddled Rosalyn each night, I delicately tucked Margaret’s footprints into the pieces of her first, last, only baby blanket. I run my fingers through Rosalyn’s dark blonde curls and kiss her pink cheeks; for Margaret I sprinkle iridescent glitter to sparkle in the string of Christmas lights and thread rich red velvet tied in a knot.I cannot clothe or feed or diaper you. I cannot kiss your toes to make you laugh. I cannot spend obscene hours rocking and swaying and soothing red-faced squalls. I cannot wrap you in my arms and tell you how much you matter to your very core. I cannot wipe your snot with my shirt because who gives a fuck about shirts when my entire universe is standing in front of me with a runny nose.
I cannot do those things, so I guess I do this. It is nothing and it is all I have for you, of you. I have nothing.
I had often wondered how women were able to labor and birth with the knowledge their baby had died or would soon die after leaving them. How did they walk through that intensity and pain when at the finish line there are only somber faces and gentle hands – no confetti, no victory? How do you birth death? I now intimately understand that you do impossible things for your children. You give what you have and then dig deep to find more. In that moment, your baby needs you. So you mother.
I would have dedicated my life to your full-bellied goodness. I would have studied and known you deeper than anyone. I would have nurtured your intricate complexities. I would have been your punching bag and whetstone.
I would have mothered you.
You were alive. You were here. You matter.
I don’t like clutter. Too many things in one space is suffocating. It’s easy for me to get rid of, to make space. But I don’t know what else to do but keep every token, every card as proof of her existence. A headstone doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t fit. She never belonged to this earth, only to me. I keep searching for the right thing to do, the right way to keep her memory beating and breathing. And then it slices me open again. The realization that the real answer, what I really want is to not have to do this at all. For her to be tucked up with my insides, safely cocooned until winter gives way to spring; until the ice melts and bleeds into dandelions.
I’m not very sad. Not right now. I’m mostly angry. Just so very angry. I want to punch walls, I want to cause damage. I want to take the pain in my body and release it into the wild, inflicting it on the world. The most soothing mantra I can find goes something like, “Fuck this, fuck you, I hate it all – everything.” Why her? I can still feel her kicking inside of me, phantom and cruel.
When the fury wave passes, the ebb and flow of grief, I find myself on my hands and knees. Picking up the shards and cradling them in my hands. They prick and bleed but I pull them in even tighter. I’m so sorry. I know you’re hurting too. I know, I know. I know. Can you dry tears with glass? I desperately search for some sort of salve to tend to world’s wounds. It stings my raw palms but maybe I need it too? Healing feels traitorous, bandages like straitjackets.