Longing

Warning: I don’t know actually what specifically I want to warn you about, but this post talks about my maternal feelings towards Natan, so it could be a tough one for some readers.

Sometimes I wonder how I know Natan is real. I only held him for such a short time. I think about what I know about fetal development, about the disagreement about when a gestating baby begins to feel pain and have memory. You could say then, without any definite proof or scientific consensus, that my feelings about him are a matter of my opinion. My longing for him, the things I say to him as I go to sleep or sit at his grave, are all matters of sentiment. I could think my way out of them. I know that’s what Josh’s grandfather, a scientist, expects of us. But of course, he is also the one who wrote to assure me that what happened “meant nothing” about our future chances to have children after he spoke to a doctor friend. I wrote back an honest response, that no obstetrician or maternal-fetal specialist would dare to say that Natan’s death “meant nothing” about the future, so clearly he was mistaken.

I know he’s wrong, so there’s no need here to defend us or condemn him. He’s an old man, set in his ways and far too sure of his own expertise in everything. I’m different, in that I don’t feel certain of my correct knowledge of anything. Not because I lack confidence, but because knowledge itself is never certain.

But still as much as I know anything, I know Natan is real. Yesterday we finally managed to select and print the pictures our moms had asked for six months ago. I didn’t handle it, Josh did but it seemed too difficult for a long time, to think of taking our pictures to be printed professionally.

When I look at them, and see his little face, I’m again struck by exactly the same feelings. First, an incredible love for him. A complete feeling of recognition. I know this baby. I might not ever know his breakfast preference, or how he would have done in school, or who and if he would have married, but I know him as well as I will ever know anyone. There are the physical markers that he is part of me – his nose is exactly mine. Piggy with a deep crease leading to his lips. His thumb and the lines of his hand – mine. His chin and general face shape – his dad’s. But it’s much more than that.

I fought as hard as I could to save his life. I made a decision, although it ended up moot, as I laid in a hospital bed for 8 days that absolutely nothing mattered more than him and his life. I decided that I wanted him to survive no matter what – the doctors warned me that we needed to think about my future fertility. I told them I didn’t need to think about it, if I could have Natan alive, he would be my only child. I told them I knew the risks, and I did, of a premature birth, and that of course I couldn’t know exactly how life would be if he had cerebral palsy or was blind, but that I would learn. That I knew a child with severe cerebral palsy, and that child’s life might seem to be a mistake to other people, but not to me. That I was not a particularly brave person, but that I knew early on that I would accept and love whoever this person was that I was carrying inside me no matter what.

I didn’t expect that person to be dead. But still I knew everything about him. I knew the moment it happened, before the doctors. So I was surprised to learn they were still trying to resuscitate him. And I was even more surprised to hear myself say, “he’s gone,” when the doctor came to explain that further efforts were unlikely to work, and to be at peace with that.

Still this doesn’t answer how I know he existed and exists, as a soul. I know partly because my religious beliefs tell me so, that he gained a neshama around the time I began feeling him move. [This is different than full life, so not relevant to questions about abortion.] It has nothing to do with my need to have him recognized by other people, because I know.

When I long to hold Natan, I don’t just long to hold a baby. I ache for him specifically. I felt so different carrying him than I feel now with this baby. Not just the physical aspects – my pregnancy last time was difficult. It’s a new relationship, very different from last time and I feel like it’s not just my anxiety. I’m starting to get a sense of a different person in there, different from me and different from his/her brother. Calmer. Natan was always moving and I felt like he always would be. This baby moves, certainly, but I don’t get the sense that he or she is flying or will fly around quite as much.

Someday I want to describe what I was experiencing while the doctors resuscitated me. I often try, but I can’t, because it sits right in the place in my mind where reason ends. I am a human, and so I grieve, and I long for my son. I have anger, and sadness, and jealousies, but I’m not tormented. If I could try to explain why I really manage to get up every morning, why I am willing to try this again, and why I know Natan existed and still does somehow, the answer would be in those minutes.

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15 responses to “Longing

  1. What a lovely and poignant post. The last paragraph especially touched me.

  2. gmail.com*It has nothing to do with my need to have him recognized by other people, because I know.*

    That’s something I am struggling with now. Many people I know and work with want to just ignore that we lost our baby, and I suspect it has to do with his gestational age and that he wasn’t born alive. But he was our baby, our son, and it didn’t NOT happen. I need to find some peace about that.

    You have such strength behind your words.

  3. This is beautiful

  4. Sara: I am one of Josh’s colleagues, and I have been reading your blog since I found out about Natan. I have been so moved by your honesty and courage in dealing with what has happened to you both and to Natan. I said to Josh once when he told me that some people thought you both should be “over it” that, of course, that never happens. I have felt the sort of loss you describe here, and I know that it becomes part of who you are. In some ways, I found your post so moving, because it testifies to Natan’s existence, however brief. He was here, and he is part of you.

    I am thinking of you both a lot right now, and will continue to do so, as the weeks go by.

  5. This is beautiful and touching. I cannot imagine it was easy to write. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. this spoke straight to my heart, and deeply. the knowing of a child, as an individual…such a powerful thing. the longing for that child when you have barely tasted him…for me that longing was both proud and painful. in your words – your choices, the bedrest, the other parallels in the stories of our firstborns – i get to peer at a little of who Natan was through your love for him.

  7. This really is a lovely post. Do you think you’ll ever post any pictures? I’d love to see some?

  8. Beautiful.

    I am not ready to write mine yet. But I will. Soon. And then we will talk.

  9. Your grandfather-in-law is intellectualizing his own fears and insecurities Natan’s death brought up for him by telling you what he did. Working in the sciences for many year I can tell you from personal experience that scientists are some of the most insecure people I know about their knowledge and especially their feelings. They may appear to be confident in what they say, but they really aren’t.

    It is also hard for me to hear that people have been wondering why you haven’t “gotten over it” with regards to Natan’s pasing or that people are telling you things like what you grandfather-in-law said. Even though I did not get to meet Natan out of the womb, I got to see him in the form of the baby bump. I know he was here and he will be in my thoughts for a long time.

    Hang in there with the painful words certain family members tell you and with the feelings that you are going through. You are very strong and are a fighter for your children. They are very lucky to have you as their mom.

  10. You knew Natan better than anyone else because he was part of you for so long. Of course he is real, and will always be your first child. I was so moved at Passover when you lit a candle for him; he will always be part of your family, no matter how many other children you have.

  11. I just wanted to say that this is a beautiful post.

  12. Sara- I am out of town right now and haven’t been able to get to a computer much. This morning I was finally able to, and for some reason was lead to check in on you. I’m glad I did. This post touched me enormously. No one will ever know Natan as you did, but I know that I appreciate getting to know him just a little better myself.

  13. Thanks all, for your really kind words.

    I light three candles, I think I told Emily in person, for every Shabbat and holiday. Two because that’s tradition, and a third for Natan. In my days among the uber-frum I met a woman who lit candles for all 14 of her children, and although I never wished to share that with her, I did decide I would also light candles for all my children when I had them. Hence Natan has his weekly candle.

    Thanks, Lori, it touches my heart to know people are thinking of and getting to know my son a little through reading my words.

  14. You’ve expressed yourself so beautifully in this post. I was moved to tears. Thank you for sharing this.

  15. This was a beautiful post. He was real because you carried him. You know him because you are his mother. You will always know him, his essence. He will always be with you in a spiritual way. I understand what you mean about the different personality. I know this subsequent pregnancy is also a boy, but he already has a different “personality” than Jimmy, even though he is just 28 weeks gestation. I can’t explain it to people. I just know how Jimmy was and this baby is not like that. You really honor Natan with your writing.

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