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.