I’m working on a conference paper for this summer, a new topic but from old files. I came across a microfilm printout of a newspaper page. In the middle of the page sat an article about a subject of my dissertation. In the column next to it was an article called “The Empty Cradle,” which began with a short (bad) poem, as so many articles on sentimental topics did in the 19th century:
“The mother gave in tears and pain,
The flowers she most did love;
She knew she’d find them all again
In the field of light above.”
Below the poem, it reads, “The death of a child is to a mother’s heart like….” and then, it cuts off. The article I wanted for my research ended in the parallel column right at that line and I didn’t bother about the one next to it. Seeing that again, I was confused. Really, did I do that? I always read the full page of articles next to the ones I wanted, for the sake of context. If an article not about my topic caught my attention, I copied it. I have pages and pages of weird stuff.
But that poem and article didn’t catch my attention. I must have copied it before not only Natan’s death, but before my miscarriage. In the weeks following the miscarriage, I was in Philadelphia, researching my dissertation topic but also faithfully taking down all the details one of my subjects wrote about his daughter’s struggles to have a living baby, in the 1830s.
I changed so much during 2006-2007, during my year of pregnancies and loss.
I am writing this because a friend lost her beautiful daughter at 3 months old, on March 10. She asked me about trying again soon after, and I have been incredibly slow about responding. I have no concept of the pain of losing a child who lived beyond a chaotic delivery room, who went home with her parents, who lived a daily life, who ate and breathed, who slept and woke up. I’m not sure my advice applies.
But here’s what I wrote, more or less.
Samuel was my absolute savior in 2007, and has been ever since. He’s a child and a person in his own right, not a replacement. Yet, losing a child has many layers of loss, hurt, grief and fear. When Natan died, I missed him but I was also incredibly terrified that Josh and I would never have children, that the emptiness in our house would never be filled. I could not move on from that aspect of grief until I found resolution to that question. I resented other women who were pregnant, who had living children, and I hated myself for resenting them. I had no interest in other people’s children, and I hated that as well. Had Samuel not lived, or had I anticipated having or had difficulty getting pregnant, I might have a different answer. I would have had to find a different route to healing those feelings. But he did and I am so glad we just went forward, incomprehensibly fearful and hopeful at the same time.
In a sense, resolving the gaping hole that was the question, “will I ever have a living child?” helped me to move on from at least that question to face the other painful parts of grieving a particular pregnancy, a particular trauma, and a particular person. Being pregnant was so hard, but so was not being pregnant. Not being pregnant was horrible in its emptiness, hopelessness for those months between.
Yet, there could also have been good physical reasons to wait, had my emotional state not trumped that. I think perhaps my injuries during labor – a dislocated hip, a broken tailbone—were related to being pregnant so quickly again, but also the bed rest. Pregnancy takes a toll on a body, and doing it twice in a year has left its scars. It’s taken me 3 years to realize just how severe they were.
I’m attending yoga regularly, have been for about two months now. It’s the best thing I could possibly be doing for myself, because my body has been a disaster. Before I got pregnant the first time, I was doing yoga regularly, running, biking, preparing my body for the experience of pregnancy. If I’m honest, it was because I was extremely nervous about the chance that I’d be forever chubby afterwards, that I’d have that pouchy midsection and stretch marks that I have now. I also had some thought that maybe I could have a birth without pain meds if I exercised before and during a pregnancy. That period feels like someone else’s life now.
I’ve never been your most flexible person, but given my injuries and that Samuel stretched my stomach into a rubbery mess, I’m not only inflexible now, but I’m weak in my foundation and core. Without much strength in my core or flexibility anywhere, I’m a disaster in yoga, but am getting better. The studio I’ve found here includes unbelievably supportive and incredibly knowledgeable teachers, who know about my injuries and always seem to be ready with an adaptation or suggestion for an exercise outside of class. One change for the better—I am not at all embarrassed when I fall or otherwise look ridiculous and physically weak. My goals for the summer are particularly modest—get my heels on the ground during a downward dog, get into a triangle pose without a block.
I have a point here—during every single yoga class, there will be a moment, when we talk about “opening” hips, or “releasing” toxins, and I’ll realize my problem remains that I’m still holding in. I can’t point to an origin moment for sure, but if I could it would be December 26th, 2006, when we learned I was in labor with Natan on the precipice of viability. “If can just hold on another day,” turned into “two days,” turned into “a week,” turned into “two weeks,” turned into an empty womb.
Despair turned into hope turned into loss….And then earlier than anyone expected, I was pregnant again. And I began to work on holding on again. Tighter and tighter and tighter. Instead of feeling free and strong in movement, I felt terrified of my body’s unpredictable rhythms, changes, and sensations. It’s been a lot harder to let go than it was to start holding in the first place.
I wish I hadn’t felt that way, but I don’t regret a moment of it. I don’t know that it could have been any different. I think I’d be better now if we were to try again, but only because I know my body can do it, given support. I think even if I had spent a year grieving and preparing emotionally for pregnancy, I would have retreated to the same cocoon. I’ve read the words of other women after losing their babies, during their attempts to get pregnant, and then during subsequent pregnancies or the process of deciding to adopt or stop trying. Certainly our experiences weren’t the exact same, but we all retreated in some way, detached from our past worlds into new, surreal and strange ones.
I gave birth to Natan on January 3rd, 2007, and to Samuel on December 14th, 2007. Dates play tricks on my memory. It’s all so close together, so coincident in so many ways—world events, dissertation chapters, family experiences. More time might be right for someone else, but it wasn’t for us.