Waking up from the anesthesia, I overheard the nurse talking on the phone next to me. “She had a mis-abortion. She’s just coming around.” Groggy, I still fought to shout out the words, “It was a miscarriage, not an abortion. The baby was already dead.” The nurse soothed me, saying, “That’s what we call these.” As I sat in the bed, stupid and sick, throwing up several times on occasion, I mourned the fact that even in death, my child’s existence was cloaked in mystery. The reference word used by the post-op nurse obscured to the world, whether she was, or I had wished she wasn’t and taken steps to make it so.
Having only been nine weeks pregnant, we hadn’t announced to the world her life, and now we would reveal her existence while telling of her demise. I had a single picture from the doctor’s appointment I had put off two weeks, which resulted in the only photo of our eleventh child. “She” is two centimeters long and her heart wasn’t beating. She wasn’t moving. Having watched ultra sounds over the past 15 years, it wasn’t hard to see that this child was dead, even to my unprofessionally trained eyes. I hoped for a chromosome work up to have, as physical proof beyond my own knowing and the picture, of this singular person that was. I had dreamed over and over again of a girl and so I wanted to know, but there was insufficient “material” for the lab technicians to use for a DNA workup. Now she was not and there would be no memory of her save what we could piece together from the eight weeks of dreams, discussions, fears, hopes and the ultrasound.
Yet this little one in her short existence here, was a great teacher. She reframed the stresses of raising nine children with masterful efficiency. As I stressed and fussed with God about demanding so much of us, my ever thoughtful husband spoke of how perhaps this child would prove we hadn’t been cowed into not being open to life by having a son with a disability. He talked of how this child might be the one who, being younger than our son with Downs Syndrome, might be emotionally closer to him than his siblings that would all leave the nest sooner. I still wanted to fume. “Would you say any of our children were an error?” my husband asked. “No.” I responded, though part of me still wanted to sulk. “We agreed to be clay.” The word reverberated in my head. “Clay.” Not stone.
So when I went to the doctor’s finally, I had squared my shoulders and come up with my joke for how I would tell the world of this baby. “Like last year, I will run the Fall carnival.” I would say. “Like last year, I will have a baby due the same day.” I laughed and suddenly, everything felt as it should. We’d have a new person this fall, there was a great joy to look forward to even as the world of worries lurked around the edges of my mind in the waiting room. College. Diapers for three more years. Four at home. The busy scary sad parts of parenting threatened to crowd out the peace I had found just a few minutes before and then I was called back. I started thinking with pleasure about hearing the swift hummingbird heart beat that never happened. She was gone, with her final lesson, “Celebrate life and live it.”
For the past five months, I had cocooned myself in the caring for my family. It wasn’t that I didn’t take care of the kids or do things, but everything took effort and I seemed to be weighed down by the effort even before I’d begin. Little “Once” as my husband called her, pronounced “Own Say” and meaning 11th, took that weight with her when she left. Today I took my four youngest grocery shopping and yesterday, I played catch until it got dark with three of the olders. Whenever the temptation is to say “No” and hunker down, “Once” reminds me to stand up and say “Yes.” She demands that we keep being clay and keep being shaped by God.
“Once” didn’t need to live long to teach the mystery that all service must be joy, and that our duty to God is to love well, and this is the very least God asks of us. She reminded me that it is no sacrifice to be surrounded by love and that children, all children are the very easiest of crosses that God gives us for our salvation. I’m sorry I didn’t celebrate Once’s life properly in those eight weeks and instead spent much time steeped in “What are we going to do” type thinking. But I look forward to the day when I can say “Thank you” to her, for her teaching and for gracing us with her presence. I look forward to the day when my heart will be as fully open as God intended, and we can be face to face.
Copyright 2009 Sherry Antonetti