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January of 2010 was the beginning of my new life. When we found out Calla had died, I stopped understanding language for a short while; when they told me I'd have to deliver a dead baby, I couldn't make those words work in a sentence together. When C told me it was really real, I knew it was true, because he would never lie to me, but, again, it didn't compute.
After she died I never thought I'd smile, or be happy, or be a whole person ever again. I remember coming home and posting something on FB, only because everyone there knew I was pregnant, and I couldn't bear anyone asking about the baby. I remember crying myself to sleep, crying myself awake in the morning, crying in the shower, the bathroom, the car, while doing laundry . . . I just knew I'd never smile or be happy again. How could I?
I was totally wrecked in so many ways. I'd pushed my dead daughter out of my body--how could I ever forgive my physical self for that? I remember saying some crazy things in the hospital, things about all that work, getting fat, being in pain, for nothing. Looking back I almost feel ashamed. But in those moments, it was my truth. I felt cheated and stung and I didn't know how to process what was happening.
C said it perfectly, that no one should know what it feels like to hold their dead child.
In fact, I don't really remember wanting to be happy at all. I couldn't eat, I could barely sleep, I hated myself, my brain and my body. I drank. A lot. I bought tons of clothes I didn't need and didn't fit into, but those packages arriving every day were a distraction from the knife in my throat. C and I would go out to dinner, and I would squeeze myself into some semblance of a normal outfit. We'd cry. Just look across the table at each other and shake our heads and drop our eyes.
We also had E. Who, at the time, was 18 months old. Which meant I couldn't just stay in bed all day, no matter if I wanted to or not. And while I hesitate to place all my happiness on my child, he truly saved me. I do not say that lightly. He needed me to be his mother, even though I was desperately sad. And so I acted like his mother, showed up, played trucks. Amazingly, just by acting like a normal mother again helped me almost feel like one again, eventually.
So where am I now?
That's a difficult question for me to answer. In so many ways, in a much better place. One day, a few months out from Calla's birth, I laughed. Really, really hard. I don't remember at what, but I instantly felt both guilty and relieved. To be honest, hardcore grieving is exhausting work. Necessary and inevitable work. And that laugh was building up for a long time. After that I laughed a little more, more often, all while still being bone-deep devastated.
Also, I became pregnant with our third child, baby O, just two months after Calla died and was born. And their birthdays are exactly 10 months apart. To the day. Which is . . . an emotional challenge. So 2010 was a year-long adventure in grief, anxiety, disbelief, heartbreak and joy.
Much like the rest of my life is shaping up to be.
Right now, I work on balancing my sadness with the happiness in my life. It feels like I think of Calla nearly every minute of every day. People tell me all the time that baby O looks so much like his older brother. Calla was a dark/curly-haired girl, but I wonder if those dark curls would have given way to shiny blonde hair like E. I wonder what my life would be like with one truck-loving three-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old girl who is so into . . . what?
It makes me sad that she's not here with us. It makes me deliriously happy that baby O is here, he made it here safely, he brings so much joy to our lives. It makes me confused, often, that this is my life. It hurts when people refer to O as our "second." It makes my heart feel warm when someone talks about Calla, asks how I'm doing, lets me know I'm not the only person who remembers her.
I remember those early, dark days after Calla's birth with a mix of dread and, well, possibly fondness? Only because I was closer to her, closer to the rawness of her birth then. We are moving forward as a family, and while we all get older and evolve, she'll always be a bitty baby. That's a hard truth for me.
But overall I feel better about LIFE, not better about her death. Her death will always be a terrible part of my history. I will love and miss her forever. But she's a part of our family, in a way I never could have imagined. I can laugh again. I can eat again. I find joy in every day, probably more now than ever before. I am not a perfect parent, despite my best efforts.
Emotionally, I am beginning to heal. And healing does not mean "getting over it" or forgetting her. It just means, to me, that I can look at the butt ruffle on a pink baby swimsuit without hyperventilating. I can look at the older boy/younger girl families and not want to run into traffic. But like I said, I'm still at the beginning. So many everyday-life-type things bring the tears flooding back; somedays a sparkly sneaker is all it takes to send me diving under the covers. And yet, that's okay, too.
So much love to any and all who walk this path, no matter where you may be. Know that I'm holding your hand along the way, and please hold mine back.