I chose to spend the bookstore gift certificate my aunt and uncle gave me for Christmas not on the newest Babysitters Club volume but on a baby name book. Though I was only eleven, I spent hours pouring over the pages of the blue and pink oblong paperback with a stork on the front cover. Everything about names fascinated me – the way they sounded together, their origins, their meanings. And I spent hours making ever changing lists of my top choices for baby names in both the boy and girl categories. If you were my friend I wanted to know what you were planning to name your children when you “grew up”, and I was always pestering my mom with requests to know what she would name the much younger baby brother or sister that I wished she would give me but that she and I both knew would never materialize if she could help it (much to the relief of my younger sister). (I don’t know – I never think about it! Its not on my radar. Come on! You have to have some names you like! Just pick one! Okay, okay. Maybe……Bethany or something.)
Today was supposed to be the day I was training for. Today was the due date (self calculated, of course, since our little pea didn’t stick around long enough to get an official one) for my ill-fated and so very fleeting first pregnancy. A glimmer in time that has changed so much about me – a glimmer that, really only Randy and I and, to some extent, only I could even recognize. People outside of our little twosome knew that I was pregnant because we announced it. And then they knew I wasn’t anymore because we cried out. But there was nothing else to link them to this wisp of a baby-to-be. No ultrasound photos, no swelling baby bump under my shirt. Friends and family were supportive of us – feeling bad for us and what we must be going through – because their link was to us. But I was already linked to the baby and in my deepest moments of sorrow, wished that everyone felt her loss as keenly as I did – not because I wished sorrow on others but because I, like other parents, yearn for my child to matter to the world on her own merits.
I know that my child was not an identifiable baby but a mass of cells, one part indistinguishable from the next, only making it to about 5 weeks gestation. But she was our dream for the future, a melding of our two souls, a being we saw at the moment of conception as a perfectly formed, flower shaped embryo. She was attached to me, having snuggled in to my womb, already relying on me for care and comfort in order to grow her ten little fingers and toes and everything in between. Her loss meant more to me than the drudgery of having to start over with treatments or the extra cost of another cycle of fertility drugs – her loss was personal. I longed for her – for the specific person that she was, and for all that I would never get to do and experience with her. As the months went by and this sensation got stronger I felt a desperate longing for her to have made an impact on more people than just Randy and me. I wanted to legitimize her existence to the world, and also, I suppose, my continuing pain.
My therapist (who specializes in miscarriage and pregnancy loss) has assured me that my pain is normal – that she counsels women who still have similar, albeit less omnipresent pain when thinking about their miscarriages from 15 years ago. She eloquently explained that this particular pain is especially rough because you can’t localize it. It is attached to every fiber of your being and every thought you’ve had about your future. This makes me feel a little bit better, but doesn’t eliminate my self-doubt about the legitimacy of so much lingering pain. I should be over it by now. Other people have had much worse losses than me – losing babies further along, stillbirths, child deaths. People are getting tired of me and my broken record sorrow about a mass of cells that never even had a heartbeat. I’m obviously not ready to be a mother if I can’t even handle something like this.
All the self-doubt in the world, all the self-scolding doesn’t decrease the pain – the hollow, empty, burning that rises in my chest every time I think about it for too long. The tears that lurk behind my eyes, threatening to spill out at any time if I allow my thoughts to drift into that dark territory. Its all there. Every day. Behind the parts of me that get up and go to work and make jokes and sing songs with little girls and sew presents for other people’s babies and work hard at the gym and try new recipes and make plans for home improvement projects. The only thing the doubt and scolding do is add to my pain and trample my wounded self-esteem a little bit more. It’s a cycle that I wish to get out of. A cycle that I feel stupid for having gotten into in the first place. A cycle that is strong and consuming, like an undertow current in the ocean, sucking you in and making you forget everything you’ve learned about how to avoid it.
The undertow of destructive emotions has loomed in my consciousness over the past few weeks as I thought about this day and how I would handle it. It would have been very easy – second nature – to let the waves engulf me and spend the day wallowing in bed, digging myself further into the undertow. But Randy and I were both gripped with a small glimmer of something – a need to make more out of the day. A desire to honor the memory of our child rather than disgrace it by surrendering to self destruction. A yearning to be around things that are growing and healthy in the midst of all of the death of winter. And so we made a plan. We decided to go to Krohn Conservatory to drink in the blossoming growth and life. And we decided to name our child – something we would have been doing today if we were instead at the hospital welcoming our baby into the world. Something that felt a little funny to us at first, but that now seems like an imperative – a given. If I want to honor my child and legitimize her brief existence – she should have a name at the very least. A name we can hold on to and say to ourselves in the middle of the night and remember our child by- as something real.
During our drive to the conservatory we discussed names. We both felt like our baby was a girl – maybe because she really was, or maybe because we both picture ourselves with a daughter. And since we get to decide in this instance, we have proclaimed her a girl without any debate or hesitation. We both wanted the name to have meaning for us, and we have decided that our little sweet pea will be remembered (by us, at least) as Vivienne Estelle, because it means “lively star”. And we have chosen a star to stand in as our visual memorial to her – a very bright star in the Virgo constellation. We considered other memorials – planting a tree is common – but a tree could die or we could move away from it. The star will be constant, and viewable from wherever we may happen to be in the world. I don’t know if others will understand our motivations behind all of this – but its what we felt we needed to do.
And we needed this day – as hard and sad as it was. It also proved to be deeply therapeutic and beautiful in ways we never imagined. The sun finally graced us with its life-affirming presence after close to a month, radiating positive energy and a sense of well-being that helped us more than it seems possible. When I picked up Randy from the Carew Tower he surprised me with four roses – one for each embryo we lost this year. Not usually being a flower-giving kind of couple, the gesture meant all the more. When we returned home this evening we were greeted by our neighbor who was in custody of flowers that had been delivered to the house while we were out. The living, potted flowers were sent to us by sweet, considerate Kara who understands our struggle on this day and our need to feel like our pain is legitimate to people other than ourselves. I cannot overstate the depth of my gratitude for this kind and selfless gesture. Moments like this remind me that I should be more supportive of others when they are going through rough times – because it means so much to know that others are in your corner.
More flowers- and vines and trees and waterfalls and turtles -were waiting for us at the 77 year old conservatory where we wandered, sat, marveled, breathed, and basked. Stepping into that building is like leaving winter and visiting summer for a short while. It was the perfect place to go on a day like today and we plan to make it an annual tradition on the 28th of January.
We ended the evening with a cupcake. Another of Randy’s surprises – he bought the mini red velvet cake downtown and presented it to me when I pulled up in front of his building. “I thought we needed a little birthday cake,” he said as he handed me the cupcake in its little plastic holder. Those words stole whatever composure I had at the time and we had to switch positions in the car so that he could take the wheel and I could cry my eyes out. But the tears then, as they were all day today, were not the same desperate, wallowing, despairing tears that often poison my eyes. They were therapeutic and cleansing. They were tears for our baby but they were also tears of gratitude that I am blessed with such an amazing person to be my partner through life. A person who, though he has been the solid one keeping us afloat during this storm, had tears in his eyes as he presented the cupcake and later as he told me the names he had researched for our almost-daughter. We clung to each other today, thankful we have each other and that our bond has only strengthened through these trials.
As I think about today I am so glad that we chose to make something beautiful of it instead of sitting in the dark, cursing our misfortune. I’m still gripped by sadness and I know I’ll continue to struggle. But when I look back on this day in the coming months and years, I can look back with pride and self-respect. We did the right thing by our daughter and by our little family. Am I glad we went through these trials? Grateful for what they taught us? Not yet – maybe not ever. Do I think it was all for a greater purpose that will be revealed later? No – though I wish I did, because I think that would be an easier pill to swallow. I think its all meaningless and I think Vivienne should have lived to become our daughter and snuggle in our arms, run through the grass in our back yard, and torture our cats as her little grubby hands sought to explore the world through grabbing. I think Randy and I should have become parents four years ago when we first stared trying – like so many other people who seem to have no more merit in the world than we do. Like so many people who never even wanted children or don’t have the resources to care for them. We do not have a rosy outlook or philosophical understanding about our circumstances. Rather, we have decided to try and rise above them when we can, and honor the memory of our daughter, Vivienne Estelle, despite them.