Our last Fourth of July family croquet tournament was two years ago (a bi-annual event). I was about twelve weeks pregnant with Nelle. She should be a toddler running around this year. Or Iris would be almost a year old. Instead, I attend the event, 33 weeks pregnant with Baby Three. A large gathering from two different sides of the family. Many I only see once every two years, at this event. In the days leading up, I wonder. Will they remember that I was pregnant? Do they know? Will they say something?
Activity scares me. Too much time on other things, not enough time focused on movements and then I hurry to lie down and do my kick counts. Being away from home, away from my hospital scares me, even though it shouldn’t at this point. Gatherings exhaust me, with a constant influx of well-meaning “How are you doing? How are you feeling?” that I don’t want to or don’t know how to answer. It’s usually a generic “I’m fine” rather than an entire revelation of how I actually feel.
In 2011, the day before the croquet tournament, I wrote the following: The next generation is growing. I remember three years ago… I had miscarried about 10 days before the tournament. Ger and I still attended – after all, it is a big family reunion every year, with my aunt and uncle and their siblings, nieces and nephews from both sides of the family. My aunt’s niece from the other side of her family was there, with her 3-day-old baby. I remember it being almost unbearable. I couldn’t go near that baby without tears stinging my eyes, so fresh from my own loss. Last year, the little girl was 2, Theo was 10 months, there was a new baby boy, and another woman on the other side of the family, 7 months pregnant. This year, a 3 year old, Theo at 21 months, a 1 year old. And the woman who was expecting lost her baby – two weeks before her due date. As I think about these little toddlers who will be roaming tomorrow, I cannot imagine her pain – her loss. I remember back three years ago when I could hardly stand to look at the newborn without thinking of my own loss and what was not there for me. What will that day be like for her? What do I say? I do not know here that well – last year’s event was the first time we had met. I want to tell her how sorry I am for her loss without it sounding cliche. And maybe since months have passed it will simply be another day but still… In my heart I will be empathizing.
I have now joined her in that revolving external world of Planet My Baby Died. I know that it is never “just another day.”
At one point, I walked away from the crowd and the croquet field, back up the steep driveway to my aunt’s house. I heard some noise behind me and turned to see both Theo and Quentin following, big smiles on their faces. I made a quick decision and told them we were going to take a little walk. We followed the path that led behind the house. “Where are we going?” Theo wanted to know. I told him that sometimes when people die, we turn their bodies into ashes. And that sometimes people keep the ashes in a pretty vase, called an urn. And sometimes people take the ashes to someplace special and scatter them, and that’s what we did with our babies and also great-grandpa. Theo then demanded to know why some people are cremated and some are buried in a grave, and I told him that everyone chooses and they have to let their family know what they want. I told Theo that someday, Daddy and I want our ashes to be in this same place, if that is possible.
My two little boys walked hand in hand as we approached the sheltering oak. I haven’t been back to the tree since we took Iris’s ashes over a year ago. There is a bench, and we sat for a few minutes. The sky was so blue and the sun was shining. I asked my girls to please watch over this new baby; that all I want is a healthy delivery. We only stayed for a few minutes.
Upon returning to the field as we encountered other guests, Quentin kept saying “Mommy, tell them what we did.” No amount of hinting would quiet him, but talking about it in the immediate aftermath made me feel robbed of the private moment that was supposed to be only about me, and then only about me and them when I discovered that they had followed me. I probably should have said slyly “It’s a secret!” and then Quentin would have focused on the excitement of keeping a secret.
At the end of the day, I gave my 97-year-old grandmother a goodbye hug, and as we broke away from the embrace, she said “You’re going to have a beautiful baby, I just know it.”
Home again now, desperately exhausted. But lying down, trying to nap, I am instead struck again by an attack of anxiety over the upcoming remaining weeks. It is paralyzing. I wrote this instead. I cried. My hot tears made me feel warm in the dark bedroom, and suddenly it feels cramped and stifling. Have I felt the baby move enough in the past hour? Did I feel enough movement on the trip? What if I want paying enough attention and missed something? Weeks have turned into days, every day a little closer but still and insane tug-of-war between fear and requisite planning. My compassionate doctor told me a month ago to do one small thing every day to bring me some joy. Sitting under that tree, with all of my children around me? That was my joy for that day. Remembering that moment? While also my sadness, that was my joy for today.