At a friend’s house last week I ran into a mama from my pregnancy support circle. Our due dates had been days apart. We recognized each other, but it took some time for us to remember where we had met. With her baby girl in her lap, she asked about Ben. She asked how I was. I could tell she wanted to know and wasn’t simply asking to be polite. I could feel the relief of the conversation in my body and realized how often people turn away or change the subject. They don’t know what to say or do, and I am left to stand alone with my dead baby cooties. I play that game well but it sends an ache deep into the marrow of my bones. I can be interested in your baby, but it’s hard for you to be interested in mine. You don’t want to know what it felt like to hold him, to trace the lines of his tiny body and touch the papery softness of his purple skin. You can’t see that his nose was perfect but his eyelashes weren’t yet there. He is not here for me to bounce in my lap, put to my breast, trade sleep and poop and teething stories about. He is not here for you, but he is for me.
Last night, I sat at the dinner table with my sister-in-law and her friend, both with their second babies on their laps. I could have joined the conversation but it was clear that I was not part of the new baby club. It’s a bummer to hear from the woman whose child died when you’re in the throes of pregnancy or life with a newborn. I feel that in my core and it’s often a difficult decision whether to speak up or hold my tongue. I’ve quieted the room enough times to know that sometimes, it’s easier to walk away. I did deliver my new quick answer when someone at the park asked if Ada was my only child. She is my only living child, yes. It still ended the conversation.
Today I spoke of Ben with my brother’s friend as we drove to pick up lunch. We met last year at the graduation picnic, the weekend I went to the Berkeley ER with a sudden, violent bleed. I talked, as I do, about how hard it has been and how grateful I am that my life has changed because of it. He understood. As a teenager an accident almost killed him and the trajectory of his life was altered. The energy of feeling understood and not pitied stayed with me for hours.
Life is changing at a rapid pace right now. I am excited and exhausted. I am pushing myself to new thresholds, knowing that I will come out the other side transformed. But no matter who I am, or what I do, for the rest of my life, Benjamin will be a part of me. The ache of losing him comes and goes, the intensity of grief varies. I hope that wherever I am in my life, I am able to be the one who hears without pitying, who asks without cringing, for many others, whatever their stories.