sometimes oxygen needs a map

​It happens when I catch sight of her name – artwork others have made in her honor, or a necklace with her birthstone, or the church bulletin clipping held to the fridge with an alphabet magnet. Or when Rosalyn whispers in awe, “Oh, a baby!” as she marvels at a stranger’s infant. Or when someone says something stupid and insensitive and never seems to realize the damage they’ve done. The world spins and I grip the grocery cart in front of me, trying not to be whipped into a sharp pile of jagged thoughts and spaces in time. I will smile for them but never have the corners of my mouth felt so heavy.

I think about Rosalyn and the sisterhood stolen from her. It cuts me freshly every day.

I think about the number of times I’ll have to forgive the small but wounding transgression that is a pair of eyes darting quickly down to my empty belly and back up to me. As if they’re seeking visual confirmation. Yes, she is gone. Still. Why the fuck are you doing that to me?

I think about the NICU team. And how when it was time to deliver they stood dutifully by the premature bed and equipment, ready to receive a baby they knew they could do nothing to save. They knew and still they came. They couldn’t save her, but perhaps they could save me. Perhaps they could share even a droplet of my agony and grief. How many babies have they seen go from this earth? How many times a day do they feel helpless but gather their strength for the mothers? They knew Margaret Olivia Redmon would make their death toll creep higher. And still they came.

I think about nurse that greeted me in L&D and led me to my room. How she paused after learning I was only 22 weeks along. How I looked at her and said, “I know. It’s OK. Just tell me.” I felt I should comfort her. You’re not the first to break my heart – don’t worry, we can do this.

I think about how badly I wanted a VBAC, but not like this. I think about how much more intensely painful contractions are when there’s no amniotic fluid to cushion the blow. I think about how it took four incredibly skilled medical professionals and countless needles to find a vein for the morphine that did nothing. How I still had to go under anesthesia because I couldn’t deliver the placenta. How it all seemed like a sick cosmic joke and I actually laughed. There comes a point where there’s so much pain coming from too many directions and you just stop feeling.

I think about how she was perfectly fine in there. How her heart kept beating until my body forced her out.

I think about how much time has passed since I last thought about her. It’s getting longer. I think about if that’s good or bad. I think about how people must be getting tired of me. It’s been years after all. No, wait – it’s been a little over two months. Fuck.

I have tried to compartmentalize, tried to keep the wreckage pushed into the corner. Somewhere I can visit when I want to. But somehow I keep stumbling and bruising myself on pieces that have drifted out in the open. I put another band-aid on and drag it back to where it belongs. Lift with your knees, not your back. Before I can return I have to rest, seated amongst the rubble. If I dig deep enough I can still find embers.

There’s nothing else I can do. So I sit and I think.

on mothering margaret 

I made ornaments. For us and for each pair of grandparents. They each contain blanket scraps, a hospital bracelet, and a set of hand and foot prints. They’re beautiful. I loved creating them. It felt so nice to make something for her, to do something for her. My veins frosted over when I realized – it felt like mothering.

Just as I agonized and enjoyed creating a nursery for Rosalyn, I painstakingly selected and placed each flower and leaf for Margaret. Just as I carefully swaddled Rosalyn each night, I delicately tucked Margaret’s footprints into the pieces of her first, last, only baby blanket. I run my fingers through Rosalyn’s dark blonde curls and kiss her pink cheeks; for Margaret I sprinkle iridescent glitter to sparkle in the string of Christmas lights and thread rich red velvet tied in a knot.I cannot clothe or feed or diaper you. I cannot kiss your toes to make you laugh. I cannot spend obscene hours rocking and swaying and soothing red-faced squalls. I cannot wrap you in my arms and tell you how much you matter to your very core. I cannot wipe your snot with my shirt because who gives a fuck about shirts when my entire universe is standing in front of me with a runny nose. 

I cannot do those things, so I guess I do this. It is nothing and it is all I have for you, of you. I have nothing. 

I had often wondered how women were able to labor and birth with the knowledge their baby had died or would soon die after leaving them. How did they walk through that intensity and pain when at the finish line there are only somber faces and gentle hands – no confetti, no victory? How do you birth death? I now intimately understand that you do impossible things for your children. You give what you have and then dig deep to find more. In that moment, your baby needs you. So you mother. 

I would have dedicated my life to your full-bellied goodness. I would have studied and known you deeper than anyone. I would have nurtured your intricate complexities. I would have been your punching bag and whetstone. 

I would have mothered you. 

You were alive. You were here. You matter. 

bandages

I don’t like clutter. Too many things in one space is suffocating. It’s easy for me to get rid of, to make space. But I don’t know what else to do but keep every token, every card as proof of her existence. A headstone doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t fit. She never belonged to this earth, only to me. I keep searching for the right thing to do, the right way to keep her memory beating and breathing. And then it slices me open again. The realization that the real answer, what I really want is to not have to do this at all. For her to be tucked up with my insides, safely cocooned until winter gives way to spring; until the ice melts and bleeds into dandelions. 

I’m not very sad. Not right now. I’m mostly angry. Just so very angry. I want to punch walls, I want to cause damage. I want to take the pain in my body and release it into the wild, inflicting it on the world. The most soothing mantra I can find goes something like, “Fuck this, fuck you, I hate it all – everything.” Why her? I can still feel her kicking inside of me, phantom and cruel. 

When the fury wave passes, the ebb and flow of grief, I find myself on my hands and knees. Picking up the shards and cradling them in my hands. They prick and bleed but I pull them in even tighter. I’m so sorry. I know you’re hurting too. I know, I know. I know. Can you dry tears with glass? I desperately search for some sort of salve to tend to world’s wounds. It stings my raw palms but maybe I need it too? Healing feels traitorous, bandages like straitjackets. 

exist

My life before you never happened and now I’m forced to live without you – how? It’s been four days and I’ve aged years. There was nothing wrong with you. You were perfectly healthy. Bigger and stronger even than what you needed to be at your age. It was my body that failed you. Failed to keep you safe. I would have gone to the edges of the earth to save you, sweet girl. I’m so sorry I wasn’t enough. What else should I have done? Tell me and I will. 

My belly shrinks and my breasts swell – painful, cruel reminders of the baby I can’t nurse. Colostrum like quiet sobs from my body. The sage tea I drink to dry up tastes bitterly of anger. Who the fuck decided I should deal with this right now?

“Sister” guts me; I failed her too. 

I can’t go on like you don’t exist because you did. I can’t go on like you exist because you don’t. Can I go back? I’m paralyzed. 

flesh

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I used to dart past mirrors and shop windows. If I happened to linger too long and catch a glimpse I would pause to rearrange my limbs and stomach into poses and shapes more pleasing to the eye. Most days I would cringe, embarrassed to be seen by even myself. Every once in awhile something magical would happen and I would think to myself, “Ok, it’s not that bad.” I was allowed to be happy for the rest of the day; if I was lucky I might even get to eat without guilt, forgiven for my sins momentarily. 

Now, I laugh as I am poked and prodded, squished like biscuit dough by the curious hands of a toddler. Her eyes are wide and thoughtful as they take in the different shapes and details of my body, her father’s, her own. I draw circles around my stretch marked belly and tell her how she grew there, how her sister grows there now. It has been swollen with hate and emptied out by hate again. But this? This is love. Some fear and trepidation, too – but mostly love. 

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I am not a force of nature, I am Mother Nature incarnate. Minuscule ravines carved out by continuous and determined pressure. Constellations of dimples and pores splayed out. Not smooth but rough like bark; bags under my eyes like the age rings of an oak. 

I make no excuses, no justifications. My body looks like it does because of what it’s made of and what I’ve done in my life. It apologizes to no one. 

(Although, sometimes I do.)

At more than one point in time my skin has burst from the containment of life – another person’s life separate from my own. The magnitude of that is often lost on me but I only need look in the mirror. 

For as much progress we’ve made as a society, we are still very uncomfortable when someone (particularly a woman) doesn’t say sorry for her physical presence. When I talk publicly about my body and my experiences it is often followed by some sort of offer to fix it. “Oh the poor dear, look at her putting on a brave face. Here, I will give her what she really needs.” I have and will always decline your magic potions and pills. You cannot wrap and dehydrate yourself to greatness, to goodness. My heart hurts. We squirm at others because we are at unease with ourselves.

My daughter looks at me with awe. She inspects every freckle, hair, scar, and tattoo – each one receiving the same amount of reverence and fascination. My body is other worldly. Marked and marred, so different from her own brand new blank canvas. Her opinion, unfiltered and unaffected, is the one I take to heart. 

So if you don’t mind, I’ll be over here – a worn, happy bag of bones and torn flesh – occupying space just as I am.

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