One day, several months ago, as we sat in church listening to the sermon, I found myself looking out at some people in the congregation - a father with his son and daughter. The father was wearing glasses, and the son was wearing his glasses (although I've also seen him without them), and the daughter didn't have glasses on. I tried to think whether I'd ever seen her in glasses or heard her mention contacts. The mother of the two kids was not sitting with them - she was sitting with us in the choir - and I know she wears contacts. We occasionally see her in glasses. I only thought about this for a second (not nearly as long as it has taken me to type this).
These thoughts led me to start thinking about genetics, and about how things like poor eyesight make their way from one generation to the next, and I wondered about the baby growing inside me, and whether she would need glasses. Geoff wears glasses. I have had glasses during two different periods of my life, but for eyestrain, not for vision. I guess it remains to be seen whether Katie will need glasses.
And then I started thinking about other members of mine and Geoff's families, and which of them have glasses, when suddenly, as clear as a photograph held right in front of me - no, as clear as a person sitting right in front of me - I had a vision of Stephanie, wearing her glasses, leaning toward me, beaming at me happily and maybe a little conspiratorially, the way she did so many times. And as I saw her, I felt an urgent PLEASE rise up inside me, a plea for Stephanie to be alive, for her death to have been a dream (a nightmare), and for me to have a chance to see her smile at me like that again. And even though I knew, of course, that my plea would not be answered, there was a part of me that kept hoping that somehow I had misunderstood, that even though all these months had passed, that she was really ok, and that her death had never happened.
On a different day, around the end of April, in the last month or so before Annabel was born, I was driving home from work on Lake Shore Drive when I realized that I couldn't remember feeling any major movements from the baby that day. Usually there was a flurry of activity at some point every morning, and again every afternoon, that was so forceful that I couldn't help but stop whatever I was doing to focus completely on the baby in there, to wonder what she was doing, and to be grateful for her existence (but often also to wish that she wouldn't push quite so hard). I couldn't remember any such flurry from that day. There was no such movement right then, either.
I reached down to my belly to feel for her hard shape under my skin. Just there, to the right of my belly button, I felt an expanse of babyness - maybe a back, or a butt, or a head. I pushed on it gently. It didn't push back.
This was normal. She slept, often, so the fact that she wasn't pushing back at me didn't mean anything was wrong. I knew that she was probably just fine. But still. I had a nagging sense that maybe, just maybe, something was wrong.
I pushed again. Nothing. "No." I said. I was alone in the car. I said it out loud anyway. "No. No, no, no, no, no." After a few minutes, I started to cry. "No."
I kept driving, and I kept waiting for movement, and every so often I would push on my belly, and there would be no response (even though each time I could feel some part of her little body in there, under my skin). Even though there was no real reason for it, I felt panic rising inside me. I thought of the day, almost a year before, when we'd gone to the doctor and discovered that I was having a miscarriage; I thought of how the day had been sunny and clear and warm. I thought of how up until that afternoon, there had been nothing to distinguish that day from any other day, no way to know about the grief that I was going to experience before the end of the day. Nothing to warn me that I was going to spend the afternoon sobbing and the next few days despairing. No clues.
"Please," I said. "Please," again, out loud. "Please. Please. Please."
I thought how easily this day could be another day like that day last May, how suddenly, with no warning, this day could turn from ordinary to unforgettable. I thought about how bad things so often do happen that way, coming out of nowhere, slamming you to the ground and knocking the wind out of you. I thought about how so many bad things happen not because we deserve them, but in spite of the fact that probably nobody deserves them. I imagined getting home, telling Geoff, driving to the hospital, discovering that the baby had died, deciding where to go from there (I was eight months pregnant; there would have to be labor and delivery; there would be no miscarriage in the privacy of my own bathtub), and wondering whether I would ever find the strength to try again.
And then, as I drove along, crying and praying and pleading, as I was preparing myself for disaster and despair (it couldn't really have been very long - maybe it was fifteen minutes, or maybe it was only five), she moved, gently, inside me. And then she moved again. And then again, more deliberately, and stronger.
I gasped a huge sigh of relief. "Oh, thank you," I said, still crying (maybe crying harder). "Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
A little over a week ago, at the end of July, we were in Halifax, Nova Scotia, visiting Geoff's family while I was on maternity leave. While we were there, we all drove out to Lawrencetown Beach, to scatter Stephanie's ashes in the ocean, from a beach she loved to visit. There was fog everywhere, and the air was much colder than I'd realized it would be, so before we could walk over to the water, we had to spend a few minutes dressing Annabel more warmly, and putting a jacket on Katie. Geoff strapped on the Baby Bjorn, and we put Annabel into it, and we all walked over to the rocky beach together. As we stood there in the fog and wind, watching what was left of Stephanie's body fall into the water and blow through the air, I did not say "please." I tried, really hard, to think about how glad I was to have known her, to be grateful to have had her as my sister in law and friend, and to feel lucky to have known her. I tried, really hard, to pray "thank you," even though there will always be a part of me, I think, that can't help but say "no."
In the car, driving back into Halifax after we left the beach, Katie (who had sobbed nearly hysterically at the beach) kept asking us to tell her about Stephanie and about how she had died. We did the best we could to explain, again, what had happened, and why, and made sure to let her know that we didn't completely understand it ourselves. Katie started to cry again. "I don't remember her," she said, and cried as if she understood just how much of a loss that was.
Annabel is two months old now, and except for a mild rash on her cheeks, she is completely healthy. For the most part, she is a happy, alert, easily soothed baby, who makes me smile every day. There is a woman at the church who wants to hold Annabel every time we see her. "A healthy baby," she says, "is like winning the lottery." She smiles at us, and tells us how lucky we are. We smile back, and nod, and say that she's right.