Tomorrow would have been my daughter’s seventh birthday, if she’d lived. In many ways I do still think of it as her actual birthday, not an anniversary. She did, after all, actually live, it was only in the moment of being delivered that her heart stopped. She was a part of myself in a way that I don’t think I will ever quiet get right in a poem. After the resuscitation attempt had failed, and I was brought round from the anaesthetic, they lifted her onto me, wrapped in a blanket. Seven years later I can’t remember what colour the blanket was without looking at the photos. I do remember her weight, and how much bigger, though still tiny, she was than I had expected. I remember being surprised that she was an actual, real baby, she was an actual real child and she was so strangely different from Chris and I, a whole entire person of her own, but you could literally see both of us in her and it felt, still feels like, the most incredible miracle. I remember her warmth, she stayed warm for a long time. When I held her, and I felt her warm body through the blanket, I could not accept that she was dead. She didn’t look dead, she looked very peaceful, sleeping, not traumatized at all. I think I once told someone who she’d looked angry when she was born. I don’t know why I did that, because she didn’t. I think I’d been angry, inside, about everything that had happened, and not able to express that. Anyway, she didn’t. She was pale, red-headed, (so much red hair!) long of limb, and incredibly perfect.
Seven years must seem like a long time to people who aren’t grieving. When I look at photos of myself from seven years ago I’m so fresh-faced, so young. I think about how far technology, politics, the world has moved on and it must be, from the outside, a long time. It’s not. not really, except when it is.
This is the first year that Chris and I haven’t been able to get the day off work together for her birthday. I don’t exactly feel guilty, but it does feel like things are changing and every change is difficult to assimilate. Each time we move a step further away from being defined by our grief it is hard. I’m part of a some online baby loss support groups, but I’ve never felt I can properly connect to them. Partly because our story is a whole mess of different traumas (infertility, IVF, recurrent losses, clinical negligence and now childlessness) it’s difficult to find people in similar boats, and partly because the people who have just lost their children are in a different place. They are looking at me and wondering how long they will feel like they do, like I did. I once asked one of my therapists how long grief was supposed to last and was incredulous that I would be crippled by grief for at least two years! It actually took six to feel human again. I had to change almost everything in my life to get away from the, I hesitate to use the word trigger because it feels over used, but that’s exactly what they were, triggers. I left my job working at the hospital where we had problems with our maternity care, I couldn’t walk past the room where we had been treated, I couldn’t do that every day, I couldn’t talk on the phone to the maternity units as if nothing had happened. I was constantly anxious. I had already lost some friendships and felt I needed to distance myself from others, a lot of people I knew couldn’t cope with it all and avoided me or struggled to talk about it with me. Some friends couldn’t cope with the fact that it took over my life and for a long time I couldn’t connect with anyone on anything, they got empathy fatigue. It happens.
This all sounds like a story of woe, which it is, of course. But walking away from that job allowed me to be stronger, allowed me the freedom to breathe and think and allowed me to move forward in a direction that I probably never would have had the guts to go in, before. My marriage is still strong, I have a good life, I love my life and it’s hard to imagine seven years along, it’s hard to remember just how utterly destroyed we were by what happened. Except sometimes it’s not. It’s seven years tomorrow and for the last two weeks I have been waking up at 3am, unable to get back to sleep. My anxiety levels have bubbled up so that I am worrying about my pet rabbits all the time, i am worried my elderly cat is about to die, I am worried about exposing myself and making myself vulnerable on facebook. Through the day I have been absently clock watching, ghost Wendy, heavily pregnant and still unaware of what was coming, has been wandering in and out of my day, doing the things she was then: moaning, gleefully, about how hard it was to get up the stairs with her whale like preportions, she has been setting up the Moses basket, snoozing in the afternoons, sitting in the garden. Present Wendy wants to warn her. But can’t. Nothing can ever change this.
While I was in the wonderful bereavement suite in Leeds, I woke at 3am and watched my daughter illuminated by lamp light. It was unseasonably warm and we had a fan in the room. I remember that. I remember the sound of it. I can hear it now as if it happened yesterday. That isn’t seven years ago. All those people on the support sites that have just lost their children are in the crater of a huge explosion. I am not, but I fall into these debris holes, these pot holes every now and again. I wake at three and I cry quietly for a while, and then I usually write a poem or two. This year I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to write a poem for her, but it’s there, it’s on its way. I miss her. That’s all.