Sunday, May 22, 2011

How many children do you have?

[Note: if you are pregnant and prone to worrying, maybe don't read this one...]

Well, it seems that I am back from my blogging hiatus. I took this time for a number of reasons: my work has been swallowing me whole since about the first week of May, it is the end of my school semester, family was in town. There is another reason, though, for this hibernation of sorts: Mother’s Day. And if truth be told, I have been working on this blog for over two weeks, writing and rewriting, holding off on posting.

Every year I start thinking about (over-thinking, really) Mother’s Day. Prior to 2005, I had somehow always managed to tune out the advertising in regards to holidays like this one (I would also include Valentine’s, St. Patrick’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparent’s Day on this list). This has not always worked out in my favor – I almost never remember to send the right cards at the right time. I am a total let down to Hallmark.

Mother’s Day, however, since I had my first child six years ago, is impossible to forget. As it nears, I start getting a little panicky. Here is why: on Mother’s Day, in my experience, people see a woman with a child (or even without a child) and ask, “Are you celebrating today?” or some variation on that question. If you have a child with you, they ask, “Is this your only one?” or “How many children do you have?” Mostly these are older people – they are grandparents and great-grandparents. They mean these questions kindly, if somewhat patriarchally (i.e. main underlying assumption: women your age, scratch that, ALL WOMEN should have children).

I try to answer these questions kindly, but to be truthful, I have issues with them – first of all, what exactly are we celebrating on Mother’s Day that we shouldn’t be celebrating every other day of the year? Mom’s are great – and whether you are one or not, you know one. Non-moms are also great – and they have probably had a hand in the raising of many children, whether or not they get officially recognized for it. They are important parts of the lives of children. And hey, if a woman chooses not to be, that’s great too. And frankly, if we are going to celebrate mothers, wouldn’t it make sense to also celebrate non-mothers? They pick up a lot of the slack that mother’s have to put down when we pick up our children…I digress.

Here is my other issue with the “How many children do you have?” question. I don’t know how to answer it. Usually I just smile politely and say “two”. But in my head I hear, “three”. And this is the reason that I hibernate during the Mother’s Day season – when I was 28 weeks pregnant with my first child, I found out that she had died. Chloe was born still February 12, 2005. She was due May 5. That first Mother’s Day rolled around, and it was like a kick in the teeth.

Six years and a little bit later, I still have this kicked-in-the-teeth reaction on Mother’s Day - I am just better at hiding it. To be frank, I still have this reaction to a lot of things having to do with pregnancy. Friends of mine will tell you that, when they are pregnant, I call them at some point in their pregnancy with a slightly panicky “talk” about warning signs for stillbirth. I only do this with my really, really good friends. Most women would probably take offense at something like this. Pregnancy is meant to be a time of joy, of looking forward – there is little room for fear. And unless you’ve had a pregnancy loss, it is hard to understand why someone would be telling you the things I tell my dearest friends.

I, on the other hand, have a mantra – and I said it to myself (many times a day) in my two subsequent pregnancies. “There is no baby here, until there is a baby here”. Until H was born, I didn’t wash baby clothes, I didn’t unpack baby toys. We didn’t name him, we hardly talked about him at all. Given my experience, until that baby was screaming in my arms, I was not going to act with hubris. I don’t even believe in god(s), but I certainly wasn’t going to tempt any either. I digress again.

Each Mother’s Day since I lost Chloe has gotten a little easier. The ache in my heart is a little less – my perfect, known-yet-unknown daughter feels more magical, less real. Also, I now have these two exuberant little boys in my life, and I know that had I had Chloe, H and N would probably not be here today. Some other lovely children would be, but not H and N, and that is too unbearable even to consider.

This year, though, was a particularly rotten year. Three women – two I knew and one I came to know later – lost babies very late in their pregnancies or just after birth. Each one was like a knife in my heart. And even though the circumstances were different for each woman, losing a baby so late in a pregnancy, when you have passed over the imaginary danger zone of three months, then four months, then five, then six, then seven…closer and closer to your prize…leaves you with the feeling that that child is standing just beyond reach, like if you turned, very quickly, you might see her playing, laughing.

So when you ask me, “How many children do you have?” I will say, two, but in my head I will say three.

We miss you Chloe, Ruby, Vivianne, and Jacob.

So, you see, this is what I have learned from my Chloe - no matter where I go, I am always accompanied by children. My own and the children of others - those we see right in front of us, and those dancing on the periphery who, no matter how slowly you turn to try and catch them, will never fully be seen or known. So, love them. That's pretty much the heart and soul of what losing Chloe taught me.

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