messages for mama

We sat across the table from one another as strangers and sisters. She had emailed me to say Thank you for helping me feel like I’m not alone. I’m pregnant with triplets but we just learned our one girl is slipping away, and we’re so sad, just when we’d bought the stroller for three.

I wrote back to say where are you? Turns out she was a short drive away in Halifax, hearing sad news from the very doctors who gave us the same. I walked in and scanned each table, a blind date for all intents, and saw her almost immediately smiling at me, blooming in a way that attracts public enthusiasm.

"I don’t know what to tell people," she said, after we were settled. "The doctors tell me to say it’s twins but I can feel her in there, kicking beside her brothers. She’s right up here, you know (resting her hand on the top of her roundness), and I want to say ‘She is here too, and we want her so much, and we’re proud of her.’ But we’re losing her and there’s nothing I can do."

I could think of everything and nothing to say to her. We sat together, Ben in my arms, and then Ben in her arms. She glowed with anticipation as he wriggled and gurgled, propped on the shelf of her beloved three. Since then she has written me with the news that her baby girl has gone, to be born still, alongside (god tinkering madly) two brothers. She wrote to me today:

I had a dream last night. I dreamt that I was having the c-section and the two beautiful boys were there, safe and sound. And then they took a young fawn out of my belly. The fawn slowly found her legs and went away. I woke up feeling peaceful for the first time since we were told our news. I am not sure what it means but it brought me comfort. My husband thinks it means her spirit is now free.

Stepping into parenthood, we are all blindfolded until we come out the other side. Of every hundred, one or two of us disappear into an abyss. I don’t do too well with silence, tending to fill it with chatter. But you and I, the other one or two, we speak with eyes and mouths and heart-memory and vibration, sending back and forth to one another yes, yes, I know this, and it is mine, and yours, and we share it together through a link more powerful than what else we may or may not have in common.

After I die I will become this mama, this mama right now, crossing the good end of the River Styx with one foot up on the bow, empty mai-tai wrap around my waist, looking off to the horizon and on my way to be with Liam, to feed and burp and pat his rump and coo in his ear, to fulfill my purpose. I am not afraid anymore because I will have a job to do, breasts decades younger and ready for him, heavy with milk.

You look at me and smile. You know there’s a wondrous sort of peace to feeling this way, that it’s not blackness at all. You know what it means to be a forever-mama to all our children, even to those who never made it outside. I’m so happy to know you, just to know you’re out there, sharing dreams.

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Since before losing Liam I’ve puzzled at this almost frantic compulsion to get pregnant again as quickly as possible. Fear, such intense fear, and dread and lack of confidence in my body as a safe vessel; guilt at what this desire implies to Ben, as though he is not enough as one; guilt for what this desire implies to Liam, as if he is replaceable.

Even with the freshest of slates, getting pregnant requires a huge leap of faith. You may have a glorious labour and a robust baby only to have that same child become sick ten years later. Or, twenty years later, fall in with a bad crowd and become addicted to some vice and break your heart. To become a parent is to become unspeakably vulnerable, but there can’t be true joy, or discovery, or growth, without risk. Everyone knows this, senses it on some primal level—but parents like us know it so much more vividly, having been struck by lightening.

Bitter bravado, and hope, and fear, and irrational babylust tethered together. Here’s hoping they can stew companionably for at least a couple of years yet.