Written by SK Reid
I opened it just a crack.
Because what happens if you inadvertently tear off scar tissue covering pain and grief, the intensity of which you didn’t think you could survive?
It rips up scars covering old wounds that have been painstakingly placed at arm’s length. It brings them all crashing down upon you like a rickety old bookcase filled with a lifetime of dusty old books and pages of unspoken memories.
It throws you to the floor.
It steals your breath away.
It leaves you paralyzed. Unable to move. As if to move is to wrench every shattered dream and lost hope up from the depths to punish you with the sting of a thousand needles.
So I had left it closed, the terror of fresh hurt reason enough to keep it under lock and key in the vault.
Until one day.
One day, I opened it just enough to let the light in.
What happens when you let a little light in and see things differently?
What happens if I begin to see a world where there is family?
I could almost feel the plump weight of this bundle of joy in my arms; baby skin, soft and warm to the touch, smooth with the promise of a future to grow into.
We had miscarried once already. Our precious IVF baby. I nearly died from a broken heart. Literally. After months of soul searching, spiritual open-heart surgery, of gluing the pieces of ‘me’ back together, one broken piece at a time, I somehow managed to create the strength to contemplate the possibility of trying to get pregnant again. Because this time, I knew in my heart-of-broken-hearts that it would work, that I would carry my baby to term.
This took enormous courage to even consider going through IVF again. IVF is an emotional rollercoaster ride of extreme hope for a family of one’s own, pitched against the high risk of anguish and despair. Despite the many myth-conceptions about IVF, couples desperate for a child will go to great lengths to have what, it would seem, many people take for granted – the privilege of a family of one’s own. From a young age, we learn that we will get a job, find our ‘soul mate’, and start our own family when we grow up. It is the oldest roadmap in the world. Yet, for some souls in our midst, this road is strewn with land mines and heartache.
My emotional courage was to be sorely tested once again. Rather than contemplating whether the embryo transfer had been successful, I found myself instead contemplating my mortality with the shocking diagnosis of hormone-receptor positive breast cancer. Hormone-receptor positive cancer is great for treatment options but bad for babies and IVF: my hopes for a child borne through IVF were dashed once and for all. Nor could we adopt – a cancer diagnosis precludes you from consideration for over 5 years, no matter the stage or type of cancer. To say this plunged me into a state of despair is something of an understatement. Ironically, the reason for rejecting potential parents from adoption is the very basis for consideration in surrogacy – parents who have had cancer are regarded as ideal candidates and account for a significant number of people who consider surrogacy as their only option for creating a family – a fact lost opponents of surrogacy. It’s curious that the most vocal of the opponents of surrogacy typically hail from the smug advantage of never having gone through IVF nor been denied the privilege of a family of their own. They assert we see children as a ‘right’ when in fact, we see what they can’t seem to: that having children is a privilege. Ironically, we seldom hear from these self-declared arbiters of ethics and morality about the rights of children naturally born into abusive and neglectful families.
Our surrogate had walked away last time, understandably overwhelmed by the enormity of the journey we had begun. But it broke my heart yet again. And so, when she came back to us, I was enormously skeptical and protective of my bruised and battered emotions. But in the end, the possibility of a baby of my own proved too compelling a need to turn my back on.
The shift happened incrementally. As each week went by, I let go of the fear, ever so slightly, and allowed hope back into my heart, just as I had done before.
The plan was she would come and stay with us for a few days, once the baby was born, to lend a helping hand to the new mum.
There was the baby shower that the birth mother was organizing for us.
And we had photos and a recording of the sound of his tiny little heart beating.
And seeing the birth mother’s tummy grow was unbelievably exciting.
Hopes for the brightest of futures were infused into that growing little person.
I allowed myself the luxury of imagining how our life would change after October.
Just as last time, a friend is having a baby; hers is also due in October. I couldn’t wait to share our news that her little one might have a friend to play with.
Just like it was last time, our little baby boy is due around the anniversary of a death – of Dad’s death.
Just as it had been last time, it felt like it may have been a sign.
I could not imagine in a million years that this may also be an ominous sign.
Because we had chosen his name.
If we have named you,
how can you not come home to us?
Then the nightmare begins.
A new nightmare.
There are complications.
The placenta is in the wrong place.
It is pushing down.
It is telling her body she is ready to give birth.
But he is strong. Fighting. He is holding on.
Now I must push aside my visions of my plump bundle of joy and contemplate something I never thought in my darkest days I may have to consider: that the beautiful soul who is helping us become parents may lose her own life, and whether to resuscitate a pre-term baby, to weigh up the odds of the chance of a severely disabled child versus the terminal certainty of a late-stage extinguishment.
Or holding on, holding out and hoping and praying for the best.
My head is bursting while my heart is breaking, and I feel my world spinning out of control once again.
But the miracle of life and the brilliance of nature’s positive feedback loop pushes you into the world too soon, and slowly you drift into the forever sleep, never to wake. Our little man’s eyes will now never open, never to see the light of day.
There is a quietness now. The quietness of the silence of your heartbeat, no longer beating with the promise of life unfolding. The quietness of the house was soon to be filled with the bursting joy of the miracle of new life and never a moments rest. ‘There’s no rest with a new baby,’ they say. ‘You don’t know what tired is until you have children.’ Lucky me. Now I have the luxury to rest into the darkening days of emptiness, resting into a hollow, vacant future.
And I’ve seen the writing on the wall.
It’s lifetimes of endings waiting in the wings, endings no longer softened by the promise of new life and joy of a family of one’s own.
Meanwhile, reminders of family bombard me from all directions. That wall is incessantly decorated by the joy of others parading their pictures of happy families all over social media. I can’t look, and all I can see with my sad and tired eyes is an unacknowledged privilege, the very same privilege I long for.
And if that sounds harsh, imagine, if you will, how harsh, it feels to sit in the company of women friends who know of my anguish, yet laugh about the exploits of their children and how, no matter the age of the child, one will ‘always be a mother.’
This is the constant torment that I can never shield myself from, no matter how hard I try or how many protective buffers I put in place.
The morning, previously filled with the sounds of birds greeting the sunshine after the cold, rainy weather of the last few days, is now overcast. The chill of winter matches the chill in my heart.
How many times can one’s world fall apart?
There is a powerful momentum in pregnancy, in unfolding life, a forward-moving velocity, gathering pace and strength as it gathers in magnitude and imminence.
His life is extinguished, but our bodies, our worlds, are caught up in that forward movement, reeling, spinning as we are catapulted, now, toward a darkening and empty landscape.
This actually breaks you. Breaks me. It actually smashes to smithereens the flimsy structure that my patched-together sense of reality is based on.
Flimsy…. More like, fragile. Too many losses. Too many heartbreaks. Body heavy. Soul empty. Sense of purpose deplete. Wondering what the point of it all is.
Not even wondering.
And I have tried movement. As antidote. As therapy. To lift the depression.
But after movement comes stillness.
And in the middle of stillness lies the hurt.
“You’ll get through this,” a friend said.
It was said with love and a generous heart.
I know she means well.
But will I? How can she know, I am wondering? Does she possess some superpower, perhaps a crystal ball? Is she familiar with this path of wanting what many people seem to take for granted? Or of having your dreams smashed apart time and time again and how greatly this wears you down over time? How can she know? Even if she has experienced miscarriage, she still has children.
This is a significant distinction.
Maybe she is right. Maybe I will.
Or maybe she is wrong.
What does it even mean to “get through this” anyway?
You survive until you die.
So, from that perspective, I guess she is right.
But is she?
Make no mistake.
A devastating loss such as this triggers an inner avalanche, an emotional paradigm shift of epic proportions. Cumulative, cataclysmic, and disorienting, turmoil of this nature can become fatal if not navigated with care and precision. I have seen too many people not survive and wind up as a suicide statistic, their life nothing more than a mere blip on some random page in a history book.
Can we always make such assured assumptions as to the ‘cope-ability’ of another? I, for one, know that had I that kind of insight, some of my dearest loved ones would be alive today. Indeed, so too might many others be alive today had their tribe had such insight.
Depression. Grief. Profound sadness. I know the routine.
Muster the energy to move, get dressed, go out, seek joy in sunshine and nature, and things that might make you smile. Rebuild strength bit by bit. Find a way back to laughter, albeit forever tinged with loss and the faint but permanent shadow of existential angst. Knowing that even if we wanted to go through finding another surrogate, we would be looking not just at an enormous cost but at least another 18 months before the possibility of a child might become a reality. The tests, the counselling, the doctor’s appointments. Could I put myself through that again? In truth, I do not think I could.
This was my last opportunity.
So not only are we dealing with grief that our little man will lie sleeping in the ground, but we are also grappling with the knowledge that the small window of opportunity for becoming parents has now closed.
That is an enormous issue to fathom.
Get through this?
I won’t have our child’s wedding to look forward to.
The grandkids to enjoy.
Tell me how I will cope with that – or how you yourself might cope with that – then maybe you can teach me how to…
There will always be melancholic regret and sadness, even on happy days.
No matter how well I may have managed to ‘get through.
Because I know what grief is like, and I know what path lies before me.
…….And there will always be forever etched in my mind’s eye the image that came to me, the night before he died, of his little face, in utero, turning towards me, opening his eyes, looking directly into my soul for the briefest of moments.
But we have named you,
how could you not come home to us?
Goodnight, little man.
Tomorrow we will place your tiny little body into the ground.
In a tiny white casket.
Tomorrow we bury the promise of your life, our future, and all of our hopes and dreams.
Tomorrow we bury your tiny little hand that I was going to take in mine, to hold throughout this journey called life.
A journey your little, tiny feet will now never know, on a path that you will never walk.
Goodnight, our sweet little man.
May you rest peacefully, gently enveloped in arms of love that carry you, on angel wings, up into heaven’s bright light.