Motherhood Uncut: Caitlin

From the very first scan, my pregnancy with Jamie was marked by intense highs and lows. 

I lost my breath the first time I saw the shape of the human growing away within me. The heartbeat was so strong! There was the proof; a child was growing inside me! As the technician continued to make her measurements my delight turned to worry. “Abnormal”, she pronounced as my heart sank into the cold linoleum floor. 

The nuchal measurement put the baby at a high risk of having a chromosomal abnormality. But a following NIPT pronounced I was carrying a boy, and that so far, he seemed perfectly healthy. I leapt around the house and sung to my belly in the shower.

My elation was short lived. We spent the next six months searching desperately for more moments of joy we could cling to, as every subsequent scan revealed something new, something puzzling, something “wrong” with him. 

I’ve lost track of the tests that were run, and the weeks in between when we waited for answers and gritted our teeth in agonizing worry. The doctors had a strong hunch but could never give us a definitive answer, so we carried on as I grew more round, praying against all the surmounting odds that they were wrong. 

And then all too quickly at 26 weeks, our baby boy lay still inside me. 

I had to wait two more days at home until I could deliver him in hospital. So I waited and wondered, what exactly did giving birth mean now? I announced his name as surely as if he had whispered it into my ear, claiming his place among the real and realized. 

The next morning I tried walking to pass the strange hours, but the stillness in my belly was an unnatural and unbearable weight. I collapsed on a bench by the foreshore after a mile, exhausted, and called to be rescued by car. 

What was heavier, his lifelessness or our grief? Both were caught in limbo before the threshold of my body, thrown into it’s quiet chaos. 

I was cracked open. 

It is hard to remember the details of his tiny face, after the gentle push that unfolded him wordlessly to the world and into my disbelieving arms. Yet now he is as solid a presence as my little girl, inscribed on my being, bearing down on my bones in the early hours of each morning.  

During my second pregnancy, whenever anxiety or impatience threatened to overwhelm me, I would close my eyes to a vision of both my babies. The one gone from me and the other yet to be born. Standing waist deep in the sea I hold both their beautiful, slippery bodies to my own, as the waves and the sun shower and encircle us. 

As my partner and I waited for even more answers and dreamed of another baby, we did our healing. Which looked pretty messy on my part now that I reflect back. At one point I secretly wished my doctor would pronounce that I could never have children again. Wouldn’t that be a great insurance against repeating this kind of pain? I wanted an out.

There was plenty of information and support for parents facing the loss of a child available to us, and as grateful as I was, I didn’t want any of it. No one told me his death would feel like a failure, that it would feel like my failure. I would find myself full of guilt, apologizing in my head to my partner; I couldn’t save, protect, or grow our baby. It was the shame that was most painful. It would come crashing in following a night of a few too many wines, or stealthily, as I sat at my office desk, not on maternity leave. It was a nameless, primal thing, until I finally spoke it aloud to a very good counselor. 

It has taken some work to wash that shame from me, even after learning that Jamie’s genetic condition was incredibly rare and completely random. It is true too that his loss overshadowed my second pregnancy. While I was joyful, that joy was muted; overshadowed by the fear I felt as I approached each scan. I was surprised by bouts of depression even though everything was going just fine. I realized that this baby was not a replacement for my son, and so I let myself sob into his stuffed teddy one night. Growing and mourning all at the same time, I wanted to make sure my daughter felt my fidelity to her and not my fear. 

I kept saying to my friends who asked, “I won’t believe it’s alright until she is safe in my arms”. Except even when she was in my arms I still could not believe it. She took early to smiling, and then and only then, did I start to sink into true relief. 

Even though I get to cuddle a seemingly perfect being each day, I can still feel that fear about having another baby. I couldn’t receive this blessing twice! Something is bound to go wrong again. That little voice will never go away. Yet her birth has also brought me a new courage and a dauntlessness I didn’t have before being brought past the limits of what I thought I could bear. My broken heart said “never again” after Jamie. My ever-healing one says, “you never know” so let love move you forward anyway. 

There is so much to say about post-traumatic growth and being grateful for the losses, from which we are meant to pluck pearls of wisdom. All I want to tell you about is the motherhood that both my babies have tumbled me into. I wish they were both here. My daughter has cracked me open too, in different and not altogether painless ways. 

Three months in I can finally say that I see my motherhood taking shape. 

A motherhood of longing, of letting the fragile and fleeting things steal my whole heart, of getting back up, tender and bleeding, and breathing in the smell of her head like the sweetest flower. 

I’ve never felt less tethered to the things of this world; her solid little body eclipses almost all other concerns. Things I worried about endlessly before now look blurry, faded to the background of her mysterious and adoring gaze, centre stage. This intense love is the ballast around which everything else is floating wildly and willy-nilly; namely what I thought I had control over. The hours of the day, the plans I attempt to make, my neurosis, which I now have a lot less time to tend. I am learning simplicity again and seeing how she suits me. 

Most of all, I no longer feel like a failure. In the eyes of my daughter, I see that I am completely beloved. For her sake and my own, I will choose to believe it. 

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