October 24, 2013

I remember my first-born’s first month birthday. My alive first child. These days, I always need to clarify whenever we talk about babies – dead or alive? As in boy or girl? Equally possible.

I was walking with him cradled in my arms. Those first days of motherhood, when walking with a baby seemed big, huge, a careful act that required concentration and focused love and felt like so much giving all around. I ran into my sister in the parking lot, and she whisper-sang happy birthday.

It was sweet, necessary, celebratory.

I don’t remember my second-born’s monthly birthdays. Because, let’s face it, I love him and cherish him and adore him every day, but back then, it was hard enough to make it through the day with two tinies. It was a good day if I remembered to brush my teeth before noon. Month birthdays I tended to forget. And hair brushing was out of the question.

I remember my third-born’s third month birthday. Because it happened yesterday. My dead, stillborn, third child. I can’t own the word stillborn. It sounds so categorical. As if I said that word and her story was understood. Luna’s story is unique, different from what you’d expect. As different and unique as each baby.

Her third month birthday was yesterday. Three days before her due date. Nine days after my 36th birthday. Oh yes, a month packed with milestones clawing at each other to see which will crush my heart the most.

I cry tears that become streams, not drops.

I feel melancholy because I would like to have my baby in my arms. My chubby, gurgling, milky smelling baby girl. I never had a daughter that was alive in my arms. It might be different from boys. Maybe they do smell like sugar and spice. Or maybe they smell like diapers soaked with pee in the early morning, dried up breast milk on her cheeks and morning baby breath. Oh, that would be so nice. If my baby was alive and she had just turned three months old she’d have all the smells of real live babies.

And then I feel melancholy because maybe I’d still be pregnant. And hugely huge. My belly would be getting to that point where it doesn’t look like it can realistically be that stretched. Oh, it would have been so nice that Luna had stretched my belly out so far that I now had tiger stretch marks from having grown big with her. But her 26 weeks and five days didn’t push my skin too tight. And my body doesn’t visibly have signs of her passage.

But my heart does. I am forever changed. I will never be the person I was before her. I am so grateful for this change. I am a much better version of myself now. I live more fully, more present in each moment. I know what’s important (love, friends, my family) and what’s really not (who left the kitchen light on all night and why are we having pizza for dinner again). The things I do are more meaningful. I understand people, I understand pain. I appreciate my children more, even when they`re screaming like banshees in the car over whose CD we listen to and I just want them to be teenagers already and use headphones.

My psyche has also changed. My medically relevant, medical term psyche has changed because my daughter grew inside me. During pregnancy, cells from the baby transfer into the mother’s body, and they stay there for decades. It’s called fetomaternal microchimerism, which is the most loving scientific term I have ever heard. My insides are forever changed. What constitutes me, my body, my molecular make up has been forever changed because Luna grew inside me.

And so, for Luna’s three month birthday, I do what I can. I celebrate that she lived in me, I am thankful for knowing her. And I plan her due date ritual. We will make a carrot cake. We will go into the woods and pick wild flowers. Her dad will play guitar. We will write her little love notes, light candles and a small fire in a bowl, and we will throw in the flowers and the notes. And I will not want to throw in the notes, I will want to keep them and treasure them. And then I will realize how I already had to hand over her body to be made into ash, and I will again put everything in perspective, and nothing will matter all that much. And I will treasure every little thing so much more.

  • Cheli does her mothering and doulaing in Madrid, Spain. Her boys are wild and lovely and always, apparently, at that stage. Her daughter Luna is cradled in her heart as they learn how to be mother and daughter without ever holding hands.

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