Photo by Susana Coutinho on Unsplash

Moments during Pregnancy

“Please, baby, move. Let me know you’re there,” were the words I whisper to her through my third trimester belly upon waking anxiously from a deep sleep. Intuitively I knew two or three hours of slumber had passed where I was not aware of Zoe’s movements, so I wake with worry.

I count the minutes as I wait for her to kick, and sometimes I poke and prod in hopes that she will push back. It’s in the moments that she does not respond to my probing that I am certain she is dead. Flashbacks to the words, “No heartbeat,” that marked her sister’s death flood my mind.

“Please, baby, please, move. Please, be alive.” I am no longer asking, but begging baby to respond.

Kick. Kick. Jab.

With these wiggles, tears fall from my eyes as I cry out, “Thank you Zoe. I love you so much! Please don’t die! Please stay.”

Moments during Infancy

I cry over her. Tears slip from my cheeks down to hers as I hold her, my newborn, cradled in my arms and I sing, “I’ve been travelin’ a hard road. Lookin’ for someone exactly like you.” A wave of heat creaps up from my swollen and broken heart and burst through my chest as I wail, bringing her closer to me, her warmth next to mine. Something I never got with her sister.

My voice cracks as I struggle to continue, “Someone like you makes it all worthwhile…” but I can’t get the words out. Oh, Zoe you were so worth this, the pain, the joy, your sister was worth with this suffering, but why oh God, why can’t I have you both? Tighter I hold her, crying harder than before. Zoe starts to cry. Are you crying because I’m holding you too close or are you familiar with this grief? Are you crying for your sister, too?

Moments during Toddlerhood

“Tis” She says as she points her chubby toddler finger at the black and white picture of a baby in the scrapbook in front of us.

Softly correcting her I say, “baby, bei-bi”.

She looks at the book and then looks back at me, pointing at the little girl with dark lips and sleeping eyes that will never wake, trapped in time in the still photo.

With more determination than before, she presses her finger harder onto her dead sisters photo, correcting me as if I did not understand her, she repeats herself.

“Tis.” Which is toddler speak for “This.”

“That’s a baby.” I say.

She smiles and now takes that chubby finger and turns it inward towards her chest moving it back and forth as she says, “Mine?” Which is Zoe’s word for “me”.

The baby in the photo is her double, except for the difference in hair color and breath. “No, honey. That’s not you. That’s your sister, Nora.” I reply.

“Mine.” She states emphatically now.

How do you explain death to a toddler?

“Okay, Zoe. That baby can be yours.” I acquiesce. I mean, it’s partially true.

Moments of Fear

Zoe screams. At three, she’s scared of her own shadow. She screams louder, this time she’s fearful of a bug. It didn’t even touch her. She just saw it, from a distance and that was too much. I’ve read that children exposed to higher levels of stress in the womb have a harder time regulating their emotions. A mother wonders what effect birthing death before her other daughter’s life must have done to her living child. For Zoe, it’s seemed to have made her scared. I made her fear life before she had a chance to live it.

If it’s not a bug, “It’s going to get me!” then it’s a noise, “it’s too loud!” The world is full of danger to her, the world was dangerous to me when I was pregnant with her. Don’t eat that deli meat, when was the last time she moved, what if I get a fever. Did remnants of worries from her pregnancy seep into her soul while she was in my womb? Death’s memory has a tendency to linger with the living it leaves behind. I thought that fate only awaited me.

Does she, my child born after birthing death, also walk in the wake of death’s shadow each day? She must, as she is Earthside only because of death’s sleight of hand. A penance still yet to pay, she owes to death for her own life. I’d be scared too. I am scared, everyday.

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