May 31, 2018. I walk with my husband and my parents down the long corridor connecting the women’s hospital to the main hospital, a walk I have done before, but this time it is different. I am still moving slowly, as I recover from my c-section, aware that my body has been ripped open and put back together, and also like I am not really in my body. I notice, perhaps for the first time, the large paintings on the walls of animals in a style that reminds me simultaneously of Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollack. I think to myself, this would be really cool to show Colette until the realization hits. Colette died today.
I somehow manage to keep putting one foot in front of the other, so I know I am moving, but I feel like I have lost the ability to walk. I keep thinking, “Did that really happen? Is my daughter dead? What happens now?” And the questions I want to ask aloud somehow just bubble up in my throat and I cannot spit them out. Internally, I am screaming, “This is not supposed to happen. How did this happen?” and wondering if there will ever be another child, a child that gets to go home with us.
September 22, 2023. I am back here, noticing the animal prints that I spent the last five-plus years trying to ignore when I walked this walk before.
Things are different this time. My son, my rainbow, is with me. We came to the hospital because my sister, his Aunt Laura, was in the hospital. Her water broke at 33 weeks, and Elliott has been very worried. We are here because I knew he needed to see Laura, to know she was okay. Any doubts I had about bringing him are swept away as he walks in, races up to Laura, and hugs her legs, somehow at his young age, knowing she can’t sweep him up into her arms. Elliott has taken Aunt Laura’s hand and is walking her down this same corridor.
My parents and I follow behind as they take the lead. Laura gets to a certain point, realizes she has gone further than she expected, and turns back toward us. When we catch up, my dad scoops him up, and then my parents start pointing out the pictures to him, asking him to name them. He correctly identifies those he knows, is excited when we say yes and good job, and repeats the animal names he does not know after we tell him. He is thrilled, he is happy, and I can sense that the stress this little guy has been under, worried about his Aunt Laura, is melted away. I am glad I brought him here, and I am so touched that this hallway that seemed to taunt me, to mock me for being the mom of a dead baby, seems to welcome me back, to answer my questions that were never asked, to remind me that I figured out what was next, to say it took a few years, but you did get to show this hallway to your child.
I watch my son as he runs up and down the corridor, looking around and saying “doctor” basically whenever he sees an adult.
It is over five years since that night, and while I have survived up to this point at a time when I was not sure if I would, the grief is still very much there. It follows me like the proverbial parrot on my shoulder, usually silent, but occasionally, it is very loud. There are moments like right now when there is such pride, love, and joy over this little guy who is growing up so fast, who rebels and tests limits and gets into mischief, and also loves deeply. And right alongside those feelings is the grief, the pain of knowing I will not have two living children running up and down this hall or any other hall, that Elliott will not truly know what it is like to have a living sibling, and that I will not be a girl mom in the traditional sense.
And I look at my baby sister, who is 33 weeks pregnant with her first child and who has handled this with such strength and grace. I was happy that I was there with her at the doctor’s appointment she made when she was, in her words, “leaking.” And while there are a lot of triggers with her being hospitalized at the same hospital, it is also a world of difference in circumstances, and I commend myself for having done the work on myself that allowed me to be there for my sister.
As I reflect back on the day, I am even happier that I decided to take Elliott that day.
I could not have known when I did that my sister would be induced the very next day and that she would deliver my nephew, Nate, two days later. Nate spent about two weeks in the NICU, and by the time you read this post, he will be home with his parents. I am so thrilled for the new parents and for Elliott to have a new baby cousin, especially because they will likely be raised closer to brothers than cousins, but I am also sad that there is a sibling missing. That is the crux of grief, of parenting after loss, to live with the joy and the grief, the good and the bad, the calm and the fear.