I have experienced loss before, of course, but never one that tears your flesh off with the injustice of it all. I spend a lot of time wrestling with my thoughts and wondering if what I'm thinking, feeling, doing is normal. As a dear friend of mine pointed out, there is no normal in losing a child because losing a child isn't normal. It's the sad, bitter truth that I am trying to choke down: parents aren't supposed to lose their children. Parents aren't supposed to figure out how to say goodbye eternally to a child they wanted, waited for, love with every last fiber of their being. I've realized that life is cruel. Maybe I thought that I thought this previously, sure that some minor injustice spelled this out pretty clearly -- however, the loss of my daughter has shown me that, no, this is my first taste at how cruel life can be. How empty and ugly and callous and, yet, on the other hand, how completely saturated in love I am for my son who is here. The one whose hair I can touch and breathe in, the one who humors me in pretending that it's perfectly acceptable to exchange I love yous about seven thousand times per day. This defines bittersweet for me, some moments feeling sweeter and others so bitter that I feel my insides being pierced and deteriorating to remnants of what they once were at a time when I felt whole.
Wylie came home today. The courier cried and apologized for our loss, handing over the tiny box that held someone I love on such a big level that words can't even define. I asked her to be delivered to my parents house in a strangely coherent attempt to save whatever shreds are left of my sanity, the promise that she wouldn't be alone nor would I when she arrived. I remember when we were discharged from the hospital and learned Ethan would have to stay. I remember how unfair that felt. I remember when he did get to come home, the way we checked his car seat at least seventeen times and the way I sat next to him in the backseat urging my husband to drive slower, to pay attention, to get him home safely where we could take a family photograph in front of our home. Bringing your child home when they are no longer with you isn't the same. It's a feeling of dead weight and delirium and clutching a cold urn with all of your might because no matter what, it's still your child. It's a feeling of numbness and despair and wondering if anyone would miss you if you flung yourself out of the car but then hearing your three year old whisper-sing the Doc McStuffins theme song and again trying to settle in to that place of bittersweet.
It's almost as if life wants to test my strength, as if it wants to see how much I can take before I crumble. Like how when I had Ethan, lactation consultant #19,428,481 and doctor #72,581,395 confirmed what the previous ones had told me: I'm one of those people who just doesn't produce milk. It's rare, but it happens, and after I was forced to promise I wouldn't attach myself to a pump until I passed out in the hallway -- again -- like the preeclamptic, anemic post-Cesarean psychopath that I was following Ethan's birth, I was allowed to go home and try to convince myself formula wouldn't doom my precious baby boy for life. It took me a while to adjust to that normal, "the worst thing in the world" I had called it after cursing my broken body that couldn't do anything right. And then, you know, I had a stillbirth and woke up one morning wondering what I had spilled all over my shirt only to realize that my body decided it didn't want to be broken anymore. "Breastfeeding is best for your baby" hurts when you are a reluctant formula feeder but, take my word for it, it hurts tenfold when you don't have a baby at all. When you're up at midnight performing a Google search on how to dry up milk following a stillbirth, it's a reminder of the depth that life can be a raging asshole. Sometimes I can't find a more profound way to spell out the only truth my mind can accept, like that life can be a raging asshole and right now it is. Right now I reek of cabbage leaves that I have rammed into the two sports bras I'm forced to wear while choking back on the aftertaste of sage tea that ignites my gag reflex from across the room.
And, underneath it all, I just want my daughter back. I want my daughter to have the whole heart she deserved to have. I want her to be well and healthy and here with us to celebrate the holidays this year as I so deeply was anticipating. I want her to wear the clothes in her closet that I picked out especially for her. I want her to grow into a teenager who inevitably hates her mess of curls so that I can say "do you know how many people would kill for hair like yours?" I want to see Ethan hold her for the first time, to get to give her the bottles of milk he had so intently wanted to give her. But her heart was broken. And that's where I always stop my thoughts. It was so easy to beat up on myself and blame myself when my body kept trying to fail Ethan during my first pregnancy. I am just so unable to blame Wylie's body for the reason she isn't with us anymore. I am just so unable to say that the flaw that took her from me was hers to bear, that it wasn't my fault. I am so strangely resentful of each doctor that confirmed it wasn't anything I did, or anything that was in my power to change. It's almost easier that way, being able to put the blame on myself rather than even attempting to see Wylie as anything but perfect. That's where my mind shuts off. In my mind, she is perfect.
And then, you know, a little almost-three-year-old boy tells me that I'm his best friend and he loves me more than anything and kisses me on the knee to "fix your feelings, mommy" and I struggle with that bittersweet place again. I struggle to grasp how my heart can be so filled with love and yet ache with pain at the same time. It's part of the adjustment period that everyone keeps telling me about. The one I'm supposed to eventually settle into again, somehow, at some point. One week later and I'm still struggling to take it all in, still trying to figure out how to keep one foot in front of the other and learn how to adjust to life again as someone who will never be as whole as I used to be; learning how to reciprocate some of that borrowed strength for Ethan's sake.