It was the week before Christmas and I was out of work. I had been diagnosed with oligohydramnios the week before and was taking time off to adjust. Chris and I had been talking about possibly joining the YMCA nearby because it had a pool. Chris wants to swim to train for a couple triathalons and we thought swimming would be good exercise for me in late pregnancy. When I did eventually get to swimming while pregnant, I remember thinking about my baby. We envision babies liking their moms swimming because it’s so similar to their own environment. In a giant pool of water, floating, weightless. I wondered how my baby felt about it. Maybe she loved it more because she didn’t have her own swimming pool. Maybe it was her only chance to feel what other babies feel- buoyant, light, free. My baby was in the same position for as long as I could tell. Head down, back to my left side, face pointed towards my back- a perfect position for labor. I took pride and sadness in that. Pride because she was a smart baby- knew which way was out and lined herself up well to pass through my pelvis. Sad because she had no choice. Once she got into that position, she probably couldn’t change. There was no fluid allowing her the freedom to shift and experiment with different positions. I wondered if swimming gave her that feeling of freedom, at least temporarily.
In that time I was off work, I made a to-do list to keep me busy. I am not good at being idle. One thing I checked off, was to take a tour of the YMCA. In doing so we got a free trial week, which we used to swim. When I first started the tour the woman asked what I was interested in- I talked of the pool, classes and the gym. She asked if I had kids to ascertain whether I’d be interested in learning about daycare options and children’s classes. I was in a bulky winter coat and was unsure if she could tell I was pregnant, in my third trimester. If she could tell I was pregnant it would seem weird to say no kids without mentioning the obvious, that I was expecting one. I said with some trepidation, “not yet- I’m expecting.” She smiled and said that she thought so. I thought in my head how hard it was to answer that question. I felt like I needed to qualify it- I’m expecting, but my baby might die, so I can’t really count on it. I had no idea how hard that question would become.
I recently went to an appointment with a new doctor and as she was getting to know me she asked “do you have children?” I answered without thinking- no. Then I quickly corrected myself with “none living” and burst into tears. I cried not only because Mabel died but because my first instinct was to not acknowledge her existence. There will be some circumstances where I will simply say I have no children, with strangers like the shuttle bus driver at the airport. But this was not one of those circumstances. I was at this doctor to specifically talk about having lost my daughter. Sometimes I feel like it’s written on my forehead and am surprised when people have no idea. The words “I have no baby, I have no baby” swim in my mind and I forget that other people can’t hear them.
I got my haircut. I had been to this stylist and salon once before many months ago- I am terrible at maintaining any sort of hair care regimen. The stylist didn’t remember me and I didn’t expect her to. I wondered how the appointment would go because lots of stylists are quite chatty- sometimes benign topics like the weather and pop culture and sometimes things more personal. Not long into the appointment she asked- “Do you have kids? I can’t remember if I asked you.” Such a simple question. Just like “how are you?” And for most people it’s an easy question, but not me. I paused and I could see the look of regret on her face as she tried to interpret this unusual pause after such a routine question. I decided in that moment to test it out. I already have said a simple “no” to a stranger- the shuttle bus driver, who I would never see again. I had said “none living” to the doctor who I will see again. It’s the people in between, the people I might see again or will see again but months down the road, that I don’t know how I want to answer. So I said “none living.” It was like the music stopped. Awkward awkward awkward. I could see her mind processing what I had said. She looked like a deer in the headlights- no idea how to respond. She said a quick “I’m sorry” and then talked of how she had been engaged, with a man for seven years and they broke it off. I think it was her way of trying to find something in common- she has suffered too. I do not feel bad for making her feel awkward. I spoke the truth and honored Mabel in doing so. I think, though, the next time I’m in a situation like that I might try “I had a daughter.” It’s subtle enough that people might brush over it or they could pick up on it and respond if they want to. It also makes it more personal. “None living” is non-specific. I could have had six kids or one kid. They could have been boys or girls. “I had a daughter” might make people actually try to picture her. My heart still pounded and my face felt flushed when she asked, but I wouldn’t have minded if she asked what happened. This is all practice being in the real world.
I had a daughter. Nine weeks ago to be exact. Today we are in Florida and it will be the first Saturday neither I nor Chris visited her in the cemetery. We talked much about her and looked at a photo of her gravesite. I hope she knows that we are thinking of her. I’m sorry we are not there right now, baby. I will come visit you soon.