Same question, different reactions….

I feel like my posts about Mabel lately are somewhat repetitive.  They all center around the seemingly inevitable question of “is he your first?” I write about it because I’m finding that the question leads to so many different outcomes.

I awkwardly made my way into the shop door, pushing the stroller with one hand carrying a bag and the carseat base with the other.  As I waited in the office of the autobody shop, I cooed at Felix and made silly faces.  The shop owner asked “Is he your first?”
“My second ,” I said with a smile that I like to think comes off as peaceful.
“Oh yeah? How old’s your first.”
“She would have been almost two, but she died.” My tone was calm and warm.
“Oh, I”m sorry.” He should have stopped there, but sometimes people just don’t know when to shut up. “So he’s really you first?”
No, stupid, I just told you.  He is my SECOND. My first baby- my daughter- my Mabel- she died.  Her death does not negate her existence. If your mother died, it doesn’t mean you never had a mother.  
“He is my first living child.”
I sat on the floor of an apartment we rent out as a handyman made a repair on the door.  He had done some work for me in the past- a couple things over the past few years, so I had seen him very sporadically.  He helped with a messy bathroom repair a bit over two years ago- it was messy in the literal sense as well as the figurative sense- with lots of fighting with the upstairs unit owner whose toilet overflowed causing water damage in my unit’s bathroom.  The owner had given me a hard time and finally quite nastily snapped at me “I’m having ankle surgery in a few days, I don”t have time for this!”  At the time I was newly pregnant with Mabel, but we thought I was miscarrying and I so badly wanted to snap back “Well I’m miscarrying a very wanted baby and I don’t have time for you!”  But I didn’t.  This handyman was doing the work on the bathroom and so he is intertwined in my memory of that time.
When I was letting him in the door, he say me juggling to hold Felix and find my keys in my pocket and offered to hold the baby. I let him easily. We chitchatted a bit as he made the easy repair.  He was asking about Felix and to continue to small talk I asked if he had kids- a question I ask with nervousness, reminded of how hard that question has been for me.  But I asked because I was totally prepared for an answer about dead children.  I could handle it.
“No,” he said ” And it’s too late for that.  I dont want to be a grandfather to any kids-” suggesting he thought he was too old . His parents had him in their 40s and he would want to be a younger father.  I sensed a bit of sadness in him, though I wasn’t in a position to address it.
“And he’s your first, right?”
“My second,” again that peaceful smile crossed my lips.
“Oh I didn’t know you had another!  How old?”
“She would have been almost two, but she died last year.”
“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry.  I’m sorry I asked!”
“Thank you- and it’s ok.  I like talking about her.”
“Well I bet she would have made a really awesome big sister.”
I smiled at that.  The first time I heard those words.  My heart swelled. “Yes. Yes she would.”

That same day

“has not had a period since birth of her son on February 15, 2014”

I read the last note I had written on the patient before I went in to see her.  I rarely am so specific in the dating- usually I’d say something along the lines of  “has not had a period since childbirth 5 months ago.”  Clearly the date had struck me.  I wrote it down mindfully, deliberately in the note.  I remember that visit.  I was seeing the patient in the same room actually and thought of how that was also Mabel’s birthday.  At the time all I could think of was how she had a baby to go home to and I did not.

On this day, many months later, a new thought crossed my mind when I re-read my note.  As I stared at her, all I could think of was how she had been on the labor floor at the same time as me.  She was there, down the hall, when I was wheeled from the NICU back to my labor room so that we could call our family in private and tell them our daughter was going to die soon.  As I said “it’s a girl!” in the same breath as “her time with us is short,” picturing the five pound wonder child I had just left on a warmer, tubes criss crossing her slowly bluing face and body, this woman was holding her baby on her chest, shushing those first newborn cries and excitedly cooing over her own little wonder.  Not long later I held my dead daughter as I struggled to keep my eyes open, having been up all night in labor, but not wanting admit I needed sleep for it meant saying good bye to my baby forever.  She probably struggled with fatigue as well, wondering how on earth she would be able to take care of her needy little one when she was just so tired.  I returned to a postpartum room, crawled into the hospital bed with my husband and slept, undisturbed in a quiet room.  She went down the hall, her attempted sleep punctuated by cries telling of a needed diaper change or feeding.  I walked out of the hospital with a box and she was wheeled out with a baby.

I write these words not out of bitterness and jealousy, as I would have many months ago, but out of fascination… that here we both were, face to face, our lives forever changed by the birth of our first children on that same fateful February day, in the same place, but how very very different our lives are now.