One week it was money I was missing, the next week … a life.
It shouldn’t have been significant; the evidence was weak. I felt uncharacteristic nausea at odd times. The tenderness in my breasts was uncomfortable. A touch of fatigue made my head heavy despite solid rest. It was the wrong time of month, too early. It can happen any time. But it felt different. The focus of my energy had shifted to my belly and my hands drifted there unconsciously more and more often. My little one took to kissing it and smiling when he hugged me. And I so wanted to believe.
I shouldn’t be surprised. Last year wasn’t easy, with two miscarriages within 7 months. The rise of hope, the shadowy image of a child growing on the ultrasound, the hormonal shifts, the sparkling expectation, the whispered promises of love and laughter, the family tour of the birth center, the satisfied prayers of our happy child. Then, the horrifying public gushes of blood, the calming explanations that mommy’s okay but the baby may not be, the life-wringing pain, the hospital drama and cool decisions, the fierce stabs of loss, the recovery, the cremation, the ceremonial planting of a tree. Then, the deep comfort of faith, dizzying hormonal shifts, waves of unconditional love, remembering it’s not our fault, slow healing, nascent forgiveness, gentle answers to innocent questions, survival.
Months pass and the desire to welcome a new being into our lives overcomes the fear of such crushing disappointment. We have to eat and laugh, play and dance; it’s who we are. This grace of beauty in a life of routine is undeniable.
The first one started at the dining room table. A surprising gush of blood as I sat down to lunch. How hard I struggled to convert the roar of dismaying anger into soft and steady action. Our boy was there and I couldn’t do anything about it but comfort him and smile my love as I confirmed that no one had hurt me and I just needed a few moments of solitude while my blood spilled uncontrollably through my clothes.
We managed, with the help of loved ones and the openness of our grief, to hold together. The days after “surgery,” as I lay alone in bed, I felt the most secure sense of nurturing love all around and within me that I’d ever felt. Expecting emptiness, I was overflowing with a love that glistened with truth, more precious than any gem I’d longed for in my childish dreams of reigning queen in some rational universe. That was faith flooding in, the creative power at its most tender, and I felt supremely blessed.
It was hard to arrange, harder than I would have imagined in a compassionate world, but we held a private wake for two, in a lonely hour at the funeral home while our cherished boy played at school. My mother-in-law offered the cremation money, bless her. The three of us buried the thimble of ashes at the base of a tree gifted by a good friend for the occasion. I could go on, we could grow closer in our frustrated wish, we could honor the life for the time it graced our lives, and dare to dream of another. But could we connect so easily again, give ourselves over to hope so completely when the memory was glazed a transparent red?
The next one was more majestic, less dramatic. Again at 10 weeks, this time with no ultrasound picture to prove our loss, the blood betrayed our hopes. Nana was watching the boy at her home while we hiked to the top of a water fall to honor our anniversary. The day was gorgeous and happy, but laced with the fear that a few dark spots had unearthed in me. The bleeding was easier to conceal, the loss quicker. No need for surgery, inept blood draws, debilitating anesthesia, or invasive procedures in the wee dark hours. It was only a day, instead of a week, before I could stand still for long periods without the room spinning.
The enthusiastic lobbying for a baby starts more quickly this time and escalates beyond subtlety in a heartbeat. His friends have babies, why can’t he? A new cousin arrived at Thanksgiving, can we have a baby for Christmas? “Not this year sweetheart, I’m sorry.” Rocky, his lovey, becomes “Baby Maya” in more of our adventure games. He declares that Rocky won’t have to be the baby anymore when a real baby comes. “Gaga googoo, I’m a baby,” he whines, crawling to me and clinging so heavily I ease to the floor. I sit “criss-cross-apple-sauce” and hold the nearly 4 feet of him in my arms as much like a baby as I can and sing to him in “brother’s room” until he becomes his big boy self and his transformers and pirates and books and blocks are his own. The sharp pains recede when we’re building a tower again and weaving the threads of an adventure together.
Easter weekend, I was sure again. The subtle signs were there. My smiles weren’t quite so bittersweet when I held my baby niece and my sweet boy sidled up next to me to indulge our collective fantasy. “I’m pretending she’s our baby that just came from your uterus,” he confided, and we cooed and rocked and kissed her gently. I was so sure.
Then the day of the resurrection brought a few dark spots. It was a week or so early for my moon time. I meditated and found the unconditional love I needed all around and within as before. But I felt a flash of desperation. It couldn’t be.
Not having a community of my own to pray with, I honored my mother-in-law by going to church with her. Prayer is prayer, wherever it is. You could feel the contentment emanate from her as she held the baby girl, while one son held his older boy and my husband bracketed me and our son halfway down the pew. She normally goes to church alone. I rarely join them, no longer being Catholic.
On my knees, I felt the flood of loss rising, and I kissed my son to hold it down. I sang unfamiliar hymns to focus my voice. For the first time in years, I took communion and the communal wine. My son was excited to come with me until he didn’t get to eat the crisp white wafer the lay minister offered me. He groaned and squeezed my hand imploringly. I smiled and hugged him to me as we returned to our family. At the end of mass, we went together to light candles – for my mother, for the two lost babies, for new life. There was still hope.
Oh, but Monday…. I was grateful to have said nothing, to have hinted nothing about the growing suspicion I’d touched gingerly with my spirit. The moon time is a period of cleansing, rest, renewal and feminine strength that I honor with as deep a silence that my life will allow. I greet it most months with a grumbling joy in the wonders of nature. Despite the pain, the gentle tide of surrender gives me such relief I consider it a blessing.
That morning, a stab and twist of wretched clarity came with the vibrant blood. I just managed to catch the renting wail in my throat before it woke the family. I forced down the tears with a ruthlessness bordering on the despotic, dropped my head to my hands and transmuted the wail into a hushed, anguished moan. Oh, how do I explain to my darling boy for more harsh, dragging months that God hears him, it’s just not the right time? And I breathed. And I moved softly to bed and curled up against the warmth and sleeping innocence of my husband. Routine overtook the grief.
At work, I cried in the bathroom before any others had arrived to hear the pain roll out. I blotted cool water on my face, fixed my makeup, and tugged up a reluctant stream of gratitude to create some forward momentum. The days rolled by in a blur of passionate routine until yesterday afternoon. “Hey!” I heard a colleague shout through the silence of a diligent office. “Anyone want to see our family of foxes play out here?” Half a dozen or so of us rushed to the window of the second edit suite.
For me a fox is more than an animal, it is a symbol of a commitment I’ve made to be a Tokala. The translation of the word, I’m told, is “kit fox.” Once, as I was praying on the question of taking on the responsibilities of the role, a red fox emerged from the darkness and approached our fire, its coat blending into the dancing flames. It stopped a few feet away, captured my gaze for an infinite moment and trotted confidently back into the night. I made the commitment with all my being.
I knelt next to the bay window under the lens of a film camera focused on the remarkable activity outside. Amid the excited chatter, I watched the mother fox nuzzle her three babies as they wrestled each other in the sunshine on the small patch of green next to the office parking lot. I ran to collect the refuge of my still camera when the emotions bubbling up in me were too hard to bear. Snapping useless shots turned me into a chronicling observer and the delicate pangs transformed into wonder as I watched with fascination. The mother fox retreated to her den in the dense foliage, followed by one of her cubs. The other two played relentlessly and fearlessly in the afternoon sun for a warm space of time. I sighed for my lost babies and the one I still hold in my arms several times a day. As the others peeled away to their desks and devices, I dropped the silver rectangle from my eyes and watched the cubs play. A single tear rolled down each cheek for each of my children. And I let another one go.
Perhaps the ones that left us came to experience unconditional love. Perhaps they learned enough of it in the short time they were with us to satisfy their curiosity. Who am I to say? I’ll continue to love and hope until the truth shifts again.