For a few weeks, I had noticed those moments where I believed that Danith and I would be okay. Our children have passed, and although we are broken, we will live on. We will go to work, we will do our best at leaving a positive imprint from the steps we take, and we will count the days as each one begins and ends. Sometimes, we will even allow ourselves to be lost in the moment and to appreciate the yellow wildflowers fluttering along the side of the road.
Then, during my lunch break one day last week, I perused the photo gallery of Kiri. I stopped at a picture of him and his father. It had been taken the day after his birth. I had been rolled back from an emergency surgery, and I was still lying in a hospital bed in the ICU; ports had been placed in four areas of my arms, and I was connected to wires that measured my heart rate and breathing. I had asked Danith to set Kiri’s quiet, swaddled body in the nook of my right arm and to adjust the head of my bed at a 45-degree angle so that I could easily view Kiri’s dark, beautiful face and marvel at his delicious round cheeks and exquisite puckered lips. I wondered if his head could be any more perfectly round. He had been breathing before I was taken away for surgery, but now his body remained still, and his eyelids, shut, veiled his peaceful face. Because he had taken some breaths, the nurse labeled his death as a neonatal loss. From him, my eyes flickered up at Danith, who stood next to the bed. I bathed in his kind and loving face. My head turned down to my son, and back up to my husband. And then from my husband, back to my son. My eyes couldn’t stop traveling between the being lying next to me and the one who had always stood by my side.
“He looks like you,” I said.
“What?” Danith’s question did not mask his doubt.
I pride myself on speaking accurately, on describing and recalling accurately, with no embellishments. Like most people, I covet the idea of fairy tales, but my head is too practical. I go out of my way to steer clear from sentimentality. I simply refuse to speak false words about a person’s kindness after she died if she had not been kind when she was alive. So I was taken aback that Danith would question my observation. It was not my wishful thinking that our son resembled him. It was reality. “I’m serious. He looks like you. I can see you in him.”
Danith shuffled up close to Kiri, and the silence that followed suggested that he was open to this possibility — that our son who was born and died prematurely at just 22 weeks and one day, who measured about 11 inches long and weighed just one pound, could already take on some of his father’s features. I asked Danith to give me my phone and to set his head near Kiri. I explained that I wanted to capture the photo from my vantage point so that I could remember that moment, at how I saw him and Kiri, accurately.
When I studied that picture of Danith and Kiri during lunch, I inventoried their shared features. The noses, the incline of the cheeks. The tone of the skin. The essence of their beings. I caught, too, the pain on Danith’s face. And I caught the love. I recognized the strain of the pain and the light of the love. They were interlaced like time, like when the second slipped from morning to afternoon and from afternoon to night. I did not cause Kiri’s death; still, I couldn’t help but feel responsible for causing his father’s pain.
I drove home late that evening, when the gray of the day was darkening. I was humming along to a song on the radio when I recited our babies’ names, something I did throughout the day. Daffy. Kiri. This time, their names fell on me like boulders. Not only were they not here, but they were gone. My heart that had been lighter in the past few weeks was crushed again. We have lost two babies. How many women have had a stillborn child? How many women have had a neonatal loss? How many women have given birth twice but not been able to take either baby home? And Danith? Had he ever imagined that his babies would die before he was ever given the opportunity to teach them his values? His decision to marry me cost him.
After dinner that evening, after the dishes were washed and the table was wiped, I sat alone on the sofa and clicked on my phone. A text from a friend inquired how I was. I replied that if Danith had married someone else, he would not know the pain he was feeling now. She texted back all the words a good friend would string together, but my tears began to form regardless. Danith found me and rested his body beside me. I told him that I was sorry.
He took my hands. “I would choose this lifetime again if I were given the choice. I would choose to be with you and to have our children and to know that happiness, even if it was for only five minutes.”
I reminded him that it was because of me that he knew the agony of not carrying Daffy and Kiri in his arms, of never watching them grow, of walking around each day with the understanding that the hole in his heart will never close up.
“It is because of you that I was given a gift. Because of Daffy and Kiri, I know love. This pain I feel comes with that love. It is beautiful. It is a gift to know this type of pain and love.”
I’d always considered my daughter and son to be gifts, but I had never considered the pain from losing them to be one. Knowing now that they would appear together, the love and the pain, would I make the same choice that Danith would make? For certain, I would. I would choose to have my children, these same ones, any time and every time I am given the chance.