This I believe: I am my daughter’s mother.
I’ve always recognized that I live a much easier life than many. My native country endured a civil war, I was born amidst it, but I didn’t suffer through it. Instead, my existence—my incessant crying and hunger pangs—put others around me at risk. Still, I didn’t show much gratitude for what I was given. Why, I wondered, is there life when we’re all going to die, anyway? We live, we die. We live, we die. Because of my obtuse awareness of human suffering across the world—naked five-year-olds having to cast fish nets into a pond with hope of bringing home dinner, men getting their hands or arms hacked off, women’s bodies being defiled—I often felt that we only lived to die.
When Daffy began to tumble inside of me, I began to feel her life. For so long, she’d only been an idea, and then a wish, and, finally, a mass of cells. Her flutters told me that I was carrying a life inside of me. A life within a life. How could that be? Even with a husband who is a scientist, I still marveled at Daffy’s existence. How could she be? I was perplexed and in awe. I finally decided that there was no explanation for her. That science alone couldn’t explain her. That she couldn’t be explained on paper. That something greater than science was responsible for her.
Daffy’s passing instilled in me an appreciation of and respect for death. Death is final. There is no doctor I can beseech to undue my daughter’s death. There is no family heirloom I can sell or put on collateral to bring her back. There is no prayer I can recite. My many apologies for my many mistakes won’t amount to anything. It is the one thing in life that can’t be undone. I can’t think of anything else that treats life with such an iron fist. Death causes me to retreat with humility.
After the nurses had cleaned up Daffy and walked her to me, I saw her face and loved her completely, immediately. I hadn’t imagined that my heart could be both heavy and light. Even after her physical form had perished, I continued to marvel at her existence. I marvel at how her 23-week life, 12-inch frame, 14.3-oz weight continue to consume me. I believe that if someone were to split my chest and pull it apart, the person would find Daffy lying stretched across my heart. I am thirty-eight years old, and this is the most real I’ve felt in my life.
Daffy’s brief life often sends me into a panic. I am afraid that people will recall her existence solely because of her early death. I am afraid that the nurses and doctors will forget the weight of her still body as they carried her to the scale, and that our well-meaning friends and family will forget the solemnity that hung in her nursery when we couldn’t bring her home. I am afraid that they will forget about the light that she radiated and continues to radiate.
I believe in preserving my daughter’s light. The value of the fragile, few days between birth and death are marked by the little indentations we make. We must strive to impress as many of them as we can, and as deeply as we can. For me, my imprints, albeit humble, must be worthy of the child who lies within me, the child I must represent, all so that, should anyone point at me and wonder who I am, I can boldly say that I am my daughter’s mother.
After Daffy passed, Danith and I were gifted with exceptional physicians. Their compassion challenged me to believe further. As they helped us with plans for the baby that we would bring home, I began to share about myself with them. The more I wrote, though, the more that I questioned if they fully understood who I was. I was not simply a woman whose single goal in life was to bring home a living baby! Ironically, this fear led to even more sharing, the content of which resulted in the personal essay above. I printed the essay, inserted it in one of NPR’s This I Believe book series, and mailed it to these doctors. A few times since the essay, I think back to those physicians reading about my deepest thoughts, and I get embarrassed. I told Danith that I had revealed too much–that I felt exposed–especially since they were male doctors. He said that he thought I had shared too much, also. I asked why he hadn’t stopped me from sending the essay. He said that he had tried to. I said that he hadn’t tried hard enough. He said that I had been grieving.
This day, two years ago, I delivered our Daffy. I still shudder at having unveiled too much of myself in the essay, but what solace I have comes from the fact that honesty is reliable: every word I had written then remains true now. I am my daughter’s mother.