Any Time and Every Time

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.

My Children Are Searching

children silhouette

It must be after midnight.  The cars that normally rev by the house are few and far between now, and the only sound nearby is that from Danith, his breaths deep and long.  I think I heard a coworker say something about there being a full moon tonight (that was the reason for the internet server acting erratically?), so maybe that is why light is glowing through our two side-by-side windows.  Often, on a night such as this, I would wake Danith, needing him to know that my heart is heavy.  Tonight, I will carry the weight on my own.

I don’t normally dream about Daffy and Kiri.  Actually, I can count only on one hand the number of times I did.  The last dream was several months ago.  In it, I walked by two toddlers, maybe a three-year-old and a one-year-old.  They were standing against a cement wall, and I strolled past them.  I quickly retraced my steps, urgency suddenly filling my chest.  “Do you know who I am?” I asked.  The older one, a girl, spoke confidently, “Yes, you are our mother.”  The urgency that I had once felt was replaced by satisfaction: they know me.  I woke up pleased that my children knew they were not without a mother.

My mind won’t rest, so I stare out the glowing windows, at the silhouette of the topiary that sits on my desk in front of the windows.  My head once again turns into a field, where its only inhabitants are Daffy and Kiri.  Sometimes the field is green with wildflowers and a random tree; this time, it’s nondescript.  My stillborn daughter, who was born not in the best form physically, is about four years old.  She is poised, a serious girl of few words.  Her dark hair swings at her earlobes, and she wears a simple cotton dress that comes down to her knees, a red sash around her waist.  My son with his round cheeks and sweet perfect lips is about two years old.  He wears light blue short overalls with a white shirt underneath.  As they wander the field, he skips around his sister, careful to heed her instruction not to stray too far.  He loves her, trusting her unconditionally.  He is a playful little boy, his eyes wide with excitement and possibilities.  But he is quick to listen to his sister, and he tugs at the hem of her skirt when he is frightened, which is rarely.  Daffy dotes on her baby brother in her reticent way.  Making sure that he stays clean and fed is more important than playing marbles or chase with him, which he seems to want to do at all times.  On the rare occasion that he scrapes his knee or cries, she pulls him close.  Her hugs are stiff, but solid and warm.

Usually, I am a silent audience to the scenes in my head.  These scenes of my children hardly vary, and I describe them to Danith whenever the chance arises.  Lately, he and I have allowed ourselves the belief that our children are together; this helps the minutes of our days to tick by more quickly.  Tonight, that belief is not enough.  After Daffy died, Danith said to me, “She is looking down at you, and she is waiting for her momma.”  “I don’t want her to be waiting for me,” I said.  I explained that I did not want our daughter to feel the ache of yearning for me or missing me.  I want her head and her heart to be free, to be consumed only by the number of cupcakes she should eat, the dandelions that she would blow at, the silliness of her daydreams.  Tonight, I am afraid that our children are not wandering around freely.  From the scenes in my head, I am afraid they are searching for their momma, waiting for her.  I wish they would not know my yearning.

Baby Loss, Fire Loss

About three weeks after our daughter’s passing, Danith had to travel to Japan for a conference where he was a keynote speaker.  He insisted that it would be good for me to get away, so at the last minute, we booked a ticket for me.  In my oversized white purse that I doubled as a carry-on, I packed my iPad, a book, and one of our daughter’s blankets.

That summer, Danith and I were well into our 15th year of marriage.  Before our nuptials, we’d been together for six years.  We share goals, values, and principles.  But we are also different.  Whereas he is mostly a reserved and thoughtful man, I tend to be quick to act and react.  He would wait two days before sending a questionable email; I would wait two minutes.  My happiness, along with my trove of emotions, comes in bulk.  My heart dictates love and anger.  He calls it my fire.  He was concerned that our daughter’s passing would extinguish this fire.  He was concerned that I would no longer be myself.

The conference took place in Himeji City, where the white Himeji Castle stands.  It is a grand and majestic castle, designed to resemble a heron and landscaped with cherry blossom trees and even a moat.  Even people who have not set foot in Japan have seen it, as it was a filming location for The Last Samurai.  In the morning, down in the hotel’s restaurant, Danith and I would eat breakfast of rice, salted salmon, and tsukemono.  Then, before he would leave to walk to the convention center for his meetings, he would ask me to visit the revered castle.  “Promise me that you won’t stay cooped up in the room,” he would say.  I would smile and tell him not to worry about me.

Danith had taken to calling our daughter Daffy as soon as my belly had begun to burgeon.  Even though our intention had been to name her Daphne, he prefers to think that “Daffy” is reminiscent of daffodils.  When I delivered her and the nurse asked for her name, we decided that she would remain Daffy to us.  One reason I had agreed to accompany Danith to Japan was that of its many temples.  So on my first afternoon alone, I approached the Visitor’s Center and requested a map.  With Daffy’s blanket safe inside my purse, I traversed the main and backstreets of Himeji for temples.  Some stood on mountains, others were in a park or on the grounds of the Hemiji Castle or were situated a block from an elementary school, and some were tucked away in the backyard of residential homes.  At each temple I encountered, I offered a small monetary donation, sounded the bronze gongs, and fished out our daughter’s blanket that her stillborn body had once been wrapped in.  The cream felt measures about a foot long on each side, and on one edge of it is a dot of her blood, which was once a reddish brown but is now a tannish color, and will one day fade completely.  With Daffy’s blanket to my face, I spoke her name and prayed for her return.

On the last day of the conference, saddled with our luggage, Danith and I rode the train to Osaka City, where we would depart for home the next morning.  Osaka, with its busy traffic, a train station that took us 30 minutes to exit, high-end restaurants, street corners of protestors, multiple-storied malls, and chicly decorated storefronts, resembled Time Square.  After we checked into our hotel room, we decided to gallivant the metropolis.  Danith hadn’t changed out of his suit, and I chose to stay in my navy shift dress.

The evening in Osaka quickly turned into night, bringing with it the cool night air.  Lights from the malls and hotels blazed the streets.  Everyone, except for us, was in a hurry to reach their destination.  It began to mist.  I turned my eyes up at the lights around us and could discern the tiny specks of rain.  The drops weren’t even large enough to dampen my hair.  They were merely morning dew spraying my bare shoulders.  I grabbed onto Danith’s arm and soon became giddy.  I felt safe.  I felt free.  We were young and handsomely dressed.  I felt we were living a storybook paragraph.  But just as the bulk of happiness was about to overtake me, I remembered that our daughter was gone.  The reminder of our baby’s death, and the finality of it, was like a collar around my neck that was being yanked and sending me to a sudden and abrupt halt.  I let go of Danith’s arm.  Not only had Daffy changed our lives, but our lives would be permanently changed.  Our happiness would never be an overabundance again.  Or even whole again.  My fire would never be as fierce.

Our Babies Are Here

Danith has come home late from work, and as he sets down his briefcase he asks if I’ve seen the snow.  I am sitting in the living room where the mustard yellow cotton curtains shield the sliding glass door and the night beyond it.  “It’s beautiful,” he says, pulling back the fabric.  Snow is not new to us.  This is our 15th winter of it.  Quietness fills the room, and then his face when he proceeds upstairs.

A few minutes later, I follow him, and in the hallway he pulls me in for a kiss and then leads me to our babies’ room, where the espresso-stained crib and glider remain.  Where the white area rug lies parallel to the legs of the crib.  Nothing in this room has been moved or removed.  I reach for the switch when he tells me to keep the lights off.  “I feel them,” he says.  “They’re speaking to us.”  He urges me to join him at the window, where we peek through the blinds.  The snow continues to fall, each flake the size of my thumbnail and fluffy and a sign.  We fumble with the cord that raises the blinds.  “Look,” he says as we stand side by side at our children’s nursery window.  He is pointing to our backyard, the area enclosed by a pine tree, a silver maple, and some peach, apple, and cherry trees.  All except for the pine’s are limbs of brown and gray.  “I imagine them playing out there.”

Later, when we are in bed, I affirm to Danith that he misses our babies today.  My voice is low and soft, trying to comfort him.  The veil of quietness hasn’t lifted from his face.  “I miss them every day,” he says.