It’s funny how much of our lives are spent in a quiet state of ignorance. We shuffle from task to task, finely-tuned little machines working our daily clockwork exactly as we were designed to do. Eat, sleep, work, play- lather, rinse, repeat- until the moment when, suddenly, we don’t anymore.
I have no clue what the true meaning of life is. Subjective, obviously, to who you’re asking; personally, I haven’t figured my answer out yet. I’m not in a hurry to. Life is just that- life. The daily trip around the toy train track of the universe, back into the safety of the station at night. Lather, rinse, repeat. Again and again. Yet, while happy in each of our little bubbles, we spend every day a second from the end of our movie reel. One engine chug from total derailment, a fiery crash into oblivion. What will we be thinking, doing, feeling a moment before we greet our end? How much of our lifetime do we spend teetering on the edge of blackness, only to right our wheels just in time?
I don’t know what I was doing the moment my baby’s heart stopped beating. I have no idea what I was thinking, any of it. I was probably throwing up, or changing Eivin’s diaper, or making dinner. Driving to Cub Scouts or carrying groceries in from the van. Feeding the goats, maybe, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I could’ve marked the moment his soul left me, given that the recognition it deserved. I didn’t. Instead, I carried on for a few days until a routine ultrasound told us that he was gone.
The stunned look on the technician’s face didn’t drive that point home for me. Seeing his lifeless form on the oversized TV screen in the corner of the room didn’t either. An appointment with a specialist the next day, who also confirmed my baby’s silent heart, still didn’t make it feel real.
Filling the prescriptions for pain medication and the pills that would end my pregnancy didn’t quite get reality through my head. Going on with life with as much normalcy as possible was hard, but necessary. Being strong, wearing a smile for my children, stuffing down the constant and sometimes unbearable ache that threatened to drop me to my knees at any moment. Holding back my tears until I was alone, sobbing into my pillow so nobody would hear me. The sudden, startling realizations that the baby inside my slightly rounded belly wasn’t alive anymore came seeping through the cracks of that small, dark room no matter how hard I tried to shut them out. After a weekend with my children and visiting sister, I couldn’t postpone the inevitable anymore. Taking the pills, laying down and waiting; the start of the contractions and cramps, yet still it didn’t quite sink in.
The narcotic haze helped dull my body’s reaction and brought sleep. Reality waited, in stand-by mode, while the pills worked. It wasn’t until the next morning when I woke to a gush of amniotic fluid that the depth of the situation began to dawn. And it wasn’t until I was holding my tiny baby in the palm of my hand that it truly hit me.
I’m grateful that I wasn’t further along when we lost him. If it had to happen, it might as well have happened when it did. But all the TV screens, all the sympathetic nurses and all the paperwork didn’t prepare me for the reality of my little boy’s body in front of my eyes. I don’t know exactly when he left me, but his weightless form was still the heaviest thing I’ve ever held.
It was so hard not to hate my reflection in the mirror; a lot of days, it still is. The body that failed to sustain his life; my body. I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t want to breathe. I’ve never felt so worthless in my entire life. I went back to bed. I swallowed my medicine and dulled the pain. I let reality go back to waiting. Sleep, followed by brief intermissions to check on the kids and their caregiver, became my new train track. Lather, rinse, repeat. I didn’t pay attention to my body. Something that had given life to six perfect beings had now become a thing of death, a cold and hollow crypt. I hated it. I ignored it. I despised myself and my body’s refusal to give my tiny little boy what he needed to go on growing. Was this my penance for not wanting him At first, for being upset about my pregnancy? I didnt know. I still don’t. I never will.
My sister went home. With my husband out of state on business, I threw myself back into the daily chaos headfirst. It was easy to ignore the first subtle signs that something wasn’t right; there was just too much to do, and it had to get done. The pain was terrible, but had to be worked through. By the next day, something was very very wrong. I could barely stand up and couldn’t stop shivering. The world would suddenly swim before my eyes, and my head pounded. Shrill ringing noises in my ears and pain that made me retch. Still, I didn’t think I was in trouble. All part of the process and just another thing to endure, the only way to get from one end of this nightmare to the other.
The nurse’s insistence that I go to the hospital was just an annoyance. All I needed was more medicine for the pain, to beat it into submission enough that I could make it around my train track a few more times. The agonizing ride to the ER, discovering I had a quickly climbing fever and the concerned faces of the staff didn’t drive the point home. Give me a prescription and let me go home already, I’ve got way too much to deal with. I wanted to cry in my own bed, to grieve, to hate myself privately. Instead I was taken upstairs. They finally left me alone to sleep while bags of antibiotics flowed, trying to quell the infection that had spread from my womb to my bloodstream.
Being prepped for surgery didn’t make the gravity of things any more clear. Waking up to the hiss of a plastic bubble above me, a nurse’s red fingernails, and a tube against the back of my throat. Gagging as they pulled it out, bleary curtains and beeping machines, I didn’t care about it. My baby was dead and I wanted to go home. I wanted to hug my children. I wanted to ignore everything else.
My husband came home early, and appeared at my bedside later. They agreed to release me to his supervision. Slow shaky walks around the ward, glass walls and robotic chirps, papers and papers and papers. The nurse who had been hanging new antibiotics came in to help me get dressed while my husband got the car. She handed me my clothes and helped put new band aids on the weeping injection sites all over my thighs, the IV sites in my arms. She regarded me quietly, saying nothing, before taking my hand.
“Do you realize how serious this was?” She asked. I avoided her gaze, too tired and too sad. She squeezed my hand, looked more directly, and repeated herself. “Were you listening to the doctor earlier?” Her eyes searched mine, inescapable now. “The infection you had, combined with blood loss, it would’ve killed you. It was moving fast. It’s Friday today, right? You probably would’ve been dead by Sunday.”
That was what finally opened my eyes. I had been so busy with my clockwork, task after task after task, I had set one foot over the edge of that infinite cliff without even realizing it.
I’m taking my antibiotics. I’m eating. I’m watching myself as much as I can. I miss my baby- I always will. But I have six living children that need me.
The day after I got home from the hospital, one of my favorite goats gave birth to quadruplets. Four boys; two stillborn, two weak. Both had to be bottle fed. One died within a day of his birth. The other rallied, and has been a daily joy. Something else to pour myself into while my heart heals. Another reminder of that paper-thin line between life and death that we all circle each day.
It’s impossible to know how often we face our mortality without even knowing it. When my little son’s soul took flight, I was completely unaware. When I chose to send the text requesting a ride to the ER instead of going back to sleep, I had no idea I was making a decision that would probably determine whether I lived or died. I don’t understand the way the world works; hell, right now I’m happy to have survived.