I sit there, in the passenger seat of the Chevy Equinox, with my husband sitting next to me. I am holding and gazing at the little brass box that is Nora’s receiving blanket; the blanket I will take her home in. The box has a plaster teddy bear on it. I stroke my fingers across its outline as my husband, in his best suit and blue striped tie, stares out the car window with the keys in the ignition waiting for us to move forward. Forward. Whatever that might be.
A tear comes to my eye as my mind wanders back to just a week before, when I was walking up the stairs full with pregnancy, whining and complaining that I was three days overdue. Wondering when I would get to meet her; her still kicking, her still moving inside me. I looked at my husband then and said, “I’m not ready for this Nick. I’m not READY to have a baby!”
He smiled with an excited snicker and replied, “You BETTER be. She’s coming soon!”
I said a somber, “I know,” as something in my mind whispered, “Just stay. Just stay in this moment. Lindsey don’t live for tomorrow. This is your moment. Your time is now.”
I listened by caressing my belly with Nora kicking inside, full of life, ready to meet the world. Then I tucked myself into bed.
That was seven days ago. Six days ago was when my life changed. I was right; life would never be the same again. And I wasn’t ready. Not ready for what was going to happen next.
Sitting in the car I watched the white Christmas lights twinkle through the layers of snow encasing the houses across the street, left over from happier times of Christmas. I sat thinking about the hospital bag that was packed and waiting with a real, soft receiving blanket. Not the cold brass box I now held in my hands. Fear sunk in and horror consumed my body as I recalled how we ended up here. How everything changed.
Grief overwhelmed me as my mind was transported from that dark place in the car back into the hospital room, reliving the moment when we eagerly arrived early Sunday morning preparing to deliver and meet our little girl. The nurse helping me into the bed and Nick at my side kneeling down next to me, elbows on the bed, almost as if he was in a praying position. But at that moment, I don’t think he realized how soon he would need to pray.
The nurse placed the Doppler on my bulging belly and searched for Nora’s heartbeat as Nick and I, in good spirits, glowed with excited anticipation for the short hours ahead when our eyes would meet hers. The nurse said, “Hmm. I’m having a hard time finding it,” referring to the heartbeat that was so strong just four days before. “Sometimes it’s difficult. Let me get the doctor,” she said in a strange but reassuring tone.
I should have known then that she knew, for there was a questionable look of concern lingering on her face that the excited and expecting mom I was chose to ignore. One last moment of pregnancy bliss, one last moment of living in the hope of “Before” instead of the despair of “After.”
Then the doctor arrived. And with a look of horror on his face, stillness on the ultra sound, and a screaming silence hovering in the room, he said the words I will never forget and that I hate saying out loud, “I’m sorry there’s no heartbeat.”
I paused inside as shock and terror ran through me. My husband next to me asked the doctor, “What can we do?” As if there was something we could do to save her at this point.
The doctor replied, “We deliver.” Another labor pain shot up from my back through my loins I thought to myself, “This is unfair! So unfair! You couldn’t save her and now you are going to make me deliver her!”
My husband begins to cry for the first, but not the last, time. There will be many occasions over the next months where we find ourselves clinging to each other as we are engulfed by grief and sorrow. Only finding comfort in our tears, as we do in the hospital bed. I pull him close with the only thing between us being my large belly that holds our dead daughter inside.
I say, “Can we have a minute.” And we cry and cry. I cry out, “I’m so scared!” and “I’m so sorry!”
My beautiful husband responds with, “There is nothing to be sorry about.”
The rest of the day passes as a blur. Hours pass. Nurses come. Nurses go. They give me an epidural. The nurses are so brilliant, so loving. Time elapses but I am stuck in the moment of defeat for what seems like forever. Contractions come and go. I’m in a daze, and I recall how my husband rushed to the bathroom at one point to vomit because he couldn’t swallow his pain any longer. There was nothing to do but wait. Wait for death to be born. Everyone was on their way. Grandpas and Grandmas not to be, Aunts and Uncles who will not get their turn at the title. Everybody was waiting in the lobby to do something, but there was nothing to do. Isn’t that always the way tragedy plays out?
Then it happened. We didn’t have to wait any longer. It had been twelve hours and the doctors said it was time. I pushed. She was stuck. As she couldn’t “help me” since she was no longer alive. A secret place inside of me hoped that they were wrong. That she would be crying and animated when she was placed on my chest and my nightmare would end instead of just begin.
As they laid her on my breast, my husband backed away as this was not how he wanted to see his first child brought into this world. But she was exactly as I had imagined her. Every inch of her was perfect. Her skin, never have I felt such softness, it was as if my fingertips were passing through a gentle cloud from the heavens that one could fall asleep on. Her skin to my skin, felt like such pure joy. Even being cold to the touch, her skin was gentle, smooth, supple, divine. As the tears of joy and fear wept down my face, I touched my lips to hers.
Lips. Luscious, voluminous lips that caught a tear of mine as it rolled down my face and onto hers. I couldn’t believe it. I had created her! We had created her! The sweet chocolate hair, the silky skin, the stunning lips, the button nose, perfectly protruding from the center of her round, heart, shaped face highlighting her sleeping eyes.
Those eyes, framed by perfectly arched brows, with dark, long, flowing eyelashes. Her eyelashes encapsulated what whispers in the breeze should materialize as. The physical agony and pain I had experienced moments before had melted away as I stared at her eyelashes and took in her full beauty. Never have I experienced love like this.
I smiled for a fleeting second as I forgot that she was dead. All I experienced was pride and joy in that moment. And in that moment I knew what motherhood meant. In that moment I loved her and I have loved her ever since. She was stillborn and I was still proud, proud to be her mom.
I was weeping with this memory flooding through me in the car, as I held her ashes in her little box outside the funeral home. I turned to Nick again and uttered the words from six days earlier, “This is unfair.”
He said, “I know.”
And I held her in her tiny brass box, bringing her home in the most unexpected way.
Now, seven months have passed as I sit up on the top of the bluffs over Lake Superior and think about how everyday I grieve the life that was to be but isn’t. I stare at her little ugly brass box with her beautiful name engraved on it, Nora Norine-Kelly Henke, preparing to spread her ashes as I hold Nick’s hand on this warm August evening. I stroke her box one more time, as I deliver her to the world again as her mother, this time for the last time. Returning her to the earth she never met. Here is where I find a moment of peace again, because a part of me is ready to let her go. To let her rest. To let her be. While a part of me will always have a part of her living inside of me, because she made me a mother. She was still born and I am still proud.