On my daughter’s third birthday

Amy is up way too early on a holiday.

That was my status update on February 16, 2009. I wrote it at 9:19 am, while David and I were driving to my 30-week check-up. It was President’s Day.

A half-hour later, we found out Caitlin was dead.

Is it weird, that I remember what is perhaps the most pointless, mundane status update I’ve ever written? I don’t remember what I was wearing. I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast. But I remember sitting in the passenger seat, tapping the keys of my Blackberry to write it.

I remember the doctor running the ultrasound wand over my stomach, me telling her about our trip to OB/triage the day earlier. Her asking, “And you’re sure you felt her move?” My acknowledgement that I wasn’t. Her settling on Caitlin.

“She’s passed,” she said. The room quiet, except for David’s sharp intake of breath, his quiet “No”. “There’s her heart, it’s not beating.” A little white dot that had been pulsing on the screen exactly a week earlier, now silent and still. David’s pronouncement that he was going to cry, the doctor’s assurance that it was okay, her simple acknowledgement: “It’s sad.”

After the appointment, my doctor told me to go to the maternity ward to be admitted. I remember walking up to the desk, with David by my side, and waiting for the admitting nurse to look up.  I looked at her, and said very matter-of-factly, “I’m 30 weeks pregnant with triplets. We just found out one died and my doctor said you need to admit me.” I stared straight at her the entire time I spoke, and the tone of my voice had no emotion, but what I was feeling was, “My baby is dead. I am going to say it loud, and I am going to say it clear, and you are not going to look away while I say it.”

I remember being upset that every single person who entered my room that day knew. It was my pregnancy, my tragedy, yet because of the circumstances, I’d lost control of it. I couldn’t keep it private, because I needed these people to make sure Julia, Gabrielle and I were safe.

David left me that night, at about 9. The couch wasn’t comfortable, so I told him to go sleep at home. When my water broke at 2, I asked the nurse if that meant I’d be having the babies soon. Did I need to call my husband? She said that it was possible they wouldn’t come. In the end I called David. I figured he’d be mad if I didn’t.

“What does that mean?” he asked, sleep thick in his voice. “Are they coming? Do you want me to come?”

“No,” I stammered. “She said they may not come for awhile. . .” and then I started to cry. It was the first time I’d cried all day. I cried because I was scared, that my girls were going to be born 10 weeks early. I cried because I was upset, that my daughter was dead, and that I was still going to have to deliver her. I cried because I did not want to do it alone. I cried because I had to be telling David this.

“I’m coming,” he said, and hung up. (He says now that as soon as I called, he had every intention of coming, but because he was half asleep his brain wasn’t quite working the first minute of our conversation).

When he got there he curled up in bed with me. When they wheeled me out of my room, I saw a note the night nurse had posted on my bathroom door: “Hang in there Amy.”

David doesn’t remember half of what happened that day and the next. He doesn’t remember what he told me while we were in the delivery room, waiting for my spinal (“You can do this. This isn’t how this was supposed to be, but you can do it”). He doesn’t remember calling our family, though he called them all. He doesn’t remember crawling in to bed with me at 4 in the morning. When I remind him of it all, he says, “Look at me, I really stepped up!”

When I was discharged a few days later, I got up in the middle of the night to pump. I cried while I did it. When I was done, I went through the box of Caitlin’s things – the plaster mold of her hands and feet the  nurses had made, the inking of her feet, the pink, lace-trimmed hat that matched the horrid pink-laced gown she wore, the hat that she couldn’t wear because it was too small to cover the encephalocele. What I was looking for, through my tears, was the purple crocheted blanket with the pink edging that we’d held her in. I wanted to sleep with it, and I wrestled with whether to take it back to bed with me. I didn’t want to ruin it. I didn’t want David to see me with it.

In the end, I lifted it out of the box, and as I unfolded it I saw a bit of blood. And I cried even more, because it meant I would have to wash it. It meant that her scent would be gone. Which was ridiculous, really, because I can’t smell, so whether there was a scent on there or not, it would mean nothing to me. Yet all I could think was that whatever part of her had been on that blanket, would be washed away, and with it the only traces I had of her.

Three years later, this is how my grief works. It is disjointed. It comes at random times, and at no times. Bits and pieces of specific things, like the memory of my fingers tapping away on a Blackberry Gabrielle has long since ruined; a note left on a bathroom door by a woman whose name and face I can no longer recall; David sucking up his grief and fear so he could give me whatever I needed, even though I know he had hardly anything left to give.

It is ever present, but different than the beginning. It is not a heavy weight on my chest, threatening to crush me. Instead it’s a fleeting movement in your peripheral vision. A quick peek, then it’s gone, 0and you go on, until it flits by again. It’s a song on the radio, a glimpse of an unopened gift in your closet as you pull out a sweater, the catch in your throat when you see a woman with three young children in the grocery store and you think, “Good lord, she’s crazy!”, while simultaneously realizing that it should be you.

It’s hearing your daughters ask their father to see the necklace he wears around his neck – “I want to see Caitlin’s feet!”

It is being both okay and not okay. Accepting and not accepting. Moving forward and standing still.

It is still wishing, always wishing, that I had a third little girl crying for me in the middle of the night.


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