I live in double time.
My baby died at 21 weeks’ gestation; I celebrate the day he was born as his birthday. But that is not the day his life would have begun. Some people honor the estimated due date of a baby that they lost. We did this, too–we buried his placenta and planted a tree on top of it, and our friends were there to eat, drink, and celebrate with us. It was, as my children say, SweetBaby’s first “sad party.”
But I am a doula and a student midwife; I don’t put much stock in due dates. So it wasn’t until I hit 43 weeks, the day by which my half-hippie, half-scientist nurse-midwife would have insisted he be born, that I fell apart. Walking alone around the campus where I got my Master’s and where DoulaBoy now spends every summer at a camp for the gifted, my arms ached with emptiness. I should have had a newborn with me. I would have been exhausted, angry, emotional, torn between the needs of my nearly-eleven-year-old and a baby who still wouldn’t have fully mastered breastfeeding (so who would have needed to do it every hour or two). But he would have been small and sweet, with the delicious-smelling head and the soft, firm weight that I know so well.
Those first days of realization were the hardest, but I wouldn’t say it has gotten easier. I’ll never know what day my fourth son would have been born, so I’ll never know exactly how old he should be. But I think about it. I wonder. I live in a kind of parallel time with him; he is at once six months, a year, a year and a half old because that is when he was born–and two weeks old, or three months, or six months. He is the limp, nine-inch, one-pound boy whose eyes couldn’t even open yet, and also the glowing nine-pound boy flailing and opening his eyes wide in the Morrow reflex. Learning to suckle. Studying my face, and his father’s. Smiling for the first time. Discovering his brothers. Laughing at their antics for the first time. (Learning to defend himself…!)
In the first days after his birth, I had visions of him at every age. He was always with my brother, who died at 33: a beautiful, smiley baby safe in his uncle’s arms; a laughing red-headed little boy playing in the grass; a confident tween climbing a tree; a man himself, with broad shoulders and a confident smile and blue eyes that looked directly at me. It was as real as my own hand before my face, and I wasn’t even on any prescriptions.
This isn’t that. This is my own pained imaginings of what my life, his life, our life, would have been if he hadn’t died. But there are parts of it I just can’t see. And that’s okay. I don’t need to know how his live birth would have changed FearlessToddler, or FamilyBoy, or DoulaBoy. I don’t need to know how our marriage would have shifted. I don’t need to think about how we would have had to re-arrange the playroom or tried to keep the 379,742 Legos off the floor.
And ultimately, I don’t need to know when he would have been born. I just need to remember that he would have been.
Remembering is enough.