By Anita Phillips
is always there beneath the surface, every moment of every hour.
Just when I think I am okay, I realize that I am not, and unexpected
tears fall from my eyes surprising me with the depth of my sorrow,
I relive fragments of my baby's death; pieces float to the surface
and submerge again. The pale face of an ultrasound technician, glances
of pity as I rush past the nurses station, confusion over the simplest
questions -- my address, my phone -- fumbling for keys to open the
car door as my body trembles cold from the shock of it all. "You
may elect to terminate the pregnancy," the neonatal specialist
said. "There is no fluid. The heart has been beating too hard
for too long. It will eventually stop." There is nothing that
can be done when there is no amniotic fluid. When it is gone, it
is simply gone. The baby dies.
Terminate or miscarry. Abort my baby before nature takes its course
and my body goes into labor, delivering a stillborn child in a sea
of blood and crisis. I never would have imagined that this child
I wanted so desperately and had tried for many years to make would
not be perfect, would not be whole. My wretched womb had betrayed
me, becoming toxic and strangling; a prison suffocating my baby
in dryness, like a fish without water gasping for breath.
Only two clinics in Southern California perform abortions in the
second trimester. It takes three days and three brief surgeries
to release a mature baby from the womb: the stitching in of small
sticks of kelp, forcing the body to unfold and expel the hope of
I sat in the lobby of the clinic filling out forms and disclosures,
weeping into my husband's shirtsleeve. My swollen belly had begun
to diminish beneath the weight of circumstance, beneath the affliction
of randomness. "We take handprints and footprints to document
the fetus," the abortion counselor explained. I imagined ten
tiny fingers and ten tiny toes inked in black, limp upon the page.
"You may have a copy if you choose to see." But I could
not choose to see. It was not a matter of choice, it was a matter
of what I could bear, as if tangible evidence would make this baby
too real, the baby we had not named, the ghost child I had carried
for nearly six months.
Abortion. Termination. Bleeding. Cramping. Post Operative Recovery.
Cremation. I elected to stop the baby's heart so he would not be
delivered alive. Tragic mercy. The body was cremated, my baby's
ashes joining those of other babies, some wanted, some unwanted;
the ashes of agonizing choice. On the third day I went into labor
on the operating table, praying for the anesthesiologist to emerge
from behind closed doors; to deliver me into blackness, if only
for a while. A Musak track crooned "Blue Hawaii" in the
with so much loveliness, there should be
love." The walls of the room seeped antiseptic yellow, an acrylic
basket displayed fashion magazines touting "Holiday Chic,"
"Party Hair," and "What Every Woman Wants for Christmas."
IV's, heart monitors, breathing tubes and catheters, bitter taste
of anesthesia, involuntary contractions of my uterus, gloved hand
of a nurse gripping mine. I succumbed to a drug-induced void. I
awoke, my body vacant, dreaming I was being swallowed by quicksand
in the middle of the freeway, cars screaming past, oblivious, indifferent.
I stayed in bed for two weeks, taking painkillers and sleeping pills
trying to numb the pain; trying to silence the nightmares of crying,
motherless babies; trying to suppress the visions of drowning in
a shallow stream. How simple it would be to slip away.
Santa Ana winds filled the swimming pool with tree branches and
leaves, started fires in the Malibu canyons, downed power lines
throughout the Valley. It was unusually dry for November. Termites
devoured the bedroom window frames. The plumbing system in the house
backed up, regurgitating waste across the polished wood floors,
gnarled elm roots overtaking the line were ground down and flushed
away. The dog wandered aimlessly, tiptoeing around the silence,
trying to find some semblance of normal. Lilies and roses arrived
at the door, tokens of condolence from friends who understood that
sometimes there are no words. My house filled with the fragrance
of despair. "There will be another baby," my family consoled.
"There will be another baby," I echoed in response. But
I was unable to think beyond the hour and was glad another day had
There is perfection in grief. My hair fell out in clumps, my face
I barely recognized, swollen and pale with hollow eyes. My mind
hovered outside my body, floating in a realm of suspended time and
selective amnesia. Guilt came and went as I blamed myself for not
creating a healthy child, for stopping the heart that sought to
live with such fierce determination that it had worn itself out
with too many beats. The sadness was too large. I wanted to bear
it all physically and gouge a wound on my body. I wanted to narrow
the unutterable sorrow, the blinding shock, to a jagged tear in
my flesh that would close and heal and lose color; a scar that would
show only when I searched for it, a part of me that was permanent
yet hardly there at all.
Upon my return to work I took the elevator from the lowest level
of the parking garage, and pressed myself into the corner. Several
coworkers stepped on at the lobby level, a group of men that did
not know what to say. They made small talk about the holidays, stealing
quick glances at my flat belly as if to confirm the truth -- the
oddity of a suddenly vacant womb. A young pregnant woman in a yellow
knit dress bustled in and selected floor 12. Everyone stared at
the door in silence. I felt disfigured, my body ill fitting; the
flesh about my waist bloated, my breasts engorged, conspicuous.
The woman in the yellow dress looked flushed, tired, normal. Simply
normal, I thought, the unassuming miracle of simply normal.
Upon my desk sat a stack of unopened announcements, reports, solicitations,
inter-office memos, interspersed with notes from business acquaintances
and peripheral friends; men and women from the office sharing private
stories of grief as if offering me sacred recipes for bread: lost
children measured like flour; sadness where the dough should rest.
And I wondered if one ever truly recovers. The river of brokenness
runs deep. I wade through the currents one day at a time, finding
comfort in the redundancy of routine, sculpting a place for the
ache to reside, seeking a morning when I might rise without heaviness.
"Don't give up," they all tell me. "You will be whole
again." A mother without a child, my arms are empty. The journey
version for easy reading
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