We were so excited that morning. After a miscarriage at 7 weeks, we were quickly pregnant again, and the first two sonograms confirmed a steady heartbeat.
I was starting to tentatively wear maternity clothes, mostly because I just wanted to, to prove to myself that I was really pregnant.
We had now passed the 14 week mark, and we were going to get the amnio. My mother came along too, just so she could see a sonogram for the first time. When my older sister had her two children in the 1980s, sonograms didn’t exist.
The medical building was all shiny blue glass, and reflected off a clear, blue sky, on a cold winter day. I was filled with hope and excitement and so many dreams for my first baby.
When the technician looked at the image on the sonogram, I should have known something was wrong, but I was too caught up in my happiness to recognize the signs. She didn’t point out the body parts to me, or tell me whether it was a girl or boy (I was dying to know). She just abruptly left the room and said the doctor would come in shortly.
A doctor who I had never met before walked into the room, took a look at the sono, and then broke the news.
“Your baby has very serious defects and cannot possibly survive. It will probably die within a few days. I’m so sorry.”
I screamed. I’m not sure exactly what I did next, but I remember screaming, and the doctor, my mother and Fred ushering me into a small office and shutting the door. For my privacy, and probably to protect other pregnant women there from me, the embodiment of their deepest fears.
I remember feeling embarrassed that my mother was there. I wanted to show her my triumphant pregnancy, and instead I had to endure her efforts to comfort me, when I wanted no comfort.
At my obstetrician’s office a day later, she told me I was too far along in the pregnancy to have a D&C and that I’d have to go through labor and delivery. In a way, I was glad. If I had to go through labor, that meant this was a real baby, and no one would be able to dismiss or minimize the death of my child.
The morning we went to the hospital, they gave me a valium to calm me down before the pitocin to start the labor. It made the entire experience surreal, and I remember laughing and making jokes while Fred and I waited for the drugs to start the labor.
Fred, meanwhile, was breaking down. He was suddenly seized by awful pains and spent most of the morning doubled over in agony. I knew it was a reaction to what was happening, but I remember hating him for it, and wishing he would have been able to be strong for me. But he was losing his baby too, and the sadness had no outlet for him but physical pain.
A couple hours later, my water broke and my doctor came in and delivered my baby. I felt a wrenching pain, I pushed and the baby easily slid out. It was over.
I knew from books on loss that I’d read beforehand that it was important that I see the baby, or I would forever run the risk of imagining that she looked like something too scary to see.
Still, the nurse didn’t want to show the baby to me, but I insisted. Finally, wrapped in a hospital blanket, she put her in front of me for just a few seconds. I remember looking at her perfect little nose and soft skin. Later on I learned she was horribly deformed below the waist, but the hazy picture of her I keep in my head is of a perfect, sweet face.
I should have held her. I wish I would have held her. But they whisked her away so fast and I didn’t have the strength or maybe the courage to do it. And I should have had them take a picture of her to keep. They offered to. But something held me back.
I did insist that we have her cremated, and a local Rabbi gave me some readings so that we could have a ceremony to help us grieve.
The cremains came in a small, rectangular white plastic box, marked “Baby S” that Fred still keeps in his dresser drawer. Despite how small she was, there were bits of bone remaining in the ash, and we buried her in the backyard, in the hole we dug for a cherry tree to plant in her memory.
I was numb for a month, and then started hating myself, and thinking, who the Hell did I think I was that I could actually be a mother? I was a recovering drug addict and started blaming myself because of what I’d done to my body. And I hated all the pregnant women I saw. When I held a friend’s newborn baby girl, I had the urge to throw her from the window. I couldn’t stand the joy she was bringing someone else and it just magnified my misery.
Eighteen months later, I gave birth to my twin girls. Every year on their birthday, I take a picture of them in front of that cherry tree. When we bought the tree, the nursery said it would never bear fruit because you needed two trees to pollinate each other.
But each spring, the white flowers come, and then the shiny green fruit, which barely has time to ripen before the birds and squirrels pick the tree clean.
Gone too soon, like the baby I would never hold. But sweet and beautiful and miraculous, like my living children, who used to dance and sing and fling stuffed animals into its branches.
Every year I think about that dark time, this blooming cherry tree, and the joy I’ve been able to feel in raising my daughters. And it helps me to let go of the pain of the loss of Tessa, my firstborn.