It is getting disturbingly easier to simply tell a lie or a half-truth during the “Is this your first?” conversation. Answering, “No, my second,” has become automatic. But answering the follow-up is still so hard. Last week I was walking Bess in the neighborhood and a woman I’d never seen before was walking in the opposite direction on the other side of the street with a double stroller, a girl toddler on one side and what I can only assume was an infant on the other. I could hear her telling her daughter that I had a baby in my belly. I tried to keep my eyes forward and walk faster as if I hadn’t noticed, but then she yelled across the street to me and asked, “How much longer do you have?” I looked up, smiled, and said, “About a month.” She said, “Is this your first?” I replied, “No, my second.” “How old is your older child?” she asked. My heart skipped a little, but before I knew it, I said, “Two and a half.” She then started to babble about the huge transition from one kid to two, but my brain was already on overload by that point so I barely heard her and kept walking. Two and a half? Two and a half? What in the world made me say that? What made me even imply that Hudson is alive, let alone that she is actually the age she should be now? I justified that response to myself by saying it would have been ridiculous to shout to a complete stranger across the street about something so personal and so shocking and so sad.
This morning, as I was paying for parking at the garage at the perinatologist’s office (this garage I have to drive through over and over again, remembering the last time we took Hudson to the pediatrician in the same building), the attendant asked when I was due and what I was having, and then asked if this were my first. When I replied that it was my second, he asked, “What do you have?” And I just said, “A daughter.” And he smiled and said, “Oh, well, you’re done! I have two daughters at home. I need a boy!” I smiled as best I could, grabbed my receipt, and pulled away, only to find myself in a mess of tears within seconds. Because of course, I won’t have a girl and a boy at home. Just my sweet boy.
I am so very tired of fielding these questions. It has become so much easier just to lie when answering them. And after today’s experience, I finally realized why. As both the one-year anniversary of Hudson’s death and Jackson’s birth approach, I find myself as unwilling as ever to accept that indeed, my daughter is dead, that her beautiful smile will never light up our home again, that she will never meet her little brother, that I will never get to hear her say the sentence, “I love you, Mommy.”
This realization has been building for days and days now. Ed and I have been dealing with this transition in pieces, tiny steps at a time. A few weeks ago, we started preparing for a neighborhood yard sale in May. We needed a “staging area” for gathering everything we wanted to get rid of, and the only place to do it was on top of a bed in our basement. But of course, this bed has been where we’ve put all of Hudson’s things that were scattered through the house—some of her baby clothes had lived already been living there in paper bags long before she died, and since then, we’ve just been taking things one by one down there and putting them on the bed. Boxes of toys, chunky crayons and finger paints, the car seat, her toddler tub, the Ergo carrier, the Baby Bjorn, the infant activity mat. So in order to clear off that space, we had to start going through it all, bit by bit. We sorted through all of her baby clothes (just the stuff that she wore up through about a year), pulling out anything that was too “Hudson” to ever use with another child (like her “Silly Monkey” onesie and her fleece-lined winter coat that she wore every day for the whole winter), sorting out those things that were unisex enough for Jackson to wear, and then boxing up all the other baby girl clothes in hopes that someday a little sister will get to wear them. I started washing everything else—the carriers, the car seat cover, the activity mat, anything that we’d end up using for Jackson.
Then this week, after news from the OB on Monday that I just might deliver within the next two weeks, I started washing all the clothes. We had put aside about a paper bag full of Hudson’s things that Jackson can also wear, and then I had several bags and boxes worth of boy hand-me-downs from three different friends. After I washed them, I started folding and sorting them. I took some time and cried over many of the things that had been Hudson’s, remembering moments and images of her associated with each—the “I’ve already learned that UNC>Duke” sleeper that she wore home from the hospital, the itty-bitty newborn jammies with turtles all over them, the red fleece monkey jammies she wore at around nine months, the salmon-colored Carhartt overalls her Aunt Jess gave her that she wore on her only visit to a pumpkin patch for Halloween, the Carolina onesies and other goodies her grandparents showered her with on a trip to Chapel Hill when she was about 4 months old, the fuzzy sleep sacks we dressed her in after we stopped swaddling her. After I finished folding, I had several huge piles of clothes for Jackson (truly, we will probably not need to do laundry for the first three months, so flush are we with onesies and playsuits and sleepers of all kinds—a circumstance for which I am incredibly grateful). They are still covering most of the couch and ottoman because I have no idea what to do with them. Once again, the logical place for them to go is in the dresser in Hudson’s (Jackson’s) room, but it’s still filled with Hudson’s toddler clothes. And I just can’t seem to bring myself to pack those away yet.
And then yesterday, I installed the infant car seat in the car (a full ten days ahead of when we got this task accomplished last time). It’s in the safest spot—the middle back seat—but it’s the spot where Hudson’s toddler seat used to live. And next to it, instead of Hudson’s toddler seat, is a bedsheet that covers the seat where Bess always sits. Bess doesn’t have to change seats to make room for a second car seat. I don’t have to train her to sit in the way back row to make room for two car seats. Hudson and Jackson will never sit back there together, giggling over a shared secret or bickering or hitting each other.
Piece by piece, bit by bit, we are transforming our physical spaces to reflect our new reality—a family of four with only three, two children but only one living. But even as we are making these changes, there is clearly part of me still just can’t (or won’t) accept the way things are. Maybe I told a stranger that my daughter is two and a half years old not because I didn’t want to deal with her but because I so desperately wish it to be true. Maybe I’ve stopped telling people that my older child passed away last year because all I can think about is the way things should be in a few weeks, all the photos we should be taking, all the chaos that should be turning our house upside down as we make the transition from one to two. I can’t tell you how much I dread the heartbreak of putting up a Facebook profile picture with only my second child in it. More and more frequently these days, I feel like I must be living someone else’s life, because I just don’t recognize this one as my own.
This past weekend, for the first time since Hudson died, we went to a birthday party for one of her friends, the last of all of them to turn two. It was an Elmo-themed party, just as Hudson’s would likely have been, and most of Hudson’s little friends were there, as were the little siblings of a few. There were parents there whom I had not met, and I imagine they just assumed that we had no older children and were just friends of the birthday girl’s parents. I surprised even myself by not going completely catatonic or otherwise losing it. Afterwards, Ed asked me if I was OK, and I told him that I guessed the key was to not sit there and constantly imagine how things should be, to not think about how Hudson should be among the oldest kids there, with the most words and the most tricks, leading her little friends in games, running up to show me the goodies in her party favor bag. As long as I didn’t think about any of those things and just tried to accept the situation for what it was, to accept that this is just how our life is now, then I could manage. Of course, it hit me hard later that day—how could it not?—but for those two hours during the party, I managed.
But how to “manage” the rest of the time, and for the rest of our lives? How to “accept” this new reality, this new life?
I don’t have the foggiest idea. The past few weeks have been hard. The next few will likely be even harder. And my brain seems to want only to deny.
“I have to say what is said. I don’t have to believe it myself.” ~ Ann Carson