My due date is tomorrow and still no sign of Jackson’s arrival yet. I’ve now been pregnant 8.5 days longer than I was with Hudson, who came 9 days early and surprised us all. My poor dad has been here since before Hudson’s remembrance at the Arboretum. We planned for him to just stay here until Jackson was born, both of us thinking it would be within that next week. And here we are, ten days later and no grandbaby. He and Ed have been working hard on all kinds of random repairs on the house (I’m calling it nesting, male-style) so at least lots of things around here look a ton better than they did before.
That’s the thing about waiting around for a baby (which I’ve never had to do before)—idle hands are hard, especially when what you are waiting for, in our case, is an event so very fraught with emotion. I’ve said here and to several others already that aside from my anxiety over Jackson’s well-being, the other main reason I am ready for him to get here is so that I can stop imagining what life is going to be like mothering a living child and a dead child together and just get on with doing it. It’s not that I am dreading becoming Jackson’s mother, not at all. It’s just that I have been wondering what this kind of mothering would be like for a very long year, ever since Hudson died and I was forced to start thinking about it. It is completely impossible to imagine how it will feel to try to embrace so much joy at the same time that I still feel so very much acute pain, so I want to stop trying and just KNOW. As much as I hate it sometimes, that is One Good Thing about life hurling me forward the way that it is, even against my will sometimes—so very often it happens that the living through things is not nearly as hard as the anticipation of living through them. There is a reason that the expression “ripping off the bandaid” has become a cliché.
Case in point, I have been sitting around waiting for so long for Jackson to arrive that I ran out of things to do. I washed all of his little baby things. I prepared several meals for the freezer. I got some sewing projects finished. I got his co-sleeper set up. I dropped off donations at Goodwill. I got the car inspected and got the oil changed. I got my hair cut. I got my toes done. I packed the suitcases for the hospital in the car. I made playlists on my iPod for labor (one soothing, one energizing). I did all kinds of things, until I had mostly run out of things to do.
The one thing I still hadn’t done was tackle Hudson’s (Jackson’s) room. It still lay in the same state of disarray it had been sitting in since I first washed all of Jackson’s clothes about four weeks ago. All the clothes under 12 months size were sorted by size into paper grocery sacks sitting on the floor, and all the bigger clothes were just stacked in a pile on top of a laundry basket full of Hudson’s books that we’d brought upstairs from the playroom a long time ago. The same sheet that Hudson slept on her last night at home was still on the crib mattress and her bears still lay in the crib with one of her blankets tucked over them, the way we’d placed them after we brought them home from the hospital. New gifts of books and wall hangings and stuffed animals sat wherever there was a place for them. The changing pad on the dresser was itself clean and cleared for diaper changes, but the basket next to it was still prepared for changing a toddler’s diapers, and there was barely a path on the floor to get to the changing table itself. On the floor by the dresser was a laundry basket full of newborn clothes that still had no room in any of the drawers because Hudson’s clothes are still in there.
So yesterday, on an impulse, I went in there planning just to deal with the clothes that were strewn about. We recently realized we had a chest outside Hudson’s room that we could put Jackson’s bigger clothes in, so I figured if I could just get those off the floor and get some of the bigger clothes put away somewhere, the room would be a little more accessible for diapering, at least. So I started moving the bags of clothes off the floor and into the chest outside the room. And then, once I started, I figured I would deal with the bigger clothes, too. I sorted them and bagged them, too, pulling out a few more things we were likely to use in the next 3-6 months for laundering, and put the big clothes in the chest. I put the clothes that still needed laundering in the hamper, where the last few outfits and jammies that Hudson ever wore sat, waiting to be cleaned one day. And then there was the question of what to do with the newborn clothes. A simple solution occurred to me. The bottom drawer of Hudson’s dresser was seldom used—usually for things she hardly wore, like a UNC basketball warm-up suit we got as a gift for her and sleep sacks that were too warm for the weather. Emptying that was easy. I put Jackson’s newborn clothes in there and then, instead of taking Hudson’s clothes out of the dresser at all, all I had to do was switch the top drawer, which still has all of Hudson’s things in it, with the bottom drawer, so that Jackson’s clothes could be easily reached. For now, then, as so many of you suggested, my kids can just share the dresser, at least until the time comes that I’m ready to do something else. I took the whole hamper, Hudson’s clothes and all, down to the basement to wash.
Once the clothes were gone, I just kept going. I hadn’t planned to. I just did it. I looked at the top of the dresser where we changed diapers. The basket next to the changing pad was full of the detritus of caring for Hudson for 17 months and 12 days, and especially that final day at home: size four diapers, the same opened package of wipes we were working on last May (amazingly, only the top wipe was dried out), two kinds of diaper cream (we were still trying to figure out which worked best), 2 bottles of antibiotic eye drops from the multiple times Hudson had pink eye, some very old teething tablets and a tube of Orajel (neither of which we ever even used), a stick of California Baby face sunscreen, the baby fingernail clippers I’d used so many times with my sweet girl sitting on my lap, two bulb syringes, an inhaler and spacer that Hudson had needed once for a particularly nasty upper respiratory infection, the thermometer and thermometer covers and KY jelly I’d used every hour or so for most of the last 24 hours she spent at home, the CVS brand acetaminophen I’d bought to treat her nasty fever because all the Tylenol had been recalled, one of those baby medicine spoons, and a spare bottle of Aveeno baby soap and a travel-sized bottle I brought to the hospital after we knew Hudson would not survive and the nurse suggested we could bathe her in the hospital bed. I didn’t linger too much over these things—I knew if I did, I would get sucked into the vortex of the details of that last night at home when we had so little idea how very sick our little monkey was. I went through them matter-of-factly, throwing most everything away except for the clippers, the diaper cream, and the KY jelly. Everything else was either expired or would be replaced when necessary. I put the diapers and the Aveeno soap (we’re trying to switch to all fragrance-free stuff in the house) in a box of other baby things to give away. I put the few newborn-size diapers we had (hand-me-downs—we’re going to use disposables for a bit and then try cloth for the first time) in the basket, and all of a sudden, it was a changing table ready for Jackson.
Next was the crib. I took out Hudson’s bears and arranged them with all the other stuffed animals we’ve received for Jackson (several penguins and turtles and monkeys, as you might imagine) along the top and sides of the crib rail. He won’t be sleeping in there for some time anyway, so I’m not too concerned about them falling in. Once I took out the bears, I noticed a round stain on the crib sheet. Although it was probably just a urine stain that we had somehow missed (Hudson rarely wet through her clothes at night), I couldn’t help but wonder if it was some kind of sign that I had overlooked of how sick she was. Had she thrown up a little bit and I missed it? (On the day before we took Hudson to the doctor, when we were googling about her fever and her swollen eye, Ed had come across meningitis, but dismissed it since except for the fever, Hudson seemed to have none of the other symptoms, one of which is vomiting.) Again, I just couldn’t let my mind stay there—I took the sheet off and put it in the hamper with the other things to be washed. And it was just done.
Once the clothes were gone, all that was left were the books. I had stacks of books that we’ve received for Jackson (again, lots of them about penguins and several classics) and then a big laundry basket of Hudson’s books that used to live in her playroom downstairs. One by one, I tried to make room for them on the bookshelf. I put all of the penguin books on a shelf together. And then I put all of Hudson’s favorite bedtime books on one shelf together, hopefully for Jackson to enjoy, too. After all this, where I finally got tripped up was with this little set of baby-sized Sesame Street board books we’d gotten as a gift for Hudson. They’re about 3 inches by 3 inches, and each one has a different topic—counting, Elmo’s favorite words, big and small, what goes together, colors. I just sat and turned them over and over in my hands, remembering how perfectly they fit into Hudson’s little hands, remembering how much joy we both took from pointing out all the different words she knew.
It wasn’t until then that I cried. I cried all over again for all that we have lost, for all that Hudson is missing, for all that we are missing without her, for all that her little brother will miss without her, for our entire lives that will never be the same, for all the years we will have to spend wishing she were with us and wondering what she would be doing now.
And then it was over. The room looked clean and tidy and ready for a new baby. It looked like I imagine we’d have gotten it looking if Hudson were still alive. And I felt better. It’s now ready for Jackson to use, but Hudson is still very much there. She’s not gone. I had put this off for so long because I so feared that she wouldn’t be there anymore, but she is. She is in every little book her hands ever touched, in every stuffed animal she ever clutched or grinned at, in every tooth mark in the wood on the crib rail, in every glance into the little mirror we keep beside the changing pad for entertainment, in every rock of the rocking chair during a chorus of “Hark the Sound” before bedtime.
She is there. She is here. Always. I needn’t have feared. Just like everything else, the waiting was the hardest part. I know the same will be true once this sweet little boy is in my arms. We just have to get there.