Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Two Crescent Moons
by Jennifer Marine

I sit up, barely, to see the baby.

Finally... it's over. The nurses can stop trying to shush me now, to keep me from disturbing the other women on the ward doing the "real work." I can stop wondering if I’m dying and forgetting where I am, what’s happening to me. I no longer see the t-shirted pigs cheering in the bleachers directly behind my partner in the recliner, hallucinating my brains out. The room is so dark that everything I see is made up of tiny dots. I am cold from the wet sheets beneath me. Anonymous people enter and leave the room carefully, their rubbery shoes squeaking… low voices.

I want to see her (they’ve told me with muted pride it’s a girl), to see if indeed she was even real. The entire six months, I’d had the sense that maybe I wasn’t pregnant, it was all fake: the nausea and throwing up -- so much vomiting I actually got good at it. Just extreme symptoms of some psychosomatic disorder on my part: nerves, stress, fear of becoming a mother.

So I sit up, my legs straight, weak and open, and there she is, tucked into the V. I wish I could focus better to see her clearly, to really take her in and get a good look. I want to soak her into my brain, so I can observe her later, at length, when I’m ready. I want her image to keep for my own, something of her that will stay. But I don’t touch her. I don’t know why. Later, I will think with warped sentimentality: the hospital should always take a picture for the mother to keep in cases like this, like a tourist at Disneyland. Later, I will wonder if I dreamt it all...

Drugs and more drugs have taken their toll. "Your comfort is what’s at stake here, honey," the nurse had said earlier. "Since there’s no danger from the drugs…(and what she couldn’t finish with was, for the baby), You just tell us what you need…"

Everything seems to be made up of fast-moving dots. The baby is blurry and… brownish. Can this be right? Why does she look so tan? Her eyebrows are golden arcs, gracefully drawn. Her eyes are closed into two crescent moons. I look at her miniature hands and am shocked, for some reason, to see that, yes, she already has fingernails. Perfectly formed, tiny, smooth fingernails -- like a regular human being.

But she is so thin. Small. She looks still and heavy, like a piece of meat. One foot is turned inwards and I struggle to put my question into actual, audible words: What is wrong with her foot? I’m surprised when the nurse answers -- I guess I did talk out loud. "Maybe from resting inside of you for so long," a soft voice offers, trying to reassure.

I had waited two, almost three weeks, trying to delay this managed, technological ordeal. Waited to see if my own body would kick in and do the trick. I woke up one morning, and after months and months of intense nausea, puking all day, losing weight, feeling like absolute hell, I felt great. I could have run around the block, I could have ridden my bike across the city. But the stillness in my tummy told me something wasn’t right, even though I felt reborn. And an ultrasound confirmed it: fetal demise was the clinical term. Meaning: your baby is dead.

I’d waited and waited. Didn’t you automatically miscarry in that case? Not necessarily, was the weird answer I came to understand all too well. So I waited for weeks, under a doctor’s supervision, until I could take it no more. Through days and days of surreal, tender glances from strangers in public, smiling at my stomach, when only I knew the truth.

All the while, my blood was monitored daily for levels of toxic decay inside me. Decay. The word was such a mismatch. "We can safely wait up to a month," the doctor had said, "as long as you’re alright."

Back in the mushy hospital room, looking down at the baby, I draw the distant, logical conclusion: so this is why she’s so dark then. Hmmm. Interesting…

I long for tears --  I should feel something more, I think. I should be wracked with sobs; keening, wailing -- in absolute anguish. But I cannot cry. All I can do is stare at her like I’m drunk.

I have looked for no more than ten seconds at this: my brown, dead, six-month old daughter. My daughter. My baby.

Then I say, finally… okay…and fall back hard into the bed.

They take her away as if by magic.

On my way home from the hospital the next day, I sit with my silent family in an expensive restaurant normally reserved for birthdays. Underneath a billowing maternity dress, my stomach is concave like it’s never been before; muscles hard and cut from losing so much weight while pregnant. I look like I’ve been working out with a trainer.

I’m treated to the priciest item on the menu. And picking blindly at my food, I marvel at the sheer invisibility of my loss. What just happened? How have I just spent the last six months of my life?

It’s only years later that I can thank the cogs and wheels of creation, the forces that generate some kind of order or wisdom for what happened before. I was nineteen then, unready, overwhelmed, blindsided by my pregnancy. Two daughters later, and my heart swells to think of all we’ve gone through together -- the love, the confusion, the trials and errors, the searing worries of wanting the best, the stumbling through the getting there.

That first pregnancy was a preparation of sorts. It said to me: this is the weight of these matters. This is a portent of things to come. So gear up and get ready. If you want kids, you’re going to be dealing with some pretty intense stuff.

I have, and I will, and as I look around me, I think, how could my life have gone any other way?
Jennifer Marine is an integral part of the heart and soul of AustinMama.com.  Her column, Dilemma Hen, debuted in early September.