I found a second full term pregnancy to be so much different than the first. I spent a lot of time with your sister when she was in my belly. I thought about her all the time, I would rock back and forth and sing to her in there. I made a playlist of music of songs that made me think of my daughter who would be out in the world In a few short months. I went to yoga religiously, are well, taught my Nia classes, asked questions, did research. I laid in my bed most days for forty-five minutes or so practicing my hypnoborthing, relaxing deeply and sensing into my little baby.
But during your pregnancy, I would often forget I was pregnant. Days would go by, filled with taking care of little Vesta, parading around the city with J and M, getting my business going, taking care of our home and eking out alone time with your dad. I didn’t sing to you or rock you or connect to you by any comparison when Vesta was taking up the space you now were.
But eventually I found prenatal classes and I started going once or twice a week and these were our times together. I would move my body gently, surrounded by other mothers doing the same, to bring some relief to aches and pains but mostly to have some time with you. To connect with you and think about you and just be together.
I met other moms there that had kids Vesta’s age and expecting their second. We confided in each other our fears of managing a second child with our toddlers. How different this pregnancy was, how unknown the reality of a newborn and an older sibling would be. I express these concerns to your midwife and she offered to host a second time mom group for us. I invited these women who quickly agreed. We exchanged contact information, we got rounder and fuller and closer to delivery. The teacher would announce the arrivals of babies whose mom’s had been in our classes and we would smile and feel happy for them and our anticipation for our own babies would increase.
I was gave birth first out of the women who would join the group with your midwife. And, of course, you died instead of staying here to reveal the challenges and joys of parenting two living children. I forgot all about those women and thy potential group in my grief, in those early days when everything was so excruciatingly painful. Until I got an email from one of them: asking about you, telling me about her baby and her new parenthood and asking if we could get the group started. I wrote her back with the news, she wrote me back with kind, stunned words and I never heard from any of them again.
The yoga studios I went to were such painful reminders, I wouldn’t even drive by them for a long time. I wouldn’t go to Williams street with its wonderful restaurants and shops, nor use it as the thoroughfare it had become. The hospital you died in was just blocks away so the whole area became painfully off limits. That eventually eased and I began to drive past but never stop, never park, never walk the street. Eventually, I would drive by and smile some, knowing that it was one of the few places you were, one of the only places you and I had our quality time together. But I would never enter. Yoga classes were recommended to me at the studio, there were special events and workshops I wanted to attend there but I never went again. I could never bring myself to enter that space again for fear that I might die from the weight of it, from the loss of you, from what was now a sacred, unbareable space.
In May, I attended a massage training. Eight students, thousands of massage therapists in this town and coming in late, a woman I recognize. I cannot place her. I know her but from where? And why do I have a sense that I don’t like her? The teacher begins the first day introduction as we sit in a circle on the hardwood floor. I am almost completely distracted by her. She has something to do with babies. Is she the doula I met when I first moved here? No. Was she in our childbirth refresher class when I was pregnant with you? No. It takes almost an hour before I remember and my stomach clenches and my heart skips and I stop breathing. She’s my prenatal yoga teacher.
She was there. She was there with us. She led us through the poses. She talked about using yoga principles during childbirth. She read poetry and yogic scripture. She created the space for you and I to have our precious, York time together. She knew you in this removed, but since you died, profound and sacred space. Perhaps if you were here I would be excited. Perhaps I would hardly be able to contain myself as I waited for the opportunity to show her your picture. Here he is. Here is the baby I carried in your class. Perhaps I would thank her for that time with you. Perhaps it wouldn’t even occur to me to do so, had you lived.
I want to run screaming from the room. How could it be? So few students in one workshop among thousands offered every year to meet our massage licensing requirements for continuing education. Thousands of massage therapists in this city and here she is. In my class of eight. In the class it took all my gumption to attend, not feeling ready to advance myself, not feeling ready yet to learn anything new. This workshop I chose because I imagined it was close to what I was already doing. It was a vestage of my leftover anxiety and fear, of my lack of hope and vision for the future. But it had to be done. So I did it. I signed up, I paid, I figured out childcare for Vesta, I got myself her. And now I can’t do it. I can’t spend for long days with her. I can’t touch her and have her touch me. I can’t listen to her questions and hear waht she shares. She was there with us. And now you are gone. And yoga is the final frontier of brick and mortar, of avoidance and fear, of sacred, unattainable, unallowed access. Not this. I want to throw up.
But as usual I sit there. I don’t run screaming, I don’t throw up, I don’t even start crying. I begin to manage. Again. Always. Always with the managing of myself. Always with the impossible, uncomfortable, unnavigable terrain of my inner life, of the real me overtaken by grief.
I avoid her all morning and my skin crawls and I pretend. I smile and chat and try to avoid anymore interaction than necessary in a massage class. Cards are drawn to choose partners and by some mercy, some miracle, I don’t get matched with her, though I am sure that I will. We learn, we practice, we break for lunch. I go to Starbucks and get a giant mocha with whipped cream and I smoke cigarettes. I forget to eat. I take a walk. I start to breathe again.
We come back together for the afternoon session. And here it comes again. The wave of ease and peace that now follows my crazy episodes. They are miraculous and though it always astounds me, they seem to come with the same unpredictably and merciful randomness that I mirror the episodes of grief and terror and anxiety that proceed them. I do the work. She was there. She was there with us, with you. So few people shared space with you on purpose. I have to eek them out. I can count them on my fingers. She was there. She knew you as well as anyone ever would, really. I listen, I learn I practice but I continue to avoid.
At the end of the day, I leave quickly. She is right behind me as it turns out and parked right next to me. I walk over to her.
“You teach prenatal yoga, right?” I say and begin to cry.
“Yes, I do”, she says smiling through concerned eyes.
“I just have to tell you something.”, I say, breathing heavily and trying to speak through my tears. “I was in your classes. And. And. My baby died. My son died. Right after he was born. But you gave me time with him.” I pause and ask her if she has two children, which I know she does form her stories in class, but I need a break. I tell her she knows how it is then, the second pregnancy. How fast the time goes, how much less time we have to connect with our babies. She nods. Yes, she knows. “Well, you gave me that time. That time with him, just he and I. It’s all the time I had.” I bumble out.
She is stiff but she touches my shoulder. Says she is sorry. Asks if I know this other mom who lost a child and went on to have two more kids. I ignore this.
“We don’t know what we do for each other,” I say and she starts to say something that is not what I meant. “No.” I say, “You don’t know what you did for me. You just taught your yoga classes. You studied and practiced and dedicated your career to helping new mothers. And you gave me one of the biggest gifts of my life. The only time I had alone with my son.”
She softened: her face, her body, her eyes. She hugged me. “I’m so sorry” she said quietly.
“Thank you.” I said. And we parted.
We ended up working with each other and she kept that softness around me. She laughed with me and we compared notes in class and practiced on each other and worked together practicing on others. You know, of course, that she turned out to be the person I most conencted with in the course. The person who helped me learn, who asked questions I didn’t know I need answers to, who brought insights to the class that I never would have gained without her there. We did one exchange of neck work, during which we both had very profound experiences. The last day of class, I stood next to her, as a professional, in my body and unfraid, and said “We should work together. I think we are a good match.”
“I think so, too.”, she said.
And even the thin sheeth of skin between the onion layers of this grief, of this insurmountbale, impossible expereince, even those begin to heal. Even those soften and ease and repair themselves. It’s not just the big stuff. It’s these little things. These little leftovers of painful pockets that you send me people to release me from them. Like your saying, “It’s okay, mama. In fact it’s good.” Like you brought me all of these people throughout your time here on Earth on exact purpose, to bring them back to me, to let me thank them. The only one left now, that I can think of, is your nurse, Carrie. Send her to me. How I would love to see her again.
I love you, Harv. Thanks for making me into one brave, vulnerable, superhero mama. I am who I am now because of you and I love who I am becoming.
To the moon and back,