On November 11, 2006, my dad died. It was sudden. His heart was beating, and then it wasn’t. He wasn’t old. He wasn’t sick. He was sweet and quiet, cried at the sad parts of movies, called me on Sunday afternoons, saved articles for me, and laughed at all my jokes. Sometimes they were good jokes. He was dear, and I don’t care anymore about any of the ways that he wasn’t. It doesn’t matter now, because he is gone, and I am here, and I regularly wish that he was too. Like when that boyfriend broke my heart, and when I made the (perhaps irrational) choice to pick up and move to Texas, and when I found my way in Austin, completed a graduate program, and met the man I would marry.
On April 30, 2011, I celebrated my wedding to that nice Texan boy. I wish that my dad were at our wedding. Not because of the speech he would have made, because he was much too shy to make a speech, and not because he would have walked me down the aisle, because I may well have insisted that I walk my own damn self down the aisle, and not because we would have danced together, because, honestly, he hated dancing, and while he would have participated in the ritual, it would have been with sweaty palms. I wish that he could have been there because he would have been sweet and quiet and cried at the happy parts, laughed at my friend’s jokes, and he would be so happy for me.
On July 6th, 2011, I took 6 pregnancy tests, all of which were positive. I would have liked to call my dad, who would have cried at this happy part. It’s what we wanted. We hit the baby jackpot- newlyweds in our thirties, and a pregnancy that couldn’t have happened at a better time. We had enough money, we live in an amazing city, I wouldn’t be at my most pregnant in the unending Texas summer, our baby would be born in the spring, when I feel most smug about Austin’s incredible weather.
The tricky thing about finding out you are pregnant when you are only moments pregnant is that you board the dream train early. All your bags are packed for this journey. You are thinking already about having to figure out the mold problem that you are too lazy to tackle in your rental house bathroom, because you cannot put your precious little nugget in that tub. And how you will rearrange the second bedroom so that a changing table might fit amidst your husband’s guitars. You know that it is a risk of the heart to love this little collection of cells before it has proven it’s stickwithitness, but you can’t stop. You’re all in. And you just have to think that all good things are a risk of the heart, right? This is the stuff of life. And really, most babies are ok. We have no reason to think that this baby won’t become an actual, real baby, right? I mean, it’s a perfect situation. We are all going to be perfect. I have struggled enough in this life, so surely my quota has been reached, right? Yes, yes, everyone assures you, everything will be ok. Now, they ask, what names are you thinking of? So you tell them. Penelope is cute, right? Penny June. Or Alice. And if it’s a boy, we have to call him James after my sweet, quiet dad. That will be so nice.
On July 21st, 2011, I would have sent my dad the little sonogram picture that proved that this was the real deal. The picture looks like a chicken nugget. But this robust little chicken nugget had a chicken nugget heartbeat. And he probably would have cried. I know I did. I was so relieved that indeed, this was a live one. And everyone assured us that this was a great sign, that the nugget’s stickwithitness was nearly certain now. I believed them, because most babies are ok. And we hit the jackpot, obviously, so there was no taking that back.
On August 1, 2011, Scott and I went to check on the chicken nugget, give it the chance to show of increasing definition, its great strides over the last weeks, like a good strong nugget would do. And this didn’t happen. The nugget was harder to find. It was smaller. It looked different. There was no heartbeat. Of course, the ultrasound tech was a fool. He was bad at his job, and that is why he couldn’t find anything on the screen. I didn’t look at Scott. I waited for the tech to admit that it was his first day and he was a fool. But he really just said some words, who knows which ones, about how he wished he had better news, and he was sorry, and some other things I didn’t listen to because I was concentrating on not believing him.
Two days later, I cried as I changed into that hospital gown, and put on a hairnet. I didn’t realize it was a Catholic hospital, and this would mean that I would be asked to consent to a Catholic group infant burial for my glimmer of a child. I consented. The nurse told me that they would let me know about the memorial service. I asked to not be notified. I don’t think this was an infant. I believe that it might have become an infant, but it wasn’t one yet. It was not a full life, nor a full death, but it was a very real loss. The loss is what we carry. There was not an option for the burial of our dream. I suppose we have to coordinate that on our own.
Our first pregnancy ended. There was a heartbeat, and then there wasn’t, and in its place are broken hearts. There should be a mathematical grief equation that will guarantee that this will be the worst that it gets for us. We get to have everything be ok now, right? Surely the universe or god or the forces of nature would not ask us to endure this again. Our grief shield will protect us. We will get a reprieve, right? We will keep walking, and keep hoping, and keep our hearts open to the next glimmer of a child, the one that we can know more fully. And then we will touch with our hands, in this real life, a round little baby with the cheeks I imagine kissing, and big brown doe eyes. Right? We will meet that little spirit that we are supposed to parent, the one that I have to imagine is back to swimming in the ether right now, waiting for the right time to show us her heart.