“Mommy, is you going to snuggle us’s new baby?”
Ithilien is always insistent about having real and prompt answers to his questions, so of course I say yes. But he has more to say:
“Babies need thems mommies to snuggle them and give them milk or they die.”
Oversimplified, but true enough for mammals. I tell Ithilien about the wonders of lactation– breast milk is full of antibodies, and even stem cells, and babies get everything they need from it. We talk about how fragile babies are when they are still growing inside of somebody else, how the directions for building them that they carry inside their cells can be wrong or broken or missing steps, how teeny-tiny and tenuous that new life really is.
And every time Ithilien wants to talk about it, I have to face the hard realities that expectant parents try to ignore: that miscarriage is common, that stillbirth happens, that prematurity is surmountable but damaging, that sometimes there’s no good reason for a child to die or a pregnancy to end but it happens anyway.
I try to take a moment to really feel the powerlessness and the fear during these conversations, no matter how strongly I want to deny it and how harshly I want to reject the possibility that the child I carry now could come to harm.
Because I know that it’s possible. I have walked that road before, and as distant as its horrors may seem when I’m ankle-deep in splashed-out bathwater and contemplating walls that have been fingerpainted with tomato sauce, I will never be able to forget.
So, as I knit and sew and write and organize in preparation for this new baby, I do so with the understanding that hit might never wear these tiny clothes or be wrapped in this beautiful blanket. I watch the clean, pure wood emerging under Robert’s knife, and I envision the crib he’s building, and then I picture packing the crib away, still unused, and being too worn out by my grief to even summon tears.
Sometimes I have to put an overwhelming amount of effort into remembering that the most likely thing that will happen is that I will give birth to a living and healthy tiny human this winter. I reassure myself daily that pregnancy loss after this point is extremely rare, that stillbirth and perinatal death and neonatal death are all unlikely, that infant death is not commonplace in my society. I try to believe, to truly expect.
It’s not easy to have hope when you have known utter despair.
But I am trying. Some days it feels like I’m tricking myself into thinking we’ll have a new baby, artlessly attempting to hide the inevitability of my bereavement. Some days it feels like part of me does expect a new baby, and the rest of me holds that naive part in simultaneous awe and contempt. And some days, some precious days, some few precious days, I really feel myself to be an expectant mother.
Those are the good days. Days when the baby is kicking and rolling and generally making hits presence felt, and I’m just sick enough to believe that I’m pregnant without being miserable, and Númenor and Ithilien say sweet things about their plans for being big siblings and ask to put their heads on my belly to talk to the baby.
“Hi, baby.” That’s how Númenor starts all of these conversations, which can, depending on his mood, be quite long and wide-ranging.
“I love dyu, baby.” That’s all Ithilien ever seems moved to say.
And that’s perfect.
Because, thankfully, babies don’t expect you to have all your shit figured out and your baggage neatly unpacked through years of psychoanalysis and personal growth. They aren’t born demanding quarterly statements for your investment account or even the car keys, although I understand that does come up eventually. They don’t care about whether you finished all the projects on your nesting list or why you’re moved to tears to see their tiny squinting faces.
They don’t need anything but love.
And those are things I am totally comfortable holding in expectation.