Being thirty years old, I’m smack in the middle of that time in life where everyone around you seems to be having a baby. Friends, family members, PTA moms, the checker at the grocery store, you name it. Everywhere you look, babies, babies, and more babies. Babies make people happy. They calm, and refresh, and inspire people. They represent purity and an infinite world of possibilities. Babies haven’t been around long enough to gather any of the stigmas we apply to other people we meet, grown people, that is. They’re just new. There’s nothing you can not like about them, and for that reason, everyone likes them…because you’d be crazy not to.
Social protocol calls for fawning, squealing, and cuddling babies when someone offers you the chance to hold one. New mother’s, old mothers, god mothers, one-day mothers, never-going-to-be mothers, aunts, honorary aunts, and any other female incarnation you can conceive of, they all fawn over babies like twelve year olds (them too) at a Justin Bieber concert. Only a stone-cold monster of a woman wouldn’t embrace the chubby thighs, fuzzy heads, and drool-filled kisses that come along with holding a baby.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what I’m afraid I look like, time and again, when someone offers up their most prized creation, beaming as though it had just taken the blue ribbon at the county fair, and rightfully so. They should. They made a person, after all, which is no small feat, and better than their Aunt Betty’s award winning peach cobbler any day. They have every reason to want to share that joy with those around them. They’re not the weird ones, it’s me. I am.
“Would you like to hold her,” they ask. “Oh that’s ok,” I pleasantly and quickly reply. Who says that? Who says “no thank you” when someone offers up the opportunity to hold their newborn baby? Well, I do.
Why? It’s simple: grief. It should really be spelled with four letters, that word. It would be so much more appropriate. It’s hard to explain to any of those new overly indulgent mothers, and honestly, I never want to rain on their parade by doing so, that my arms never feel emptier than when I hold a child who isn’t my Miss Elliott. I just can’t handle it emotionally, because every time I close my eyes and imagine her there, I open them to find a heap of disappointment softly cooing in my lap. Grief is; sitting there in front of a new mother trying your best to keep a smile on your face while you’re dying inside, living your cruel personal reality: you will never hold your child in your arms ever again.
Once, at church, a grandmother threw her new granddaughter into my lap before I could come up with a polite or at least viable reason to decline. I braced her head against my chin and wrapped my arm around the back oh her neck as she transferred her to me. When she wiggled her way out of my grasp and turned her head away, I realized that I didn’t even know how to hold an infant without Tay-Sachs anymore. This child could move one her own. She could support the weight of her own head. It was instantly overwhelming. I was very close to having a panic attack. As my throat tightened and my eyes welled up I looked at Loren and told him to take the baby off my lap “right now”. I bolted for the bathroom to cry in peace and solitude.
Another incident occurred last summer, when a close friend had her baby, I went to the hospital she had given birth at, the next morning to give her a present. It was a nice visit, but she was overly apologetic that the baby was eating and that I couldn’t hold her while I was there. “Oh that’s ok,” I said again, and we went on with our visit, but as I left I was just relieved that I had dodged the bullet.
My friend had never known that I felt that way (although she will now and so may the family from church). It’s not an easy thing to explain to others. Furthermore, it’s not an easy feeling to live with. Often, it’s hard to see it coming. I call these moments ‘snapshots of grief’, those instances when grief jumps up and overwhelms you before you realize its cold bony hand is gripped around your throat. It’s an invisible pain that has a way of casting a shadow over seemingly innocuous occasions. Creeping up and striking without so much as a moment’s notice. It’s unnatural, to be perfectly honest, but so is losing your child, and that’s the dark and isolating nature of grief itself.