As a girl, a woman, a wife, a mother, I have been apologizing most of my life. I took lessons from my mother and my grandmother who were really good at it because I imagine that they too took lessons from their own mothers and grandmothers.
But recently I’ve stopped apologizing.
I’ve stopped because as I reach my daughter’s 10-year death anniversary, I realized I no longer needed to apologize for my tears, for the way I felt, for the fact that yes, I am still and will always be grieving because what mother wouldn’t grieve the rest of her life after burying a child who never had a chance? After all doesn’t the cliché that we would lay down our own lives for our children come from some depths of truth in all of our bones?
In the early years, I thought the worst question was this:
How many children do you have?
I looked up and looked away in trying to figure out how in the world do I answer that question?
But then after I discovered how to answer that question with lots of practice, I realized that the harder question was actually this:
How old are they?
Depending on my mood, depending on the day of the week, depending on the company, I answered the questions differently each time, but if I’m being wholly honest, which is most of the time these days, the answers go something like this:
I have four children.
Oh, the person continues, that’s lovely, how old are they?
Take a deep breath, pause and begin: 15, 12, 7 and dead.
Let me just state the obvious: If this question is posed at a party, I’ve just rendered the party part pretty much over.
People look down; people look up; people back away.
I smile, sort of, and then I used to apologize. I. Used. To. Apologize.
On the day my daughter died, I apologized to the nurses backed up against the wall, standing there like death had just entered the room. And it had actually. Death had entered my body two days early to lift my daughter’s soul and take her breath and stop her small heart from beating to leave behind a body that I needed to deliver.
I’m so sorry, I said. I’m so sorry you have to be here today for this. They nodded politely and placed the plastic flowers outside of my hospital room—their apology to the lab employees who would come later on to draw my blood.
And then the doctor arrived, a doctor I didn’t know because it was a weekend and because my doctor was out of town and because her doctor on call was already busy so we were way too far down the doctor line, and I got a doctor who hadn’t delivered a baby since back in rotation during residency.
That’s when fear entered the room. Fear and death in the same room is not a good combination.
“We need to get this baby out quickly,” she explained.
“Why?” I asked. “Why?”
Of course her “quick” I thought meant being wheeled into surgery and cut right out of me and taken away which honestly felt like a relief even though my previous daughter had been born at home in a birthing tub in a record four-hour labor that brought all the wonder and amazement that that kind of birth is supposed to bring.
“Well,” she declared, “we don’t really know how long she’s been dead, and we don’t know what could happen to you because she’s still there.”
At the time, I believed her, and it wasn’t until my own doctor arrived at the hospital to visit two days later that I found out that no, there was no rush and yes, I could have gone home to tell my other two children and to prepare my body and to prepare my mind (if such a thing is possible) but instead I nodded in agreement and said okay, I’m so sorry to call you out here on a weekend and she answered by inserting a cervadil in my cervix to get this labor moving, a labor that in all took 24 hours, which was 15 hours longer than my first labor and 20 hours longer than my second and still much too short because that was the last 24 hours that I got to carry my daughter inside of me and try to keep her safe.
I’m sorry it’s taking so long I said as the nurses arrived at midnight to insert a second cervadil into my body because labor was still too slow and this second cervadil would get things moving faster.
And it did.
Not only did it get labor moving faster but it moved blood out of me so fast that my levels dropped precariously low and people were now talking transfusion as I laid there in my bed pressing the button to deliver the morphine faster as I wanted the numbness of it all to stick around.
You don’t have to feel the pain of this labor the nurses had said to me earlier in the day knowing that my beautiful birthing plan requested no intervention at all unless the baby was in danger. Suddenly, I was the one in danger.
At three a.m. with labor coming faster and the blood finally under control, I woke up with my own mother sleeping next to me in the hospital room chair, and my husband at home with our other two children and a bevvy of women asleep in the waiting room and I thought, “This is what death feels like.” This kind of pain that is so black and so dark and so lonely and I prayed to God that I was sorry to Him for every bad thought inside of me and I apologized for so many unspoken sorrows and so many things that I was certain I was being punished for and I offered just like in all of the books and fairy tales to trade my soul to the devil for my daughter’s life and to trade my life for my daughter’s and to give up everything in exchange for hers to no avail but a deafening silence in the room and my tears, the same kind of silence that would come ten hours later when I pushed my daughter out of my body and into this world that would swallow her up in fire just a few, short days later and deliver her back to me again in a box of ashes so tiny that I thought they must be those of a bird not a baby.
I’m sorry, I whispered to a God I could no longer hear in the dark, I’m sorry for everything, and when nothing came back to me in return, that’s when I knew this was no happily ever after fairy tale about to come true.
If this were a book or a movie, I’d tell you now it’s time for an intermission.
Or perhaps if this were a year earlier, I’d apologize to you for taking too long to tell my story, but this is not my story really but my daughter’s life. And any child’s life is worth ten minutes of your time, yes?
And while this story seems to be so much about death and grief, I’m here to tell you that this is a story about life and love because my love for my daughter is so wide and so deep that it extends beyond the eight months that my third child, my second daughter, lived inside of my body.
This story is a love story that involves three years post-death to deliver a healthy baby boy albeit in a car (an entirely different kind of love story) to help me find redemption and love again in a way that I didn’t know existed.
And this story ends by telling you that I am no longer apologizing for the tears that occasionally still fall, for the crack in my heart, for the amount of love that spills out of my life and into the world because one small child, one small infant that I gave birth too was born into a room of deafening silence and tears and when my husband and I looked at each other and had to decide what to name her, we looked at each other and almost immediately said Grace. Grace because no matter how dark and how lonely and how sad I sometimes feel about all of this, I still believe in Grace.
And for that, I will never apologize again.