• Helen Hawersaat

For a Big Anniversary

I read Anne of Ingleside in the delivery room. It’s the sixth book in the series, the one where she has a lot of kids, and it’s mostly funny, sweet childhood stories. In the previous one, more than a decade earlier, she loses her newborn baby. I want to say that I read it for hope, for what could come next. But in the moment, it was just a distraction, completely disconnected from my real life.

Brian had picked me up the day before from the horrible appointment, leaving one car in the hospital garage. My parents brought me all our family’s traditional junk foods and some lunch from the Stone Oven, and my dad sat, awake, in an armchair while I cried myself to sleep on the couch that afternoon. Brian did a load of laundry, and I waited while the world and the Church and even the flowered earth celebrated their Resurrection. And so, that night, Tuesday of the first week of Easter, I put on my brave face and my “Everything is Grace” T-shirt, and walked up to the desk to check in to Labor and Delivery, trying to hide my small belly with a pillow.

And when we were sent home again by the thin, pimple-faced doctor (she had little acne treatment stickers on her cheeks, and I vaguely wondered if they worked--apparently not very well), we were just too tired to argue. There were no rooms anyhow, and I couldn’t have argued away a woman already in labor. And I guessed that everything was grace, and I just wasn’t supposed to be taken care of by those doctors on that night.

So, we drove to Ben and Jerry’s and I got a strawberry lemonade smoothie and a carton of The Tonight Dough, and Brian got nothing. We danced on the sidewalk, a little morbidly. And then we got in the car, and I just wanted to drive for a long, long time--maybe to downtown Chicago, and ride the ferris wheel and look at the lights on the river, and then drive home and deliver my poor, dead baby in the morning. But of course, we wandered around for a few minutes and then drove home because the ice cream was going to melt. And really, even in total agony, or wild resignation, or all-consuming apathy, eating a whole pint of melty ice cream just doesn’t sound very appealing. Especially on top of a smoothie.

Somehow, I fell asleep--that dead, mercifully dreamless kind of sleep--and woke up in the morning and put on the same shirt and the same brave face, and went back to do it all again.

It was no small crucifixion. I delivered our baby girl after twelve hours of labor, with so much blood and blackened waters and rotten, disintegrated placenta. The very young nurse, maybe a student, didn’t know what to do with Rosie’s mangled little body, and broke the silence with whispers. The hat didn’t fit on her head, and should she try to straighten out and arrange her limbs, or would that cause further damage to her body, unready as it had been for labor? In the end, they wrapped her in a blanket and found a smaller hat, and gave her to me as she was. And silently, we held her as she was, impossibly beautiful and hideous, and stroked her little ribs that could be counted through her skin, and looked at the baby bulge of her little belly, and held her perfect hand with one finger. She had my nose.

I never got that hat, or that blanket. They gave me clean ones. I will always wish I had them, dirty as they were.

Feeling the need to tell myself the story again, I wrote this all two nights ago, sitting on my sofa with Rosie’s little twice-as-big-as-her sister kicking me in the bladder. I held the Rosie-size bear we brought home from the hospital, and I cried like I haven’t in a long time: for grief, for joy, for sheer surprise.

This week last year, the week after Easter, began so many days or weeks of sobbing myself to sleep. Of not realizing I had a postpartum body and going to Target, or walking barefoot for an hour, and then needing to lie down all evening and the next day. I survived graduations and weddings and birth announcements. I made it through cello lessons and gigs, anniversaries and complications (the pimple-faced doctor missed the retained placenta on the ultrasound). I swam in lakes and read books and went to Adoration more than I ever have before.

I have been loved, and loved. God himself has tended my wounds, and cried with me, made me alive and more alive. And he’s there even when I dare to whine about my morning sickness and chubby neck and heartburn during this blessedly normal pregnancy. Even when none of this stops me from having absurd worries like How did I get so fat? Maybe I should have been more focused on my career, it’s been three years since graduation, what have I been doing with my life? Why is my apartment so messy? I go to too many coffee shops! Laughably, after all this time losing and loving and trusting, after everything I’ve been given, I still just want to be successful and frugal and thin and clean and on time for everything. He has stayed with me, even though this year that has changed me more than any other still has done woefully little.

I have loved and lost and loved again. I have died to so much, and been raised from the dead. I have screamed at God, and beat my fists on his chest. I have been held in the arms of Christ and his mother, and nursed and rocked to sleep. I have been led, step by step, to the edge of my faith and my sanity, and somehow never lost either. He has gathered me close. He has not let me go.

Love thrives on suffering; and suffering is to be found everywhere.

-St. Claude de la Columbiere

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