I held a baby today. That’s not a big deal, right?
For a moment it’s unfamiliar—the lightness of a newborn, his head worked up into the curve of my neck, squirmy little feet dangling. I haven’t done this in years. After moving him from one pose to another, I find my groove, and he is at home cuddled up to my shoulder. We sway a little, and I pat his back.
That’s it. I remember now. This is how it’s done.
When I get tired of swaying, I sit with him on my lap. His head rests on my knees, his feet on my stomach. And we talk.
“What do you see, Little Man?” I ask, sing-songing like everyone does with babies. He fixes his eyes on some knick-knacks next to us on the table. He is mesmerized by a wooden cut-out of a tree adorned with crosses which dangle from the branches.
“Yeah, I’ll bet you like that,” I murmur, watching the crosses swing back and forth and catch the light.
We are at church, sitting in a very busy, very noisy lobby area on a Wednesday afternoon. Kids are everywhere, in a holding pattern between school and dinner and bible study activities. Older children gather in groups and gab loudly. Some play ping pong or pool. The younger kids, for no particular reason, run around the room and shriek like banshees. It’s chaos.
In spite of this commotion, I forget the room. The kids and their bedlam fade and now I only hear a bit of background noise. I even forget the baby’s foster mother on her phone just a few feet away. But I lock eyes with this dark boy, black hair sticking up like that’s what’s in style, full eyebrows, chubby cheeks and absent chin. This is only the second time I’ve held a baby in—gosh, I don’t know–years. The last time was a few weeks ago, and it was this same black-eyed angel, who had recently been placed in my friend’s care. When you’ve had as many miscarriages as I have, holding a baby stirs all kinds of feelings. I usually avoid babies.
But for this little guy, I risked all the feelings and let myself get lost–imagining myself starting over with an infant, so light and helpless, squirmy and trusting. I let myself wonder how it would feel if he were mine. First I imagine getting to adopt him. I know adoption, I’ve had great success with adoption, adoption has been wonderful to me. A little daydreaming about adoption feels safe enough.
The alternative, though, is to imagine that things had gone very differently the last time I was pregnant. It’s a destructive little game to play, but it is a dream that has enormous gravity, and I obediently fall into its orbit. I dream that he is mine—the one in the ultrasound scan who had a heartbeat. The boy I prayed for and lost.
I know better–really I do–than to pick at scabs that are trying to heal. And as far as childbirth fantasies go, this sweet boy isn’t even all that practical. My husband and I could never produce a boy with dark hair, black eyes and brown skin–although he would fit right in with our adopted daughters.
But my heart wants to pretend, so every once in awhile I let my imagination go there, even if I feel the kick of loss. I just place myself in an alternate universe, where everything came out OK, and he’s here with me.
Too many times I’ve tortured myself with visions of a blonde, blue eyed pistol (a facsimile of his dad), charging around the house on unsteady feet and making all kinds of hell for the dogs. I’m snapping pictures and video and calling Todd eight times a day because raising a boy is so much more work than bringing up girls!
I’ve slapped my own face with thoughts of going into labor, immediately forgetting the pain when the nurse says, “Would you like to hold your son?”
I’ve cut myself replaying memories which I’ve invented, of things that never happened and never will. I see my son, toddling around the living room, hanging off my knees as I sit in the chair, following me to the kitchen, squalling when he doesn’t get his way.
Either I can’t help it, or I simply don’t want to.
I want my baby.
I want to experience becoming a mother the way other moms do. I want to know what that’s like, to feel life inside. I want to see myself, and my husband, reproduced in a little body—hulking 10 pounds at birth and in love with the outdoors (like his dad), but also introspective with an ear for music (like his mom).
It sounds crazy. It seems counter-intuitive, but in some ways I don’t want to stop hurting. I find myself reaching for grief when a distance grows between us, even stretching and straining for it, because grief goes hand in hand with keeping that fantasy alive. Grieving for him makes me feel . . . how? How does it make me feel?
Like I don’t really have to let him go.
Son, I love you. I don’t want to let you go. All I know is that I saw your little body on that scan, and I felt the little bubble in my abdomen. I knew you were real, and I wanted you. I wanted to rock you and nurse. I wanted to buy the crib and the car seat and get all hysterical about every little detail of your childhood like obnoxious moms do. I wanted to SEE YOU–lay eyes on you, the one who is part of me.
I miss you, little boy. I miss bundling you up on cold days. I miss lugging you in that dad gum car seat—making people wonder, at my age, if I’m a mom or a grandmother. I miss you hanging off my knees and giving me bright, beautiful smiles for no other reason than because you locked eyes with me. I want you chasing the dogs around the yard and then begging to go places–fishing, hunting, hiking, whatever adventure you choose. I want you here—good, bad, smelly, no matter, that’s where my heart is. I want 2 AM feedings and rocking and spit up. I want diapers and potty training. I want preschool projects and tantrums. I want you squealing with delight when your sisters come home from school. I want your dad out back throwing you a football or teaching you to swing a bat.
Son, I want you here.
I held a baby today. But I was thinking about you, and who you should have been. Someday, sweet boy, I’ll hold you, and all of your brothers and sisters. For now, I’ll trust that Jesus has you.
And that Jesus has me.