Peter and I met for lunch yesterday. I was working a split shift, so I left the library at noon and drove to him; then, we went to North Wales for lunch at a tiny café. Many moons ago, this café was known as Café Betsy and they served the best quiche ever. Betsy had studied in France and her food was divine. The shop was small, maybe 5 tables? At most, it held 12 people. And, because the food was so awesome, it was always packed. A few weeks ago, we drove by and the little sign was perpetually on “closed”. Alas, we thought, the economy took out another small business… Then, recently, an email that Café Betsy was reborn into Simply Good, a café serving many of Betsy’s signature dishes (like her quiche!) but also an assortment of middle eastern foods. So, we went. And the food was great. But that isn’t what I remember.
What I remember is that Café Betsy’s was the last place I ate before my son, Nicholas, was born.
February 1st was an interesting day because it was the first weekday I’d taken off in a while. Scheduled to work the Saturday after, I’d scheduled myself off for Friday and made plans to visit with my mother-in-law. We’d decided to invite Peter to lunch with us and, because of its proximity to his workplace, we’d selected Café Betsy’s. We joked with her as I relaxed in a chair by the door, hands on my stomach. I don’t remember what I ate or drank (probably quiche and lemonade, but who knows…), but I remember feeling so secure in myself, in my pregnancy, in how perfect life had become. We went home and I took a nap, before Peter came home and spooned up to me. We slept for a few hours before I took that last trip to the store to satisfy a craving.
As that time of year draws closer, everything is familiar. The bitter chill. The icy roads. Even the tiredness. It reminds me moment after moment of that night and makes me question whether or not anything I could have done could have possibly changed the outcome. The rational part of me says 99% not; but it’s the 1% that the irrational part holds onto.
And so, yesterday, we returned for the first time in almost a year, to the place where we ate our final meal before our precious baby boy, our son, Nicholas, was born. We sat at a different table… A table for two instead of for three… And I stared for a long time at the empty table by the door. And I remembered. The smells, the warmth… All of it. For that one moment, I was back, a year ago, and I could do something different to change all of this. But it only lasted a moment and then I was thrust back into this world with someone asking what I’d like.
I’d like my children back.
Today, I shared my precious ones with a complete stranger. I had a storytime at the Library (my childrens person had a meeting so I had to do it). A woman came in a little early with her three children. It was rough to see them. The youngest was a little girl, able to walk on her own but still little. Maybe 18 months? 2 years? Putting on my bravest face, I smiled and asked her what her name was as she waddled towards me, big smile, arms out. (Did I mention the library is part of a very small series of towns? I'm called Mrs. Haytko by the kids and the parents will actually come in and introduce their children to me.) Her mother turns from across the library and says "Sophia". My heart fell into my throat, but I said "What a beautiful name you have... That's my daughter's name." She giggled before running off to some other part of the library. Her mother brought some books to the desk to checkout and making, what I assume she felt was normal conversation, asked "How old is your daughter?"
This is the question I dread. I know that no matter what I say the other person is going to feel bad for asking. And I dont want them to. I love my children; I want others to know them. The only way they can is by asking and hearing, but still... It is hard... And so, I say the words she didnt expect or want to hear. "She died as an infant."
She was quiet for a second before exclaiming how horrible it was. "An infant..." she said, finally. "I'm so sorry; that is horrible." Then, she asked, "Do you have any other children?" Ah... Lady, you are so sorry you asked the first question; you're probably really going to regret the second... "We have two sons as well; but," I said, before she could ask, "they died as infants as well. They were all born premature."
And now the silence. The I-am-so-sorry-I-asked silence. The how-dare-you-put-this-on-me silence. The get-me-the-hell-away-from-this-woman silence. I'm okay with that. I deal with it all the time. Most of the storytime moms avoid me like the plague, especially the pregnant ones. It's like they think that I have the plague... That what killed my babies might spread to them if they talk to me or look me in the eye. Some women wont even let me help them, as though my touching of the books they are checking out might somehow infect them and their children, both unborn and born, with something horrific and terrible.
But, then she said something else. "How old were they? When they were born?" I told her and I told her how long they lived with us. She asked if the doctors could help us going forward. And, because she didnt hide from it, didnt run away, didnt try to negate them, I told her the thing that no one seems to get because no one tries to get close enough to know. That I wouldnt trade any of it, not one bit, if it meant that I never had them at all. That I love them and that my life is better because they were in it. And she smiled. And then she shared that she knows the hurt, too. She had three miscarriages and her heart is still raw; her eyes still carry the scars. Before she left, she told me she would pray for me.
I dont know if we will ever speak of this again or if we will walk by one another with a nod and a sad smile, with the knowledge that we both have suffered an agonizing, unimaginable loss. But I will remember her babies, and, because she cared enough to ask, she will remember mine.