Souvenirs...

A post-Mother's day reflection

My good friend Sabrina asked if anyone planned to wear a swimsuit to the end-of-year pool party considering that we wouldn't know any of the people who'd be there. She refused to wear one, insisting she was too fat. I had seen a poll on Oprah or someplace that said 80 percent of women hate their body regardless of its size and shape. Even supermodels had something to complain about; perhaps their butts were too small now that this J.Lo was on the scene showing off what some call "back." Our other friend, Jill, was okay with wearing a suit, as long as it wasn't a two-piece that would reveal the scar from her Caesarean. Her scar was barely visible. You wouldn't be able to see it through a magnifying glass. Nevertheless, it was a sore spot.

From the start, Jill knew it would be a difficult delivery, and accepted a sedative to take the edge off. She never expected to have a C-section, let alone have to be put under because the anesthesiologist bungled the spinal block. When the doctor delivered Jill's girl, a nurse put the baby on a metal cart, and with a nod of consent from Jill's husband, wheeled her out of the room.

Hours later, Jill woke up in the recovery room. Her husband stood by Jill's side holding her hand as she learned that her daughter was in the morgue. Good Lord, she complained, why didn't he hold the baby? Jill swears that if she had been awake during the delivery, she would have demanded that they free her arms. She would have examined every inch of her girl's body, inspected every finger and toe, memorized her face, and for God's sake, taken a picture. Jill needs something more from the actual birth, but how do you get that stuff back? Nothing remains except for the buried ashes at the cemetery. And her scar.

A year after the delivery, Jill paid an artist to draw a portrait of the baby. The artist interviewed all who were present when the baby was born, at least those who would try to recollect the birthday, then made a sketch based on their descriptions, the same way a police artist renders a crime suspect after interviewing the witness. I saw the drawing. It depicted a doctor's hand, cradling a tiny baby girl who had stopped growing at about 20 weeks gestation, the time the ultrasound verified there was no heartbeat. The hand belonged to the same doctor who delivered my girl.

When my girl was born, a nurse cut her umbilical cord, and the doctor handed her to my husband, who used a teaspoon from his mother's kitchen to spill holy water on her head. He baptized her; with tears in his eyes and a shaky voice, he promised her to God. My girl was swathed in a blanket to absorb the blood that covered her, and she was placed in my arms. Along with meconium released sometime during the haze, this stained blanket would become a treasured proof of life.

The sun rose one time before her heart stopped beating. My husband took a picture of the pinkish morning sky. Then my girl was sent to the morgue, too. Her ride wasn't the cold stainless-steel cart that carried the naked flesh-and-bones of Jill's girl. My girl wore a white cotton dress with pink polka dots. She was wrapped in a hand-crocheted blanket, and nestled beside a white teddy bear with a pink bow.

Jill knows I keep the ashes in a pink and silver urn. I don't talk about the things I keep in a box, for I'm deeply afraid my souvenirs will break Jill's heart even more. But I look through them from time to time. Jill despairs over things she doesn't have, and the scar she does, to her a telltale sign of something gone horribly wrong. I have issues with my body, too, an unnamed imperfection that a bikini wouldn't reveal, nor would clothing conceal. I can only say it's something that failing to produce a healthy newborn causes. I'm not hiding fat or a scar, but I don't want to wear a swimsuit any more than Sabrina does.

- Missy Martin

The author is a self-described typical suburban mother. She lives with her husband and three children in Ahwatukee. A portion of this essay aired on KJZZ-FM.

 
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