mommy is Missing a Capital “M”

Of course I knew there would be a baby. The baby was in the middle of
everything, tiny and oblivious. And then afterward, I knew that she was
perfectly healthy and had dark hair, that she was barely older than my
baby, and that her name was Lila Jen.

-------------

But the first time I heard, my own morning sickness started to feel like
stomach flu. "Aren't you crazy?” I asked. “You're nuts!”

“Yeah, it's crazy. I didn't think we could even _get_ pregnant. The
high-risk OB says I'm the highest-risk case he's seen.”

Jen's chances of miscarrying were huge. It was likely that she'd get
pre-eclamptic--that her blood pressure would skyrocket, and the baby
would be born severely prematurely, and possibly die. But the doctors
had always issued dire warnings to Jen. Her kidney condition never lived
up to their fears, so why should it start now?

And everything was going great, thank you very much. Now she was 28
weeks pregnant, and mama and baby were fine. Soon, she'd reached 32
weeks and the high-risk OB said that since the pregnancy was going so
well, Jen might not need to see him anymore. Then she was 34 weeks
along. We talked on the phone while I made dinner. “You wouldn't
recognize me, I'm so huge!” she said. “Neal says I've reached another
dimension. I've never even been _able_ to gain weight before!" I asked
her to send me a picture.

------------

My baby was growing too. I was distracted by kicks in the ribs, all the
things we had to do, the beautiful summer weather. The call from Deb,
Jen's older sister, came out of the blue, on a breezy Sunday in June.
“Jen had a beautiful little girl on Thursday. Jen didn't make it.”

Jeff stayed with me as I sat and sobbed. “When will Mama feel better?”
Ben asked.

I didn't tell Ben, but it might never go away, this horrible feeling in
my belly that sat uncomfortably close to the new life wriggling
alongside it. I sobbed at the craziness of Neal with his new little
Lila, who didn't have a mama. Lila was so perfectly healthy that she
didn't even need oxygen after her emergency C-section at 36 weeks. And
Jen was...dead. My awake-nightmares at one a.m. kept me up for hours.

-----------

It's been two years now--long enough to feel the way terrible pain can
flare up and flicker, but still keep burning in between. Sometimes it's
like being kicked in the gut, and sometimes it's just noticing.

So I didn't really know how it would be to see this baby for the first
time. I didn't know how much I would love her at the very second we met,
or how much my body would ache for her right when I saw her peeping out
from between her daddy's legs, or how much I would cry.

Lila is going to grow up with her mother's crooked smile, and her
father's tenderness and sense of humor, and she will charm everyone with
her insane and personal cuteness. She won't totally get why all these
older people in her life get so emotionally vulnerable and teary when
they're around her. She's going to think that we all just wear our
hearts on our sleeves.

Lila calls Neal, "Daddy Neal-io Papa-Dog," in the most adorable tiny
voice. She sizes people up in about thirty seconds, and after that, when
you pass muster, she graces you with her smile and everything else. The
thing was, it didn't matter--even if she had scowled and pushed me away,
I couldn't possibly not adore Jen's baby.

As it turned out, she reached for me when I asked her if I could pick
her up. And my heart melted entirely. "I love you, Lila Jen," I said.
She stared at my tears. She asked me where my necklace was attached. She
called me "mommy" all week. (She calls all women that. And if there are
two women in the room, the second arrival is, "the other mommy.") The
complexity of this noun was like a huge, crazy echo every time that
little voice addressed me.

"Pick me up, mommy!" she would say, and I could only stop instantly to
pick her up. Even though I know she knows I'm not Mommy, just one of the
mommies. Even though she probably won't remember me next time I see her.
Especially because her Mommy is somebody she will never meet, but whom I
knew so well.

The unfairness of that last is what sent me running into the field of
goldenrod last night, hurting and sobbing. I ran until my heart was
pounding, and it hurt so bad, because Jen is gone, and never held her
baby girl, and I was breathless and crying and knew that nobody would
ever understand.

And then quickly, when the sky was dimming and the path tipped up, I
stopped running. It was so chilly I had to hug myself, and I had
goosebumps. A bird called, and someone laughed far away. I could see
everything, hear everything, smell the wet dewy grass, feel large
amounts of blood coursing through my body, warm inside. It's crazy, the
gift that Jen could give me, in the paradox of her death, and her dainty
toddling daughter, and my confusion and fear of mortality. In this
moment of rosy sunset, I was so incredibly ALIVE.

-----------

This morning, Lila and Neal had to go, and it was naptime, and Lila was
all rambunctious. At the last moment, she melted into my chest and said,
"I want to stay with mommy!"

I kissed her dreadlocked curls and said, "I hope you visit again soon,
Lila." Her papa buckled her in. My own baby climbed into my arms, and
laid his head on my chest.

Lila's little face was there in the window, and then in a few seconds,
they were gone.