I've never shared this picture because until now, it was very grainy and shot in poor light, the day after Josie died. For that reason also, Josie did not look the way she did when she'd first come out: her lips were very dark and her skin very light - she didn't look the way I'd remembered.
I'd been meaning to work on this photograph, or one like it, for some time and had never been ready until now to do work on my own daughter. The shades of skin; the lights; the angles - her little features...always a little too hard to keep going on...always a little bit like scratching myself with the edge of a broken hairpin. But I've been working up to it, and I'm pleased now with the final result.
This photograph was taken by me, in the early hours of October 11th 2008, while I was by myself on the morning my baby went to the funeral home. I'd held her all night with what I can only describe as a tenuous grip on reality: nobody really knew 100% if I'd survive; I was in and out of consciousness and heavily medicated. The best way to describe what it felt like that first night, is this: you know the feeling when you're half out of a nightmare; half way in between sleeping and waking, and you can feel actuality as a haze into which you are emerging? She was like the haze between the nightmare and reality: the soft feeling of comfort given to me in a situation my body and mind had no idea how to deal with. She was like an old rope thrown to someone drowning: too old to really hold, but young enough to not break for...just a little while.
So it was an odd kind of euphoria: I'd made this little being who I looked at and who was so adorable, but who would soon be taken from me. I could live in dreamland as a new mother with this silent babe who couldn't ever feed, for about twenty-seven hours. This photograph was dreamland: but all the while knowing she'd be taken at some point, and wanting to get some mother-daughter pictures just because I am her mother, and she my daughter.
Some mothers call it "dead-baby mothering" but I can't use that phrase without flinching. This photograph shows the way I felt and the way I feel about my daughter - as a baby human, not a dead baby human. She'll never grow, but I'll never be a "dead-baby mama" either - I am just a mother, without excuses and without regret. Just a mother with love in her heart and a forever stifled desire to hug that baby just...one more time.
Now here I am with a new one inside me, and every day I just hope...I just hope so much that I get to hold Isobella for longer than I held Josie because in the end, that's all one wants to do when one's heart is in another person, outside one's body. Connect and never let go.
(You can click on the picture to make it bigger, if you want to...)
I love my little girls. I have never before had the unquestionable knowledge of what love really means. Given the choice, I would willingly lay down my life for either one without even thinking about it at all. All of the worries of being a parent boil down to just that one thing, in the end: it doesn't matter how old you are or how young you are; if your child has problems; if you have problems; if it's inconvenient to have a child; if you're scared of birth...all those trivial things go away in the end because what matters is that life goes on.
I think what got me through after Josie died was the unfailing desire to see that life continued: since I couldn't save her, I had to make sure I could save me, because life had to go on.
It's incredible how much more simple things are after an experience like this: when you lose a child in your belly, all the trivial details fly away and giant chunks remain. That's how it is for me, anyway.
So there we are. My first daughter and I, together and in peace.