I took Kathleen to the baby group at the hospital yesterday, to a small room where new moms sit on the floor, their babies laid out before them on blankets, tucked into slings, resting in car seats, or snuggled close to nurse. Babies, lots of them, ages four weeks to four months.
"Is this your first time?" one of the other moms asked me. I paused, for it was my first time with Kathleen, but I had been here before. I brought Henry, several times. I remember the first time I got there with him. Two moms I knew and had shared my pregnancy with were already inside. I juggled car seat, diaper bag, oxygen tank, and monitor, to plunk myself down with them.
Week after week, we went. I went to meet other moms, and even though it was hard to get out sometimes or to find time between Henry's appointments, I wanted to know people to get together with for coffee and play dates, knowing there would be a time without oxygen, a time without three or more appointments a week, a time when I just felt like a normal mom.
Most of the time I went there I didn't feel like a normal mom, though. People talked about struggles to get their baby to sleep; I was waking Henry up periodically throughout the night to make sure he got enough feeds in. Others had crying babies at night; I had an oxygen monitor that wouldn't stop beeping even though my baby looked fine. Moms were worried about upcoming shots; that wasn't even on my radar so focused was I on Henry's impending surgery. Still, I got what I came for. I met other moms, and though I didn't get to many of them well, some followed Henry's story online as he was rehospitalized; some sent cards and came to the funeral; they chipped in for a gift certificate to my yoga studio after Henry died, which turned out to be a most healing gift. But I left most of that behind, unsure how to continue those relationships without a baby in my arms.
So yesterday, I started again, ready to meet a new group of moms with a baby my baby's age. I wondered if it would be hard to be there, simply because I had gone with Henry. Would I cry? Would Maria, the leader, recognize me? It wasn't as hard as I thought. I did move quickly into the room and settle myself before I could be paralyzed with worry. I didn't cry until later that night, and Maria did recognize me but didn't quite place me. "You're back." I nodded. "And how old is your first child now?"
I took a deep breath. I had been afraid she wouldn't remember me or would and wouldn't know about Henry. "He died in December 2007." And then she did know me. And she did know about Henry. "Oh, I went to Henry's funeral. I'm sorry. I just couldn't your face to your name." And it was okay, because she did remember Henry and she talked about him and she encouraged me to share as much or as little of my experience as I wanted in the group.
I sat through the group, adding a little to the conversation, nursing Kathleen, giving her a bottle, smiling at her in her still somewhat rare awake, alert, and content state. During the open chat time at the end of the meeting, I talked to the mom next to me about cloth diaper covers and the size of our babies, sleep schedules. I wanted to say, "I've done this before. It was very different, but I've done this before." But I didn't want to answer the follow up questions. I wanted to talk about Henry, but I didn't want the moment that would come after I said, "My first baby died when he was six months old." I'm still figuring out how to talk about Henry in the context of talking about my mothering experience.
Later that night at home, I cried, suddenly and hard, for Henry. Going there had brought him close to the surface without me realizing it. I remembered, not the hospital which so often dominates my thoughts, but the early days with him, the days before his surgery when I was scared but so hopeful, so full of anticipation—and one triumphant Thursday at the end of August when we went to the group, post-surgery, oxygen free, and I felt like we had arrived, we had made it. Good memories, but the missing hit me hard.