this (grieving) life
THE pile of mail from the letterbox contained one envelope that was heavier than the others. I opened it and out spilled a key ring.
Made of metal, it was less than the length of my little finger.
One side featured white enamel into which a pale blue baby’s footprint had been stamped.
I unfolded the enclosed letter and out tumbled colourful greeting cards and sticky personalised address labels. It was from the local children’s hospital requesting a donation for their neonatal unit.
I felt my throat constrict, my chest become heavy and a familiar prickle behind my eyes. I stared and stared at that tiny footprint. I turned the key ring over and over in my hands.
On the reverse my name had been engraved and that of the baby to whom the footprint belonged, with the statement: “This tiny footprint shows just how precious premature babies are.”
I have my own tiny footprint. It’s not made of pretty blue and white enamel, but a black, smudgy ink pad impression on a small, tatty piece of cardboard, hastily done by a thoughtful midwife.
I also have tiny handprints and a lock of silky black hair, which go with a tiny urn that has a teddy bear painted on the side.
I also have 15 years of heartfelt grief over the loss of my own son at birth.
I became petulant and thought, “I don’t want to donate money to this cause. Why should someone else’s child be saved when mine could not?”
I thought how cruel it was of the hospital to send an unsolicited letter and reopen an old wound this way.
I started reading the enclosed stories, but all I felt was numbness.
I recalled holding that perfect tiny body with his wavy black hair, perfect nose, and bow legs; but he wouldn’t cry or open his eyes. I remember the doctor’s words like a thunderclap in my ears: “Your baby is dead.”
I remember pinching myself really hard — this does not happen to me, this happens to someone else.
I remember looking across at my husband cradling the tiny bundle, with tears welling in his eyes and an unfathomable sadness.
The funny thing is that I spent the next few months comforting others.
No one knew what to say or how to talk to me.
My workmates avoided me in the hallways. And my nursery remained empty.
I have three beautiful, healthy daughters now and they are a precious gift.
But for the moment, that envelope will stay at the bottom of the pile.
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