this (griev­ing) life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Ta­nia Neville

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.

Re­view wel­comes sub­mis­sions to This Life. To be con­sid­ered for pub­li­ca­tion, the work must be orig­i­nal and be­tween 420 and 450 words. Sub­mis­sions may be edited for clar­ity. Send emails to thislife@theaus­tralian.com.au

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