When I was pregnant the second time, I was invited to give a reading in New Orleans. At an afternoon reception, I sat and chatted with the woman who'd donated the money for the program that had brought me there. We sat in folding chairs against a wall, a few feet from the buffet table. Just small talk. She asked me how my pregnancy was going. Then she said, "I was so sorry when I heard about your first child. My first child was stillborn, too."
My heart kicked on like a furnace. Suddenly tears were pouring down my face.
"Oh no!" said the woman. "I didn't mean for that to happen!"
I laughed and grabbed some napkins from the table and tried to explain myself, though even now it's hard to find the words. What came over me was gratitude and an entirely inappropriate love. I didn't know the woman but I loved her.
It's a sort of kinship, is all I can say, as though there is a family tree of grief. On this branch the lost children, on this the suicided parents, here the beloved mentally ill siblings. When something terrible happens you discover all of a sudden that you have a new set of relatives, people with whom you can speak in the shorthand of cousins.
Twice now since Pudding has died I have heard the story of someone who knows someone who's had a stillborn child, and it's all I can do not to book a flight immediately, to show up somewhere I'm not wanted, just so that I can say, "It happened to me, too," because it meant so much to me to hear it. "It happened to me, too," meant: "It's not your fault." And, "You are not a freak of nature.: And, "This does not have to be a secret."
Over the past year, and over my second pregnancy, of course I thought about Pudding all the time, every day, possibly every waking hour. But mostly I didn't think about the details of his death. If I climbed into that pit I'd never crawl out.
Then it was early April.
Then it was mid-April.
We'd known I'd be induced all along, and I'd said that I wanted to avoid the end of April, particularly the 27th, not for my own sake but for the kid's: It seemed like a too weighty fact to have in your biography, being born a year to the day after your brother who didn't survive.
On April 30, I had my first real crisis of faith. "This baby isn't moving," I told Edward, and I called the practice, and they told me to come in, and the nurses rushed me into the nonstress test room, and everything was fine.
A year and three days after the morning I checked out of the hospital in France, I got dressed in a pair of stretchy black pants and a stretchy black top and put on lipstick and asked Edward to take my photograph: I hadn't posed for a single picture for all of this pregnancy. I stood on the porch and smiled. It was a lovely spring day. Then we walked to the hospital in Saratoga Springs so that I could be induced that morning.
At 7:36 that evening the doctor placed a toasty warm squalling wet baby on my chest, and Edward and I were laughing, and laughing, and laughing. He was actual! An actual baby, pulled from the dream of my body into the shocking wakefulness of earthly life. Maybe he thought the same of us: all that warmth, those dim voices, the love taps, the questions—I thought I'd made you up.
We Hear You!