3. Sometimes I thought maybe he wasn’t a real baby.

That is tough to admit, to write, but it’s true. In certain moments, I really had that thought — a mad, hysterical notion that August didn’t count, he wasn’t real, and all my sadness was ridiculous, laughable even.

For a long time, there was a strong sense of unreality to the whole experience of losing him. It started the moment we got to the hospital and the nurses began grimly, efficiently rushing around me, sticking things into me, shaving me, prepping for the C-section that would not end up happening because it wasn’t needed. They perform emergency C-sections to save babies in peril. They don’t perform them for babies deemed “incompatible with life,” as August was — babies with no chance of survival.

In the weeks and months that followed August’s death, I felt like a crazy person. I regularly had PTSD-like flashbacks of all those horrendous moments — my midwife barking orders to her apprentices when she decided to transport me to the hospital; my pissed-off, confused question — “The hospital? What are they going to do for me there?” — and her bright, loud, almost sing-song response: “They’re probably going to section you, honey!” A Cesarian section — the thing I had most wanted to avoid. (Since I hadn’t considered my baby’s death as a possibility, that wasn’t on the list of Things To Avoid If Possible.) More horrendous moments: The one when the doctor was saying something to me as I lay on the gurney, frowning and squinting up into the fluorescent lights, and then the midwife leaned over me, took my hands into hers, pressed them and looked hard at me as she said, “Sweetheart, do you understand what they’re telling you?” I frowned harder and searched for understanding. “Yes. They’re saying…there’s something wrong with the baby. They’re saying the baby is going to die.” Her eyes shiny with tears. The doctor looking grim and gray-faced. My own emotional disconnectedness, which set in abruptly with the knowledge that the baby was not going to live, and did not lift until he was lying on my chest, warm and beautiful and dead. All the horrible, unimaginable moments replayed again and again in my mind, shocking me freshly each time.

I was plagued by recurring thoughts, and one of them really made me feel insane: “Maybe August wasn’t a real baby.” I think it was a trick my mind played on me in hopes of escaping the anguish: “He had a birth defect…he wasn’t a real human being…why am I so sad? There’s nothing to be sad about!” This thought kept coming back to me.

On a logical level, I knew very well that it was incorrect, and knowing that made the thought even more twisted and surreal. Of course August was a real human being, a real baby. What was my grief-stricken brain trying to reduce him to — nothing more than an aberration, a mistake, an “oopsy” on the road of my and E’s lives? What a sickening insult to him. I felt awful about it, and took to reminding myself whenever needed: He was our son, and he had died.

But as hard as I tried, for a long time I just couldn’t absorb it. And so, sometimes, my brain rejected it, and him, as fantasy.

I was so glad, several months later, when those thoughts stopped coming — when I finally, fully accepted that August had been real, he had been here and ours, and he had died.

Well — I’m still working on accepting that last part. I still don’t understand how to accept a truth that seems so utterly wrong, alien and unwanted.

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