16. Sometimes I felt so fucked.

When August died, I remember feeling wild, crazed, indignant: This kind of shit didn’t happen to anyone else; just to us. Why did it happen to us?? Why did everyone but me get to keep their babies? Why was I the one who turned out to be so fucked?

Of course, that wasn’t true, both fortunately (for self-absorbed, myopic ol’ me) and unfortunately (for everyone else). Babies do die. August is not the only one. I have a new friend whose month-old baby has been in the NICU his whole life and is likely going to die, perhaps sometime soon. This kills me: the inert feeling of wanting to help, to fix it, and being unable to. The feeling of knowing what she, his mother, is about to go through, and how awful-horrible-mind-blowingly-insanely-world-shatteringly-devastating it’s going to be. And not being able to head it off. Ha! I’m not god. Not a saint or a miracle worker. Too bad. If I were, I would save all the babies. Not in a right-to-life kind of way; in a healing-mamas’-broken-hearts kind of way. I would heal all the babies whose bodies weren’t designed to live outside their mamas’ wombs. I would enable clocks to turn backward, just enough to change that one little event in time, that accident, that fumble, that brief interruption in an otherwise watchful gaze — whatever it was that allowed that baby to slip out of this world and forever away.

My advice to my friend this evening was ridiculous: Don’t go to IKEA. Everyone there is pregnant or has a chubby-cheeked little toddler with glossy, curly hair and graham cracker crumbs around a sweet little rosebud mouth — or they have both the toddler and the rounded belly of pregnancy. And they’re so smug about it! They wear the self-satisfied smiles of people whose present and future are assured: evening comedy shows on TV, juice boxes and Cheerios in little plastic bowls, child-sized pajamas printed with ducks in the laundry bin, kisses at bedtime. They get to keep their babies.

If you go to IKEA, or for a walk around the lake, where new mothers push their little ones in jogging strollers as they try to melt away the pregnancy fat, you will develop the incorrect perception that everyone in the world gets to keep their babies but you. I used to sob and rail at E about it — How could this have happened? — my hands open and upturned, empty, beseeching — How could things have gone this wrong for us? E, grim-faced, would shrug. “We won the shitty lottery,” he would say. I knew there was nothing more to say, and I hated that. There was no good answer. We were all alone in the horror of it. No one we knew had ever gone through anything like what we were going through.

Except now we know several people who have gone through it, or something similar. And we’re all fucked.

I have attended a support group for bereaved parents since three weeks after August died. I look at the other women and men in the group and they seem beautiful to me, full of love and grace, and somehow, in a way I absolutely can’t explain, even lucky. I have never looked at them as if they’re fucked. And yet, me? Fucked. Utterly.

Except… It doesn’t seem quite so much that way anymore. I got over my maybe-I’m-not-a-mom complex a while back. I feel very, very lucky that we got to have a second child. Sometimes I lie down on our bed and nurse her into a nap, and shiver at how lucky I am: Here is this big, chunky baby lying next to me. I get to feel and smell her skin. She is ours and she is beautiful. So, so lucky.

I hope my friend feels lucky again someday, too. I hope that with all my heart.