Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bathing Becky

A friend linked this story (warning: it's about being there at the death of a friend) on someone's blog in a thread on a forum I'm on. The mindfulness of the moment, the sense of it being her job, something about it reminded me powerfully of when my mom came, to be with me and help me get ready while Becky was photographed.

She was covered in meconium. The nurses had given her a quick wipe but then just wrapped her up, not washed her except her face, because they didn't know how soon we would want her. It was the first time I had noticed this, even though I had held her all night, because I had been clinging to her so hard I hadn't even thought to unwrap her.

So my mom went and got a wash basin from the nurses, and some soft washcloths. And she filled it with warm water, and we washed Becky. We first washed her arms, little fingers, carefully cleaning the fingernails and being very, very gentle so as not to bruise her skin. Being careful not to tip her over onto her face, because I had found overnight that her body was already breaking down, and bloody liquid of a nature I didn't want to really think about would ooze from her nose if we did. Then she got some soap and we washed her hair. I reminded my mom that she has been the first one to wash each of my babies' hair, that she is the one who taught me to wash Emma's hair, cradling her over the sink, holding a washcloth over her forehead while pouring water with a cup over the sink to rinse it without getting the shampoo in her eyes. She is the one who first scrubbed cradle cap off Bridget's scalp with me and washed her hair, which was curly and reddish (it isn't any more.) She gave Maggie her first hair wash, too, when she had a diaper blowout at her house that got into her hair. And now she was washing Becky's hair with me. Gently, gently, being so careful of the fontanelle.

We cleaned the folds of her ears too. She has ears like me. I reminded my mom how she had remarked that all our ears are "complicated." I laughed, gently, as if the sound would break her skin too, or possibly just our emotions. I almost felt as if I was not supposed to feel like laughing. But at the same time I knew- yes, I had lost my beloved child, but that did not mean the world was devoid of laughter. She wouldn't want it to have meant that, and I didn't either. My life had changed but it wasn't over yet. Laughter and love go hand in hand.

We wiped her legs and feet. We washed between her toes as well as we could without hurting her- no, she couldn't feel it, but neither of us wanted to hurt her body anyway. We washed her little bottom, and wrapped it in a bit of gauze; she had no diaper, but we wanted to be sure nothing would leak out and mar her dress.

We put her dress on. Her pretty Christmas dress, the one that matched her sisters' (exact match with Bridget's, coordinating with Emma's and Maggie's.) The dress I had bought just in case she came before Christmas. The dress I had planned to put her in for portraits as a family and with her sisters, in their matching dresses. The dress I had stalked ebay for, feeling such joy when I got such good prices on all the dresses. Her arms were stiffer than a newborn's usually are, and yet she did not fight. It was strange how we had to fight her in, but there was no screaming like babies usually make when they get dressed. Almost a cognitive dissonance to dress her and not hear screaming. As we pulled the dress over her head my mom turned it sideways- she knew from experience with my girls (and remarked upon it) that it wouldn't fit without turning it, they get such long heads from Jeff. Maggie was the only one whose head wasn't quite so disproportionately brachiocephalic as a baby. I buttoned the buttons at the neck. She did not hold her head up as we dressed her. It was hard to think that she would never use those strong neck muscles, which I could see were just as unusually strong as the other girls' had been at birth, to look around at me, at her Abba, at Grandma, at a sister.

We put the bow on her head, the bow I had bought in a multi-pack at Target the day I saw it, a bit before Thanksgiving, because I had already bought the Christmas dresses, and the bow headbands for her sisters from Gymboree, and I knew this would perfectly complement her dress and coordinate with theirs. I have used bow headbands with all my girls since Bridget, but usually smaller bows- this was the biggest baby bow I had ever bought, and it was huge on her tiny head. It was flashy and bright and screamed "look at me!" As I put it on I thought of the irony- that bow that I had bought to elicit oohs and aahs from all my baby-loving friends and family would not be worn out to church, to family gatherings, to Christmas dinner. Instead, it would be photographed, and then it would lie in her coffin. I didn't want to think about what would happen to it after that. It was enough that for now, she looked beautiful, and that she got to wear it. It was so important to me that she wear that dress; most of the clothes I had washed and ready for her were ones her sisters had worn, or that I had picked up at the thrift store here and there "for the next baby" and not specifically for HER. This dress and headband were bought just for her. Just for my Becky, after she had a name. One of a set of four, the only single outfit, other than the outfit to go home in that I had bought only for her that was newborn-sized. The most special dress that I had spent hours deliberating over and shopping for. This was the outfit I had chosen with love, and now it was wrapping her cold little body, the warm fleece soft against my skin, my love wrapped around her, my mom helping me dress her.

My mom asked if I knew what color her eyes were. I didn't. I didn't look and I didn't want to. She was born asleep, her eyes closed, her heart done beating when the cord was cut, no energy to ever open them again. I wanted to leave her with that peace, and leave peace in my heart, not open her eyes and see them without life behind them, or risk bruising the delicate, purple-veined eyelids. I'm sure they were blue-grey; all my babies have had blue-grey eyes of various shades. I didn't need to disturb her to know the color. My mom agreed. Perhaps they were more blue than grey, as she was my blondest baby yet, with the sparsest hair. My mom said her hair was just like mine when I was born; it would have been curly, very curly, as it grew out.

And then we took photographs. Once we were done we wrapped her back up. She had to go down to the morgue. No one ever said morgue. They just said that it was time to take her downstairs, and that we could hold her again later before she left. They didn't say before the hearse came to pick her up but that is what they meant. And they meant morgue. I almost wished they would say morgue. They were trying to be gentle but I know what a morgue is. I know that they refrigerate bodies so they don't deteriorate as fast. I knew they would put my baby in a metal tray in the refrigerated wall. I hoped they would leave her in her bassinet, the bassinet that someone had made up for a living baby and which held her body instead, instead of putting her directly on the cold hard metal. But I didn't ask. I knew the nurses I was talking to were not the technicians who would be responsible, so I felt I shouldn't put my wants onto them. And I winced as the nurse tenderly, lovingly laid a blanket over her bassinet before wheeling her down the hall to be handed off to the assistant who would take her to the morgue. But I didn't say anything. I recognized, even in my grief and my outrage that she had to be hidden from view, covered, just to walk down the hall where babies were wheeled down all the time, that the sight of her might upset other mothers, and that I didn't really want to do that. No, it wasn't fair that my baby was dead and theirs were alive, but it was how it was.

That's the thing about Becky. That's the blessing of her life, the blessing she gave me. She is a teacher. That is her mission, I feel that so strongly. In saving my life in our crash, by her refusal to let us see the knot in her cord, by joining our family knowing that she would never get to meet us until our mortal lives are done so that the greater purpose could be served, she gave me the opportunity to teach, to spread the story in ways that may well save other mommies' babies' lives. And she's taught me more compassion. I like to think I was not devoid of it before, but in my grief, even in those first few days, I knew that MY wants and needs were not all that mattered. That I was not alone, not isolated. I knew that I was part of a long experience of the human race, death and life, in a way that I had never felt before. She gave me that. She has taught me to love better, forgive more readily, enjoy my life, be more patient, and find friendship, love, comfort of the Holy Ghost and strength even when my world may be crashing down around me. She's taught me that I can live through my greatest fears. And I know that she's got more to teach. That's my Becky. And one day I'll tell her how glad I am that she's my daughter, and how proud I am of her, face to face.


Ali @ cso said...

Anne - this was absolutely beautiful and heart wrenching to read. Thank you for sharing your sweet Becky.

Stevens Family said...

Thank you. This was amazing. Thank you for being such a dear friend.

Shan said...

This is beautiful and terrible and sickening and glorious.

It's the carefulness of it all...I felt like there was a shriek in my head the whole time but to outward observation I was preternaturally calm. Deliberate movement, deliberate gentleness, all masking this melting and sliding loss of control.

(Found you through your reference to my post about Sandy.)

Anne/kq said...

Yes! That's it exactly, deliberation. (Are you by chance Shan on Hatrack? Because that would make sense, since CT linked you on sake.)

I did feel, the whole time... detached. I knew I would feel the sadness and horror and anger all rush in later, but at the time, I was just choosing every word and action carefully. So carefully. So the whole house of cards wouldn't come tumbling down. At times I was even crying, but my brain had shut off the sadness so I hardly felt it. Tears just running down my face with no connection to how I actually felt- because I couldn't feel it all right then, it was too much, I had to parcel it out in smaller doses to feel later.

talitha said...

Lovely, Anne. Thank you for being willing to write about it.

Jenna said...

Anne, you're such a beautiful writer. I love the way you see and feel things and can so poignantly help us to see and feel them too.

The Routh Family said...

Anne, I have been keeping up with your blog since our days of being Mayflower Moms (2008). Your expression of emotion and feelings and love are expressed so greatly. I feel everything in your words. I admire the strength that you have.