Today is the day that my oldest friend’s baby boy will be born – her second child.
He is going to e born via elective c-section – his mother’s way of controlling what has long been for her an overwhelming fear of childbirth. Before I became pregnant in July last year I used to share this intense fear of natural delivery. For years my friend and I joked that we must plan to get pregnant at the same time one day so as to be able to have side-by-side caesarians..
Years later, through some stroke of fate, my friend did become pregnant very shortly after I did – a period of only a fortnight separating the gestational ages of our babies-to-be. But this is where our imagined similarities would end. I knew from the beginning we would not share the same birth experience in the way we always said we would. In part this was because I’d by then undertaken a significant amount of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy that taught me to better manage, instead of avoid, the sources of my anxieties, including childbirth. I was still afraid of the unknown – of pain and of tragedies that might befall me – but I knew that I had become resourceful enough to face the complications life might throw at me with courage and strength.
What I didn’t know was that the differences between mine and my friend’s experience of birth and motherhood would soon become more manifold, more significant, than this, when during the last week of November, long before he was expected, my baby was born, and died in his father’s arms. He was born for no known reason at 23 weeks gestation – what the doctors like to call the ‘threshold of viability’ – and though he fought mightily, he really did not have much of a chance.
In contrast, my friend’s baby will be born today and all expectations point towards the fact that he will live – not just for a day, as my baby did, but through all the days to come – the days that my baby, too, should have lived.
There is no doubt that the excitement of my friend and I expecting a baby at the same time has come to have a very painful, awkward, complicated flip side. Through no fault of her own, my friend has become the unfortunate donkey on which I pin the tail of my very profound anger and grief. Her very presence in my life, and the soon-to-be presence of her little baby, are unavoidable, physical reminders of my tragedy.
She has what I do not, not because she wanted it more, or deserved it in some way that I did not, but because of the unfathomable logic of a universe that deals with the game of life and death as if all of its players are numbered cards, some of whom will land face up when the deck is scattered and some of whom chance says must inevitably land face down in the mud.
‘Why me?’ – the refrain of my life since my son’s death just over three months ago – has this week turned instead to ‘why her?’ Why should her baby live if mine cannot? Why should she have the enviable gift of two healthy children and two uncomplicated pregnancies and my only experience of birth so quickly turn into, instead, into a death? I don’t consciously hate my friend for her good fortune, and neither has she given me cause to.
More than anyone she has recognised and tried to mitigate the pain that her pregnancy might have caused me over the last couple of months. She has been respectful, thoughtful, she has given me space and managed her own pain, fear and regret at my baby’s passing so that I might never have to know or hear of it.
She does not deserve the place she has taken in my imagination as victorious opponent instead of faithful friend. But there she stands, nonetheless, so far away from me in thought and feeling that it’s hard to tell if the distance will ever, can ever be bridged.
I am awaiting, every minute, the message that will tell me her baby boy is here. I will be relieved, and I hope, happy for my friend that she will not have to suffer as I have. But I will howl and protest too, loudly and unapologetically. The sense of injustice I feel at my son’s death has spurned too raw and festering a wound not to call forth such a primal, seething rage.
In my moments of fear and despair about this little boy’s impending birth I’ve invite the dark-faced, winged goddess of Nemesis – of divine retribution – to visit upon me and restore equilibrium to my world; to better balance the scales of justice; to relieve me of my overwhelming indignation towards my oldest friend and her innocent baby; to re-distribute the cards of fortune so that neither she nor I must face each other in such regrettable opposition. But despite my cries Nemesis does not appear, as per her myth, to untangle the messy threads spun so unfairly by the fates. I am alone in my bargaining – there is not a single soul on earth who would trade me. My baby has died. This baby will take his place.
So I wait for news of his birth as if he were the last remaining germ of bubonic infection, set on killing us all so that he, instead, can live. And as I wait, I commit a thousand apologies to the wind with which he’ll today come rolling in.
I’m sorry, my friend, that you and your baby must, because of me, suffer so the loss of a friend, one who cannot be there for you as you celebrate your son’s birth. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Janelle is a freelance writer, editor, and educator in Melbourne. She is also the very proud mother of a beautiful baby boy, Maxwell Alexander who was born very prematurely on 24 November 2011. Sadly, he died the very next day, having known only love and affection in his short but significant life.