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.