There she was... right next to me in the grocery check-out aisle. A sweet little baby girl, about 6 months old with dark hair and chocolate brown eyes, sitting in the front of her parents' shopping cart. She was staring right at me, like she knew my secret grief. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. And then it happened...
...she hiccuped, a sweet funny baby hiccup. And I lost it.
I had been having such a good day. The sun was shining. Birds were chirping. It was the kind of day that makes you feel so thankful to be alive. I had gone to the grocery store without John, who was laid up in bed with a stomach bug. It felt so good to make a grocery list and do something totally boring and normal. For weeks now, our lives have felt anything BUT normal. I zoomed through the aisles, humming to myself, picking up cans of chicken noodle soup for John, happy to be out in the real world and trying to pick up the pieces. Until I saw her...
When that little girl hiccuped, I was instantly reminded of my Callie. She hiccuped all the time in the womb. And I loved it! Every hiccup was a reminder of her living presence inside of me. I would imagine what those hiccups would sound like when she was born. There is just something so precious about baby hiccups, isn't there? It is the cutest sound in the world... but, sadly, I will never hear my baby hiccup.
I think often about how alive Callie felt to me when she was in the womb. She kicked me, did somersaults, rolled around, and hiccuped over and over again. I would poke her and she would poke me back. When John would read to her at night she would become so active, like she was thrilled to hear her daddy's voice. And then, when she was truly alive, born into this world, she suddenly looked and felt so lifeless. She never opened her eyes or moved on her own accord. Besides her first faint cry, she was silent. How could she go from being so full of life before being born, to being alive but barely hanging on?
I often get sad thinking about how we only had such a short time with Callie. She only lived for 35 hours... but really she was "alive" for much longer than that. To me, Callie's life began the moment we found out I was pregnant. Every ultrasound was a private photo shoot of her precious body growing and forming inside of me. I can still remember the ultrasound technician telling us that we were going to have our hands full because Callie was a wild child who would not sit still for a second. I felt those first flutters of movement very early... at 16 weeks! John took video of her rolling around in my belly and we laughed and laughed at how that looked from the outside.
Now those videos are so special to me because they are tangible proof that Callie was alive. Alive for much longer than 35 hours. My body was a safe place for her. She was warm and snug, and, judging from her acrobatics, very happy. I totally understand now why Jessica Alba named her second baby girl Haven. She was born with the amniotic sac still intact surrounding her at birth. I thought it was such a weirdo movie star name at first. But now, I totally get it. The womb is a haven and it is our babies' first home. Callie depended on me for survival and as soon as the cord was cut, in the harsh reality of that operating room, her heart stopped beating. I feel proud that I kept her safe for so long, but so sad that I could do nothing to help her after birth.
I am so thankful that we have so many pictures of Callie. The doctors and nurses gently nudged us to take them but I was scared to at first. Everything was so frightening and I wasn't sure that I wanted to remember Callie that way. But, oh I am so glad now that we did. I can't tell you how many times I look at those photos to remember her sweet face. The doctors had also mentioned an organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep that provides free photography for parents who have lost their babies. I wish so badly a photographer could have been available when we needed one, but unfortunately, it couldn't be arranged in the time that we had with Callie. Another comfort to me is taking the time to look back at the pictures and videos we took of my growing baby bump. They are just as much a part of Callie's life as the pictures that were taken after she was born.
To those of you reading who have children, have a baby on the way, or you dream of having one some day... I encourage you to document your baby's life well. And I'm not just talking about when your baby is born... life starts long before that. Take pictures of your belly growing even if you feel like a giant whale. You don't have to post them on Facebook for the whole world to see. Put them in a scrapbook... your baby will love looking at pictures of him or herself in your tummy one day. Take video of your stomach moving around with that wiggly baby inside of you. If you are on your second or third baby and you are so busy with life that you don't take that many pictures any more... make a promise to yourself right now to bust out that camera and capture those wiggly tooth smiles, moments of bed head cuteness, or even teenage zits. Despite the fact that Callie's pictures remind me of my greatest sadness, they also are my greatest joy. There is true beauty in every moment... even the most painful ones.
Life is short. Say cheese!