Before I was pregnant, I dreamt about it. I wrote poems anticipating my children. I started babysitting as a child and was often mistaken for the mother of children who looked nothing like me. Family, friends, and even strangers constantly told me how great a mother I would be. I was a mini mother to the toddlers on my street.
Working as a nanny in Brooklyn, I mothered children who were not mine, plunged between the privileged white American parents and the Caribbean nannies. I was roped into this job while assisting two writers who were starting a new literary magazine. Their newborn son spent his first three years on this earth in my care more than anyone else’s.
As a teacher I touch the lives of many, as they do mine: our connections deep and everlasting. But I always have to say goodbye.
Finally, motherhood became more than a dream. My life partner and I had sifted through the ridiculous on-line catalogs of expensive sperm—the irony that this was something that has been offered to me for free my entire life, until now, resentfully noted. One of the hardest things to accept about having a baby with my partner, is that I could never have her exact DNA; the molecules I fell in love with would never join my own and create our child. But eventually we chose our donor and on our second try inseminating we succeeded!
While I was pregnant, we read and sang to our baby in utero. I even organized a co-parent group with other expectant parents.
Not wanting to find out the gender, we took to calling the growing baby inside me sherman: we liked the she, he, her, man possibilities. I followed our pinprick of cells to the size of a cherry then an orange then a small melon. I thought: now sherman has a spine, now eyes, now lungs to breathe.
One night, at thirty-one weeks, I felt a strange tightness in my uterus. I looked up what it might mean. It sounded like a Braxton-Hicks contraction, uncomfortable, but nothing serious, and not the rhythmic contractions we were warned to look out for. My partner and I went to bed. I woke up hours later and my uterus was still taut—but now I felt some pain.
On October 26th 2010, in the wee hours of the morning, we took a car service to the hospital. I thought we were anxious first time parents, I thought they would make fun of us for rushing to the hospital and send us home. I didn’t even bring a toothbrush or book to read. After we arrived, we waited for over an hour to be seen. Finally, after I threw up in the sterile hospital bathroom and the pain kept getting worse, we were ushered into a room.
And then everything happened so fast. So fucking fast. It’s exhausting to write it down, to speak it; it doesn’t even feel real.
Suddenly there were doctors and nurses all around me and they were whispering something about our baby’s heartbeat slowing down. The doctor began to bark orders frantically as the nurse fumbled with the IV, unable to find a vein. They whisked me away, saying This Baby Has To Come Out NOW. I was so confused. I thought: it isn’t time, the due date is nine weeks away. I was worried about sherman being too small, being alone in the NICU.
Before I knew it, they smothered my breath with drugs and when I woke up, my baby, our baby was dead.
I lost so much blood; I would have died too, if I wasn’t pregnant and producing extra. Every time I asked in my post-anesthesia, morphined state where our baby was, my partner had to break the news to me again and again, keep telling me she died. I kept asking, forgetting the answer, or not believing it, or just unable to accept it.
We named our daughter Kali Antonia Belfiglio Suarez. We held her funeral on the date originally scheduled for her baby shower.
Ring-a-round the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
We all fall down.
Ashes, as fine as baby powder. Fire dust, like a fairy’s magic sparkles. We scattered what was physically left of our child into the dirt of Brooklyn, like compost, like fertilizer.
Grow, baby girl. Begin again.
The other day, I found a discarded puzzle piece on the sidewalk. Being an artist, also known as a collector of trash, I pick up a thick wooden pig. A few steps down, there’s another—smaller—wooden pig. Big pig, little pig; it’s elementary. One piece fits into the other: mama and baby. I am the wooden mother incomplete, an empty space the size and shape of my missing baby jagged out of my side.
It is a common thought that parenthood is one of life’s biggest changes, but the loss of our daughter before she had time to do any of the myriad of things I imagined she would has changed me in a way no one could have predicted.
It has now been four and a half years since I have been this different person. People who have not experienced the death of a baby might think I should be “over it.” But I have learned grief has no expiration date.
Along the way I have met so many other wonderful parents who have their own devastating stories of baby loss. These people are family. At our first meeting with other bereaved parents my partner and I soon realized this is one time that being the only lesbian couple was muted by this commonality of grief. (The group even came up with non gender-based language. Instead of Mother and Father we coined the words Carrier and Noncarrier). I am grateful to all of these amazing people. We need each other.
If you know someone who has lost a baby or young child, it is important to acknowledge their status of parenthood. I think of the Victorian era when portraits of one’s dead infants and children were displayed and honored. If you don’t know what to say, start by saying just that, or ask what is her/his name.
My daughter’s name is Kali Antonia. Use it. Don’t worry about reminding me of something sad; she always on my mind. Always in my heart.
Gabriella M. Belfiglio lives in Brooklyn, NY with her partner and three cats. She teaches self- defense, conflict resolution, karate, and tai chi to people of all ages throughout the five boroughs. Gabriella won second place in the 2014 W.B. Yeats Poetry Contest. Gabriella’s work has been published in many anthologies and journals including VIA, E*ratio, Challenger International, Pinyon Review, Radius, The Centrifugal Eye, Folio, Avanti Popolo, Poetic Voices without Borders, Literary Mama, The Avocet, The Potomac Review, Eclectica, Lambda Literary Review, The Monterey Poetry Review and The Dream Catcher’s Song.
Her website is www.gabriellabelfiglio.info