Full Term Heart

By Andrea Hetherington

She was a part of me for over nine months. It’s what ’s referred to as “full term.” I’ve learned quite tragically now, that along with a full term pregnancy comes a “full term” heart. A concept that most people might take for granted.  And at the risk of sounding envious or bitter, a concept that is perhaps somewhat distant to those who leave the hospital with a baby swaddled in their arms.  That is not my experience.  Today I buried my daughter and am left without any good reason at all, as to why she can’t share this earth with me. 

When I awoke this morning, I stared at the haunting shadows on the ceiling.  Shadows of shame, fear and grief.  Despite shattered faith, I bargained with God and begged him to let me start over.  Please let me reopen my eyes to a new day, a different day, a better day. But there was no day, other than the one that lay before me.  I wanted to place my head back down on the pillow, bury it and suffocate.

As I walked to the bathroom, each step ached. The incision from the cesarean left me gasping for breath. This was my own marathon – but there was no finish line in sight. Exhausted, I searched for a hard surface to lean on and rested my elbows on the vanity.  I cupped my face in my palms and stared.  The reflection leaned slowly toward me, looking so pitiful.

The tears streamed down my cheeks and I felt the stinging of salt on my dry, cracked lips.  They would be the only nourishment I would have all day.  I turned on the shower and passed the mirror from a further distance.   Hesitantly, I looked.  I saw someone vaguely familiar smiling at me.  My breasts were two eyes, my belly button the nose, and this cruel upward leaning line of defeat, a smile. The irony.

I loved this small, miraculous person for 266 days. Every minute. Every second.  She was quite literally, a part of me.  I fed her, sheltered her and nurtured her.  I took for granted that it was her in fact, who was nurturing me.  She was a vibrant bulb beneath the soil, waiting to emerge.  Her subtlety fooled many others, but I was privy to the intimate details and could recognize her potential and beauty. 

I followed the hearse and once again, was certain that I was in a bad dream or witnessing someone else’s life rather than my own.  I rubbed my weary eyes and after a few seconds of blurred vision gazed upon the wrinkled white tissue that I clasped in my sweaty palms.  The realness returned.   My vision suddenly became so intense.  I saw the fibers of the tissue land on the black leather seat of the limousine.  My vision went blurry yet again. Once more, I was blessed to lose touch with reality.

Standing side by side at the cemetery my husband and I were like wilted flowers, bent at the stem. Despite the armor of family members gathered around us, we remained unprotected.   Our hearts were chafed.  With no attempt to portray dignity, we stood bare and vulnerable.  We had been raped. Pendulum-like we would teeter until one of us would sense the unsteadiness, gather strength and restore our balance, careful not to fall to the ground.

The cold wind slapped my face as I watched the tiny specs of earth scurry across the frozen ground.  I wanted to run away too, but had nowhere to go. I watched her casket lower into the ground and pass beyond this world. My arms felt empty and my breath heavy.  My breasts ached as they filled with milk.  Along with her body, they buried parts of me.  They buried my faith, hope and innocence, never again to be uncovered.  At least not any time soon.  I never knew what close companions they had been until I had to learn to go through life without them.

For a moment of relief at the burial, I turned to my peripheral vision that was softly calling. I saw a green bud stabbing through the earth and realized I was gazing upon the beginnings of a brave spring blossom.  We meet again.

Since Andrea lay to rest her beloved daughter Victoria Grace, she has begun to experience those moments of faith, hope and innocence that so eluded her in the early days of grief. Andrea has now undergone training to be a peer support volunteer to other bereaved parents at BFO-Toronto.