I used to be obsessed with looking back. I wanted to see something until it could no longer be seen. I’d stare out the window of the car until the house disappeared, or press my nose to the glass of a plane until the earth was obscured by clouds. It was more than just objects. I wept uncontrollably at high school graduation, sobbed upon completing my final college exam, and I still have a set of keys to every apartment I’ve ever lived in. I never did well when a chapter of my life drew to an end. I looked over my shoulder so much I got a crick in my neck.
It wasn’t just with life-changing events. I’d replay softball at-bats, quizzes, speeches, you name it. After I’d re-live each event over and over I’d think, “if only I could do it again.” I’m sure a lot of people do this. Instead of sleep I’d live all night in the past.
I spent a lot of time looking in the wrong direction.
Last year I realized that I wasn’t being self-reflective, but self-destructive, and I nipped that habit in the bud cold turkey. For a while, I could drive away from my parents’ house without so much as a glance into the rear view mirror. I lived a life unburdened by the past.
But like water through a crack in the ceiling, the memories started to creep back in. Memories I’d tried hard to repress. When I’d hear about a new pregnancy, I’d flash to the day I took my pregnancy test. Reading about an expectant mother waiting to feel her baby move reminded me of those initial flutters in my stomach, the ones that felt like popcorn popping. Hearing Madeline’s hoarse cry took me to the day her ventilator was removed, her vocal chords damaged from the tube.
I’d do my best to push those moments out of my mind. I’d look forward, and all would be good.
Then the visuals started popping up. Walking through the halls of the hospital where I gave birth, I couldn’t breathe when I passed the entrance to the NICU. A mailed reminder for a yearly check-up from my OB/GYN made me break into a cold sweat. An amazing cartoon about NICU life made me gasp and choke and re-live the moment when the very same thing happened to me.
I tried to outrun the past, but I’m not the sprinter I used to be.
The person I talk to about these things says the past is always with us, but we aren’t always aware of it. As I work away from the trauma of Madeline’s birth, I can’t put up blinders any longer. These moments need to be thought out, touched, processed. It’s only then that my heart will truly allow me to face my biggest fear: a second child.
Someone with her own bad pregnancy once told me that we deserved to have Victory Babies. That term really struck me. What would be a victory baby for me? Getting past the obvious point that my first baby survived, what would have to happen for the next baby to be a victory? A full-term pregnancy and a baby that leaves the hospital when I do are clear choices. But if I get down to the meat of it, my victory baby would mean I didn’t spend the entire pregnancy flipping through the yearbook from the first one. It would mean I wouldn’t worry about running errands on a hot day. I could buy maternity clothes and actually wear them. I could wake up in the middle of the night and not put my hand between my legs to check for blood and amniotic fluid.
Honestly, I don’t know if I will EVER get to that point. I’m working on it. I can talk in abstracts, but when I think about actually being pregnant…well, the day I was told I should terminate my pregnancy plays over and over in my mind. What if we weren’t so lucky the next time? What if I’m being greedy, pressing for more when we already have one miracle? I can’t help but think of those who try for years to get pregnant, and here I am complaining about a pregnancy that hasn’t happened. But believe me, I know if I become pregnant Mike and I will consider ourselves very, very lucky.
I’m trying to get through it. I’ve pressed my face against the glass. And I hope that once all the bad memories have paraded by, I might finally be able to say, “That chapter is over. Period.”
It might be the first time I don’t cry.