One of my least favorite things that people said often to me in the months following Lydia's death was "I can't imagine."
It was something I would have said if the situation was reversed. It is something I have said many times before my personal tragedy.
But in this case, to me, what I heard was: Your tragedy is so devastatingly horrific that I don't even want to think about it.
I don't say "I can't imagine" anymore when I hear about other tragedies. Unfortunately, I can imagine my husband leaving for work and never coming home, or my three-year-old getting cancer, or my almost-6-month-old not waking up in the morning. Once you've lived through a worst-case scenario, it seems to become easier to imagine other worst case scenarios.
It's why I ask my sister to text me when she's arrived at her friend's house on her long road trip with both of her kids.
It's why when my husband doesn't hear from me sometime in the morning, he starts to send more messages and then panics if I don't answer my phone.
When people still say to me, "I can't imagine," sometimes I would like to respond: please try.
Imagine you're sipping your (half-caff) coffee in the morning before your doctor's appointment and you casually say to your husband, "Can you believe the baby's going to be here in 5 weeks? I'm going to wash all her clothes this weekend!"
Imagine you drop your son off at daycare and drive the opposite way to your doctor's appointment when you suddenly realize, in a panic, that you're not sure the last time you felt your baby move. Imagine you tell yourself, just like everyone else tells you, that babies move less at the end and everything is fine.
Imagine your doctor is telling you all about how your daughter's birth will not be traumatic for you, how it will be calm and peaceful, when she is searching for her heartbeat with her Doppler. Imagine wishing she'd shut up so you could just hear that heartbeat. Imagine watching her face change when she realizes she's been searching too long. Imagine that first moment that you know - you know deep in your bones - that there is no heartbeat. That your baby is dead. Imagine the instant relief that floods your body when you hear a heartbeat. Imagine then your doctor says, "That's your heartbeat." Imagine being led to the ultrasound room, laying down as your doctor puts gel on your big belly, and your daughter's heart floods the screen. Imagine it's still. So, so still. Imagine wanting to scream and cry and yell but having nothing come out. Imagine just staring at that screen, of that perfect, wanted, loved heart. Imagine willing it with everything you have to start beating again. Imagine being told, almost instantly, that there was nothing you did to cause this, and realizing, when I can comprehend what she's telling me, I'm going to think it's my fault. Imagine waiting by yourself in that ultrasound room while she runs to find another doctor to confirm what you both already know. Imagine having to phone your husband to tell him your daughter is dead. Imagine waiting in that room for him for 30 minutes until he can get to you. Imagine sitting in silence holding your doctor's hand. Imagine being unable to cry because this just can't be real. Imagine calling your mom, then your sister, and hearing them scream into the phone. Imagine handing the phone to your doctor because you just don't know what to tell them. Imagine finally breaking when your husband rushes through the door with tears streaming down his face. Imagine being escorted out of your doctor's office, through the waiting room full of pregnant women.
Imagine going home to your quiet house, with the baby swing in the family room. Imagine walking to your neighbor's house, ringing the door bell and praying she answers so you can say the words out loud: "my baby is dead." Imagine calling work to tell them you won't be in today because your baby's dead, and you're not sure when you will be in. Imagine making the decision of when you will go to the hospital to give birth to your dead baby. Imagine your phone ringing and staring in disbelief as the number of your son's daycare lights up the screen. Imagine thinking he must be dead too. Imagine waiting for hours for your family to rush in to be with you. Imagine them finally arriving, and not being able to hug you very close because your big baby belly is so large. Imagine your sister helping you pack a hospital bag and wondering if you should bring your camera, because your baby is dead. Imagine having no idea what you need to take with you to the hospital to give birth to a baby who has died. Imagine everyone telling you that you should eat, which is laughable, because how could anyone eat right now? Imagine forcing down half a bagel and topping it off with a glass of wine. Imagine drinking that wine, thinking I can't believe I'm drinking this while pregnant, but my baby is dead. My baby is dead, my baby is dead, my baby is dead. Imagine spending all day staring at your big belly. Imagine feeling your baby move, but knowing she is dead.
Imagine taking a shower and staring at your big belly that carries your dead child. Imagine your son getting home from school, climbing onto your lap, and reading to him and your baby, Wherever you go, my love will find you. Imagine kissing him goodnight and leaving for the hospital to go be induced.
Imagine your husband hitting the curb as he pulls into the parking lot of the hospital, closing your eyes, and hoping it kills you.
Imagine checking into the hospital and having to sit down at the desk, with a bassinet for a live baby sitting right next to you. Imagine that bassinet breaking you. Imagine your sobs. Imagine the nurse putting all the bracelets on you, and leading you down the hallway to the birthing room. Imagine being asked "Have you fallen recently?" when the nurse takes your stats. Imagine thinking, they tell me it's not my fault and then they ask if I've fallen recently. Imagine the nurses hooking you up to IVs. Imagine them telling you that you can have all sorts of drugs, because they don't need to protect your baby and asking how much pain would you like to feel? Imagine having no idea if you want to feel everything or nothing.
Imagine your doctor arriving. Imagine you tell her you are feeling the baby move. Imagine her asking if you'd like to do an ultrasound, just to be sure. Imagine doing one last ultrasound and being told your baby's bum is floating in amniotic fluid and pushing against you. Imagine being told to get some sleep, it may be a while. Imagine thinking you'll never sleep again. Imagine your husband and your mom curling up in arm chairs next to your hospital bed.
Imagine the nurses asking if you are ready for your epidural, and looking over at your sleeping husband and mom. Imagine knowing they will have to leave the room for the epidural, wanting them to sleep a bit longer, and asking to wait. Imagine later, the anesthesiologist walking in and saying, "I'm so sorry for your loss." Imagine that being the first time you've heard the words. Imagine weeping while you sit up for your epidural.
Imagine while you're experiencing contractions, the chaplain walks in and asks you if you are going to cremate or bury your child. Imagine her asking what funeral home you plan to use. Imagine you have no idea the answer to either of these questions. Imagine weeping some more.
Imagine the nurse checking how dilated you are. Imagine you aren't that dilated. Imagine worrying you will be in labor a long time.
Imagine your father coming to the hospital, standing at the edge of the room, awkwardly. Imagine he doesn't know what to say to you. Imagine him asking if it's okay if he leaves. Imagine that he never holds his granddaughter, because it's too hard for him.
Imagine you suggesting to the nurse she check your dilation again. Imagine that although it's your first vaginal birth and you're high on all kinds of painkillers, you just know she's coming. Imagine your doctor, the one who held your hand as you called all your loved ones, isn't there. Imagine your nurses ask you if you can wait, if she can wait, but you can't wait. Imagine she's coming now. Imagine your baby is coming and in walks an insensitive doctor.
Imagine, when you push your child out, you scream, "I'm a terrible mother!" Imagine you didn't even know you felt that way until you screamed those words.
Imagine how the insensitive doctor announces, before you've even laid eyes on your precious child, "there's something wrong the cord." Imagine yelling at him to give you your baby.
If you're a parent, do you remember the moment you first laid eyes on your child? Do you remember the overwhelming feeling of love, how you'd do anything, anything to keep this child safe? How you've never known love like that before? Imagine feeling that way, except your child is dead. She is beautiful and perfect, and she is very, very dead. Imagine that.
Imagine she died inside you when you did everything right.
Imagine she died inside you, when you would have done anything to keep her safe. Anything.
Imagine you have one afternoon with your child. Imagine you're recovering from giving birth and unable to get out of bed, but you have about six hours in your lifetime to hold your child. Imagine being unable to stop crying as you tell her, over and over again, how much you love her and how sorry you are. Imagine wanting to take off her hat so you can look at her dark, dark hair but imagine needing that hat to keep her head from becoming misshapen. Imagine holding her perfect little hand and desperately wishing she would squeeze back. Imagine thinking of singing to her but being unable to keep your voice from breaking. Imagine regretting every single day since then that you never sang to your daughter. Imagine watching your daughter's body decompose in front of you. Imagine your sister holding her on a pillow because she has started to become harder and harder to hold. When your sister passes her back, imagine telling your sister you want to hold your daughter not a goddamn pillow.
Imagine your child is perfect.
Imagine your child is dead.
Imagine holding your daughter as your husband reads to her that same special book that now has so much more meaning than you ever would have imagined. Imagine your mom recording that moment. Imagine you've never been able to watch it because you're just not sure you could.
Imagine having to kiss your daughter one last time. Imagine having to place her in a stranger's arms. Imagine having to turn your back on her. Imagine getting one last glimpse of her as you're wheeled out of your room. Imagine leaving the hospital without your baby. Imagine driving home in silence. Imagine walking into your home to see that baby swing in the living room.
Imagine your empty nursery. Imagine the dresser full of clothes. 3 month, 6 month, 9 month, 12 month, 18 month, all the way up to 2T.
Imagine crawling into bed that night with an empty belly.
Imagine what comes next.
Imagine binding your breasts. Imagine your milk comes in anyway. Imagine you curl up in the fetal position and sob, sob, sob at that moment. Imagine your body doesn't know your baby died. Imagine bleeding for weeks after childbirth, with no baby to take care of.
Imagine a friend comes over a few days later and tells you about her son's baptism. Imagine you have to take your son to and from school and walk past the infant room. Imagine when another friend emails you to tell you she's pregnant and doesn't even mention your pain or your daughter. Imagine after 8 weeks, you have to return to work and are expected to be productive. Imagine half your coworkers act like nothing ever happened. Imagine how grateful you are to the ones that don't.
Imagine your life now, 17 months later. Imagine how you cry many mornings on your way to work. Imagine how you light a candle every night, talk to your lost daughter, and wish things were so very different.
Imagine how you relive this everyday. Multiple times a day. Some days, ten times a day. Some days, twenty times a day.
Imagine how much you appreciate your friends and family and coworkers who acknowledge all three of your children. Who use your child's name. Who work to honor her with you. Who recognize your triggers and work to help you manage them.
Imagine you'll live with the trauma and without your child for the rest of your life.