A short medical memoir by Hillary Savoie
"Most love falls between constraints, always conditional, always defined. What I see between this mother and her child transcends that. I don’t have a name for it, it defies definition in the concrete but it is beautiful to watch as it speaks to the limitless of our capacity to feel."
Brent Stirton, Photojournalist, Getty Images
Fair warning, dear reader, I’m going to hurt you. And I am really not sorry about it. That is just how this story goes. In this story a baby’s heart will stop beating—it is my baby’s heart, but it could have been your baby’s. In this story a mother—that’s me, but it could have been you—will struggle to come to terms with reality, looking for explanations for why things happen the way they do.
Please enjoy the following excerpt from "Whoosh":
The afternoon light in our bedroom filters through the pear tree in the side yard and bounces off the walls. I love the colour of this room, it lights up in the day with a calm energy. André and I chose the colour together after extensive debate, but we still can never agree what colour the paint is.
“What’s the name of the paint? White Jasmine, right? It’s in the name. Obviously it is white,” he’ll say, teasing me. I cannot imagine anyone seeing the colour as anything other than a beautifully subtle shade of green.
The calm weight of Esmé’s two-month-old body on my chest and the sweet rhythmic purring of her breaths telling me that there is absolutely nothing else in the world that I should be doing for the next few sweet moments.
The door to our porch downstairs creaks open and swings shut. I hear some steps across the floor and then back to the door. One of our neighbours has left something for us… I hope it is our friend Matt with more of
his famous chocolate chip lactation cookies, a recipe he developed a few years ago for his wife, Dana. I check the time. It has been two and a half hours since I fed Esmé. It is time to get ready to try to feed her again. I also need to pump.
We are on this cycle: bottle, pump, rest, bottle, pump, rest. Or, more accurately, bottle, vomit, pump, vomit, rest,
vomit… every three hours, all day and all night.
I weigh her regularly to see if we are doing any better. This morning’s weight wasn’t great, and I am discouraged…at 7 pounds and 10 ounces, she’s gained only a pound and a half in her first two months, and the rate is slowing rather than speeding up. I’m failing at breastfeeding her—even with a bottle—and the doctor is talking about putting her on a special prescription formula. I keep reading things that say she should double her birth weight in the next month or two. It just sounds
insane... not that she is doing anything else that other two month olds are doing.
I start to sit up in bed, the first step toward carrying her downstairs to warm her bottle, and she stirs. She grimaces for a moment and lets out a tiny whimper. Then she rolls her head a bit and looks up at me. As she does so, her head flops backward, jarring the rest of her limp body.
Smiling at her, I look her over carefully, noting how pale she is, how one of her eyes opens far less than the other, how tired she seems just from the small effort of looking up at me.
I meet her eyes. There is always something unsettling about her gaze. It is at once compassionate, mischievous, curious, and vaguely judgemental. I have the sense that she understands so much around her… that she is laughing at us, at our concern, lovingly, but still, laughing.
It is hard to reconcile the look in her eyes with the incredible vulnerability of her body, with the repeated suggestion that she has a serious, but mysterious, genetic disorder.
She smiles at me and moves her lips, producing some cooing sounds that aren’t much louder than an exhale—Aaaah aaah. I smile back and say, “Oh, really? Yes? Je t’aime aussi, ma belle.”
She smiles more. Her feet kick a little bit, so I can tell she is getting excited. Predictably her forehead creases and she spits up, the little bit of excitement having made her sick. I grab a cloth from the stack on the nightstand and clean her chin. “It’s okay, sweetie. Maman is here.”
She closes her eyes for a moment, collecting herself. When she opens them again, she does so with a smile, eyes lit up, ready for more.
It is always like this with her. Everything happens on an almost microscopic level, her sounds are often barely audible—her cry a quiet mewing, her movements subtle, her complaints fleeting. Even her spit up lacks drama (except for its frequency and volume.)
Everything is that way, that is, except for her joy. She seems to have a never-ending supply of that. She smiles almost every moment that she isn’t sleeping or puking. Her body sometimes seems like it might just come apart from trying to hold all of her joy.
My body seems like it might just come apart from watching her.
I come back to reality in the hall. Kristin, André, and I stand there, stunned, as people rush in to Esmé’s room. We are unable to make sense out of the activity behind the dreadful green curtain.
Soon we are directed down the hall and told to sit in the little room on the left—so that we won’t be in the way.
We begin to oblige, but at some point on the way there it seems to dawn on us what this room is. We start moving like cattle heading to the slaughterhouse, slowing, curving away from the path ahead. We want to turn around, but we aren’t given an option.
In the room my memory gets mostly blurry again. We hear something about an “infant crash cart” over the P.A. system. I know that I sobbed and paced. It is possible I threw up in the garbage can, but I am not sure. I keep saying, “It has been too long. It’s been too long.”
I want to disappear.
I do remember a visceral thought about how recently my baby was an actual part of my body… I can feel her moving further and further away from me and, for a moment I feel certain she is gone. I am also certain I will join her soon, because this loss will be impossible to sustain, the loss of a vital organ.
We hear them call for a second infant crash cart. And I vaguely wonder about what room the mother of the other dying baby must be in. I think I’d like to sit with her, to comfort her.
But there is no other baby, no other mother. The second cart was for Esmé. She needed both.