May 1st, 2023 marks one year since Margaret Maxine Rhea-Gadda was stillborn.
April 2022 I was on top of the world. I was a newlywed, I was pregnant and my belly was really showing. I spent an embarrassing amount of time that winter and spring looking for cute and sexy maternity dresses. I’ve always looked forward to wearing a sexy dress while being very pregnant, it seems funny and bold to me, like “oh? I should dress to enhance my fertility you say? Well how’s this for fertile?!”
I only got to wear a dress like that once that pregnancy, on a random warm day in April. I felt self-conscious but also proud. The warm weather didn’t stick around – two weeks later we had a freak snowstorm, and by the end of the month I was giving birth to my dead baby.
I feel rude writing that. But that’s what happened! That’s the most succinct and clear way to put it. People don’t like talking about dead babies, it’s too disturbing. I find myself struggling to reference what happened in conversation. “Ever since…” and I stop. I let the other person finish the sentence. The problem with this method is that I feel really sensitive to anyone misunderstanding what happened. I hate the idea that anyone thinks my pregnancy just ended, that there was no baby, that I had a miscarriage, that these things happen.
I had a baby, I felt her move and kick and stretch in my belly for months before she died. I didn’t know she was a she then. We were waiting to find out the gender till when she was born. It’s hard to convey how painful the moment was when the doctor told us she was a girl. I had always wanted a girl.
Everyone tells you that when your child is born, you instantly love them. The terrible thing is, that instantaneous love doesn’t change one bit when your baby is born dead. I’m still reeling from feeling the strongest surge of love along with the strongest surge of grief, at the exact same moment. As I held her, it was like my soul was being ripped in two. I felt my body want to wrap around her, to hold and protect her forever. While at the same time it was like an alarm was going off in my head. An alarm that was screaming at me that everything was wrong. I couldn’t withstand that experience very long. I only held her for maybe 10 minutes.
It’s been a year, and I’m doing okay most of the time now… The alarm has become background noise. But all I have to do is turn my consciousness to it for one second, and I can hear the full volume of that alarm screaming “where is your baby?!” The tears and grief and love come rushing back.
It’s really hard to wrap my head around. With most bad things, you can find some comfort or silver lining. “He had a long life and it was his time to go”, or “good thing that relationship ended, I learned so much”, or “cat’s don’t live forever”. But with this, I don’t know how I can ever find something like that. Even now, as I am expecting Margaret’s little brother. I know that I will love him just as instantly and fervently as I love Margaret, and I know that he wouldn’t be arriving if Margaret had been born alive. But I will never, ever be okay with what happened. I don’t know how to reconcile it.
I wish I had more of her to hold on to and to remember. I wish I had heard her cry or felt her tiny hand hold my finger. What can you say about a newborn baby? She was entirely potential. She was a mix of me and her dad. She had her dad’s beautiful lips and my dark hair. She had a round nose that didn’t look like either of ours, I imagine it was just a little baby button nose, and as she grew older it would form more into her own. We never saw her eyes open.
Last summer, when I would try to imagine what she would have been like, I always imagined a smart, serious girl. I felt a little strange about that, worried I was thinking that because the only time I saw her she was as deathly serious as can be.
But then I remembered that while I was pregnant with her, when we imagined having a girl, we would joke that she would be very serious. We imagined a little Greta Thunberg in the corner, sorting our recycling. We joked that all the humor genes were used up on us, that there were just none left for her. We never thought about that when we imagined having a boy.
Now I like to think that maybe I did know something about her. All she knew was me, she felt my emotions, my stress levels, my daily rhythms. Her DNA floated around in my blood, and is likely still in there. I think it’s reasonable to think I had an inkling of what she would be like. So I’ll think of her like that. My sweet, serious and smart daughter Margaret.