I just finished reading a stillbirth memoir called Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, by a woman named Elizabeth McCracken. And I haven’t experienced the replica part yet (the author had a rainbow baby), but I know exactly what she means by the title.
I carried my child inside of me for 37 weeks, made hopes, dreams, and plans, got sick more times than I could count, peed in cups for months, had a baby shower, decorated a nursery, tossed and turned night after night so I wouldn’t sleep on my back, told my daughter she would be a big sister—and after all that, I have nothing to show for it except a gravestone and an empty heart. I Delivered a Dead Baby and yet the world continues to spin on its axis. Receptionists can still be kind of rude and no one gives me the grieving mother discount.
And so sometimes I wonder, did I dream the whole thing up? Five years from now, 10 years from now, 30, when few people will even remember Luke’s name, will I ask myself if he was just a figment of my imagination? If those 37 weeks ever even happened?
Luke won’t grow up to be someone, won’t influence others with his personality, skills, and kindness. He won’t be eulogized as the coach who always took the time to stay after practice and help the struggling soccer player, the dad who showed his kids how to do math homework, the scientist who made great cancer-defeating discoveries. Except for a few grainy ultrasound photos and a cruel piece of paper certifying his death, there is no proof that he ever even existed. Even on the hospital records, I’m listed as the patient; his name appears nowhere.
What I do have is the many, many photos taken during our pregnancy. These memories are the only thing stitching together his brief life. I look at them and think about the woman behind the camera. Her baby was alive and she thought that in a few months or a few weeks or a few days, she would have a son, a second child. She was innocent and unaware. She was happy.
In February, Zoe proudly revealed the news to family.
We celebrated Zoe’s second birthday, once in Kentucky, once in Maryland.
My family came to visit and we spent a day in Annapolis. We hung out with dogs, gawked at million-dollar yachts, cruised the Severn River, and strolled the capitol grounds.
We spent a few weekends in the backyard assembling a swingset. Zoe has mostly outgrown the infant swing, but we ordered one anyway. For Luke.
I took Zoe plant shopping. I remember holding on to Luke as the nursery volunteer drove us back to our car in a golf cart, the back laden with flowers. We spent many hours outside in the garden that spring.
In Chicago in May for our babymoon, we traversed the city, visiting vegan meccas, walking the Miracle Mile, geeking out at the planetarium, taking in Chinatown, strolling parks, and watching the Nats beat the Cubs. A few times, we lamented how this would be our last vacation for a while, as we didn’t relish the thought of taking a trip with a toddler and a baby.
We spent a lot of time in the garden, stalking caterpillars.
I can’t see Luke in these photos, but in my memory I know he was there. They’re all I have to hold onto, now and for the rest of my years.