I’ve been reading Edward Humes’ Baby ER, which is all about life (and death) in a Newborn Intensive Care Unit. The book was written in 2000, around the same time Maia was born, and it has brought back a lot of memories, nearly nine years after her death, making me realise the extent of what I’ve done by embarking on this writing task. Nine years of grieving, and the raw bouts of emotion I used to live by are quiet and still, like sleeping lions. Occasionally they rear their fearful heads, but reading that book is an ambush. It’s all so very familiar: there’s the drug addict baby, the meconium baby, the IVF triplets, and the equivalent to our baby, with the bloated stomach and the twisted intestines, though no NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis), the disease that killed Maia. Humes writes only briefly about NEC, noting that the Greek word for death is embedded in the name, and my gut twists in response as I read, the sadness infiltrating my bones.
I also finished Rachel Cusk’s book, A Life’s Work, her memoir of motherhood from a few years back, and that was a reminder of how gruelling parenting really is. Not that I need any outsider to tell me that; I have daily proof, but when Maia died, I not only grieved my daughter, but I grieved motherhood, too. It didn’t seem gruelling to me, then. I was desperate for it. People seemed to forget that I was still a mother, and that was an unspeakable wound to me. I idealised the state of motherhood, so that when I gave birth to a healthy child, I was ready to enter a perfect world, and just like Cusk, I was utterly shocked when it stuck its tongue out at me. I must have been fucked up by it, because I really felt that parenting a healthy child was, at times, harder than parenting an ill one – in the sense that, in the hospital, there are many people caring for your child, and you are never alone. Cusk’s loneliness seeps from every page; only poetry and literature are her friends. Her book is testament to how very, very estranged you can feel, when the “happiest day of your life” comes – and goes.