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I gave birth to my second child and then my third. Rivky, sometime after, birthed her fourth. I remember when Rivky told me she sat for hours in a bath of boiling water after missing her period, not because her cousin Frady said it worked for her — Frady wasn’t pregnant anymore after that — but for other reasons that Rivky couldn’t remember. An infection. She liked boiling water.
I met Rivky later on; she was heavily pregnant. She smiled at me sheepishly, and I saw the tired look in her eyes. After her sixth birth, her postpartum depression never left. It was her dazed expression, her pretty, young face staring blankly at me from under the influence of tranquilizers and anti-depressants, that finally made me see the things they never told us: that motherhood cannot complete you if it consumes you, that our lives are worth more to God than any wasted sperm and that the real sin is to believe that the unborn soul is more important than any mother’s life could ever be.
I became a person the day I stopped being a vessel. It is difficult to describe the sense of wonder, the freedom of stepping out of survival mode and into motherhood. I learned the joy of children because I could finally be a mother, because I could devote my energy to the three children I had, not to the ones I still needed. And for first time, I began to feel complete.
It is nearly 10 years now since I gave birth to a stillborn, nearly five since I witnessed Rivky’s breakdown. I had never wanted to write about it, never planned to look back at what I wanted to forget. And I would never have done so, if not for the picture.
It was an innocent conversation with a close family member two months ago. I don’t know how it came up, but at some point she told me about the photo of my stillborn baby.
“The doctor took a picture after birth and gave it to us…. You never saw it. It was hidden from you….”
And she told me that the baby who died had been perfect.
“He was beautiful. He was a perfectly formed infant. He had chubby cheeks; these tiny, perfect fingers; soft tuft of hair… he looked like your other babies, adorable, like a tiny doll….”