Eleanor has asked more questions about Genevieve lately. We were talking about her last week at dinner, and Eleanor said, “It wasn’t worth it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You went through that, and you didn’t get to bring her home,” Eleanor said.

I stumbled through an answer about how much I had learned from Genevieve’s death, and I’ve thought about that conversation ever since. Would I rather give back that whole experience, including my daughter, and be as innocent as I was before? I can’t answer that.

I’m more sympathetic now, at least for people truly deserving of sympathy. I feel a kinship with people who have endured cancer or lost a spouse or parent young, anybody who has gotten the losing end of statistics. On the flip side, I have difficulty being sympathetic about small, passing things.

I suppose I’m more grateful. It’s been so long since I was a “normal” parent that it’s hard to remember how I felt then. How can you measure gratitude anyway? I donate more to charity and spend more time thinking about how I can do meaningful work. I probably complain less than I used to. On the flip side, again, I have a hard time listening to others complain. I have always been bad at small talk and am worse at it now. Yes, the weather is cold. But two of my kids are alive!

The book that my book group selected for this month has a scene with a dead infant. I didn’t know when we picked it, and the scene prevented Greg from sleeping for a few nights. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to read the book.

We’re planning summer vacations, and I’ve already blocked out the middle of July. The 15th is cookouts and beaches and ice cream — smack dab middle of summer. It’s also a week during which, I suspect, I will never again take a vacation.

So it’s easy to imagine that I might prefer a life where I could vacation in the middle of July, where I could read the book or watch the movie and feel only passing sadness at the baby who dies, where I could see the birth announcement and feel joy without the nagging undertow of “Why me?”

This is the part where I’m supposed to say that I wouldn’t trade my younger daughter for all of that. But I didn’t know her. So would I trade those nine months of hope and expectation for a lifetime of not knowing how it feels to lose a child?

I wish I didn’t have to ponder that question.

3 thoughts on “Unanswerable

  1. Oh goodness. I’m not ready for the questions that Eleanor is presenting you with.

    I’m quite similar with sympathy. I’m sympathetic with those who have been on the harsh end of statistics and way less tolerable with those who complain of the petty. I simply don’t have enough space left in my heart to handle their issues.

  2. This reminds me of the post I wrote after teaching The Return of the Soldier… My questions was not quite whether I would trade the experience of being pregnant with Eliza, but whether if given the choice I’d give up the memory of it, which I suppose isn’t so different, except it came down to a question of truth. I always believe in truth. I’d always want to know, even if knowing means knowledge of sadness. But to be able to give up the entire experience, to regain the lightness and the easiness of life without the loss of a child… It’s tempting but unfathomable at the same time. My life is still divided into a before and after, but what comes after is so much “because of” rather than “instead of” Eliza that, in a way, I think I’d be giving up everything.

  3. I have thought about this too. And come up with different, always incomplete, answers at different times. I mostly come down to the thought that I just can’t say I’d give up my son, and the brief time I knew him, even if we never met. But really you’re right – the question just sucks.
    Re: book group. I just got invited to join one that was founded out of a local parents’ FB group. I read the next book, and it has a backstory about still birth. And the author just gets it so wrong, clearly he’s not been through it or talked much with someone who has but just imagined it. Which is his prerogative as an author I suppose. But now, I’m not going to go into this group full of other mothers I don’t know and say I distrust this author because he gets my experience so badly. So no book group for me.

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