Friday, April 20, 2012

The End of April (Or, the middle of January)

The other day on my "O.P.P." blog (Other People's Poetry), I posted the poem "The End of April." Today I was reflecting on why that poem tore my own heart out.

Ten years ago this January, I was five months pregnant, teaching high school, and wearing maternity clothes. All my students knew I would be having my first child in May. I was seeing the midwives regularly, and was hoping to try for a birth center birth (instead of the hospital). I still remember when I discovered I was pregnant. A couple of weeks after September 11, 2001, I was coming home after school each day exhausted. I kept thinking to myself, "What's wrong with me? Wow, these terrorist attacks must have really affected me more than I thought." Well, right after my birthday I took a test and realized why I had been feeling so sleepy.

In mid-January, my husband and I went for the five-month sonogram. So far I had had a healthy pregnancy and hadn't had any problems besides staying awake at 4 in the afternoon. His mother had wanted to accompany us, fascinated as she is by any kind of medical procedure, but we had refused. This was our first baby and we wanted to share these times just the two of us. I lay in the dark on the examination table, and Rich sat beside me. The technician placed cold jelly on my belly, and then the ultrasound, slid it around looking here and there, we heard the heartbeat and saw the heart beating, and very soon with the technician's guidance we could recognize on the screen in front of us limbs, a spine, hands and feet... the head. "It looks like ET!" I said lightly. The technician was somewhat quiet, and searched around some more. Then asked us to wait a moment while she went and found the doctor.

Rich and I wondered if anything could be wrong. I think we sensed something was wrong. A thousand years later the doctor entered what suddenly felt like a very claustrophobic dark space. I don't even remember whether the doc was a man or woman, but he/she showed us the baby's torso, spinal cord and head again, and showed us that the top of the head was not shaped correctly, that it should be rounded.

The baby had no top of his skull. He had a condition called anencephaly, which means that part of the spinal cord does not close up at all. No skull would form around the crown of his head, which meant the baby was, according to the doctor "100% incompatible with life." He/she said that this was a certainty-- there was no guesswork about whether the baby might live outside of the womb, only guesswork about whether the baby would go full term... what decision we should make next... the knowledge that the wriggling life inside me was... well, there is so much that I've written about this, finally, ten years later. It's only been in the last year I could bring myself to do it. My feelings seemed so maudlin (because they are), too maudlin for good poetry. I'm trying, though. But I'm very uncertain about sharing it here.

The rest of that story, at least right now in my life, is not for this blog. However, when I read "The End of April" those little wings, for the thousandth time, tore me apart. Such a sad poem for a springtime poem. In the poem, I imagine that the baby bird has simply grown out of its shell and left the nest, but the missing crown of the shell... ouch.

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