I can picture him how he would look now, thirteen, awkward, all elbows and knees. Most often he rides a bike, one foot firmly on the ground. One sock perpetually sags.
In the softness of this scene, the edges blurred like a cinema dreamscape, I don’t see what is behind him, or ahead. It’s always just him, a wry smile, pausing, knowing that it means so much to me just to look at him.
No matter where I am when this vision comes over me, early in the morning in bed, or sitting in a car rider line to pick up my living children, it always cuts away too quickly. I remember that this child is dead, and that because of my choices during those fuzzy days when the doctors told me what I should do with a baby floating lifelessly in my body, I never saw his face.
The day my first baby became a ghost in my memory seems so long ago, before Y2K, before 9-11, before Katrina. It began with crisp dialog and hard edges. We skipped through a waiting area filled with round bellies. The examining room zinged with color, an enormous collage of baby pictures and birth announcements commanding one entire wall. As usual, my husband and I looked them over, commenting on each red-faced infant. “Is ours going to look like a bug too?” John asked.
“The most beautiful bug,” I said.
The nurse came in with the Doppler and the memory begins its slide into soft focus. She struggled, pushed, and worked hard to find the heartbeat. She failed. “It’ll be fine,” she told us. “We’ll have the doctor do a sonogram.”
I tried not to worry. She’d failed last time too and yet, baby floated in his amniotic sea, shifting his shoulders as he moved languorously across the white blips of the screen. He’d been sixteen weeks then, and today he’d be twenty, no longer fitting in the black box, but showing up as parts of the whole, a head, a belly, an arm or leg or foot or hand.
The doctor arrived, concern on his face, and greeted us with measured calm. He turned immediately to the machine and laid the paddle on my stomach, the bulge barely discernible.
I watched the ceiling, tears sliding into my ears, trying to convince myself that this would be all right, that any minute he’d sit back, relaxed, and say the baby was fine.
I usually shut off the memory here; there is no need to take it further. The scenes that follow are more akin to horror than dreams. Being pushed out the back exit so the balloon-bellied women would not see me cry. The new doctor’s room, filled with girls having abortions, where they would suction my baby out of me because I was too afraid to labor.
Life never returned exactly to that color and clarity that I had that day long ago. But moments come into focus now, the births of two daughters, the discovery of my life’s purpose, to support women with losses, and to write about it. Each happiness, each new hope, serves to sharpen my passage into time. And only when I look back do I see how that dreamscape serves me, how that boy, sitting atop his imagined bicycle, gives me a moment’s peace until he lifts his foot, pushes down on a pedal, and disappears again.
Deanna Roy is the author of Baby Dust, a novel about miscarriage and pregnancy loss, released by Casey Shay Press in October 2011. She runs the web site www.pregnancyloss.info, a support site she began after the loss of her first baby at 20 weeks in 1998. She has lost three babies and has two living children.