This is a backtrack to an old post from just before Ella's 5th birthday in January, 2009. It has flashed up at me a few times today in my blog widget, taunting me to click on the thumbnail of this photo of her and open it. For the benefit of new readers to my blog, this is a really good example of the peaks and troughs - this day was mostly in a trough, but seeing her always made the day have a peak! - of living with only the memory now of a baby who battled for life (and lost hers) in the NICU.
Ellanor was listening to me as I took this series of photos this day. She was thirteen days old. Half way through her life already.
I counted thirteen needle pricks on her hand. And more on her chest (you can just see the ones on the side in this shot). The blue bruising from her hand is of course from said blood drawing. Her other hand looked the same. I remember wincing at the thought. There was bare little skin on her body (she was so early that the lanugo grew on her body after she was born and her skin would grow in folds like that of a roly-poly puppy over several days before she fattened into it, a process I witnessed several times during the month of her life, watching in fascination as she reached a more normal, survivable weight). How could they pierce the chest skin of my baby to take her blood? And her heels I haven't even mentioned yet. They were black and blue. Literally, black and blue. HOW COULD THEY NEED TO TAKE THAT MUCH BLOOD? my mind would scream. It sickens me even now, five years on, to remember her guttural mews of protest - her only way to defend herself, to cry out in pain for them to stop - and me, her mother, having to stand by and simply let them do it.
Dear holy hell, no. Stop, please stop.
I did make them stop once. I stood up, pushed the pathology cart away and told them to wait. I desperately needed to minimise her anguish, for I felt that the energy it took for her to endure it was literally sucking the life out of her. They did stop. That day. They told me this was why they didn't like parents to be present, "because it's too distressing for you to watch."
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?? I would rather be here, thanks all the same, I told the woman calmly.
Thank you, Blog. I think you've just unlocked a portion of my book. Must make mental note to come back and continue on this memory. I'll leave it there.
I sat there looking through all the bruising, past the puffy eyelids with their bruising from the birth, and saw the most delicate, fragile yet infinitely resilient being I had ever laid eyes on. So, so, so beautiful. Achingly beautiful to me.
Giving birth to Lolly years later just confirmed this to me: Lolly was never fragile. But Ella was, fragile like spun glass. However, this was also her beauty. Not fragile because of her prematurity. Not fragile because she wouldn't have been able to "make it" in the world and been a push-over. She was strong as an ox; an interesting dichotomy that I noted even at the time. I could see it in her and so could many of her carers. No, instead, I think she was fragile because of her purpose. The weight of her message made her fragile.
I see this photo and it makes me pant. I am now breathing shallow, panting silently. It happens sometimes when I look at certain photos of her. And when I enlarge this one, in particular, on the screen in front of me, my heart quickens. I yearn to bundle her close. I want to point to the thrashing toddler in front of me, complaining that Daddy has just stopped Hi-5, and yell at her that she ought to be bloody well grateful.
Of course I can't. Of course I won't. But I wanted to note the other side of the "I hold my living child close because I know just how very much we have lost" coin. That is, some days I am nauseated by the thoughts that I project onto my second daughter. Why aren't you more understanding? Why can't you be more quiet during this time? But it's not Lolly's place to have to change nor my right to ever try to make her. She would be living up to the impossible: an older sister canonised in her death, forever the child who will be perfect and can do no "wrong". We all - me, Steve and the LGBB included - take our lives for granted, accidentally, as a matter of course, so very, very often. It's inevitable in going through the motions of living our daily lives.
But when I see the memory via a photo of my sweet creation and am forced to confront and remember it, visibly showing the marks of already having endured such pain just to exist in my world, I am impacted heavily. Physically. And vow again to ensure her pain and her life and her fragility will not EVER go in vain.
More than once now on this journey, I have attempted to find a way to hug my computer screen. It's easier with a laptop. But no less dissatisfying.