Sunday, May 11, 2008

Greetings, gentle readers. I hope you will indulge me as I share a different kind of mother’s day writing. Though its words are not flowery and its subject difficult, I believe a lot of mothers—and fathers—will relate to it, because our identity as parents is sometimes defined as much by loss as by abundance. I have only shared it once before in a reading at Vermont College, but then my tale was hidden behind a fictional character. I am sharing it today in the form it should take: the truth.

I hope it touches you, whether you relate to it or not. I hope you all have a happy Mother’s Day.

The Empty Sweater

I see it out of the corner of my eye as I dig beneath skeins of wool in the cedar chest, the red, yellow and green flecks in its deep blue deceivingly festive like confetti. I pull it out from beneath a stack of vintage knitting patterns, and for a moment pretend to not know what it is, though I’ve never really forgotten its presence beneath the rarely opened hinged top. But as I unfold the tiny sweater in my hand an invisible band around my chest tightens and my breathing comes in shallow and fast. As I hold it, there is no denying its story.

I had bought the yarn on the way to the doctor for my monthly check-up. Doing so meant letting go of my superstitions—I wouldn’t buy anything for my first child until I was seven months pregnant and a co-worker said, “Ann, you better at least buy a bassinette, or that baby won’t have a thing to sleep in!”—but I needed to feel I was doing something for him, for my second son. I hadn’t been able to feel at ease during this pregnancy; I felt like everything was just beyond my grasp, just beyond my control, and every day I was surprised and relieved when nothing went wrong. But I smiled as I held the marbled cotton yarn in my hands; I would begin the project while waiting for my appointment that afternoon.

The back of the sweater was half done when the nurse finally called me in. I eyed it peeking from my tote bag as Dr. Sampson ran the Doppler over my taut white belly, his face a neutral mask of concentration, and I wished I could hold it, be comforted by the touch of the soft yarn.

“Ann, I’m just going to ask one of the other physicians to have a listen. I’m having some trouble getting a read on the baby. It’s probably just the equipment.” But his strained smile said he didn’t think it was. The minute he was out the door I grabbed for the sweater.

As I waited, the silver needles clicked and clicked, echoing in the empty examination room, their rhythmic sway the only movement. The front left side was done by the time Dr. Sampson returned with a false-smiling physician. He didn’t seem to have any luck with the Doppler either, and as I watched him leave, I fantasized about following him out, just walking out the front door and to my car in the bright Vermont autumn sun.

“Ann, we would like to order a sonogram at the hospital, tonight,” Dr. Sampson said. “Now don’t worry, it’s probably nothing, but we just want to make sure all is well.” He patted my hand, and for a moment, just a moment, I considered slapping it away.

That evening I perched on the end of an orange Naugahyde chair in the hospital waiting room, my hands and their needle extensions moving faster, as if trying to outrun my heartbeat. Alone, surrounded by quiet floral wallpaper, I finished the right front and started on a sleeve.

Later, in radiology the night physician stood in front of me, his serious face lit only by a lamp in the corner and the blue light from the sonogram machine. I could feel his pity coming off him like heat. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Cardinal. There’s no movement at all. It looks like he’s been gone a few days. Dr. Sampson will be here shortly, and we’re calling your husband now.”

I sat on the hard vinyl examining table, my rounded belly mockingly pushing through the opening in the faded blue gown. I expected tears. I was surprised by the numbness spreading through me, beginning at my sepulchered womb and moving outwards. I picked up my needles and finished the sleeve, the yarn trailing over my swollen breasts, my hands moving slowly, as if underwater. I continued to knit as Mike Sampson told me they would have to get the D&C scheduled, that I should go home and he would give me a sedative to help me sleep, to help me forget. I took the drugs; after all there was only my bloodstream to worry about now. I swallowed the blue pill dry as my husband drove, his grief-stricken face lit by the green glow of the dash and the flashes of light from the passing cars.

That night, at home, my eyes hazed with the Valium, I squeezed between my two-year-old son and my husband on the couch. For moments, comforted by the warmth of their skin, of their familiar company, I could almost forget. As images of blue animated Disney ants flashed across the television screen, I finished the last sleeve and placed the pieces on the coffee table just slightly apart from each other. In silence, all three of us looked at the dismembered sweater. Then Carlos asked, “You gonna put that together, Mommy?” I pulled him close and kissed his forehead, the sweet powdery smell of him filling my nostrils.

I wouldn’t sew it together until the following day in the hospital, after the bleeding started as Carlos and I walked through the brightly lit aisles of the video store, cramps doubling me over, my contracting stomach pressed against the steering wheel during the rushed drive to the hospital as I murmured comforting words over my shoulder to the child seat in the back. At the hospital my womb began to empty on its own, as Carlos was tugged away, his small face a mirror of my frightened heart.

That night, after my family went home, tired and saddened, I sat on the gurney, the hushed sounds of the night-shift nurses floating up and down the hallway, and carefully sewed shoulder to shoulder, sleeve to back. The next day when I arrived home with my small family, I snuck away from their concerned hovering to the bedroom, folded the sweater up and placed it in the chest—not on top where I would see it all the time, nor at the bottom where I might forget it entirely.

Now, as I hold it up in the light, I admire the tight stitches, noticing the beauty of the yarn and the brightness of the flecks of color against the deep blue. There had been several times when I considered giving it to a friend for their baby—it seemed so silly for it to sit empty, buried among rarely used yarn—but I never could bring myself to give it away. I wonder if I feared it was cursed, or if I simply couldn't bear to see another baby wearing it.

I fold it up carefully, and decide. I’ll save it for when my son has children of his own. I have to imagine its edges will be rounded with chubby baby flesh, its stitches stretched with movement and growth. I have to believe that one day it will be full.


Lisa Alvarado said...

Dear God, Ann ---

This is heartbreaking, full of healing and crafted with such clear-eyed love and a sense of loss....beautiful, beautiful, beautiful....

Tu hermana, Lisa

msedano said...

ann, thank you for this memorial.


Sustenance Scout said...

Such a loving tribute. Hugs to you on this Mother's Day. Karen in Denver

Andrea Caldwell-Beeman said...

I remember that sad time so well. Beautifully written!

Anonymous said...

The time when you will take it out for Carlos's child will come sooner than you thnk and it can then be a nice happy memory too for you someday. Love, Lori