A couple of my most beloved friends lost their baby last week. It was neither totally unexpected nor do I believe was it totally unwelcome, given the other possible outcomes of this tragically ill-fated pregnancy that began on an otherwise magical night in the most #becausefutbol moment of both of their young lives. (If you haven’t seen the ‘maternity ward’ commercial that ran on ESPN during the World Cup, find it on YouTube, then apply it to the NFL.)
This piece is about the mother. The word - mother - doesn’t seem to carry the weight to justify its mass, sitting there on the page, or the monitor, whichever. Less so on the monitor, because the black type means a small array of switches have been set to zero; their circuits have been broken; their value nil.
I would imagine that in a way my friend must somehow feel the same, although God Himself knows she’s got no reason to. She’d spent most of the spring preparing her body; her heart and her nature, her soul if you will, and her mind have always been prepared. She’s been mother material for longer, I’m sure, than the decade or so that I’ve known her. And, to be perfectly honest, we’re so diametrically opposite in just about every way, if we were really close friends, I’m convinced she would hate me. I just love her because she’s always had this aura or something. Maybe she gives off a maternal pheromone; I have no idea.
Other than family, I’ve only met one other woman in my lifetime, really, whom I would describe in those terms. While the one central to this event has been fortunate – she’s always been put on a pedestal by her husband, and rightfully so; the other, not so much — sadly, she was abused by virtually every male who ever got within arm’s reach of her. You wouldn’t know either one’s background by the way they love their children, the way they hold their heads up when they’re with them — their blessings, their treasured gifts. Interestingly, they both have three. I love them both. I just hurt for them in different and indescribable ways.
Now, I need to interject that through the winter, we’d found out my younger son’s wife was pregnant with their first child, a boy, whose gender we found out at an ultrasound the morning after the Super Bowl in February. So I was pretty excited that I was going to be a grandfather for the first time in July, which I did, B”H, on July 7th.
Back to the end of April, when my friend central to this story told me she was pregnant, I had somehow sensed (divined?!) it for no apparent reason, and I was wild with excitement, because I’ve got a sense for that (and earthquakes – don’t ask), and I posted this on my Facebook page:
I’ve been thinking [friend - not named] is pregnant for two full weeks now, and didn’t want to impose by asking her or her husband, who’s also a friend. The last time I had this premonition was this morning, oddly enough in the shower. I wasn’t thinking of her (she’s like a sister, people, come on), but I got that feeling again, and she just confirmed that today, without my having to ask. The oddest thing is, I’ve done that with one of her previous kids. She’s the only person I’ve ever been able to detect twice, but about the 10th-12th person I’ve been able to make the call on just out of thin air.
By the time May came around, I’d expected to hear or see, in the form of a cute Facebook post, what my friends’ baby’s gender was going to be, and I enquired and was told they believed it was a girl, but there were problems and the outlook didn’t look good either way, pending some more tests. I tried to swallow my heart back down. Prayers and requests for same go out immediately, literally around the globe. Older son in Jerusalem to Western Wall, holy sites in Hebron, other friends to mosques and churches….
More painful days of even more painful tests told them their baby had a “not uncommon” (1 in 6000) genetic disorder, and would likely not survive until birth, but a small percentage may live as long as 10-12 years, require 24/7 care and have the mental capacity of an infant. This could have a permanent effect on their family, their three kids would be scarred for life, and they could end up among the least fortunate, God forbid. The kind of stuff that runs through your mind when there’s absolutely not one blessed thing you can do to make any kind of constructive difference….
I was dying to give her the one thing I could, but I couldn’t! It was only a suggestion. The suggestion every single woman I spoke to about this said they would give their daughter, and what they would do themselves! But being a progressive — being in favor of a woman’s right to choose what to do with her own body, all I could do was shut my mouth and respect her decision to follow her own beliefs. She’s a smart woman, has graduate degrees; she’s a scientist. She knows her options. But if she follows her beliefs as religiously as she does, with so much conviction, then I have to follow my belief, which is a woman’s right to choose, as religiously as she does hers. What an incredibly difficult real-life test for a confirmed, dyed-in-the-wool, blue-state progressive liberal Democrat from Brooklyn named Levine. I hope I never have to take one like it again.
That aside, I tried to put myself in her place when her husband told me, knowing her child had died inside her, going into the hospital and being induced (as my son’s wife had been just days before), going through I don’t know how much painful sweating, agaonizing labor and having a natural birth (as I witnessed my wife do twice) and knowing that after everything she and her body and soul put into it, there was nothing more than a lifeless body that never breathed the air, a child she loved and now had to bury without ever hearing him cry, I don’t think I could survive something like that. I would be a total and complete wreck. Just give me the needle and don’t take it out. Where on earth does one find the strength?
This is the kind of stuff that a special kind of mother’s character is built on. The heroine doesn’t need a name, she doesn’t need a philosophy or a specific belief or anything, she doesn’t need a background. This is about a woman’s – a mother’s – superhuman strength of mind, body, and character. This goes so deep into the makeup of her character, it is an eye-opening, mind-expanding, cathartic thing for me, as a male, to really sufficiently identify with in any kind of way. All I can do is try to imagine what it must feel like.
Except I can’t.