The Box by Anjali Enjeti-Sydow

Only an hour after my D & E, still groggy from the anesthesia and reeling from the shock of the previous few days, I hastily exited the hospital where a few years earlier, I delivered two healthy, perfect baby girls. Just outside the sliding glass doors, the sounds of the city flooded my ears. The stench of smoke exhaled by hospital employees on their break and exhaust from engines impatiently sitting in traffic, hit me square in the face. Still in an anesthetic fog, I stumbled to the nearest trash bin perched next to a meter threatening to expire, and wrestled off my hospital ID bracelet, cutting off the circulation in my left arm in the process. I then tossed the only souvenir of my "visit" (aside from future medical bills) in the receptacle, and walked arm in arm with my husband and father to our car in the parking garage, where we left it just a few hours earlier.
 
The previous Friday, at nearly fourteen weeks pregnant, I waited for twenty minutes while my doctor scanned over and over my gelled, bloated belly searching for any signs of life.
 
"I don't hear anything that sounds like a heartbeat," she said.
 
The days following the miscarriage and subsequent surgery are a bit of a blur. I remember receiving sympathy cards from many supportive family members and friends. My voicemail and email spewed heartfelt condolences and offers for meals and babysitting. I had beautiful flowers delivered to my doorstep. I had gentle, loving advice from mothers who had gone through the same thing.
 
At first, these gestures were comforting and helped with those overwhelmingly painful first few days. But then I became angry and bitter, and after a few weeks of seeing the cards standing rigidly upright and purposeful on my kitchen counter as I washed dishes, I threw them all out. I then walked over to my computer, and deleted any and all email messages referring to the miscarriage. Even messages that just asked me how I was doing were summarily axed. I quit answering the phone and racked up voicemail messages in the same fashion that business travelers rack up frequent flyer miles. I wanted to hide from a world that would go on and on, and had already forgotten that I lost what would have been my son.
 
And now that life has settled a bit around my decidedly unpregnant state, I struggle with a new phase of grief -- how to remember a child that I never swaddled, nuzzled cheek to cheek, or comforted. How do I remember the past few months of my life, after I purged my house of any and all objects that recalled my three-month long pregnancy, and the sudden end of a life that would have completed my family?
 
Initially, I felt complete reluctance at the thought of memorializing my pregnancy. A memorial of some sort would mean, for me, that I was saying goodbye forever. It would mean, once and for all, that he is gone, and not coming back. It would mean that I am healing, something I want to do but am afraid of at the same time. It would mean that I have made peace with my loss, which right now, seems like some cruel joke. How, ever, will I make peace with this? If I finally ever do, I am certain it will take a lifetime. But what I feared most was that a memorial of some sort would give me permission to bottle up all of my memories of the three months that I carried him, and pack it neatly in a place where, someday, I might forget. I might forget that for three glorious months I nurtured a life that might have been. I might forget the vomiting, however unpleasant, the bloating, the sciatic pain, the insomnia I so routinely experience when I'm pregnant. I might forget how fatigued I was taking care of two other small children while pregnant, which, though difficult at the time, now seems like such a gift. But I don't want to forget any of it, not one ache, not one pain. Because when I was unwell, I was at least still pregnant.
 
Recently, I made a valiant effort to attack the dust colony underneath my bed. Doing so required me to lie on my stomach, stretch my arms as far as they could reach, and push items out from underneath with a dust mop. I found the plastic bin which stored my maternity wear, the outfits that I was merely days, even hours away from unpacking before I found out I lost the baby. I moved them aside and found a diaper changing pad that went with our pack-n-play. I tried peering through the darkness to see what lay further under the bed. My mop kept bumping something else, so I used it to hook the object and pull it further out.
 
I reeled in a light green photo box, one covered with a beautiful Anne Gedes baby picture spread across the lid. Smoothing the side of my thumb across a chubby, sunflower-faced infant, I opened it up. It was empty. I had meant to fill it with pictures long ago, but hastily slid it under my bed, forgot where I put it, and there it stayed, gathering dust for nearly four years.
 
With the end of my shirt pulled tight, I wiped off the dust bunnies that clung to its corners, and carefully considered its purpose.
 
A box. With a picture. Of a baby.
 
A few days later, I found myself in a local department store purchasing a soft teddy-bear holding a blanket. The blanket was blue.
 
I put it in the box.
 
A few months later, I placed inside it the rosary my mother made for her unborn grandchild. Over the holidays, I added an angel pin given to me by a dear cousin. Later, I included a ribbon laced with the word, "comfort," which had encircled a plant sent by my brother.
 
Another week, while cleaning out my bookshelf, I found the temperature chart I used when we were trying to conceive. I had taken very few temperatures, but enough to know, that after our first time trying, we had become pregnant for the third time.
 
I folded the sheet, and placed it in the box.
 
The contents steadily multiplied. Cards from a dear friend, a woman who had miscarried a day after I did. A pair of those tiny, newborn socks. Information from a miscarriage support group on how to get through the holidays while grieving.
 
All went into the box.
 
The box has helped some, but it is certainly not a perfect medium for my grief.
 
Some days the box seems excruciatingly morbid. Even I am both bewildered and sickened by this realization. The teddy bear holding a blue blanket is often laying flat on its back when I remove the lid. Immediately, my hand rushes to adjust its position to the side – a feeble attempt to remove the corpse-like quality of its placement.
 
Other days, the box seems forced or unnatural. Because it's too much effort to find a happy picture of me during the pregnancy. And where is that darn ultrasound picture --the one where the baby is still alive? And if I find it, can I bear to look at it, or will my heart break all over again? And can a heart even break again, once it's already been shattered?
 
The box, at its most basic, is my valiant attempt at an emotional consolidation of the anguish I've felt the last several months. It encapsulates the sadness that spills onto the floor when I wake in the morning, and coats me throughout the day as I care for two young girls. But it is all that remains of the pregnancy, really. Adding to the box is all there is left to do.
 
Perhaps I will never gather all that must go in.
 
Perhaps it will never hold all that it should.
 
Perhaps I am still filled with far more questions than answers.
 
Perhaps I will never, ever fully understand how the body can so betray the heart.
 
Which is why, in the end, I thought I should have this box.
 
Anjali Enjeti-Sydow has been published in print and online magazines, including Catholic Parent, Mamaphonic, Mamazine, and has a forthcoming essay in Skirt! She writes for Dot Moms and lives in suburban Philadelphia with her husband and two young girls.