by Molly Bashaw
How to Make a Rainbow
Begin to imagine that your life is fantastic, no matter what happens next. Light a candle and let it burn until it goes out by itself. Give away the clothes and the mobile. Take the changing table extension off the drawers. You are not replacing anything, just making space. When your friends come to your fortieth birthday party and raise their glasses, give up, but not in a sad way, and not in an attempt to lure a baby into your life as the doctor suggested.
It is okay to hate all the stories you read in which a woman who loses a child gets pregnant again.
If your niece gives your husband and you a “wish machine” with a red button in the middle of a ton of drawn hearts, frame it and hang it on the wall. Press the button.
Try everything. Rota Fortunae is still spinning.
If you do get pregnant again, it might feel like you are carrying an egg on a spoon through a barn full of nails, but also like someone who is gone already has sent this baby to you.
You might worry you’re being too careful when you refuse to swim or eat honey, or worry you’re not being careful enough if you ride a bike.
You will probably cry on the ultrasound table when you see your womb for the first time again, the womb you are convinced was never meant to be seen up close like this. You’ll remember the first ultrasound, and the final one you never looked at. You’ll see a heart beating again and you’ll want to cheer it on. You’ll want to take this baby out now and keep it somewhere safe.
Hold hands with your husband all the way there, sweaty and nervous like on your first date. Tell the doctor that you want to know, that you don’t want any surprises. When she says everything looks fine, and that it is most likely a girl, you might be happy despite the crying. Schedule as many visits as possible. Hold hands again on the way home. Sit down on that bench below the castle and hug each other.
Don’t read the statistics on divorce after child loss. Maybe you can see this as an opportunity: You’ve already got to know each other in the darkest moment. What could tear you apart now?
Kiss the little red ceramic angel your friends sent you.
Wait until people notice and ask you before telling them about the baby. Wish they would ask you.
When they find out, they might regard you with wonder: Wow, you’re brave to try again! Many people will be too careful. There will be no talk of baby showers, no gifts. But they will all understand if you quit choir and your job way before the regular maternity leave. You won’t even need to explain to them that you want to lie back and take it easy, even if you don’t get paid.
Take comfort in everyone you know or meet or read about who has done this before, even if they are mostly farm animals.
Don’t try to find information online. If your baby has hiccups and you look online, you may find false statements that says hiccups are signs of fetal stress. They are not.
And don’t count your baby’s movements. Your baby already knows how hard this is for you. Maybe, without fail, this baby will give you a little nudge every time you start to wonder if she is okay.
Don’t believe it when the doctor you visit for the pre-birth informational meeting tells you that second births are almost always faster and easier than firsts and that you should set off for the hospital sooner than later once your contractions set in—especially if he interrupts the meeting to take a call right in front of you, saying, “Start with the breast.” Don’t resist the temptation to make fun of him later, at home, nicknaming him Dr. Breast. With a little luck, he will be on vacation when you give birth.
If your baby’s due date is the same as the due date of your first baby, try not to imagine a repeat, or to compare the pregnancies, not even if you are scheduled to give birth in the same hospital with the same doctors and midwives, not even if you go to the info-evening again and they hug you and tell you they are happy for you, and you choose to go back there to that same room they show in their slide show, the room where it happened—though your heart is racing when you see it—because at least it is a known, unlike the other big hospital in your city.
Don’t compare anything to anything else, even if you are ten days overdue and you have to be induced again (and end up spending the exact same number of days in the hospital), and the induction doesn’t work, and they try everything in the book, just like last time. If, after three days of trying, the midwife who delivered your stillborn, and you hoped would deliver this baby, too—so you’d both be healed—tells you her shift is over and she is leaving for the weekend, you work through seven hours of contractions and they give you an epidural and you go into it thinking, At least I am not as scared as last time; when finally the baby’s pulse goes up and up and they suggest a Caesarian—though you wanted to wait for her, though you wanted to not push her out any earlier than she wanted to come, just because of what had happened to her brother (which was not a result of having been in the womb too long)—say, yes. Say, thank you. Say, Do whatever you need to do to.
During the time that seems like forever but is actually a few moments—the time it takes for them to cut her out of your numb, resigned body and jot down her Apgar score and give her back to you—breathe.
When she is finally there on your chest, wet and awake and muscular, looking around and crying alternately, and if she scored a ten, and if she already has long silken hair, it might seem too good to belong to you. They will ask you to name her so they can write it down next to her length (56 centimeters) and her weight (4036g). You’ll spell it out in the dark room for them as she roots around at your swollen breasts: Clara Josephine Liepold. Clara with a C; Josephine with ph. You won’t notice you can’t feel anything from the waist down and are sweating profusely.
If your baby has an infection because they broke your water and she was in your womb for a long time with the meconium before they cut her out, and you don’t know this when the nurse takes her from you, saying She’s breathing a bit funny, I’ll bring her right back, and you are still there alone in the recovery room with a Russian woman and her third child and a Syrian woman and her fifth child, wondering if this was the room for foreigners or just a coincidence, wishing the Syrian would stop talking on her phone—the Russian telling you it will all be okay as you cry and she snuggles her little fuzzy-haired baby—close your eyes and try to turn off your brain.
When you first see Clara again, in a clear incubator, tied up to tubes, with a pacifier in her mouth, know it looks worse than it is. The doctors want her to be close to you as soon as possible. You can tell her you are sorry, even though it is not your fault. Hold her to you as though you will keep her, even if wires are dangling from her and she has air tubes stuck in her nose.
Ignore the woman who shows up like a fairy, holding a rubber breast, and shows you how to encourage your milk production.
When you are alone with your baby at night in the NICU and your husband has gone home again and you can see all her vitals projected on a screen in the corner of the room, sent from the band around her smallest toe and the needle in her head—because she kept pulling the one on her hand off (a good sign, you’ll think)—except when the monitors go blank occasionally and you have to call in the night nurse by pressing a button, and she sometimes takes a while—try to trust that Clara will not die if you fall asleep or need to take a shower or use the bathroom. The night nurses can see this screen at their station.
If she turns yellow after a week and the staff comments on this with concern, know that mild newborn jaundice is very common and occurs during the normal breakdown of red blood cells. Sunlight is a good cure. This will likely pass as quickly as it came.
The doctors and nurses will have access to your medical history, but they might not always be thinking of your lost boy when they deal with you.
Don’t lose heart when your doctor says your inflammation levels are worrying her, and makes you get into a wheelchair and leave your baby again in the middle of the night, then places a catheter in you so she can get an untainted urine sample, even though you feel, besides the pain, fine. Even if she leaves you shivering in the hall for a long time and you have to maneuver yourself into a public toilet and fumble around peeing and begging another nurse for one of those giant pads, remember she is doing her best and there are many much worse cases than yours.
If it all suddenly seems unbearable the third night you are in the NICU alone with your baby, though the doctors say it is just a lung infection, curable in about ten days of antibiotics; if the night nurse comes to your bedside when you call her and you cry on her and clutch her and tell her that you feel scared and alone and she sits with you and holds your hand like a child’s, says to call your husband, that they will make the room a family room for the three of you and it won’t cost any extra money, do it.
At the latest, when you’re so sick of the hospital you keep telling everyone you are fine even though you are hardly able to walk because of the pain from the C-Section, consider the possibility that your daughter could be strong.
Consider the fact that you might be just as strong as she is, especially when the lactation consultant with the plastic breast comes in again and wants to give a demonstration of a “butterfly massage” on your baby, even after you’ve asked not to be disturbed. Tell her you want to be alone with your husband and daughter. Tell her that means she needs to leave right now.
Tell the physical therapist and the pastor the same thing.
Eat all the soup your neighbors send, and the cake. Hang up the funny cards. Don’t wonder why your in-laws haven’t visited yet. They remember the last time they visited you here.
Don’t let the lactation consultant stress you when she wants you to pump your milk so she can feed it to your baby through a tube draped along your breast, or from a small beaker. It will be perfectly okay if you feed this baby with a bottle for a while at first, even for half a year, despite everything she tells you to the contrary. Your baby will still want to come back to your breast whenever you are ready. You might even go on to breastfeed her easily, for at least two years.
Everyone, even the lactation consultant who stresses you, will tell you stress is the worst thing for lactation. She will tell you to relax while she weighs the baby before and after you feed it, or when the doctor comes to do the next well-child checkup, one test of which is pretending to drop your baby and seeing if it flails its arms and cries in reflex.
When you finally get to leave the hospital with your baby in her car carrier, don’t worry about the noise of the engine every time you have to shift gears. Chances are, she’ll sleep the whole way, right to the door of your apartment, which you’ll find lovingly decorated by your neighbors.
Put her in her little basket under the new mobile of farm animals. Go kiss the little red angel and the wish machine.
Molly Bashaw‘s book of poetry, The Whole Field Still Moving Inside It, was printed in 2014. More recent poems and prose have appeared in The Iowa Review, The New Yorker, The New England Review, River Styx, Crazyhorse, and on the Lilith Blog. They grew up in upstate New York and have lived abroad since 2000. Currently, they make a living teaching literacy and language skills to refugees in Wuerzburg, Germany.
Charles Adesanmi Adedeji is a self-taught ballpoint pen artist with a focus on exploring mental health, Africanism, and being African in this new age.