CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.
By Sami Peil
It was 8:52 on a Wednesday morning. Wednesday, December 11, 2013 was the first time I heard her heartbeat. Seeing her tiny heart beating as she wiggled around was the biggest relief of my life. It was too soon to determine her sex, but I had a guess that we were having a daughter. When I got to my car I burst into tears—thankful, prayerful tears of relief and love and joy. I hadn’t realized that I was so worried until after. Baby had just been hiding when the doctor couldn’t find the heartbeat two days before.
Since that day exactly one year ago, I have looked at my little girl’s picture every morning. I have the image memorized: At the top it says 12/11/13 8:52 AM 12w5d, and below is the only picture we’ll ever have of our Alaska Eileen—her profile in the grainy grays of the ultrasound. The hospital didn’t offer pictures from the scan 19 days later when we discovered, on the same black and white screen, that our baby had died. No heartbeat. We waited three weeks for the pathology report that confirmed my feeling that she was a girl and left us with no answers about why she died. We received her ashes a few days later.
I have been dreading this anniversary of the first and last moments I saw her alive as time has moved toward 12/11/14. Today. And guess what happened at exactly 8:52 this morning? The bell rang outside of my classroom. I have been anticipating this, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to miss that time on the clock because the bell always rings at 8:52. Of course nothing happened in that moment. I continued teaching. Alaska Eileen continued to be just as dead as she was yesterday, but each minute that ticks by means I’m further from my alive Alaska and my Before. It becomes clearer that my Should Be is actually my Can’t Have.
I don’t know what to do with my hands. I wish I could tell them why they don’t have a baby to hold, to change, to tickle. My hands expected all of the baby related tasks, and they don’t appreciate holding the cold metal heart urn that keeps Alaska’s ashes. They don’t understand why we have a teddy bear to squeeze instead of diapers to change. They’ll grasp Beary and hold the heart and fight the desire to rip the stupid bear to pieces.
I don’t know what to do with my hands. They are so cold today, most days. Waiting for the soft, chubby baby skin to lotion, wash, clothe. Still waiting for new baby smell to linger on my hands and remind me of a frenzied morning. These hands will never understand why they still wait.
A few weeks after Alaska’s urn came home I decided to let myself open it. I needed to see her physical matter with my eyes. I had a moment where I wondered if maybe—when I took both of the screws out of the opening—I would see her fully formed and alive.
Maybe she would be moving around inside of the heart—a tiny, pink body.
Maybe she would be alive and would grow.
Maybe it was all a mistake.
I thought all of this in a flash. It’s one of those insane thoughts that comes with grief. I didn’t find her alive body inside the heart of course. Just a tiny bag of ashes. Just the gray and the smell. You know the smell. The burning, the ashes left behind from the fire. It’s my new baby smell.
It’s hard to know what to do with my empty hands. Cut them off. Burn them. Mix them in with her ashes. Cover them in new baby smell.
Sami Peil is a mother and a truth teller.