“It takes a village to raise a child.” –African proverb
On the darkest of days, I was reminded that the journey of motherhood is not one traveled alone. There is a village of women walking with you to bolster you, to love with you, and to rage and shake fists at the joy, and sometimes sorrow, that encompasses motherhood.
“Oh, no worries, Babe,” I called back casually to my husband, as I left the house that morning. “Go to your appointment, and I’ll send you all the pictures when I’m done.”
I was on my way to an ultrasound appointment for our fourth baby, and at 10 weeks pregnant, I felt certain that all was well with our baby. This was our third ultrasound, after all.
My certainty was so great that I told my high-school classes about the new baby the day before we left for Christmas break, although their knowing eyes had picked up on my swollen belly and tired eyes weeks before.
I kissed my husband and then our two boys’ heads goodbye and headed off for the routine check.
I knew within a few seconds of the scan that there was something wrong. The technician went from chatty to somber while she waved the wand over my belly with more and more determination, as if by sheer will a little heart would jump and beat once again.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, her eyes hesitant.
The ringing in my ears made it hard for me to understand. I stared back blankly. My mind was slow, reluctant to catch up with the piercing in my chest.
“But my husband isn’t here,” I whispered after a minute.
Numbness spread through me while I waited for the doctor to come in with my options. He was gentle, kind. They all were. How many other women had sat in that chair and absorbed the news that a life so hoped for was not to be after all?
I stood carefully and then made my way to the reception desk by counting each step. The Christmas carols piped in through speakers, and I passed cookie trays left over from a holiday lunch. I felt strange and foreign, as if I hadn’t stood in this spot less than an hour before, signing my name in on the log, giddy at the thought of celebrating next Christmas with another child in our family.
My jaw clamped, and I took a seat as the receptionist explained that there was a mix-up in paperwork, and she needed a minute. Hold it together, Norah, I demanded of myself. You just need to get to the car.
Briefly my eyes closed to escape the music, the other pregnant women with living babies in their bellies in the waiting room, and the reality of what was coming.
My breath caught as I leaned forward with my head in my hand and struggled to fill my lungs with air. I don’t know how long I fought myself in that chair, unwilling to let go, yet unable to move from that moment until an arm slipped around me. It pulled me close, squishing our puffy winter jackets together and releasing the faint smell of perfume.
“I’m going to put my arms around you. You just let it out,” I heard whispered in my ear.
I froze, stiff and unsure. “I’m okay. I…” But my sentence didn’t come out. Instead I heard myself say something else.
“My baby,” I whispered just barely.
Her head sank on my shoulder, nodding as she spoke, “I know. I know.” Her words were my permission to let go. I sank into her and sobbed.
We sat like that for a long time, long enough for the waiting room to empty, while I mourned the child who wouldn’t join our family after all.
After a while I collected myself and left. I understood that we had shared something that didn’t need words. I didn’t know her name, and I couldn’t tell you what she looked like, but it didn’t matter. Though the language of grief is understood universally, a mother’s grief is felt in the marrow of our bones, one woman to another.
Time passed, and another baby has since joined our family. I think back to that day, and I’m thankful that my village showed up in that waiting room during one of my darkest moments. I won’t forget her.