Slipping Away

Slipping Away

After I leave the hospital, the worst part beyond the emptiness is the cold. I’d been so warm for eight months, full of that life. I’m still bleeding: lochia, which is normal. Doctors love normal.

The night the baby died, I dreamed. I was in a dark natatorium, an indoor pool, blue flashing water up to my ribs. I was holding him. He struggled like a big frog, slippery, fast, too strong to hold. He kicked me in the ribs, hard, a couple of times, then he darted away. Leaden, I couldn’t catch him. His kicks became a ripple. A shadow. I looked up across the pool. There stood my father, silent in the shadows, blue-water light snaking across his face and robe. My father’s eyes were only dark, blind sockets. He watched me motionless, with eyes that didn’t see. I jerked awake. The baby felt heavy and quiet in my womb. “Bad dream. Go back to sleep.”

Next day, after the dream, I’m running errands, busy, the baby quiet. Kick counts. Nothing. Phone call. Hospital. Heartbeat? Nothing. Sonogram? An organized bundle of shadowy bones. No more swimming. Nothingness. Another doctor. Nothing. The doctor smiles nervously. “I’m so sorry.”

“Why are you smiling?” I say.

Umbilical cord: lifeline or noose? Accident. I never saw the baby’s eyes. My husband saw them, when he’d just come out, still warm from me. Of course, they were blue. We both held him, touched the softest skin, already breaking down—no circulation—too fragile.

Back home, I stay in all day, cold, dry, bleeding. The numbness begins to slough off; it had been thick, spongy, and bitter as grapefruit peel, only gray. Then cutting acid, every thought etching away at me, inside to out. Here’s the closed circle of avoidance: I can’t leave the house without a shower. I can’t take a shower because then I’ll be wet and colder still when the warmth goes. I can’t leave the house with wet hair. The hairdryer shrieks in my ear.

“Take a walk. You’ll feel better.” My husband, the bravest, dearest man. Never an unkind word, so gentle. I know the rage is there, underneath, gnawing at him as it claws at me. “It’s all her fault.” (He never says that. I know he can’t help thinking it, any more than I can.) Shared fury bonds what grief tears apart: We commiserate about wanting to punch the relative who insisted, “Just get over it.”

People struggle to make the universe orderly. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s God’s will. It’s punishment. God doesn’t punish people. It could happen to anyone. There is no why. Breathe. God needed him. You weren’t ready. It’s random. It’s part of the Plan. Maybe there was something wrong with him and God spared you the pain. Sometimes these things just happen. This almost never happens. This happens more often than you’d think. Try again. Take your time. Take a walk. Practice gratitude. Pray.

God: omnipotent or all-loving? Mutually exclusive. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” A hundred times a day, like a rosary. Brain groove. Press “pray” again.


I force myself to walk to the store. My belly is still stretched and soft from the baby. I can’t go near the toilet paper aisle, where the diapers are. Near Frozen Meats, a mommy pushes a stroller toward me. If I see that baby’s face, it will be struck dead. Next aisle.

The cashier smiles. “When you due?”

“I’m not pregnant,” I say. Once I’d asked that of someone else, with the same flat response. Now I know. I walk the milk home. My husband’s at work. In the bathroom, I change my pad, curl up on the floor and howl like a dog. The neighbors avoid me.

The clerk-lady at the crematorium: “Everything’s going to be all right.”

No, it’s not, I think.

We receive a green plastic bin, surprisingly heavy, with a round bronze tag. The tag is bent at a right angle, who knows why? Those little details, how they stick. And stick. The bin contains something like kitty litter. On closer inspection, tiny bone fragments. Too heavy for a 4-pound baby. We scatter the ashes and the incoming waves pull them out to sea, rose petals floating. Years later, I will realize that wasn’t just him, but any number of unclaimed little bones. It doesn’t bother me. They’re all drifting but not alone.

The counselors at the “infant loss support group” are childless, clueless, whining in sympathy. Insult to injury. Shell-shocked parents create spiritually correct crafts, write poems. There are essays seething around in their heads that they will never, ever write.


In spring, a picnic. My friend brings her own baby girl. They would have been born within a week of each other if things had gone according to plan. My friend smiles, encouraging.

I’m afraid to look inside the sling. I peek in at bright brown eyes.

“She’s awake.”

Alana Dill is a lifelong visual artist and writer. She lives in Alameda with her husband and daughter.

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