Tonight I’m lying alone in my bed, much as I was 16 years ago, with a minor ache or soreness around the right side of my rib cage. Then, it was his feet or his back, maybe. I don’t actually know. Some part of his tiny self always lodged under the right side of my ribs.
I constantly had to stretch and arch back while using my hands to massage and nudge him down and over to a different spot. He would flip-flop and roll around and I would see belly waves of protest as he repositioned discovering yet another pokey tiny baby part to jam under my right ribs. I’ll never know why that was his spot.
Sixteen years ago tonight was pure raw pain and panic. Memories morph between foggy shapes and colors, voices coming and going. There are deafening mechanical beeps and whirs from all the machines attached to me. Nurses in the hallway shout and cackle to one another, oblivious, yet somehow still unable to drown out the loudest, most unnerving of the sounds. The absence of a sound. The vacancy where I should have heard the swift swoosh, swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of a thriving neonatal heartbeat.
I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but in my memory the morphine drip has a distinct odor. It smells like chemical death as I lay there pressing the button again and again and again praying for the IV cocktail to release me from the horror of my present reality.
But even through my drug and grief induced stupor, sometimes the vividness of a moment rises through the haze. I can close my eyes and I’m back in that cavernous hospital room. The blood pressure cuff is rhythmically crushing my right arm to the point that my fingers purple and bulge. Somewhere nearby there’s a new-for-the-occasion, terry cloth, powder blue robe that still hangs lifeless on the back of my bedroom door all these years later. Artificially induced labor contracts my body all night long preventing sleep–despite the gallons of morphine I must have absorbed. It’s not enough to soothe the screaming chasm of a broken heart.
No drug would ever be enough for that.
Tonight’s minor ache is a deliberate pain invoked as an outward, visible commemoration of that indelible internal scar. Tonight’s pain is nothing by comparison, yet it’s a poignant and bittersweet reminder. It’s a necessary connection.
Pain is interesting. Usually we want to dull the pain. Or hide it. Or forget it. Tonight I’m grateful for pain. I’m grateful for pain that connects and reminds and softens. The discomfort of his tiny body ramming into the same spot of my ribs all day every day for nine months is now one of my most cherished, and painful, memories.
Thus, I have honored him with an outward symbol of the major memory that unites us.