Sometimes it’s easy to forget it ever happened, to go about life and never have it surface in the forefront of my mind. Even when I am reminded by my naked reflection, the now barely-there line of a scar etched below my pelvis, a slight kiss from a scalpel in yesteryears past. The small Bs that were big Cs, before.
In the early years post, I’d think about it all the time. I could still somehow feel it, the mending of many layers of muscle and tissue trying to get back to its uninterrupted form. It’d never be the same though. Even at the young age of 22, my body would always remember, never go back to before. She’d left her imprint.
12 years later, what I have left are memories of an impossibly tiny hand grabbing onto my pinky, of wide eyes looking up to me, 20 photos of a beautiful baby that looks nothing like me. I have a pile of obituaries, some frayed and faded, containing a poem titled I’ll never written by a heartbroken me one day before they went to print, and this slit, small and forgettable, but always there.
I’m used to being around people who don’t know. Mostly because it’s not something I share very often. Occasionally I will get the oh what’s that on your wrist? when I turn my left hand over, an angel winged flanked Briyanna discreetly inked there. I’ve been among the conversations, comments ping-ponging around me about statistics, what works for preemies and what doesn’t, and oh I feel so bad for soandso and they tried so long just for this to happen and the good stories too, the surviving and thriving stories. I learned a long time ago to stay silent, to not chime in and mention that I too, know how they feel. I too have been in the NICU for 23 hours a day, leaving only for midday teeth brushing and night showers and snacks. I have learned to bow out gracefully, look away, make an empathetic comment, change the subject. I used to mention her, trying to make my voice as casual as possible, throw in a comment about the pain of a C-section, the way God/the Universe/Life’s plan is always better than our own in the grand scheme. It’s never worth the awkward and immediate silence, the shocked faces of pity, the uncomfortable I’m so sorries.
They say once you have a child, you’re always a mother. I don’t feel like one most days. It’s hard to believe I’d have a 12 year old daughter right now, someone with their own personality and opinions and probably a crush on some boy, or girl. I do imagine I’d be more accomplished, more responsible with my time throughout my 20s; I’d have written several books, have submitted that script. Time is different when you have another life depending on how you use yours. I’m really good at disappointing myself, at not showing up for myself when it comes to those things; goals, deadlines. I hate doing it to others.
I imagine having a pre-teen right now would make me more like my parent friends who seem to do it all, so focused and determined to make their mark on the world, leave something for the very real legacies they are raising, whom they tuck in each night.
The envelope had a pet name scribbled in his messy handwriting on it, a name I cannot recall today, but something he’d started calling me the first week we met, that had stuck. I opened it as he sat down next to me. I was in the middle of writing a blog post, had just spoken to my mother, told her I’d be over in a bit. I opened the card thinking it was another random “just because” card. He was the kind of guy who took pride in making me happy, the kind that came over with small gifts pretty often, a card paired with my favorite candy just to let me know he’d been thinking of me that day. I expected some dirty joke on the inside, maybe a you made me smile today sappy message, some cartoon animal holding an I love you balloon.
Happy mother’s day. The card said in pretty scripted font. even though she is not here in body, I know she is here in your heart was written in the same messy writing as the name on the envelope.
I stared at it for 10 seconds before I could even speak, my brain processing the fact that not only had he thought of me on mother’s day, but that’d he’d actually taken the time and gotten a card to remember a child who’d passed four years prior, much before he met me.
The tears that filled my eyes and choked my throat when I said thank you and wrapped him in a hug, surprised me as much as they did him. I don’t think I’d ever been moved to tears by anyone before then, and it hasn’t happened since. It was a full five minutes before the overwhelm wore off, before I could speak again.
I don’t actively think about it most days. But every year on mother’s day, and on those rare occasions when I notice the small slit in my naked reflection, I remember the one time someone remembered I was once briefly a mother, too.
Shanae' Brown is a marketing professional, former avid blogger and lover of words. When she is not working on her YA novel (now actually close to completion after 5 years of an on and off relationship), she is probably somewhere listening to 90s music, laughing at things on twitter, or playing with her hyperactive yorkie, Melo, also known as Lil Homie.