You are our little Succos boy. But you didn’t come home. They say you will not come home for … for a long time
Dearest Sweet Baby-to-Be,
I am bigger than I ever imagined I could be. Full with life, with love, with you. I am waiting, waiting for you to come.
You will come early, I know.
“This will be our Succos baby, our Succos boy,” I said.
Your tatty laughed. “How do you know? What makes you so sure?”
“I just know,” I said.
“You’re such a woman,” he said.
And I just smiled. Because I know. I just know.
I can feel you stretching inside of me, itching to come out. But Tatty’s only building the succah now, getting the walls up straight and tall, building our home-outside-our-home, what will be your first home.
You are getting impatient. I know, because those little bumps and stretches are more painful now, poking and elbowing, sharp little jabs. But it’s okay, baby dear. Mommy’s impatient, too.
I sit at the table, making little blue paper rings for the succah. Powder, baby blue. Your color. I even have little ducky stickers to put on them. I’ll hang this chain myself, wobbling on a folding chair, next to our gold-and-tinsel decorations from last year.
Your tatty comes in and sees me and shakes his head. But he laughs together with me. He’s impatient, too.
We are both so very, very excited to hold you, to greet you, to take you home with us forever. My arms itch to feel your little legs kicking, outside, in this world.
There’s more that we are waiting for. When you arrive, something miraculous will happen. Beyond the miracle of you.
When you arrive, we will be not just two, but three. We will be a family.
I can’t wait to hold you and kiss you.
Dearest Perfect Little Baby,
I was right. And I was wrong.
You are our little Succos boy. But you didn’t come home. They say you will not come home for … for a long time. I can’t even say the rest of what they say.
I sit in the sterile, white NICU, beside your incubator, watching you breathe. Your little chest rises and falls, proof that you are here, that you are real, that you are living. Proving all the doctors in the world wrong.
They say that you are incompatible with life. What do they know? You are life. They say that you are all wrong, that you cannot be. But they are wrong.
You are perfect.
Oh, sweet baby, I’m so scared. Your tatty is so scared. We try to be brave for each other. We try to be strong. We say it’s min haShamayim, that it’s for the best, and we know it is, but still we are so scared.
We try to hold the tears back, but they come anyway, and then we laugh. Sad laughter. We laugh at ourselves, trying to pretend that we are okay, that we are fine. We laugh at two broken beams trying to support each other, even as they fall.
But still you breathe. In and out, in and out. Your little chest rising and falling. Rising to Shamayim, falling to the earth.
Where will you stay?
I dream. I dream foolish dreams, but still I dream. I dream that I will take you home with me and keep you in my bed, snuggled up warm beside me. I dream that you will smile and laugh and crawl and walk and run and play and go to cheder and be the perfect child that I know you really are. I dream that they are all wrong.
I dream that we will take you into the bris of Avraham Avinu. You came along with him, you know. When he came into our succah on the very first night, you wanted to come too.
And then I wake up and the dream is gone, and I see your tiny little body in a sterile incubator, wrapped in a diaper that is far too big, with too many tubes, with terrible, horrible, evil words etched on your chart.
Prove them wrong, my sweet, dear boy. Please, prove them wrong.
My Dearest Neshamaleh,
I am shivering now, cold and empty and wanting you. My arms, my chest, my whole body remembers how you felt, lying on me in those last hours, that last forever that disappeared before I could even fully grasp it.
They said you were failing. One system after another. That it was just another few hours and nothing would make a difference. And so we could hold you. Stroke your face with our bare hands. Kiss you. Finally.
I cried as soon as I scooped you up, tears streaking down from my face to yours, terrified and aching and exhilarated to finally feel the weight of you, to kiss your cheeks and eyes and nose and smell your sweet esrog scent. To hold you close and know you. To try to know you.
I want to know you. But I am left wondering. Who are you, my sweet, dear son?
They said you were failing. But again, they were wrong. You didn’t fail. You succeeded. You had a mission and you fulfilled it. You are complete now.
So why can’t I rejoice for you?
The chevra kadisha came. They took your pure little body, and took you into the bris of Avraham Avinu. Your fellow ushpizah. They gave you a secret, holy name, and buried you in a secret, holy place.
Where are you now, ephemeral child? Where does your body rest? I could search the entire world and never find you. And if I did — would it ease my pain, calm my soul?
I do not know. All I know is that I will see you in the World to Come, in another, forever Life.
I want you now. I want you now, sweet son. And you are gone.
Your Forever Loving,
Dearest Baby Lost,
I walk the length of our little home, searching, seeking. You are nowhere. And everywhere, all at once. The empty room we cleared for your crib. The space between our beds, big enough for the carriage that isn’t there. The pale blue paper chains in the succah, with their smiling yellow duckies. They mock me and I want to rip them down, but I cannot. Your tatty didn’t touch them, either. They fade in the rain, in the winter winds.
They sent me home from the hospital with a care package. A teddy bear, some books, a card with your footprint, powder to dry up my milk. I stuffed it all inside a drawer. The powder I threw away. I don’t want to dry up my milk. I want the pain of your absence to fill my body, just as it fills my heart. I want to feel the ache, to let it seep out of me.
I want to sit shivah. To mourn. To heal. Instead, I wander. Lost, like you.
Nobody calls. No one knows what to say. I don’t blame them. I don’t know what to say. Meals come, delivered by ladies with bowed heads and scared eyes, who murmur “I’m sorry” in hushed tones.
I meet Aliza Braun in the supermarket.
“Mazel tov!” she sparkles, eyeing my stomach. “It’s so good to see you’re out and about. Where’s the baby?”
I tell her where you are. She gasps. “Oh my gosh, I didn’t know,” she whispers through her fingers. “I’m so sorry.” She backs away.
But I hold onto her mazel tov. I want that mazel tov. I need it. I deserve it. I treasure it. I had you, my precious neshamah baby. I had you, for four short days. I was your Mommy. I still am your Mommy. Your Mommy forever. That mazel tov is mine. Just like you.
I love you,
Dearest Baby in My Heart,
They think I’ve forgotten you. They think I’ve moved on. They don’t understand. They never will.
I go to work. I smile. I laugh. I make my own suppers and wear my skinny clothes and go to my shiur and the exercise class and to my parents’ Chanukah party.
People talk to me again. They don’t mention you. You are invisible. Gone. Forgotten. You don’t exist. Not anymore. Not to them. And, they think, they hope, not to me. Can they really believe that? Really?
They don’t know. They don’t know that you are my forever child. Just like the children they cuddle at night. Only I cuddle you in my heart, aching arms limp at my sides.
I have not forgotten you. I never will. I think of you, dear shining neshamah. A child of a different World.
How strange that you were more alive during the months I carried you beneath my heart than during the four fleeting days you graced this world. I can still feel your movements, your joyous stretches and kicks and dances, as you sat on the lap of a Heavenly being and learned the Holy Word. How full of life you were then! You must be even fuller now, sitting beneath the kisei haKavod. You must be happy, wrapped in eternal ecstasy.
But I still yearn for you. To wrap you in my arms, to hold you close to my heart once more. To keep you beside me. Again, I dream.
And they do not understand. I do not regret, nor forget you.
Your Forever Loving,
Dearest Forever Firstborn,
My stomach swells again. And I am scared.
I try to relax. To eat. To drink. To sleep. To enjoy. To revel in the knowledge, the pre-sensation joy, the anticipation of life to come. Life will come. Will it stay?
I wish you would have stayed.
I have begun to dream of you. Vivid dreams. I wake in the middle of the night from your cries. Ready to run to you. To feed. To soothe. I wake to nothing. To a husband and an empty room. And a small bump no one else sees.
We pretend we are calm. But I know your tatty is also scared. He tries to comfort me. He repeats the doctor’s words. “Last time was a fluke, a one-in-a-million. It won’t happen again.”
How can he know? He is wrong, and right, and out of bounds.
You were no fluke. I bristle at this insult. I know that you were sent to us. As you were meant to be. Why? Why you? Why us? That, I do not know. I still wonder. I still ask. I don’t think I will ever have the answer.
You were one-in-a-million. You still are. A shining, perfect soul. Sent to grace us. Sent to torture us.
It will not happen again? How can he know? How dare he to presume?
Perhaps it will happen again. Perhaps every time. Perhaps we are destined to suffer. To hope and to dream and to crash like waves against the rocks, shattering before sliding into the sea and rising on a swell of hope and crashing once again.
“Hush,” your tatty says. “Don’t even go there.”
But I do. I worry. I cry.
I dream of you, my Baby Lost. I cannot bear to dream of yet another Baby-to-Be. And so I lay my hand on the tiny swell and count the days.
Please comfort me.
Dearest Baby, Perfect of Soul,
I sit at a table in a wedding hall.
The music blares around me, chatter swelling, crystal tinkling, wide red smiles flashing. I know no one at this table. No one in the hall. But the chassan is your tatty’s old chavrusa, and so I sit. Sipping my soup and pretending to be at ease.
The ladies talk. About ultrasounds. About babies. About worries. A woman in black sequins scoffs.
“We went for the detailed ultrasound. What a waste. They told us our baby had spina bifida.” She rolls her eyes and throws her head back, laughing, curls flying. “We were so worried, so scared. We cried and davened — and you know what? He was fine. Completely fine. A perfect baby boy.”
She smirks. “All that davening, and crying, and worrying. It was all for nothing. What a waste.”
What a waste? Can she be serious?
The other ladies nod. I sip my soup. I wish I had that waste. Those tears and tefillos. If I had known …
If I had known I would have pounded the Heavenly Gates, davened and cried until my tears carried me off to sea, until Hashem Himself came and told me, like Moshe Rabbeinu, that it was time to stop. I don’t know that I would have listened.
Oh, if only I had known. What I would have given for the chance she calls a waste. For the chance to keep you.
I ache for you.
Dearest Baby, Etched in Memory,
The carriage bounces beneath my hand. My bubby stands beside me, chatting with the sales clerk.
“Is it good quality? Really? I want the best, only the best.”
Only the best for the Baby-to-Be. The baby I can’t think of. The baby the doctor promises is perfect.
I long for you.
“Look at the chambers of the heart,” he said, pointing to the screen. “The stomach, see?” He stood beside the monitor, making sure that we saw, that we wouldn’t worry, that we would be free. Free to hope, to dream.
I can only think of you.
Bubby wants to me to pick out a new stroller, a new crib. So that this baby will come in clean and fresh. So that I will have the joy of shopping for a layette again. So that this baby will be a normal first.
I look in the strollers that surround me. I see you. In all of them. In the cribs, on the changing tables. Only you.
She puts her arm around me.
“Nu, mamaleh? What do you think? Is it good?”
It’s good. It’s fine. It’s a stroller. A hunk of metal and padded fabric. It’s nothing. I can’t breathe in this store.
The baby kicks, and I feel you again. How can they think this baby will be a “normal first”? This baby is my second. You are my first. My forever first. Nothing can change that. I know I will love this baby. I will look at this baby and see him for who he is. Or who she is. But for now, there is only you. Only you.
At least for me,
Your Forever Loving,
Dearest Forever Baby,
Here we are again. We sit in the succah, surrounded by gold and tinsel. By gedolim pictures and posters of the Kosel. Pine needles sway overhead, waving in the chill. There are no yellow duckies this year. It’s just me and your tatty. And you.
Your bubby and zeidy, your oma and opa, they wanted us to come to them.
“No,” I said. “I can’t.”
I need to be here. In our succah. In our home-outside-our-home. The home you wanted to come home to.
I feel a kick and the baby shifts inside of me. The stars twinkle down at us between the branches, knowing, whispering of the future. I think of you, and I think of the baby. Both of you this time. We welcome Avraham Avinu. A breeze rushes through the succah, brushing past me. It carries the scent of esrogim. I think of you. Of my Succos baby, my Succos boy. I feel you. Right here beside me, pressing against my coat.
A sharp pain slashes through me, low across my stomach, tightening, tightening.
I take a deep breath. Again? Again, it seems. I am calm. I am not afraid. Not now. Not here in my succah, with you beside me. It passes and I relax.
Your tatty looks at me, questioning. I smile. There will be more, I know. Hours more. And then …
And then I will greet another baby. Our new baby. Our Succos baby. Our second baby. And you will be there, right beside me. Pleading for me the way I pleaded for you.
I smile. This is where you will stay. Right beside me. Always there. Never gone. The ache still there, but not so strong. It has faded. Not completely. But it has faded.
Your memory, though, has not. You will be here, right beside me. My Forever Baby.
I love you.
(Originally featured in Calligraphy, Succos 5773)
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