Shortly after my daughter’s arrival, I considered having another baby. Syma’s birth was so triumphant, I wanted to relive it. Nevermind 10 months of little or no access to some of my favorite foods and beverages. Or those last pregnant weeks of myriad aches and severely distorted sleeping positions. Even my dreams displayed Syma, my son Noah, and a third child.
But as I’ve settled into the sufficiently full life of mothering two, I’ve tabled the notion of three. I’m almost 38. My ailing thyroid takes a pounding with each pregnancy. And I’m eager to get back to my freelancing career.
Still, the idea of permanently altering my husband’s body (or my own) doesn’t feel right. An alternative such as an IUD is better for now. In that spirit, I recently set the wheels in motion, which also meant changing OB-GYNs. The nursing and administrative staff at the office that delivered Syma are nightmarish. Despite the excellent medicine the doctors practice, I’m bidding them farewell. I found a new doctor, and had a long conversation with one of her nurses. She asked me how many pregnancies I’ve had: Noah, Syma and the one I lost, between them, I explained. I didn’t know the gender.
Why not? The baby died fully intact, and the Mayo Clinic performed a lengthy DNA analysis to determine cause of death. Surely the test results included gender. I requested the information when I called to transfer my medical records. A few hours later, as I was flanked by both of my babes and knee-deep in grocery-store bliss, my old doctor’s head nurse called. She said the baby I lost was a girl.
There, in middle of the olive and artichoke aisle, a swirl of joy and sorrow surrounded me. Conflicting emotions perform a particularly odd dance when it comes to motherhood. It’s a familiar dance to me, but I don’t much like it.
I’m thrilled to have two daughters. News of another girl in my lineage is a feather in my maternal cap. That’s largely because my mom is gone. Any added girl power is golden, and now I could name the baby. To my other children, when they’re old enough to understand. In their baby books. And to anyone that asks. Referring to my blood as “it” is uncomfortable at best.
Within minutes of the news, I messaged my husband. We had to name her. He offered a first name: Lena. I’m not sure where he found it, but it’s perfect. Lena is a Greek word that means “the bright one.” We selected my mom’s first name, Karen, for her middle name. Another Greek word, for “pure.”
Still, closure eludes me. Naming Lena softens the blow of the loss, and somehow makes her more complete. As Madeleine L’Engle writes in her book, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art:
God asked Adam to name all the animals, which was asking Adam to help in the creation of their wholeness. When we name each other, we are sharing in the joy and privilege of incarnation …
Fixing Lena’s middle name after my mom also helps. I imagine her and my mom together, well-acquainted now. Perhaps that’s not quite how it works in heaven. But thinking of it that way makes me feel better.
I still think of Lena, of all I don’t know about her, and my heart burns. What was I doing the moment the life left her little body? Mostly I’m amazed at how I can love someone I never touched or saw in person. And I’m grateful for her short life.
As Hope Edelman says in the closing lines of her book, Motherless Daughters:
Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay.
Lena was with me for only 11 weeks. But her spirit will be with me always. My pure, bright one. My Lena Karen.