Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Grief and Rage: Susanna

At the end of January, I received a message on my answering machine. The new baby daughter of our dear friends, John and Sapphira, was dead.

Some of you may remember John and Sapphira. I lived with John as part of an intentional community for three years. He worked for years with young men with mental health and drug problems and now supports families struggling with parenthood. He is not only my friend, but my chosen brother. He married Sapphira, who works with people with profound mental and physical disabilities. They are not saints, but they are the best people I know. They are also the Little Dude's godparents, the ones I chose as part of making the first move back towards God.

John and Sapphira stayed with us in early December. Sapphira was very heavily pregnant. Because I wasn't, it was kind of painful at first to see her. I have been struggling emotionally ever since the failure of our IVF cycles. Much more so than I did while I was still trying. But I somehow managed to make myself remember that Sapphira was the only pregnant friend I had with the guts to call me during those failing cycles. After the first few minutes, I realized I realized that I could be jealous of her, but also very glad to see her. I could be sad for myself, but I could be happy for them. And I was.

Those were very happy days. We sat on the verandah and chatted while the kids played in the pool and the Little Dude and their two daughters played endless games of chasey. We laughed and had fun. We exclaimed over the beautiful pictures of Sapphira belly dancing on the beach, her huge belly extending over her skirts and her brightly coloured veils flapping in the breeze. She was beautiful and sexy and utterly maternal. They were okay with my grief over my poor dead embryos. I could be my honest, real self with them, messed up though I was. When the tears ran down my face during a friend's baby's baptismal service, John put his hand on my arm and kept it there. Sapphira emailed to a friend of ours that our fertility issues were heartbreaking to hear about, let alone live it. But that we were doing well in a shitty situation and about as well as anyone could be expected to do.

It's painful to think of now because, while we were all being happy, their little baby girl Susanna, the baby in Sapphira's belly, was actually dying. Her umbilical cord had somehow become restricted and she swallowed meconium for several weeks. Her entire life was three days in the ICU, hooked up to tubes. John and Sapphira didn't even get to hold her until all hope was lost and she died in their arms. The diagnosis was meconium aspiration syndrome.

The funeral was the most moving I ever attended. Sapphira gave the eulogy herself. As she said, she was not going to be able to do much parenting for young Susanna, and this was something she could do for her. If Sapphira had been any more courageous, I couldn't have borne it. Actually, I hardly did bear it. I stared with disbelief at the coffin. I wailed through the funeral like it was my baby. I stood by the graveside, trembling with rage. I could hardly understand why John and Sapphira didn't throw themselves in after her. It just seemed impossible that their baby could die.

Actually, I was kind of out of control. Friends of ours basically had to look after me, which they said they were glad to do since they were unable to do much for John and Sapphira. That evening, John and Sapphira and I and other friends went out for beers and semi-hysteria. I apologised for my whole Mediterranean-style display and John laughed about how I nearly put Sapphira off her eulogy. I told them a funny story about a mutual friend and John laughed so hard he almost wet himself.

But our laughter was so close to tears. Our grief was beyond words.

During her eulogy, Sapphira said something to her daughter that I could fully understand:

I told you that if you lived, we would turn our world upside down to care for you and give you the best life we could. And I told you that if you needed to go to God, we would find a way to be OK. I believe that you did talk to God about it, you made a decision, and then you left us. You called my bluff and you left us, and now I want to take it all back and tell you you have to stay with us because this sorrow is too big, and I can barely breathe. My love for you is too big to be left with nowhere to go, with no baby to hold, with no-one to breastfeed, and with no hope of seeing you grow...I do believe you are with God. But God and I are not on speaking terms at this point, and I doubt things will improve between God and I for some time.

The rest of the funeral had a remarkable number of positive references to God. There was honest, anguished prayer. There were blessings. There were hymns.

But I looked at the tiny coffin and all I could think was, "Fuck you, God. We want our children back".