The Worst Thing To Be Thankful For

Friday night my doctor called me. She’s pretty cool, and has been my doctor since before Elijah. She knows what we’ve been through and I know she hurts for us too. It’s very strange for my doctor to be about my own age–sometimes it just reminds me of all I could have done and haven’t done with my life, but mostly I’m just grateful that she doesn’t bullshit me. [All this is to say, does my doctor’s age and education make me simultaneously grateful and acutely aware of my own lack of achievement? Yes.]

The pathology report on our baby came back. Our third baby had a chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 9. My doctor had to look it up in her textbooks, because it only affects 0.1% of pregnancies. Most often, a baby with Trisomy 9 dies early in gestation, as our poor darling did. It’s very unusual for a baby to live to term, and those that do die very soon after birth.

Our poor, sweet baby would never have lived, no matter what. Trisomy 9 is fatal. And so, I have found the worst thing to be thankful for: I didn’t have to hold my third child in my arms while he died. Our poor little boy never had to struggle to breathe, or feel the pain of a failing heart, or fight to live in a loud, confusing world. We don’t have to watch him die. We don’t have to do a third deathwatch. He was gone before we knew, he was gone without pain. And I am grateful.

I am fiercely grateful. I am desperately, pitifully grateful.

My doctor said there’s no reason to think this could happen again; neither my husband or I carry this chromosomal weakness. It just happened. My God, it just happened.
“Your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault,” as John Wayne said in Big Jake, but I’m the one who goes home with an empty womb and a broken heart, so who cares whose fault it is? It’s nobody’s fault and I am ruined by it.

So, I have found the very worst silver lining: I am grateful that our poor lost baby felt no pain, and we didn’t have to watch him die.

This is the most hideous thing to be grateful for, and I resent it. I resent that instead of receiving joy I must be thankful that my devastation is no worse than it is. I resent that the best thing I can say is that my third child is gone, and that it’s a mercy. I resent that all I get to hold in my broken heart are tiny fragments of good memories, and that I must remind myself that it could be so much worse.

When I think as just myself, I’m angry.

When I think as a mother, I can be fiercely grateful for him and for his painless death.

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