Wednesday, August 10, 2016
I started this project just weeks after Eleni died, after unpacking her dresser and sorting through her clothes. Soon I had a pile of pieces too stained to keep, but too precious to throw away. They are ones that remind me of particular times. They are each a memory.
The baby knits don't fray, so they're perfect for applique, even reverse applique. I cut two identical sets of rectangles from her clothes, to become memory pillows for myself and for my mother. Brandon was by my side during the most traumatic moments, but my mother shared many of the happy ones. She ventured with me on therapy trips, in hospitalizations and spent many days at my home, caring for baby. These memories are her memories too. Survivors must share stories.
At first I thought the words would say "peace" and "love" on my pillow and "joy" and "hope" on my mother's. I was trying to untangle emotions swirling after her death. But, as time passed, I wanted the words to tie more directly to Eleni. I tried to think of words that described her, but I truly barely knew her. It is a very bad thing not to know your child. It is better, slightly better, if someone else knows her. It is the worse thing if no one could know her because she could not be herself.
So, there are not many words to describe Eleni, but I chose "sweet baby" and my mother chose "baby love." Words that fit on a pillow. Our best words, but just words.
I thought when I shared this finished pillow I would talk about how I haven't much needed a pillow for remembering. Not yet. Being pregnant is an evolving reminder. There is more to say here. But then I realized that though each fabric tells a small story (and they are rather small, perhaps dull), I may not be able to recount these tales 4, 5, 6 years from now. So, perhaps I ought to record them.
From top left...
*Gray Floral and the matching Plum Floral ("e") - a set of onesies I bought early autumn (7 months). Shopping for Eleni had many rules: zippers and crotch snap closures would interfere with access to her belly for frequent feedings. Cute hoods or other fanciful designs aren't comfortable to lay upon. Mostly, she sleeps. When I came home from shopping, I bitterly chopped off the onesie snaps to transform the bodysuits into shirts. The waffle weave caused the fabrics to shrink, to bounce up higher and shorter than optimal. New and practically ruined.
*Pink Apples - a top my mother gave to Eleni that looked so cute with her green diapers. Something I reached for often during an exciting time (5 months) when she appeared to be making volitional movements and learning to roll over.
*Rose Asterisks + the solid Rose below ("e") - a lovely kimono sleep set by Tea, which my mom scored at a second hand shop. Perfect for my lounge baby, comfortable and warm in winter (10 months). Eleni wore this set so often, including when we journeyed to Charleston for our last lengthy hospitalization. Mom and I took her in early January, desperate to find professionals who could speak authoritatively about her complex medical condition. And they did. They told me how serious was her struggle, offered a few last-ditch interventions and, with us, hoped for best.
*Blue diamonds + solid Yellow (bottom left corner) - a very stylish ensemble gifted to me by a dear old friend. The last gift Eleni received before she was born. The last time I floated in eager expectation of a healthy, happy little girl. A relic of innocence.
*Tiny Blue/Purple Floral - A pretty little onesie-turned-shirt which had a sweet ribbon bow at the neck. Perfect with her blue or purple diapers (6 months). I remember her wearing this when Rachel, her speech therapist, would come to our home. Baby please swallow, baby please move your tongue, move your jaw, can you look at me, baby? The time she touched diluted lemon juice to Eleni's tongue, and she actually puckered her mouth!
*Blue Denim ("s") - Jeggings. My baby wore jeggings. It was a mark of the time. They fit her when she was just months old. They fit her when she was 10 months old. They stretched. She grew. They always seemed comfortable. All admired her style.
*Green Polka Dot ("w") - The day I came to visit her, for the very last time, at the hospital. After the night we called 911 because she wasn't breathing. After the night I told my father-in-law, "Do you realize she could stop breathing at any time?" After the night the bipap machine gave us new hope for future stability. The hospital couldn't do a thing for us and they knew it. I took her home, discharge straight from the PICU. I slipped her green polka dot shirt over her slender arms, careful not to squeeze the IV bruise on her tiny hand. It was the first time, the last time she wore that shirt. I took her home.
*Navy/White Stripe ("t") - Slightly sparkly pants I bought before she was born, as a fancy little set. An indulgence in smug expectation of happy holidays to come. Those pre-birth purchases so irked and angered me after her trauma. But, by the time the holidays arrived (9 months) I had finally adopted a version of acceptance. Yes, she is a pretty baby. And, yes, I enjoy dressing her.
*Gray Pleated Stripe + Cream Floral Pleated/Lace (bottom line) - a onesie set that retained its bodysuit persona, saved for ABM therapy lessons in Chicago that fall (6-7 months). As Eleni bends and moves in the therapist's talented hands, I'll let nothing get in the way. No shirts shall ride up. No socks obscure her baby toes. She has been fed. She has slept. I deliver her optimally prepared for a miracle. And I'm watching on the edge of my seat.
*Magenta Hearts ("b") - A silly little onesie she wore to ABM in Florida. We didn't know, she or I, that those were our very best days (5 months). With seeming strength and eagerness, she flipped and flung her body about "rolling". She practiced being a "good lizzard", lifting her head when lying on her belly. The boat rocking game. These moments of clear volition, when I was helping her do what she wanted, were the beginnings of our connection.
*Solid Aqua Picot ("a") + Solid Coral Picot ("Y") - pretty colored shirts for my pretty baby (9 months). I know how to shop, how to chop off the snaps and make due. And, finally, first food stains! From her fish oil supplement.
*Lavender Polka Dot ("b") - She's just come home from the NICU. She's our baby, home, for the first time. I dress her in onesies (snapped close) and baby leg warmers during the day. She looks like a sweet ballerina baby in soft lavender dots. She sleeps like all babies should at her age, no wires or monitors yet. The future is possibility.
*Teal Stripe - Pants in a three piece sweater set I bought second hand before she was born, meant to be worn her first autumn. I hardly ever put that on her as it mostly never fit right. Like all baby clothes purchased so far in advance and like all plans inscribed in our hearts, some never work out.
*Pale Pink Doggies - Another pre-birth purchase, but this one fit right into our lives. I remember hemming and hawing over the sleeper at the store - a dog print? Am I sure? This wee sleeper fit her soon after she came home from NICU (1 month) and never gave me bad vibes, unlike so much of the rest. Perhaps the dogs, all so different, reflect my new reality. Our story is not like the others. Our task will be to find a way to allow it as our own.
*Pink/Blue NICU Stripe - Do other moms save a NICU hat? I suspect most do. The other NICU moms tell me of their trying time in the past tense, singular: their trial, the time their child was threatened, how she came out all right. From the first I don't trust these stories. I have a canny sense, despite all hopeful research and the treasuring of stories to the contrary, that our trial is only beginning. That our threat remains. I witness the ramifications multiply, and know deep in my heart that there is no guarantee all will right.
I'll see my mom later this week and be happy to give her the "baby love" pillow. We need these memory markers to salve our soul as we anticipate the new baby. We need these things to prove to ourselves that Eleni is forever in our hearts, though not in our arms. Not to remember, not yet, but to declare our memories still.