Snow fell outside the hospital room window while my husband clasped my hand, and I worked to deliver our third child, a baby boy. The baby’s heart had stopped beating inside my body in the middle of the night, a pool of red blood, our signal that something was wrong. We had waited silently for hours for him to be born, 15 weeks old, unbreathing. When he finally arrived, tearing our hearts in half with his silent stillness, we held his tiny two-inch body in a gift box cradle, wrapped in a hand-knit sleeping bag the size of my palm, and cried.
Months later, in the spring, I wondered sometimes, was he ever really here? Or was the whole winter a horrible dream?
But that winter was real. It left its mark on me. It was so cold it burned me up, crept deep under my skin, my veins, my bones, filling every inch of me with a feeling that started with a sting and ended in numbness. But even that is not true. I only wished to be numb to get a break from the sharp points of the pain. That winter is over now, but remnants of snow and ice still linger and always will.
I could call it frostbite if there had to be a name. A “destruction of tissues,” as the English dictionary states. God, that is so heartbreakingly accurate that the connection elicits a strangled sob from my throat as the icy reach of winter seizes me up again.
There are other reminders. Comments from a well-intentioned stranger, a picture on a screen, a new baby cradled nearby, breathing: all needle-sharp and stinging deep, practically drawing blood. If someone looked closely enough, they could see the red stains I work hard to keep beneath my skin.
Time passed in a blur. We seemed to be holding our breath until fall when I discovered I was pregnant again. Our fourth child, a whisper on my tongue, a hope in my heart, created an endless hunger and wrenching bloat, neither to be satisfied. Fatigue and excitement plagued me while looking down a narrow hallway of time. You would think the dark skies would glow with golden rays of light, and the world would blaze shiny and new with the truth that empty space could be filled again.
You would think.
And yet, all there existed was fear. A terror so deep I could not face it in the light. It could not live in the light, for it brought such blackness it covered everything. It looked like blood, and while I shook with the idea of it, I saw it everywhere.
My oldest son corrected me one day, my sweet tender boy who cried the hardest on the way home from the hospital after telling him our baby went to heaven. “I have three siblings, mom,” he said. My heart beamed and bent with the truth that one of those siblings was already dead, and one had not yet been born. And I never said it, but I thought, might never be born. I fought for every day to come as I never knew I had to fight before by doing nothing but arguing with my fears and convincing my hope it had a right to sing and a place to dance. Hope was the only thing to conquer fear. And fear could not prepare me for the winter anyway.
Then spring arrived. I found myself lost inside; certain I was dreaming because I feared it wouldn’t last. Uncertain if the promises it made with its bright lights and new colors, its flowery scents lingering on the warm breeze, pimpling my skin with goosebumps, were real. Or would they disappear when I opened my eyes? Desperate for something concrete, I embraced spring so hard it took my breath away. Keep going, I repeated like a mantra until the hot tightening and sharp squeezing in my abdomen grabbed hold of me and told me something good.
In the final seconds of my fourth labor, the doctor said, “quick, what’s your guess, girl or boy?” And maybe because our lost baby had been a boy, or perhaps because my husband and I were exhausted, or because all we cared about was that our child would be alive, we both yelled, “Boy.”
And he was. Alive. He kicked and screamed, covered in a white layer of paste. We cried and tried to convince ourselves it was not a dream. That like spring, the moment held promises we dared to believe. Promises not of perfection but existence. Of being. Cares and concerns of being what, or who vanished months ago with the frostbite of winter.
He wasn’t a dream.
Frostbite can leave a scar. It can turn flesh into a permanent reddish-white, burn bone to black. And yet, there is always spring. No matter how many times the winter returns, spring whispers low that soon it will surely follow.