Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Erik Grieve's Death Leaves Questions about His Unborn Child

I heaved my pregnant body onto the exam table.

“What about the baby?” I asked Lizellen.

She leaned against a small wooden desk, arms folded in front of her pink blouse. “What about her? She’ll be fine. Better than fine. Babies are resilient.”

It had only been twelve hours since my husband's death. My mom had called Lizellen to give her the news.

“Lizellen wants you to come in as soon as you’re able,” she said. “You don’t need an appointment. She said she’ll make herself available when we get there.”

As my obstetrician, I knew Lizellen needed to stay in the loop. She needed to make sure things with my pregnancy continued normally.

And I needed more medication. Much more medication. The five sleeping pills I was given the night before just weren’t going to cut it.

I needed Lizellen to dope me up. Dope me up good, so that I could float far away. Float far away to the place where Erik had gone, the place where I could pretend my husband was still alive.

She squirted the clear Gel across my exposed, potruding belly.

Since Tatiana's birth, Lizellen had become more than my obstetrician. At least 15 large photographs of mine hung on display throughout her exam rooms. She loved my hand-tinted black and whites of babies. And she loved spreading my name, bringing me more business.

Lizellen was always grateful when Erik sent her cool Harry Potter hats, Star Wars posters, and other movie gear that could only be gotten from Lucasdigital.

“That’s why we’re taking this peek,” Lizellen said. “To put Mommy at ease. But, you’re going to be just fine. You’re a strong cookie.”

I hiked my black cotton maternity dress further up beneath my bra.

It had seemed only appropriate to choose black that morning. That slow-motion morning just nine hours after I finished donating his organs, when I stood in the closet—our closet—and felt disoriented over the simple task of getting dressed.

Erik’s clothes hung neatly to the right, as if he would walk into our over-sized closet in a pair of jeans and no shirt, hold out his black sweater in one hand and his burgundy button-down in the other, and ask me, “which one?”

But he didn’t come into the closet that morning because he was dead.

My Erik was dead.

I looked up at my mom, who stood to the left of the exam table on which I was stretched out. Our eyes reached to touch one another, a life-line to survival that I would grasp for over and over in the year to come.

She put her hand on my shin. “Yes, she is. She has always been very strong.”

I imagined my mom in Tatiana’s room, in the dark, lifting Tatiana into her crib and waiting for us to call from the hospital. The waiting. How awful to wait.

How awful to get the call from me saying, “He’s gone. He’s gone.” To feel the disintegration of what defined her daughter’s life.

I had no idea then how much my mom would be affected by her need to care for me, by the realization that there was nothing she could do to take away her daughter's pain.

The sonogram device was like a cold, wet snake slithering across my taut skin.

“Not that I want to be strong,” I said. “But there are really only two choices here. No, really only one. I have to be strong. I’m a Mommy.”

“That’s the way it works. You betcha.” Lizellen’s freckled hand moved in quick circular motions. She was a vessel of fiery, intelligent energy—one of those people who spoke rapidly to keep up with her brain. “Now, let’s find this little cutie in here. Where are ya, ya little cutie? Ah, there you are. Yeah, look at that heart beat, strong. And how bout that? See that sweet little face? Right there.”

Lizellen pointed to the viewing monitor. “Look, look. She’s looking right at us.”

I watched the baby’s arms and legs move around. Tiny hands curling their fingers. The rhythmic pump of her heart. A skeletal video of the baby who would be born in two months.

“Look at her honey,” my mom said, “Look at her. She’s beautiful.”

“Yep. She certainly is,” Lizellen said.

I studied the sonogram screen and felt nothing.

Worse than nothing, I didn’t want her.

I didn’t want my baby.

Erik wasn’t there to watch with me. Erik wasn’t there to video the sonogram or make excited comments over her movement, and he wouldn’t be there. He wouldn’t be there for her birth. He wouldn’t be there to see Tatiana hold her baby sister for the first time.

Oh my God, I don’t want her.

I didn’t want the baby that Erik and I had conceived in my studio, on my seamless white backdrop roll.

Just a few minutes before, I had been eager to check on the baby. Eager to make sure that everything was alright. And now, now I didn’t want her.

I said nothing.

How am I going to do this without him?

I didn’t want this new baby without him. I needed to take care of Tatiana. To hide her and hold her and make sure that nothing ever happened to her. There wasn’t space for this baby.

There wasn’t space for another being who needed something from me. How was I going to take care of two babies when I couldn’t take care of myself?

I didn't even know how to tell Tatiana that her daddy had died.

“Everything looks perfect,” Lizellen said. “Nothing to worry about.”

“Ouch.” I felt a kick inside of me.

“Oh, yeah, you felt that one, didn’t you?”


“She’s a fiesty one, alright.”

Tears wet my face.

“You’re going to be OK. I know it. Erik will make sure of it." Lizellen said.

She wiped the gel off of my belly. "Oh, that Erik. I’ll never forget his expression, the utter joy, when Tatiana was born. When I handed him the baby. Crying. Never seen a grown man cry so hard. He’ll be there for this one. He’ll be watching out for you. You betcha.”

My mom squeezed my hand.

I let myself cry, really cry. “I can’t. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but, but . . . I don’t want her. How can I? How can I have her? How can I bring her into . . . this? It’s not right. None of this. None of this is right.”

Lizellen spoke after a moment of silence. “This is a very natural feeling. You’ll get past it. You’ll see.”

I took a deep breath to calm myself down. “Just the idea. Just the idea . . . of having this baby . . . without him. I’m sure I’ll love her, but it doesn’t seem fair.”

“Hey, listen,” Lizellen said. “There are plenty of mothers who give birth to their babies and take a look at them and say, 'What is THIS?' No attachment whatsoever. You didn’t have that problem with Tatiana and you won’t have that problem with this one.”

I rubbed on the side of my belly. “This poor baby.”

My mom stroked my hair, tucking it behind my ear with her index finger, like she used to when I was a child. “Can you give her anything? Any medication?”

“Didn’t they give you something last night?” Lizellen asked.

I sat up. “Sleeping pills. Five sleeping pills.”

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing else that’s safe for the baby. And those aren’t safe for the baby. So, I want you to take only one of those the next couple of nights, and then a half and then none. Only if you absolutely have to.”

My mom handed me a tissue. “Can she drink?”

“Oh, sure. She can drink.”

We all laughed.

“A glass of red wine here and there is no big deal.”

“That’ll make me even more depressed.”

Lizellen moved the sonogram equipment away. “About not wanting the baby, trust me that this will pass. I tell you, I had a patient, same kind of situation, except she already had two other children, and her husband died. She was right at the cutoff for late-term abortion and she wanted to abort the child. I said, no way. I wouldn’t do it. There was no way I thought she had the ability to make that kind of decision under those circumstances, aside from the fact that I don’t do abortions that late in the pregnancies. I don’t agree with it."

"Of course not," I whispered.

"Anyway, she thought she couldn’t handle that baby. She had it set in her mind that she didn’t want it, so she got one of the other doctors to do it. She aborted that baby. And you know what? Twenty years later, she still lives here in Marin, and I run into her downtown and she tells me that, after all these years, she has the biggest hole . . . not from the death of her husband, but from her decision to abort that child. She wishes she had kept that baby. She regrets it beyond belief. Not that you even have that option.”

“And I wouldn’t do it if I did have the option. How could I not love this baby? She’s a part of him. Of us.”


  1. Your writing is beautiful. I am always deeply moved by everything you write.

  2. When I was 8 momths pregnant with our 3rd daughter, my dad died from a heart attack at the young age of 54. It was painfully disappointing to know that in a matter of weeks I'd be giving birth to a little baby girl who would never have the chance to know MY Daddy. The man who raised me. The man who loved my Mom with all his heart. The man who loved me unconditionally and who taught me that I deserved to be treated like a princess, and at the same time showed me that a little sweat and dirt never hurt anyone.

    I wondered how I could be a good mommy to this baby while I was so wrapped up in my own grief. I hoped that I would. I promised myself and our unborn Stephanie at that moment that she WOULD know her Papa Vern. I would never let his memory fade, and I would talk of him often and use his life to teach lessons.
    It has been 6 1/2 years since his death, and I do believe she knows him in a special kind of way. I believe too that her birth was pre-ordained....Although she was born into difficult and unfair circumstances, her very presence lifted our family out of it's misery because we had something to celebrate. A new life. Stephanie. And we were able to celebrate my dad's life too. We slowly began to celebrate his life more and grieve his death less. It's still a process, and I still cry for him. I will always miss him. I am still healing. That little baby who came along at just the right time is a special gift from God who knows all, who knew just what we needed at the time.

    Like Stephanie, I'm sure that now you view your baby as a special gift. At the time, it seemed nearly impossible to move forward. In your case, without Erik, I'm sure it was 100 times worse than what I went through...and what I went through was awful to put it mildly.

    Thanks for sharing your blog. It was great once again. Made me reflect back on how I've also become stronger through the pruning.

  3. This one got me. I understood your conflict. Now that time has passed and you have moved forward, do you see the beauty of her birth? The reality of life is that we all die. What's even more frightening is that we don't get to choose when or how. But if we choose to have children, and our children have children, we live on. This is the beauty of family. While our "families" aren't perfect, they are ours, and we live on whether here in person or in spirit. xoxo Keep up the inspiration.

  4. What you have gone through has cut a hole in my heart. Uh oh, blurry keys again. The feelings that I get are so foreign that I do not know how to process them. I did not know you well and I did not know Erik at all, yet I feel so connected to you. I could barely tell Tarah (my wife) what I had read without crying again. Your words have captivated my soul and I hang in deep suspense for your next post.


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