I stood in the women’s restroom of Walmart waiting to see the results of the home pregnancy test. It was well after 10 p.m. and my husband was at home with the boys. When I saw a plus sign appear, a part of me rejoiced and a part of me panicked. I was 40 years old, the mother of a 16 year old teenager with a learner’s permit and the mom of a profoundly autistic seven year old who would be eight when this baby was born. I didn’t know if I should thank God or question his judgment.
“I need this baby, we need this baby, it’s time we had some joy in this house again.” Marshall whispered to me when I told him the news. I agreed. For some five years now we had been locked in different stages of grief, often the two of us on different mental planes rather than together.
“What if the baby was Downs?” I ask thinking of my age.
“So what, it will still be our baby, and Downs is a cake walk next to what John has been, I’ll take Downs, I’ll take whatever, I just want a chance to hear a baby call me Dada again, I want to hold a baby close and smell that new born smell, I want this time with you to be a happy one for us, for this family.” Marshall was already in love with a child that we only knew we were having for a few hours. I felt hope for us as a couple again, I saw our rocky crumbling marriage healing as this baby grew.
In the weeks to come I tried to hide my surprise, but in a small town, nothing stays secret long. I got some positive happy remarks, but more often than not, negative questions about my age, having one child with issues, or other unkind comments. Still over all, we were happy. As baby bean grew and kicked, Marshall and I laughed and joked about how hyper he was and how he would keep us on our toes. Baby bean was a night owl who allowed us to share a special time with him as he danced in my belly responding to the touch of his father’s hand.
When the light to day hit, reality with John sank in. I knew very well that I was going to have to protect his child from his older brother and yet I knew I wanted John to be a part of baby beans life. To teach John about babies, I took a Fisher Price doll that John had gotten for his first Christmas, a doll we called blue baby, and began to work with John.
I told him he was going to be a big brother. I held up blue baby and told him how small new babies are and that we were going to learn how to hold a baby and that blue baby was his pretend little brother. I blinked back tears remembering how excited Aaron had been about the birth of John, and tried not to compare the two events with John’s blank emotionless state. Day in and day out I would tell him to hold his pretend baby brother, blue baby and I would place the doll carefully in his arms. Day after day John dropped the doll to the floor and showed no understanding of any new I was sharing with him.
I remember the night I went to bed exhausted and worn out, and painfully aware that I had not felt baby bean move all day. I thumped my belly late into the night telling him to wake up. The next afternoon the sonogram looked so normal, so perfect on the screen, as if someone had taken a snap shot of baby bean and frozen it for a take home photo. The technician turned to me and said, “I am so sorry Cheryl, I’ll go get a doctor.” I froze and kept staring at the screen, I needed to see baby bean, perfectly formed, I needed to remember what baby bean looked like. The technician seeing me looking long and hard at the screen switched off the picture before she handed me a Kleenex.
After a few days things were going back to normal, Marshall was back at work, Aaron back at school, I found myself alone with John. In the blur of the last few days I did not think anyone had sat him down and explained things to him. I needed to so I did.
I told him how baby bean had gone to heaven and how he would not be a big brother after all. I told him I was sorry. I told him I knew he would have been a wonderful big brother. I was lying; I was so scared of what kind a brother John was going to be. I feared him tossing the baby due to not understanding he was a living person, but now, what did it matter? I could gloss over life and tell John how wonderful a person I knew he would have been to the baby.
John reacted much as he always did when I spoke to him, lost, blank, deaf, then he pushed away from me, slithered to the floor and ran. I wanted to run after him and tell him my heart was breaking, that I needed a hug, that I needed for him to say to me he loved me and that he would still be my baby. But no. John was John, and John simply left the room with no expression, no understanding, or so I thought.
It was early winter now and I was digging out last winters clothing that I kept in a big box at the bottom of John’s closet. I piled coats and sweaters that I knew still fit John to one side and stacked jeans to try on to the other. Suddenly my hand hit something cloth and plastic, I pulled out, blue baby. Blue baby that I had used to teach John about babies with was tucked away at the very bottom of the box of clothing. I felt a lump catch in my throat. I had not thought about blue baby after baby bean died. It never even crossed my mind that blue baby had disappeared along with receiving blankets and the millennium baby onesie that I had bought for our new bundle.
I sat back on my heels and begin to sob. I cried for our baby in heaven, I cried because he had the best big brother on earth, and yet, he would not get to know John. In his haze of understanding and my own misunderstanding of John, John had expressed the death of baby bean in his own way, he buried blue baby. John understood death, John understood loss. And I for the first time in years began to see the person John was, under the weight of his own losses and disability.
As I told Marshall the story of finding blue baby I saw his face turn ashen white. “Maybe we had baby bean with us just long enough for John to show us, just how much he knows and just how much he is still with us. Maybe we lost baby bean for now, but just maybe, baby bean was sent to lead us back to John, because before we can really help John, we have to see him for who he is, and this truly shows us his power, understanding, and personality.”
We buried blue baby back in the box, under summer clothing. I wanted and I needed to respect John’s understanding of death. I asked God to thank baby bean for us, for sending him to us just long enough to make John a real big brother, and to tell baby bean for us, that we would do our best to help John become all that we knew baby bean needed and wanted in a big brother. I think baby bean already knew.