For nine months we had talked, compared, and anticipated what we were certain would be an incredible experience. We looked forward to what should have been a time of great joy and elation, but we never imagined how it would test the bonds of our friendship.
Thirty-six years ago, I met Monica.
“Have some plums. I just picked them,” she said to me excitedly.
As I quickly scanned her tall, lean body I thought, “Oh, great. I have a health nut for a roommate.”
Despite my first impression, we instantly bonded. Eventually, she fell victim to the guilty pleasures of my goodies in the kitchen. We had made a deal: if she washed and cut the vegetables, I would eat them. In return, I would make warm, chewy, chocolate chip cookies.
That was the start of our kinship. Through our many years, we have always been there for each other. Although Monica and I never lived close to each other after college, and sometimes months would go by before we would see each other, it would never matter. Having a friend like Monica was like having a pair of favorite jeans.
As the years passed, Monica and I both married. She was busy with her career, and growing vegetables year-round in warm, sunny Florida. I chose to start my family and to stay in New Hampshire. I was way ahead of her as far as babies went too.
When we would get together, Monica would take one of my two little boys and pretend he was hers. She was great with my children. My youngest, her godchild, would climb on her lap to hear the same story, The Fuzzy Bunny, read over and over again. They often would cuddle and read while a stack of books would surround them. I always knew Monica would be a great mom. She longed for babies of her own, but her body thought otherwise.
I remember one particular day we spoke on the phone. I felt a little guilty…I had just found out that I had “number three” growing inside me. I wondered how I could say anything to Monica; I wasn’t even planning on this.
I was so conflicted about whether to tell her or not. As our conversation continued, Monica casually mentioned that she was pregnant. Before my thoughts could stop my tongue, a “me too!” slipped out. We giggled and tripped over our words as we shared our exciting news. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect: best friends having babies together. This would be so much fun. Through the months, we both learned we were having girls. I was due one week ahead of her, on Easter Sunday.
The snow was melting, and I could feel spring in the air. I decided to make the three-hour trip to visit her. (I am so happy that she lives closer now!) We enjoyed a wonderful visit. I felt her daughter’s kicks and could see how big she was getting by the size of Monica’s belly.
“I wonder what she looks like,” Monica said inquisitively to me. I told her she will be the most beautiful thing she will ever see. She rolls her eyes at me like I am the biggest sap in the world.
“I bet she will have long eyelashes, like her dad,” she said with a smile.
“Probably. And brown hair like you. And she will be holding a plum,” I joked sarcastically, making us giggle at the memory.
As I got ready to head home, we looked at each other and realized that the next time we saw one another we would both be holding our daughters.
Driving home, I thought about my friend and the incredible experience that was awaiting her. Even though I could see the love she has for this unborn baby, I knew that she would soon understand the overwhelming feeling of becoming a mom. I felt so happy for Monica.
Back at home, I woke up extra early one Sunday morning by the screams of delight that accompany the annual visit of the Easter Bunny. I waddled to the flurry of excitement. My boys were scampering here and there, collecting brightly colored, candy-filled eggs. My thoughts were distant, as that day was my due date, and I so wanted that birth over. I felt as large as a circus tent and my arms longed to hold my little girl.
I wondered how Monica was doing. I knew it was early, but she probably couldn’t sleep anyways, so I decided to call her. Much to my surprise, the phone rang and rang.
I wonder where she is. Could she have had her baby? Why wouldn’t she have called me?
I am easily distracted from my thoughts as my little boys go dashing by. They are full of sugar; a breakfast full of red, yellow, and orange jellybeans. The rest of the day was uneventful and, even though I tried throughout the day, I was unsuccessful at reaching my friend.
Three days later I was feeling anxious, overly sensitive and secretly worried about Monica. At this point, I was unnerved when I called her house…the phone just kept ringing. Later that evening, after reading To the Moon and Back for the hundredth time, I tuck my little cherubs into bed. Exhausted, I decided to turn in early myself. I prepared a cup of hot tea and thought, “I should just enjoy this moment – a quiet house, and two sleeping children, all is peaceful.”
I was startled out of my thoughts by the loud ringing of the phone. The caller ID instantly relieved me. It’s Monica!
Before I could even tell her how worried I had been, I could hear something in her voice. Something is terribly wrong. Through her shaky, choked tone Monica tells me she delivered her baby on Easter Sunday. She tried to tell me some of the horrifying details, but her words go through me like a sword. Nothing is staying with me. Except for one thing, “She had beautiful, long eyelashes and brown hair.”
Her words brought me to my knees, sobbing. What is she saying? Had?
I mumble, “What?” I clearly could not conceive what she was trying to tell me.
“She, she died inside me. I had to deliver her dead,” she said, panting.
Monica’s baby was dead. I was overcome with nausea and sweat. The news left me paralyzed on my kitchen floor. I needed to help her, to comfort her, somehow.
“What can I do?” I begged her.
“Nothing. We are going to bury her in the morning,” she said stoically.
Bury her. Those words shook me to the bone. My heart broke one more time. I was not even thinking straight when I said, “In a casket?”
Monica sobbed, “It’s so tiny.” Together we cried, miles apart, needing each other.
Everything changed that night. I suddenly wasn’t in such a rush to have my daughter. That night I tried to muffle my sobbing so I wouldn’t wake my boys.
The next few days I spent as much time as I could by myself. I needed to be alone to cry and wail, and to try to pull myself together for the inevitable birth of my daughter. This was so unfair. Why Monica? What had happened? I felt useless, overcome with great sadness and guilt.
One week after Easter, my daughter was born. She came kicking and screaming into this world. When the doctor put her on top of me, I sobbed, again, for my friend. I could not even imagine going through labor only to be handed a lifeless child. I struggled with when I should call Monica.
Later that night, alone in the hospital room, I called my dearest friend. Hesitantly, I told her the news. Monica immediately set me at ease. She told me how happy she was for me and she looks forward to meeting Tess when she is ready. Our conversation was brief, almost awkward. I knew things between us had changed. I tried to put myself in Monica’s place, and think of how to be the best friend I could be to her.
Several months later, Monica came for a visit. I prepared the house so it would be just Monica, the baby, and me. When she arrived, we hugged as usual, but this time it was for a little longer and a lot tighter. We were like two wounded soldiers seeing each other for the first time after war. To my surprise, Monica wanted to see my daughter right away. We went to the nursery where Tess was sleeping.
Monica told me she needed to hold her. I pointed to the rocking chair and she settled in. With tears rolling down both of our faces, I handed her the baby.
Her body ached to hold a warm, breathing baby. I understood that this is what she needed.
“Take as much time as you need,” I whisper, and I leave her alone with my daughter.
Our visit helped us both. She told me about the funeral and the unintentional cruel things people had said to her. “You can have another” or “It happened for a reason.”
These statements do not help a grieving person. She did not want another. They did not know why Tara had died. I learned what Monica needed from me was not answers, but to just be there.
Monica and our friendship have made it through this experience. Over time and with her overpowering perseverance, Monica has been blessed with two healthy children. Sometimes she and I talk and cry together about her loss. We often wonder if our daughters would have been best friends, just like their moms.
Sue Burhoe is a Grief and Loss Certified Holistic Life Coach. Sue’s mission is to help people regain their health, heal from a devastating loss and manifest all they want into their life.
Sue is also a Licensed Massage Therapist and Reiki & Integrated Energy Practitioner.