Thirty years ago today, I gave birth to a baby girl who was perfect in every way, except for one devastating defect: she was anencephalic. This means her brain never formed properly; she had only a brain stem. Needless to say, the condition is incompatible with life, and she was with us for only 7 hours after birth.
Back then, medical experts didn’t know what caused such horrific malformations. Now they know that folic acid deficiency is a major player, and that’s why you see a lot of foods that have been fortified with the mineral. It’s also why you don’t see as many babies born with spina bifida anymore. This is another defect related to anencephaly, but in most cases the affected child survives and grows up; surgery can remedy it to a degree, and while there is usually some residual disability, they often lead normal and productive lives.
For Melissa, there was never even a ghost of a chance. To this day I wonder who she would have grown up to be, what she would look like, what kind of work she would be doing. Even though we never got to take her home, there’s always been an empty chair at the dinner table and a birthday that holds nothing joyful. It used to be that I’d spend the entire last half of March in a blue funk; I think it was at least ten years before I could get through the day without weeping as if the wounds were still fresh.
But this is the sort of loss one just never “gets over”. You can get through it, you can even get past it; but you never, ever get OVER it. March 26 was the worst day of my entire life, at least up to the day last summer when my husband was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer, and the best thing I can say about this March 26 is that it’s almost over.
So when the night falls and the stars come out, I look to the skies for the biggest star in the heavens. That’s Melissa. I know it’s her because it’s also the brightest. And sometimes Will joins me and we talk to her, just as if she were standing in front of us……our beautiful little girl, only she’s whole and happy, and she whispers of the great reunion that awaits us at the end of our days.