My before smile and my after smile.
Sometimes when I can’t sleep I flip through the pictures on my phone. I take lots of pictures. Pictures of flowers, pictures of food. Pictures of my husband snoozing. He’s so cute… Pictures of my kids. Pictures of me hanging out with friends.
This pre-sunrise morning, being no different than most, my sleeplessness led me to flip through my album. There, about 5 pictures in, was the last picture taken of me before learning that my son had died in my womb.
It had been a great night. My husband and I had spent the evening together live tweeting the second to last Biennial of the Americas round table discussion. The talk had been Reinventing Business as Usual. It had been exhilarating. Not only the content we were sharing via Twitter, the experience of sitting next to my favorite human on the planet, the man who has the devotion of my heart and has set wings to my spirit and working on sharing these powerful tweets while snuggled together in the back of the theater my belly swollen with his child inside of me. You couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face if you tried. I was on top of the world.
My dear friend and colleague was a row in front of us and we planned to meet another lovely couple for tapas downtown when the tweeting was done.
The three of us traipsing downtown on a Thursday evening like young urbanites living the good life.
Dinner was filled with laughter and good drinks, a virgin Long Island iced tea for me and a house special for the rest of the table. My friend’s husband snapped a picture of the three ladies. It is this picture that dwells in the camera roll on my phone. A reminder of before.
My smile is huge. It always has been. But in this picture in particular it is ear to ear. You can just barely see my baby bump. Well I can see it. I know it was there. I’m wearing the spectacular maternity dress my husband and I picked out at the Gap just a few weeks earlier. It is a floral, boat neck, strappy number that we paid $6.40 for after applicable discounts. I love nothing more than a fabulous find for less than the tax I pay on most items. I just loved the compliments, the fit, the bump. On. Top. Of. The. World.
I look at the picture now, 5 days since I knew for sure he was gone, and I don’t recognize the woman in the photo. It seems like it must have been taken decades ago in a simpler time. The image reflected back to me is completely devoid of pain. It exudes a vibrancy that I can’t imagine. A naïveté.
I love smiles. I am the annoying email crafter with two or three smiles made with colon and parenthesis littering your message. And normally that is after I’ve edited the email to change all the exclamation points to periods and reduce the number of smiley faces. I know it’s unprofessional. They come out because I am excited about what I am communicating with you and I want you to feel my smile on the screen.
I also love to capture that true smile that resides in each of us when I take pictures. I have this great shot that my husband captured of his son during one of our family picture adventures. He’s leaning on a wagon wheel and I got him to laugh at the moment my husband clicked the shutter. It’s beautiful. It captures his true essence. It is not the forced smile we have all been taught to pull out for the camera. The point between grimace and gritting of teeth that sometimes fills the screen. This was true. Authentic. The happy essence within clearly filling his maturing face.
That was my smile that evening. It came quickly and easily.
Since that awful moment of seeing my poor baby on screen with no heart beat I have not been able to find that smile. I want to smile. I rather enjoy smiling. I like it because it puts others at ease. I’ve tried watching funny movies but the laughter is forced and physically painful. It’s not that I don’t think I should smile, I know better than that, it’s just that I don’t know if I can ever feel the whole-ness of my smile of before.
Time heals all wounds. I’ve been told. I nod. I crack a grin. It hurts when I do.
I ventured out of the house yesterday. We went for a cup of coffee. The young woman at the register unwittingly greeted me with a huge smile and “Welcome! How are you today!?!” She did not know the depths of our pain. She did not deserve to feel my pain. My mind answered “F!#*!ing Sh*#!tty. My baby died.” My mouth fortunately said “Fine. Thank you.” I attempted to meet her smile with one of my own. I felt like a fraud.
I don’t know how long my smiles will hurt or have to be faked. I consider them to be amongst the most important tools in my toolbox for connecting with people and putting them at ease. It works because my smiles are genuine and felt not only in my face but in my whole body. They are a part of my communication system.
My 11 year old son came home from camp yesterday. His heart shattered, like my husbands, when he learned his baby brother was no longer. He pulled out a beautiful mobile he crafted from branches, beads and fishing line for his brother. I put on the biggest smile in my arsenal to try to calm him. To let him know that while we are so sad we must go on and we will now honor our little Peanut’s memory with his handiwork. I searched his eyes for a reflection of the smile he saw on my face but all I saw in his tear filled eyes was a reflection of the deep sadness in my heart.
A smile is not only in the upturned corners of your mouth. A smile is the twinkle and sparkle of your eyes. The windows to all unspoken secrets and emotions. Is it possible for the after smile to hold the twinkle and pull of the before smile? Does life feel that way again? I hope so. I love my before smile.
We have purchased a tree to plant in memory of our unfulfilled dream. I wrote some words that I’d like to carve on a garden stone. My husband gently looked at me and said “those are some sad words, they reflect how we feel right now. I want this to be a happy place.” So we will write happy words about love and kindness and dreams and I will work at finding the ‘before’ smile. Perhaps I will find it under our Peanut tree.