The time between Simon’s birth and the accident seems like a blur now. My husband Jack and I had just moved with our newborn son Simon across the bay, from San Francisco to Oakland, California. It took me the first four weeks of my new son’s life to get comfortable enough to breastfeed in public. When I finally felt like I could nurse without feeling self-conscious, Jack and I decided to celebrate — we’d have dinner out with the baby. We’d even dress up! Meaning we’d start out by putting on clothes free of spit-up stains.
I was so excited that I could finally fit into a pair of my pre-pregnancy jeans that I decided I’d get really crazy and jazz them up with my blue platform heel sandals. They looked great. I looked great. My satiny blouse (also pre-baby) clung to my new post baby figure; my breasts were so much bigger than before. I brushed my hair, deciding to let my long brown curls hang loose. Wow, I remembered feeling sexy. From before I was obviously pregnant. Not that I didn’t feel sexy while I was pregnant, I did. But once you start showing, the world doesn’t see you that way.
There once was a time when I could tell when someone was checking me out. In the past year those occasional glances had turned into nice offers of seats as I toddled onto the bus, barely able to balance my giant belly, or post-birth offers to let me go ahead in the grocery line because my baby was crying. People noticed my situation, but that was a far cry from noticing me. Now, looking in the mirror, I felt a little charge of the past; my old self snapped back for just a moment.
We got all our baby gear together and went outside. I led the way, carrying Simon. Jack followed with the diaper bag and stroller. The narrow paved walkway around the building was unlit, and the bushes were overgrown and crowding the path.
As I edged along being extra careful not to let the stray branches scratch the baby, I thought about whether I wanted lamb or chicken curry. I couldn’t wait to get to Ajanta, our favorite Indian restaurant. I had just nursed Simon and, with any luck, he would sleep through the first part of our meal. I imagined dipping a Samosa into tangy coriander chutney. My stomach rumbled.
I didn’t see the crack in the pavement. The toe of my platform sandal got stuck. I jolted forward, tripped, and felt myself falling. My life suddenly went into horrifying movie slow-motion. I felt Simon get pitched out of my arms with the uncontrollable force of my bodyweight — right onto the cement.
As I struggled to get my bearings, I looked up and saw Simon, a tiny bundle of blankets in a heap on the driveway next to the curb, like a lump of tattered clothes forgotten by a homeless person. My knees were shaking. My own forehead was scraped and bruised from the fall, but I wouldn’t see that until much later. I felt only numbness in my body as I focused in on Simon. Oh my God…Oh my God! Don’t Die Don’t Die Don’t Die!
He was only a few feet away, yet it seemed like he was at the end of a long dark tunnel. Nothing was on either side. I crawled. One crawl. Two crawls. By the third, I lurched to pick him up. It must have happened quickly but until I held him there was a gaping chasm between us.
His eyes were open. He was breathing — I could see the rise and fall of his chest — but he wasn’t crying, just totally stunned and silent. There was a white mark, edged in red, on his forehead. The beginning of an angry, fat goose egg. That image would plague me far into the future.
Jack’s first reaction was to bring Simon inside the house — he would be fine, just a big bump. But Simon’s silence was too weird, too chilling.
“Something is very wrong,” I said to Jack. “We have to take him to the emergency room. Now.”
Jack snapped into action. He took Simon from me and began strapping him into his car seat. I remember thinking if he were an adult we wouldn’t move him for fear of back injuries or concussion. What if the seat belt straps crushed or further injured him? How the hell was I supposed to know? Still, if there is one mantra you hear as a new parent, it is always use the car seat. So instinct took over and Jack finished clipping him in.
I went around to the other side of the car, but even moving those few steps away from my baby son felt like too great a separation. I sat in the back seat with him, my arms reaching around the car seat in an awkward embrace, as he remained eerily silent all the way to the ER. I think I must have been crying and saying things like “I can’t believe this is happening,” because I remember Jack’s comforting voice “Sweetie, Simon needs us. We can’t lose it now. It’s going to be okay.”
Would it ever be okay again? It felt like someone had punched me. Just that afternoon I had been praying that he be quiet or asleep during our dinner, for just one night of peace. And now this. What exactly had I been praying for? How could I have wished for silence over a healthy newborn cry?
For most new mothers there is a moment when it hits you: the fact of your complete and utter responsibility — and the vulnerability that comes with it. This was mine.