It was a winter morning when we discovered we were pregnant with our first child — our first pregnancy following a very difficult, end-of-first-trimester miscarriage nine months before. We were up in the mountains, with family, at a cabin rented for the holidays. In my journal that morning, I wrote very little: “Two lines on the pregnancy test this morning.” Then I left two or three lines blank. Then, “Dawning of belief. Muted fits of excitement. We’ll test again tomorrow. And then maybe rejoice a bit more.”
Everyone who’s been through a post-miscarriage pregnancy knows this studied restraint. How do you send welcoming love with every iota of your being to a group of cells you now know for a fact have absolutely no obligation to become a living being? How do you stay open, yet protected from heartbreak at the same time? Well you don’t. Or rather, most don’t. That morning we toggled back and forth between joy and disbelief. We kept the two lines to ourselves.
Later that same day, something happened. I wrote about it:
Today, a beautiful snowbird struck the upper of the cathedral windows of this cabin. There was a dull thud, and at first I thought a snowball had hit. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a few wing beats, then nothing. [The beloved's sister] saw it and confirmed, and we went to the window to look at the snow-covered deck. There it was: a bird, tiny, face down in the snow, wings outstretched. It looked as if it were kneeling in prayer.
I pulled on my boots and jacket and mittens and hat and rushed outside. I had no real idea what to do. Provide the wee thing some warmth, maybe, as it tried to recover itself.
By the time I had made it out to the deck, the bird had drawn its wings into itself.
I brought the doormat over, and the snow shovel. Placed the dry doormat on the snow near the bird. Worked the blade of the shovel gently underneath it, with about two or three inches to spare. Lifted the bird, along with a small chunk of snow, onto the mat. As I worked the shovel under the snow beneath the bird, it tried to move, but its left leg remained splayed.
After the bird was placed on the mat, I gently worked the clumps of snow out from underneath it, so it didn’t have to battle the cold as it – if it — was healing itself.
It would fit into the palm of my single cupped hand. So tiny. I’m certain that it wouldn’t even amount to the number of ounces requiring a second postage stamp on a letter.
It huddled into itself, quivering slightly. I could make out its breaths, which came short and shallow.
I wanted to warm it, so it could direct all its energy to healing itself. [The beloved and her sister] were watching the proceedings through the window. I mouthed a question to them: Should I take off my mittens and warm the bird in my hands? Mightn’t that be warmer? [The beloved's sister] leaned up to the glass and said no: the smell of human on the bird might serve to ostracize it from its nest mates. So I kept the mittens on, and cupped them close around the bird, so that what little heat it radiated would be reflected back.
I squatted in this way for minutes on end, watching its labored breaths, waiting for a sign of more life.
Twenty minutes passed (or so it felt) between the bird’s first thumping against the window, and the point at which it finally hopped. I had pulled back my mitten cave to enable it to inspect the chopped sunflower seeds [the beloved] had sprinkled on the mat beside it.
The bird took one hop towards the seeds. Then looked quickly side to side. Then took wing.
Beat-beat-swoop, out over the snowy deck, over the deck railing, and into the snow-covered trees.
And it was gone.
I remember looking into the trees for a long time, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bird again, some further sign of its return to its life. Just bark, and snowy branches, and the distant, occasional shouts of children somewhere playing in the snow. Later, I looked in my Field Guide to North American Birds, and concluded the bird was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
We later hoped that the bird — its injury, followed by its recovery — was a harbinger of good fortune to come. A sign from the little spirit who at that moment was just a tiny riot of cells, no bigger than a grain of rice, weeks upon weeks away from weighing as much as the bird in the snow.
We would believe it when we saw it, we both knew: a child brought to term, a safe birth, an infant in good health. But after the Kinglet we allowed ourselves a flutter of hope.
It is nearly four years later now, and any night I choose I can pad into a bedroom and watch two small children sleeping in the glow of the night-light. One — that one, the larger one, with the wisp of hair in her mouth — she was once that tiny riot of cells who first signaled to us with those two pink lines (or was it with the bird?). If I wanted to, I could pull up a chair and stare and stare, as long as I wished. I could watch as long as it would take for me to fall asleep watching. And — at least today — I feel fairly certain that, were I to fall asleep in my vigil at their sleeping bodies, I could awake to find them still there.
But I know better now than to take them for granted.
For them, and for the never taking them for granted, I am thankful beyond belief. For the rising and the falling of their breath, and for all the love — maybe even simply the chance — that brought them to shelter with my beloved and me.
I wish love, shelter, and good fortune to you and those you love. And if you find any of these lacking, may you find, at the least, a flutter of hope somewhere to tide you over.