When I entered the L&D hospital, I was given a bracelet. With my name on it. Seconds after Maddy was born, as the NICU doctors were trying to clear her lungs of meconium (save your time, folks, save your time) a nurse fastened on a matching bracelet on Maddy's tiny wrist with my name on it, and we became linked. From Monday through Friday, my bracelet was my ticket to Maddy: it got me into the NICU at all hours, it let nurses in the hallway know I wasn't loitering at 3 in the morning, and it reminded me that we were a set, her and I of the matching bracelets.
On Friday, Maddy was transferred to Children's Hospital and she was given a bracelet with her name on it. It was blue, and there was also a number which for a few hours I had memorized as it needed to be printed on every bottle of milk I pumped and deposited in the freezer (Delivery Hospital was not as fussy about labeling). In order to get into Children's at all hours, Mr. ABF and I were given matching blue bracelets with her name on them. I was loathe to remove the first bracelet from Delivery Hospital, but Children's insisted that I must. And so, late Saturday night when the doctor turned to Mr. ABF and said, "How far away do you live?" followed by "I think it's time to call your wife," roughly 30 minutes later I flashed my blue bracelet at the security guard who waved me through into a deserted hospital save for the 20 or so people mingling around Maddy's cot. She made it through that night, but not the next.
After Maddy died, Mr. ABF and I could not take off our bracelets. They were all we had of her, the only thing it seemed to remind us that this was not some awful dream but that we had in fact been in the hospital, delivered a baby, and had a daughter with this beautiful name. The bracelets became worn, water blurred the writing, Mr. ABF's eventually disintegrated and mine was in tatters. So Mr. ABF hopped on the internet and ordered us blue plastic ones of the Li.ve.strong variety simply printed with her first name and birthdate, approximating the blue bracelets of Children's.
By the time I donned this bracelet, until a few months later, I realized that since Maddy's birth, I had worn a bracelet on my left wrist. It was a source of continuity for me, a sign of my passage into places most horrible, and other than my gut, a visible reminder of her existence. I grew to like seeing her name in print throughout my day. She may have gone, but this thing around my wrist ever connecting me to her remained.
I thought about something permanent I'd like to do for Maddy (Mr. ABF is still considering a tattoo), and I decided I would like a bracelet for my left wrist. I pondered the options, and nothing really spoke to me, so one day I happened upon a custom jeweler nearby and visited his store. I could tell within minutes of seeing his work and speaking with him that he could do this for me. I waited a few more months, sat on a sketch, and then went in this fall and asked him if he could do this for me.
I decided I wanted a cuff-like band, not unlike my plastic one. The symbolism I wanted to capture was "Delicate but Strong." And so I wanted a solid circle, but with one half gradually cut away to reveal a flowered vine. On the inside of the solid half, I would print her first name in strong capital letters. I explained the significance of the bracelet, the imagery, the fact that it would have to be on my wrist constantly. The jeweler rose to the challenge, procuring wax models for me to study before proceeding, and never suggesting that I remove my blue plastic bracelet for fittings. He knew that one would not come off until the new one went on.
A few weekends ago, he called. It was done, save for the engraving which he wouldn't have time to do until after his Christmas rush, but he wanted me to have it now. He told me that this of all projects he really enjoyed working on: not only was it a challenge, but it was of great significance, and he said he never stopped thinking of that while he worked.
I do like it very much, and it's amazing to me that I could hand a sketch to someone and they could produce an object from it.
But I'm already of mixed mind about it. Is it too much? Probably. For starts, at times when the strong side spins to the top, it reminds me a bit of a handcuff and I wonder if I'm not unhealthily chaining myself to her memory. One of my neighbors is from the "Let it Go" school of spirituality (not blowing off the experience, but allowing Maddy to be wherever she is now and make peace with that), and I'm sure she would not condone my continuing to wear her name so visibly shackled to my body. I'm also very much aware that should I lose more children I could very well end up resembling Wonder Woman, or will need to procure a membership at Harry Winston, and concomitantly, an appearance at a celebrity-laden awards show.
But, as my therapist likes to remind me, it's where I am now. Perhaps years from now it will no longer be a daily memento mori, but one I pull out of a box to run my fingers over and think not only of Maddy but where I was at this particular point of my life. Perhaps it will still encircle my wrist -- at times simple and modern, at others sweet and ornate -- prompting me to think or act a certain way inspired by the brief life of my daughter which as of today I still find so ugly and meaningless. As you can see, I am trying my damnedest to find some peace, some beauty, something positive to take from Maddy's life. And this will serve to remind me at least of that challenge as well the passages (literal, physical, and figurative) to see her and our permanent, unbreakable link.
Sorry for the off-center photos. Blogger moved everything off-center from the Preview to the Post, and now it won't let me in to fix it. Whatev. You get the point.