An unholy triad

Tomorrow I was due to give birth to a daughter, but instead she is enveloped in cardboard on the bookshelf in our living room, a breath of ashes in a box. She is sandwiched next to a chess board her father made and a stack of well-thumbed Dr Seuss books that her brothers periodically pull down from the shelf to read, or more often, to pin bedsheets to kitchen stools in the elaborate cubby houses they build.

In my mind there are three versions of my daughter; an unholy triad. They are as distinct as siblings - borne of the same place but each with their own memories and form.

First, there is the daughter I gave birth to in a forsaken hospital room with a butterfly on the door. Her entire body fit into Lee's hand, her skull no larger than a chicken egg, with her brothers' big feet and the tiniest, most delicate fingers.  When we said goodbye, I folded her hands in the centre of her chest, as decorous as a spectre. 

Next, there is the baby that still lives within me, shapeshifting from grief to light and back again. In researching for my novel I learned about microchimerism, a process where stem cells from an unborn child cross the placenta and lodge in the mother's bloodstream, where they stay. When a mother’s heart is injured, the cells of the children she grew in her body - whether or not they stayed in for nine months or three - will flock to the site of the injury and transform into heart cells, capable of beating.

When I read about this phenomenon, I folded at the waist and howled, because of course. Of course she has been with me the entire time. Lately, she has been in the space where grief lives; tucked in the void between my heart and lungs, or perhaps nested in the hollow of my vertebrae, methodically stitching pieces of me back together.

And then there is a little girl, aged about three, with a fringe. She is tall for her age, and bossy. She adores her brothers and her nan, and likes having each fingernail painted a different colour. She pronounces her middle name 'Gwendowyn' and slides into my bed in the middle of the night to press her cold feet against my calves.

She is fierce, and gentle, and loving; my daughter. It is a privilege to know her.

This is the Edie I miss the most.