Difficult love

by Claudia Ravaldi

Autobiography of a love

This is part of my story.

What it all began with.

Written in a whisper, closed in a drawer and then reread, at a distance, after the thousand days of pain of perinatal mourning.

Something happens, month after month, year after year, in the process of perinatal bereavement. Something happens that is transformation, conquest, and not just suffering and pain.

But it is from the pain that we start.

A pain that has its roots in expectation and joy. A thieving pain of light-heartedness and normality.

From there I left, too, in 2006.


March 1st My love, today is March 1st! We have reached the month, soon you will be born, and I am so impatient! Can’t wait to see you, who knows if you have curls and dark eyes?
March 8 Women’s Day, the day of her long-awaited baby! I bought you a beautiful onesie with a frog and a dragonfly, and a funny drip pacifier, will you like it? … I got huge herpes in my mouth … I need to rest and I want to be beautiful and healed when you are born.

March 9 We went to the gynecologist for a check-up, who did the examination, measured the blood pressure (low as always) and took a look at you. We looked at your face, with full cheeks and kissing little mouth. He told me that you are so beautiful that you look like an angel, and that there are not many beautiful children like that.
You are an angel? You are my Love.

March 10 The biography of Isadora Duncan, bought on the internet years ago, falls from my bookshop. I read it, hoping to get some sleep. I discover that Isadora has had a life full of pain, which nobody talks about. She lost a child in childbirth, lived the next pregnancy isolated in the countryside and, a few years later, lost both children in a car accident. I read, tonight, as if I were not reading, clouded and muffled by the silence of the night …. by the silence of the death of others.

March 11 Love today is Saturday and we’re off to Florence! It is sunny, I am full of enthusiasm, even if I feel tired. But anyway, apart from driving your brother’s stroller, I don’t have to do anything! The day slips lightly into the spring warmth, we go to a children’s book store, we go out to lunch, and I peel the whole apple with precision (you never know that the dirty skin can hurt you!).

We get home, your brother Giulio and I go upstairs and prepare the bath for my spotless knight (!).

Today the belly is heavy, will it be because it went down? Are we ready, my little one?

Being home from work makes me feel strange, I feel tired and absent from myself …. it will be a matter of recovering energy!
Tonight, on the sofa, you don’t do what you always do.
I am paralyzed by a fear that seems vague and indefinite.

I can’t even give a name to this fear, light years away from my conscious.
I ask my father to caress his belly, and I tell him: “Lapo doesn’t move much today”.
He reassures me, says it’s big, we’re at the bottom and I don’t have to worry. I don’t, and I couldn’t. I’m not there, I’m behind glass.
So much so that I order a wonderful and futuristic twin stroller with double seat on the internet.
I’ll take you out, with me, always.
I go to bed, and sleep, a rare deep sleep.
March 12 I get up with the desire to put everything in order, and so I clean the crystal animals one by one, I clean the wheels of the wheelchair, I put the clean sheets in the bed.
Work, work for your arrival, all the time.
After dinner, we watch a TV program of songs and dances that Giulio really likes.

Also tonight, I lie down on the sofa and wait, but you don’t answer.

What do you do in these cases? I don’t know, I just don’t know. Nobody ever told me what to do in these cases. No one has ever told me what to think in these cases, and so I let my instincts guide me in this nonsense. They play we are the champion, Giulio dances happily.
I get up and do a long circle, all three of us together, picking up speed and laughing.

“Dance too, my love” is the only thing I can think of.


March 13, 2006
Agitated night, for small contractions.
Part of me is hoping and trying to get the whole world to stop and turn inside out.
I get up and I feel like I weigh a ton, my legs can’t hold me, and my stomach gets stiff.
Excited and incredulous, we accompany Giulio to the playroom and with the suitcase in the car we head to the hospital. My mother wants to come at all costs, she says she feels calmer this way. We have three hours before Giulio leaves, and so we set off. Your dad, blissful innocence, makes a film of us with the suitcase. I hear something vague answer, I think of my herpes that occupies three quarters of the lower lip I think maybe it goes, maybe not. I am full of vagueness, I feel prey to an automatism. I do everything, but I am detached. My patients always say it, it’s called depersonalization, but I’ve never tried it.
Will it be the anxiety of childbirth? Wonders the part of me that insists on pretending that nothing has happened.
Outside the hospital, a huge billboard with two dead, glassy-eyed fish advertising a supermarket, in a clumsy attempt to represent the lively sign of fish.
I look away from death, and enter the emergency room.
I go to the counter, explain that I have contractions and I am 38 weeks plus 3 of pregnancy. They let me pass and they want to put me in the wheelchair. I walk very well, indeed, I almost run. I enter the maternity ward, I am followed by one of the old obstetrics lions, they make me sit in the first room on the right, in the first armchair on the right. “Let’s make the layout”. The midwife, a young round and curly hair, fumbles in silence. Around me, other mothers, one is expecting her 4th child and makes fun of the fact that childbirth is no longer a secret for her. I listen, from behind the glass, and look at my still belly.
“This kid is really a brat, I can’t find the heartbeat, he must have turned around, where did the sensors put them last time?”
There has never been any other time.

You’re not there. Perhaps.

“We have to do the ultrasound”
They take off the bridle, I go out the door. Mine are outside the entrance to the ward. I take 10 steps into the echo room (maybe this is how death row inmates feel before sitting down in the electric chair).
The gynecologist invites me to sit down. I have contractions and I’m big, I get on the bed with an empty head. APNEA. The monitor is turned towards the doctor, there are no monitors for the parents, so I don’t see you. So, I’ll look at Dr.’s face, focus on her mouth.
Bitter expression, frowning look: – I’m sorry there is no heartbeat. –
-Because? How is this possible? -, I hear a shrill and strangled voice say … It’s NOT me, this one.
-Lady now let’s not start with the questions, you can’t know exactly and in any case tell me how long you haven’t felt it move because there is no more liquid.
Where have you gone?
It was my fault?
I wanted to see you laugh …
The pain is so bad that it doesn’t even hurt, it just paralyzes. I am frozen. Death entered my body, it made fun of me, of my being a mother, of my care and my plans. And you, my child, instead of fighting, you went away, you left me alone.

I didn’t know how to protect you.

You make me angry. You didn’t give me any chance.
I feel the anger for losing you, and I hate myself even more.

My attitude as I get dressed and go up to my room continues to be submissive and diligent: I look at myself from the outside, and I see myself climbing the stairs, together with my father and my mother, and I see myself trying to console them. Don’t worry now, rest assured. I feel nothing. Only, I want to make sure that at 12 someone goes to pick up Giulio at the toy library, as always. It is 10.45 am, there is plenty of time.

In my birthing suitcase I realize that there are a lot of useless things and important things are missing. There are plenty of dresses and bodysuits, my medical records and slippers are missing. I can also go barefoot, and step on everything. I have no interest in anything other than giving birth.
Now, I have to, I want, to give birth to my child, without anesthesia (mine is enough) and without caesareans. I want my son to be born as expected, I want to be his mom all the way through. And then, I, so afraid of anesthesia, medicines and complications, do not want to take risks: “After all, I tell myself, he could also wake up …” I look everywhere, without seeing anything. I completely rely on the midwife, and I do whatever she tells me. I want to believe that she knows what’s going to happen and what’s best for me.

I want to believe that this instant freeze can be survived.
It is not just your heart, which no longer beats love
Mine, he died with you.
I have confused memories of labor, and I know very well that I hoped not to give birth in the delivery room, but in the labor room, in order to be able to stay away from other women.

So it was, you were born, at 13.25, in a small room with green walls illuminated by the sun. You were born alone. Me, dad and you.

The midwife, I want to believe overwhelmed by pain, went out to call Dr. You went out and leaned on the bed, alone, without anyone supporting you.
Maybe dead babies don’t need this treatment?
You didn’t cry.

I hoped for three hours, non-stop, that you would cry. (If I don’t complain and stand, maybe something changes and you wake up)

I strongly wanted to see you.
I had to contend with the perplexities of my colleagues and staff.
But only for a minute.
OK, just for a minute (what’s monstrous about you ?, that I can’t see you?).
I see you coming, wrapped in a green cloth, with big cheeks and a pouting mouth …. are you angry with me? You have very little hair, and a perfect round nose. I can see your huge, wide open hands, look at your chubby neck, and I think you are beautiful. You’re beautiful. I touch your skin, between the forehead and the nose, and you are smooth and perfect.

How do you get your soul back into your body? Who helps me?

I look at you and I can only think that soon this nightmare will be over and you will wake up. They take you away.
They take me away, away from you. I don’t ask where you are, I don’t ask for anything. There is no room for questions, there is room for emptiness, which infiltrates every corner of me and my life.
I keep thinking that maybe you will wake up. In the room, in front of relatives gathered at the bedside, I make extreme statements: no more children, too much pain, it’s not right.
I am finally alone. It gives me relief to know that father and Giulio are together, that at least part of my family is safe.
My mother stays with me for the night. I’m afraid of being alone, I’m afraid as a child. I no longer have certainties.

What can you be sure of if death enters and steals babies from their mothers’ bellies?

Third floor, six bedroom, empty.
Endless moments of nothing. Fleeting and useless visits.
Dissociated night. I sleep, I cry, I suffer, I commute between the past and the future, I wonder what will happen to me.
I wonder if I’ll still be a good mother, or if I’ll go crazy.
In the morning, I call my superior.
I cry, I despair, and, to him who is an expert, I confide my fear: I will go mad.
He, he tells me, in a voice I’ll never forget: people like you don’t go crazy. And we will do whatever needs to be done to prevent it.
This reassures me a little. I need someone to reassure me, because now I know anything could happen.
Primary and help arrive, and I cry. I’m heartbroken, and I can’t have you.
I don’t want to have you dead, I think.
I’m afraid of death, love, don’t you remember?
And then, they’ll do the autopsy. I know what happens at autopsies, I have seen them also done during my studies. I don’t want to see you AFTER.
Your wonderful round and strong body, I can’t accept that it ends like this.
So, together with your father, we decide to have you cremated, and to set you free again in heaven.

The idea of your body in the coffin at the cemetery is unsustainable.

You had to be in the wheelchair like everyone else.

I ask to be able to put your ashes together with my grandfather and my brother, and this is possible. My terror now is that you are alone. Forever alone.

In the background, from the second floor, the screams of newborns in the nest.

The long night

If you want we can give you something to get some sleep, No thanks, I don’t want to take any drops of tranquilizer, I just want to go home, The return home will be difficult, she will only find an empty crib, she has to be followed by someone. Yes I know, there will be the empty crib and all, but I don’t want to be here, you can hear the babies crying downstairs, my baby didn’t cry, I don’t want to hear anyone else crying, but why did it happen to me this? I stay until tomorrow, alright, yes for safety, I don’t want to be alone, I don’t want drops, I don’t want to sleep. I want my baby, but I can’t have him, so what’s the point of all this pain? I brought her the pills to get rid of the milk. Thank you, so now it is no longer needed, I am an orphan in the body of a mother … I will go crazy, because this pain is unbearable, because I wanted you and I lost you, I did not know how to protect you, I want to go back and start all over again from boss, and do everything right, and keep you from dying, love.

They discharge me, after an interview aimed at establishing my level of psychic compensation (and I feel discussing therapies, benzodiazepines and bereavement in general … as if we were not talking about me and my son, but about an ordinary patient), and aimed at reassuring me that I am healthy as a fish and that for sure it was a coincidence and that it will never repeat itself: “HOW DO YOU KNOW ?, I think, A SERIOUS DOCTOR KNOWS THAT CASE DOES NOT EXIST IN MEDICINE, IT DOES IGNORANCE AND THE UNKNOWN “.

I can go home. I feel heavy as a boulder, and hollowed out to the core. What remains of me, an imposing female puerperal shell, comes out of the hospital with downcast eyes so as not to see all those parents with those irreverent little eggs. I hate them. They don’t know what can happen, and they are happy there. I, at the antipodes, envy them.

In the car, no words.
Finally, my son Giulio arrives home. We embrace for an infinity. At one point he asks: mom, what do you have? Where is the belly? I know it’s important to explain, I love him too much to just think about my pain. So, I take my little man in my arms and explain that the belly is gone.
And the little brother? He presses me
My love, little brother Lapo was too small and sick and therefore he could not stay with us.
Because? When he returns?
Explaining death to my son is a commitment that absorbs me for many days following the loss of Lapo. I wondered incessantly, just I who was terrified of death, how do you tell it without hurting children. All the protection that I have not been able to give to Lapo, I wanted to assure Giulio. Without taboos, without lies. Nature, the seasons, the withering flowers, the caterpillars crushed on the asphalt, the dead insects on the windshield. In the weeks to follow, Lapo and his death are daily bread in our family; questions, answers, reflections, requests and comparisons.
Everyone, as in a kind of Olympic relay race, takes turns and supports us. I can’t stay home.
I can’t stay in the dining room, because seeing our sofa tears my heart apart.
I can’t stay in your room, I would like to tear off the decorations, the shelves, the strip with the ice animals from the wall.
I don’t want to fix your things, not yet. There will come a time, perhaps, but it is not this.
We go to the registry office to certify that you are stillborn and that we are your parents. I hate everyone, I shy away from pregnant women and mothers with live babies. The undertaker who accompanies us tells us that he too has lost two children, and how hard it was. He tells us that today they are parents of two children, and that talking to a spiritual father was very important for them. I entrust my son’s coffin to him (after having railed at the urn, because I wanted one at all costs as a child and not as an old man) and I ask him to accompany him to the cemetery.
The day of the funeral is Friday 17.
… Small box with the blue angel (he found it, a baby box!) … my Little Prince will sleep with a lot of people … with him, we put my copy of the Little Prince by Saint Exupery. So the grandfather will read it to you, to you and to Marco, and you two will pass the time.

We loved you and you will stay with us forever Your dad and your mom

From that day to today, it’s been 3 and a half years. The long night has finally left space in the pink light of dawn. I carry my son in my heart, in my steps, in my hands.

I have learned to love difficult love.

Dedicated to all women and men who today face difficult love.


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