A Picture of Joy

by Brenda Deason

I wish I had a picture of my baby, Mom.”

            We were heading back from taking my son, Eric, to visit his dad for the weekend.  My mom came along to keep me company for the drive, which was nearly three hours each way.

            “I’ve been thinking.  Those police artists can draw a good likeness from a description.  Besides her dad, you and I are the only ones who saw her.  Would you be willing to help describe her if it’s possible to hire one of them?”

            Two years before I had struggled with an incredibly difficult pregnancy while my marriage fell apart.  I comforted myself by thinking how it would be worth it all when I got to kiss that sweet little face.

            “I can’t believe I didn’t have my camera to get some decent pictures of her.  I just can’t understand why I didn’t sense the importance of taking pictures.  Surely there were disposable cameras in the hospital’s gift shop.”

            When I went in for my five-month check-up, I struggled up the stairs to the second floor office. I had substituted for a seventh grade math teacher that day.  I walked the quarter mile, thinking that the exercise would be good for me, but on the way home, the sidewalk stretched out and longer and longer, each step seeming to bring me no closer to home.

            Expecting the examination to be routine, except for my embarrassment at putting on twenty pounds since the last visit, I scarcely noticed the change in the nurse’s demeanor after she double-checked my blood pressure.  I had in my hand a scrap of paper on which I had written questions I had for the doctor. My pregnancy with Eric nearly three years before had been uncomplicated, and there were so many new kinds of discomfort this time.

            The doctor never scolded me about the weight gain, and my questions went unasked as it slowly dawned on me what he was saying. 

            “Toxemia this early in a pregnancy is very rare.  The cure is to deliver the baby, but your baby is only twenty weeks.  You will go straight home and do nothing until Monday when you come back for an ultrasound.”

            Monday evening, March 23, 1998, found me in a hospital room being prepared to have labor induced.  My precious baby had died over the weekend.  High doses of magnesium were flowing through the IV line in my wrist, protecting my failing kidneys, fogging my mind, but not dulling the pain of realization that I was about to give birth to a dead baby.

            She wasn’t perfect, but Joy Marie Deason, at one pound, six ounces and nine-and-a-half inches was beautiful.  She had one eye open, and her mouth was a perfect little triangle, as if she was saying, “oh!”  I had been given a lot of drugs for the delivery, and handed her back to the nurse far too readily, not fully realizing that I would never see her again.

            Later the nurse explained that she would take regular newborn pictures and make a keepsake box with the tiny bracelet and layette the hospital provided for her to wear home, as well as make prints of her hands and feet.  She made it sound special, but her shift ended before she could fulfill her plans.

            The nurse on the next shift did prepare the keepsake box, but only took a couple of instant photos, which were very dark, and she didn’t dress baby Joy, she stretched her out nude.  Her face was a featureless blob, and her limbs were in awkward positions.  She made only one print of one foot.  By the time I knew all of this it was too late.

            “I can’t believe how much I want a picture of her.  It’s been nearly two years, and I’m so afraid the memory of her face will fade.  Eric didn’t get to see her, and when he asks what she looked like, I only have those awful photos.”

            We arrived home before making any plans, and the subject didn’t come up again.

            A few months later, my family joined Eric and I on Christmas Eve morning before my parents and I would drive him up to his dad’s for the holidays.   Mom gave me a manila envelope saying she had found some old pictures of me.

            Distracted by an apartment full of guests, and feeling down about not being with Eric for Christmas for the first time, I set it aside, resolving to look at it the first chance I got.

            It was months later when I discovered the unopened envelope while straightening up my sewing room.  I sat down and pulled out the pile of photos. There were snapshots and studio photos.  A first-born, my early years were well documented.  Many were familiar to me, having been in frames on the walls as I grew up.

            Then I froze.  In my hand was an eight-by-ten, black-and-white photo.  It was a bit blurry, but the baby in the picture had her left eye closed and her mouth open in a little triangle, as if to say, ”oh!”

            I grabbed the phone and called Mom.

            “I was finally going through those baby pictures you gave me, and there’s one…did you see it?”

            “I’ve been wondering if you would see it, too.  It’s remarkable, isn’t it?” was her reply.

            “Where?  How?  Who?”  I was full of questions, and listened in awe as the story unfolded.

            “That picture is of you, but when I got the print back I was disappointed.  It was blurry, your eye was closed, and it didn’t even look like you.  I had the picture redone.  I don’t even know why I kept that one.  I never liked it.  Once I held it over the trashcan, but for some reason, didn’t drop it in.  When I came across it, going through those old photos, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  So it’s not just me, you see it too?”

            I was in tears.  “It’s uncanny, Mom.  It looks so much like Joy, except for the hair and perfect ears.  I wanted a picture so badly, and here it is, and she’s perfect.  You can’t even tell that her eyes are a different color than mine because it’s black and white.”

            “And the blurriness, “ added Mom, “gives it just the right look.”

            I was still in a mild state of shock, unable to take my eyes off of the precious face.

            “To think that 38 years ago, this picture was taken.  It didn’t look like me, because it was a picture of Baby Joy.”

            Beneath a protective layer of glass, surrounded by a white frame dotted with pink rosebuds, the picture is among my most treasured possessions.  Eric has finally seen his sister, and I no longer have to cling to the memory of a tiny face with the fear of forgetting it.

            I didn’t need a police artist.  I never found out if you can hire one.  God had it all under control, and knew all along how much I would need that old, unwanted photo.

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