There was a picture taken when she was delivered, but we did not see it; the gravemarker at her tiny plot says only "baby," followed by our family name. Instead of being surrounded by family, she lies in a section of the cemetary surrounded by other stillborns, and babies who lived for less than a week.
Our rabbi gave her a name, a name of comfort, given to many stillborns, but not allowed to be placed on the tombstone.
I remember very clearly the day my mother left pregnant and came home empty. That emptiness stretched for months, even years. When she went into labor, the baby had already died inside her. She knew it, and still she had to push.
I don't know how to think of the baby - literally. I sometimes wonder who she'd be, how her presence would have changed our family dynamic, how we would be eight children instead of seven, even numbered. Yet there is nothing from which to create or to build upon. She would have to be fully imagined, like a character in a novel or film. Only she is not fixed as any one thing, any one entity. There is no history, no memory, no good or bad. In that way, she is free, unencumbered.
Yesterday, she would have been 15. She was to have been the bridge between my 20 year old brother and my 12 year old sister, connecting the 80s to the 90s. And instead there is a gap. Eight years. Again, there is eight. Seven is shabbat, the days of the week, the days of creation. Seven is this world, but eight - eight is beyond this world. The number is disquietingly fitting for someone who never fully entered this world, who existed, who breathed, only in a womb, as a series of weak heartbeats and feeble kicks.
I have visited her grave, pulled out the stray weeds among the carefully arranged rock bed laid down by my parents to keep weeds at bay and to differentiate her grave from the other little ones no one seems to remember. I would like to acknowledge her in some way, but she is so intangible. I can't feel sad or miss her because I never saw or knew her. How do you mourn someone who never fully was, who never had the chance to be?
We do not speak of her in my family; we let the day of her stillbirth pass by without a word. Yet, she has an undeniable weight and presence. She is a heavy emptiness, a void that cannot be touched. She has come to represent for me all unfulfilled potential, all that is ephemeral, nameless, faceless, both the fear and the comfort of what is unknowable.
In Rabbinic literature, it is written that a stillbirth occurs when a soul only needs the mother's womb to achieve perfection. And so to my perfect sister who never fully was, I hope your soul is at peace. I don't know how to remember you, but I haven't forgotten you.