A month before Tikva was born, our community of family and friends surrounded us with the most incredible love, circling around David, Dahlia and me – and Tikva still in my belly – blessing us with everything we would need to welcome our second daughter when she was born. All together in that giant circle, they gave us the strength to take on the unknowns the future held, and the 58 days that unfolded of Tikva’s mighty life, days spent entirely in the critical bay of the intensive care nursery at UCSF.
For that day, my sister had prepared blank prayer flags that people could write on, sharing their messages for Tikva. We planned to hang the flags above her tiny bed in the hospital.
Tikva was born 11 years ago today, in the wee hours of the morning while it was still dark outside. Just as I arrived in the labor room, I looked out the window at the eucalyptus trees that surrounded the giant mountain where the hospital sat and a red tail hawk swept by just a few feet away.
Tikva was past her due date, showing no signs of being ready to come out on her own. She knew she had a good thing going inside me, where my body breathed for her, fed her, held her safe and warm. They broke my amniotic sac to induce labor, and as soon as she came out, she was intubated because she couldn’t breathe on her own.
She was beautiful. My Baby Girl.
Her prayer flags did indeed hang in her little corner, surrounding her with our community’s love and holding. Above the machines attached to the wires that monitored the oxygen saturation in her blood. Above her ventilator and C-Pap and IV bags and the hospital baby blankets with the little footprints and the pictures Dahlia drew for her sister.
58 days later, the morning after Tikva breathed her final breaths outside in the hospital garden, held by David and me, surrounded by her two primary nurses, Allyson and Elaine, and her two doctors, Roberta and Tom, Dr. Tom wrote to me, For all of her difficult moments, we always felt Tikva’s bed space had a special aura of love and tranquility. It was no wonder that so many of us became attached to your family and that she touched so many lives.
If you ever want to meet an angel on earth, spend time with the nurses and doctors who work in the neonatal intensive care unit. They are high souls.
After she died, I wanted to do something with Tikva’s prayer flags, something lasting that held her story, her meaning, and the hope she brought with her. My friend Elizheva helped me begin to turn them into a quilt. I wanted it to be circular, like a mandala, because for me Tikva is infinite.
We began to sew, by machine and by hand. I never made a quilt before this one, and mostly I sewed by hand.
Tikva’s nurse Elaine asked me for a piece of the yellow fabric that would become one of the corners on the quilt. This is Elaine playing with Dahlia and me in Golden Gate Park, sometime during the year after Tikva died. I’ll never lose touch with the special people who cared for my daughter.
Onto the yellow fabric, Elaine quilted a red tail hawk – the animal spirit that followed us before, throughout, and since Tikva’s life. Red tail is a divine messenger, bringing messages from the spirit world.
As we drove cross-country for our move to Cincinnati, I sewed circles and spirals onto the quilt. Infinite.
And in Cincinnati I connected with another quilter named Barb, and she helped me continue my project. I added the corners, Elaine’s hawk and pieces of baby onesies friends had made or gotten for us. Barb sewed the checkerboard back side of the quilt.
Four years later, just before moving to Atlanta, our son Judah was born and became a part of our family through adoption. I didn’t do very much work on the quilt in the five years we spent in Atlanta – my plate was full with caring for a new baby, supporting Dahlia through her bat mitzvah and middle school, working, and being the partner of a newly ordained rabbi.
But as soon as we moved to Alexandria, I saw the wall in my new sunroom where I would hang Tikva’s quilt, and I knew I had to finish it. So I asked around for a quilter at the synagogue that was our new home, and I met Sandi. And she helped me to finish Tikva’s quilt.
When I traveled west last fall to say goodbye to my beloved mother-in-law before she died, I brought the quilt with me. I wanted her to see it, and I finished sewing it there, quilting little spirals throughout the quilt.
When I got home, I sewed a crystal bead onto the quilt for my mother-in-law, imagining her holding Tikva, their spirits now intertwined.
I spend a lot of time in my sunroom, on the couch under my bookcases, surrounded by two of my most favorite things in the world – Tikva’s quilt and my books. It feels as though this wall was built for Tikva’s quilt, and I know I finished sewing it at exactly the right time, even if it took me ten years.
I feel a strange kind of peace, 11 years later. Or maybe it’s more acceptance. Grief is no longer a sharp and jagged thing, edges smoothed by time and space. And yet I think a lot about the sliding doors that closed and opened, a parallel universe in which Tikva survived. I could be sitting on this couch with my 11-year-old Tikva, the quilt above us as I tell her the story of her beginning. Or a time and a place in which she was never diagnosed with a birth defect and was just born healthy and well like her sister – no quilt at all. Probably in a different city. In a life where we may never have met her brother.
Strange how life unfolds. Complicated and mysterious, far beyond my grasp. I’ll get cupcakes today, as I do every year, and with my husband and my children, we will celebrate the day Tikva was born. The day she changed everything.
Happy birthday, my beautiful Baby Girl. I love you forever.