A viva stood motionless in the hall outside her laundry room, phone still in her hand after the doctor’s call that had taken place — when? A minute ago? An hour ago? All she knew was that the doctor’s words were still reverberating through her head in a thousand echoing blasts: “You’re having a baby! Baby! Baby!”

She held herself straight and still, squeezing every muscle into place. Like a general surveying his troops. Head high… neck, still working. Shoulders doing their job. Knees locked in place. She took a deep, steadying breath.

Breathe in, breathe out. In control.

She could handle this. She could handle anything.

She could handle another baby. On top of the eight children that she was already— Not handling.

Her breathing started speeding up. She put a hand to her chest.

Breathe in, breathe out. Staccato beats.

She was

Not handling

Anything

In her life.

In, out. Ragged breaths. Beep, beep, beep.

She turned, startled. Looked down at her hand, found she hadn’t hung up the phone. Beep, beep, beep.

No! That beeping had to stop. Shaking, she threw the phone down on the floor, raced into her room, and flung herself down on her bed.

Nine months… morning sickness, exhaustion, swollen feet… Nine months of trying to pull together the fragile strands of her life, to hold it all, do it all, make it all weave seamlessly.

The beeping still came from the hall. She buried her head in her pillow, muffling her ears as hard as she could. Silence, she needed the world to be silent right now, to let her think, to let her pull herself together. To silence all the external and internal noise.

And, suddenly, from the depths of the silence, she heard a conversation. A conversation that had been buried deep in her head for decades.

It was a conversation she should never have overheard. Standing outside her parents’ room — how old could she have been? Five? Six? Young enough to still be seeking her mother’s comfort from a bad dream. (The mocking “You’re too old to be crying from nightmares!” would come later — words that would keep her rooted and shivering in bed, words that always carried her mother’s strident voice, though they had never, to her memory, been uttered by her mother, but rather by Aviva herself.)

That night, Aviva had stood outside the bedroom, clutching her blanket, about to knock, when she’d heard faint sobs.

“I lost the baby.”

Aviva had stopped her fist midair. Lost the baby? What was her mother talking about? They didn’t have any babies. Had her mother been watching someone else’s baby?

“I’m so sorry.” That was Tatty, and he was whispering.

“My fourth time.”

Even from the other side of the door, Mommy’s voice sounded so sad, and Aviva began to back away, frightened. Mommy lost four babies? How could that be? In their home, she was always the one who found the lost things.

“Bayla, I’m so, so sorry. This is really tough for me. And for you — I can only imagine…” Tatty was speaking so low, she had to listen really hard to hear him. But Mommy’s voice all of a sudden switched back to the real Mommy — strong and sure.

“Tough? There’s no such thing as tough when you’re talking about Hashem’s Will.”