D elivery room, lit softly with the early dawn, clear bassinet lined with that ubiquitous green-on-white receiving blanket, new father leaning over, face suffused with happiness. And a baby, of course, tiny, velvet skin, perfect.

I sit on the bed, away from the glow of the moment, shaking.

“It’s a miracle you came in when you did,” a chatty nurse tells me, patting my arm. She doesn’t say any more, but I hear the rest of her sentence, unsaid words like knives of ice. A few minutes later, and it would’ve been over.

Nobody knows exactly what happened. But shortly after we checked in, monitors were suddenly protesting, doctors converging. A few minutes of panic and agony. Then, a baby.

The baby’s heart rate was going down dramatically, they explain later, when the baby is already cute and pink in a blanket, warm with life. “Thank G-d, you were here on time. And she’s hale and hearty.” The midwife comes over, places the bundle in my trembling arms. “Awww now, isn’t she cute?”

Baby Girl yawns. The midwife laughs, my husband laughs. I laugh too, but something cold presses in on the hazy joy inside me. Tragedy had come too close, way too close.

I spend the next day doing the new mommy thing — receiving visitors, chocolate, and brand-new stretchies, moaning about the miserable Pitocin drip and the various aches you’re feeling everywhere. Savoring the euphoria that trickles in after birth and fills your lungs until you’re crying, and you wonder if it’s hormones, or exhaustion, or just dripping joy. But there are moments of stillness, between my mother and my sisters and the constant buzz of incoming mazel tov text messages, when I hold my wonder girl, trace my finger over her downy cheek, her feathery head. I inhale her newborn sweetness and my heart aches, with love and fear and what-ifs. We had come too close.

It dawns on me how tenuous the thread is between joy and mourning, between life and death. Here I am, surrounded by balloons and gifts and happiness, a baby warm in my arms. The curtain that separates joy and tragedy is only a sliver of time, a puff of breath, a heartbeat.

I hug my baby and shiver in the stuffy hospital room. For me, the curtain has become transparent. Amid the rush and radiance and bone-crunching exhaustion of the first weeks with a new baby, my mind is haunted. Questions and fears and dark images form a grotesque dance in my head. My eyes see pink softness and tiny hats; my mind churns with black pictures of empty cradles and grief. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 570)