First off, I wanted to thank everyone for the comments you have posted on my blog entries. I write about my loss because I feel compelled to share it, to put it into words, to try to frame it in a sentence and make some sense out of it. To have a record of it, and to honor my son. I've received some emails telling me that me sharing my story has made a difference to them; and for that, I am grateful. I don't really want to wear the Miscarriage Girl hat, and I certainly don't relish wearing it. That's part of the reason I started a blog over here on Salon, rather than just staying with my regular blog over on blogger; I don't want my life to be consumed by this, as much as it seems incomprehensible that it wouldn't be right now. Anyway, the comments are so wonderful, and I can feel the love and good vibes that so many people are sending me, and I am humbled by this community allowing me to grieve publicly.
The second Monday of the month is Support Group night, and so for the third month in a row, last night saw us skipping the college football game (much to my husband's chagrin) to sit in a circle with other teary-eyed couples, clutching foam cups of lemonade, passing tissues, and sharing our stories.
I have mixed feelings about Support Group Monday. On the one hand, it's wonderful to be around other people who are going through the same thing. Losing a baby is one of those experiences that you just can't understand unless you've been through it. Some people wonder how you can miss a child so much that you never even knew, and have actually made comments implying that it's not really a loss if you never met your child.
And that's the real kicker of it. I never got to meet my son. I never got to make any memories with him. I never got to see him smile. There's nothing of him that I can hold on to. All I have is this black emptiness that goes on forever. I have memories of seeing a positive pregnancy test. I saw him on an ultrasound, three times. I bought a cheap at-home doppler, and for six weeks (from about week 15) I spent at least one night a week laying in bed with the doppler, listening to his precious heartbeat, how it was syncopated with my own. But I never got to meet the little guy.
This grief is unique from the grief of missing a person. Elizabeth McCracken writes beautifully in her memoir about how she was waiting for nine months to be transformed, to have life stretch and shift to fit the arriving new life. But life went right back to the way it was before. When a person dies, you miss them - there's a hole where they were. But when a baby dies, nothing changes, and that's almost the biggest heartbreak of it all. My home office isn't a nursery now. It's still a home office. The house looks exactly the same. Life is still exactly the same. Except it's not. And it's that maddening paradox that is so painful to us.
So on the one hand, I love Support Group Monday because I love being with people who understand this pain; other women who are grieving and wondering what they did to deserve their bodies' betraying them so deeply; other men wondering how to both be strong for their collapsing women, and how to grieve themselves. It's comforting to laugh about the dark humorous events surrounding our loss ("...and I told my husband, drive like you're playing Gran Turismo, for god's sake!"), and to know that these people truly understand the depth of our sorrow.
But on the other hand, I generally leave more depressed than I was before we arrived. First off, we're dwelling in the grief for ninety minutes. It's good to dwell in it and let it out, but it's exhausting. Second, it's petrifying. I had no idea there were so many ways for babies to die. I really didn't. Nobody tells you that. There are stories that just break your heart. Babies that survive and seem fine, only to die when they are two weeks old. Babies that are fine until the very end but a freak accident causes them to stop breathing during delivery. Babies that seem like they are going to make it, and make it for three months, only to die just when it seems like they are making it past the most dangerous place.
I think we should have our Support Group meetings in a nursery, just to remind us all that most babies, in fact, live.
Last night we talked about the stages of grief, and the emotions that go along with each stage. The first stage is characterized by numbness and denial. This is a coping mechanism to help you get through what needs to be done - funeral arrangements, paperwork, etc. The second stage, after about a month or so, is noted by fear and disorientation. This is where I am, and lasts until about six months; although it's fluid for everyone.
The third stage is marked by the grief really settling in, and this is sometimes made harder because the support systems that were in place early on gradually drift away. People expect you to 'get back to normal' because it's been six months, after all. And finally, after a year or so, comes the ability to cope with the new normal.
When they talked about fear being the overriding emotion for many people in the second stage, I wanted to throw up my hands and say a-MEN. Right now I am petrified of pretty much everything. Life seems so fragile, so precarious and dangerous. It's like we're all hanging from this tiny thread, and it could snap at any second, and we get no warning. I seem to see death everywhere.
My best friend's ex-girlfriend lost her fiance the night before the wedding - they were on the phone talking about how excited they were to be getting married the next day, and his heart just stopped. An acquaintance of mine lost her husband in November while she was away at a conference. He was in perfect health, but two police and a priest showed up at her hotel room in the middle of the night. These things scare the living sh*t out of me.
I know that life fights. I've seen the BBC specials where they go to the bottom of the ocean and find tiny micro-organisms at the edges of those steam openings into the core of the earth, miles below the surface, where no one would expect life. And yet, life flourishes and adapts. Life wants to be lived, desperately. Life will do everything it can to keep living; it will overcome crazy odds and do nutty things like those parasites that make their hosts bury themselves in cow dung so that they can breed (I'm not exactly sure if that's the way it goes, but I listened to this crazy podcast about parasites once, and it's mind blowing, the stuff that parasites can make their hosts do).
And that's just speaking scientifically, before you even bring God into the equation. The life force is all-consuming and will fight until the very end.
But it's that ending that is so confronting. You don't know when it's going to come, and that's what's so scary. As a teenager, I never did the crazy "I'm Invincible" stuff that my husband did, but I was never exposed to death, either. My great aunt died when I was young, but she was old, and smoked, and her skin was wrinkled leather, so it wasn't that upsetting. My grandma died when I was 24, but again, she was old. I did lose some friends in high school and college, but those deaths were explained - a friend who brought an antique gun to school, and it exploded when people were playing with it; the kid who partied so hard at college that he fell off the roof of a fifteen story building; and later, my young boss who was scuba-diving with his new wife when his air ran out (RIP Mike Nast, I think of you often).
Those deaths, while tragic, at least made sense. Air runs out. Guns explode. Falls from high buildings are pretty much not good for you.
But how do you explain random lung cancer in someone who never smoked? Or a sudden massive heart attack in a perfectly healthy 45 year old? Or the loss of a baby after a perfectly healthy pregnancy?
I can't. I don't know how. I have to believe, for my own sanity, that God knows what He's doing, that the life force knows what's going on, and that someday, when I cross back into the great universal consciousness, I will get all the answers.
The zen approach would be to say that brushes with death should make us embrace life more, because it's true that it can all end tomorrow. And I am trying to get there - I'm finishing writing a book that I've been working on for years, never getting more than 10,000 words out. I'm working out and walking by our lake, taking in nature every day, talking to God, hugging our cats, and telling people that I love them. I'm committed to being fully used-up when it's my time to go. But I'm doing all that while shaking at my core.
I hope that I can use this for good, that I can make something happen in the world to honor my son and create meaning for his life. I'm looking for signs from him, to know that he's still with me, and watching me, and rooting for me. And I'm trying to trust that someday, I will get the answers.
In the meantime, I am the person driving 55mph on the 210 freeway (sorry 'bout that) and looking both ways four times before crossing the street.
- Lake Arrowhead, California, USA
- May 07
- Born and bred in Amish Country, PA (though I'm not Amish and never have been!). Lived in London, NYC, and LA before moving to the mountains above LA where the air is clean and the snow falls 8 months out of the year. Lost my first pregnancy at 21 weeks in October 2010 and am figuring out how to heal from all this grief.
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