Saturday, March 02, 2019

Beyond Me

I participated in a research project a few weeks ago. It was great to talk about grief in a controlled and supportive environment again. In the first few years I told his story, and my story, a lot, in all kinds of situations. Sometimes conferences and research type settings, but mostly in social situations. I hadn't done that in a long time until I had the chance to be interviewed a few weeks ago. It's made me think about the stories I told in the beginning, and how they're just out there being used for whatever purpose, or no purpose. I think mostly they've become idle gossip, or a weird thing someone once told them. A few years ago we were hiking and we bumped into someone I used to work with. She said that the last time she had seen me I was pregnant, and she was trying to figure out from amongst the children in our group which two were mine. When I told her Toren had died, she looked stunned of course. Afterwards I remember thinking that although this has been the biggest story of my life (so far) that affects me every single day, for her it's just something weird that happened on a hike once.

These pieces, I feel, don't really matter. I don't love it, but also it's not as important as other stories. For example this one: On the day he was born, our doctor was not actually present. The doctor who did deliver him called my doctor and he came a little later on. I will say that on the whole, he is a kind person with a big heart. He had been our doctor for 4 or 5 years by that time. It's not the same as knowing someone but I felt confident in his skills and comfortable with him personally. He was very caring when he came to visit but he did something which in hindsight I question. Actually, I fucking hate it. He told me that of course it was too soon to talk about it but we would probably have another baby, and he knew of a woman who had lost her first baby and a couple of years later when she gave birth to the subsequent baby she cried out "Is it dead? Is it dead?" This is how he told me the story. He threw up his hands when he said it and...rolled his eyes? I can't be sure but that's how I remember it so it doesn't matter how he actually told the story. Someone else's story. This story matters because doctors are key pieces in preventing stillbirth. That's the short answer. There's a longer one about trauma and empathy and self-care. I honestly believe he is deeply affected by stories of stillbirth and is not getting support for that. This means that you can tell a newly-bereaved and traumatized mother a story like that as if you are acting out a scene from a TV medical drama and it doesn't even occur to you that this might be inappropriate and even harmful. Is my baby being used this way? As an awkward and grotesque way to connect with bereaved patients because you feel completely helpless and don't know what to do for them or what to say to them? When you train and practice most of your life to bring life into the world but instead you bring death, what does that do to you if you can't even talk about it? I went to see him for my 6-week follow-up and I wish I hadn't. Medically, I didn't need to be there and he didn't know what to do with me. I probably thought I would get some answers, or maybe even just some kind of support because I was really struggling at that point. This was before I started going to a support group at another hospital. The appointment was a mess. It would have been comical if it hadn't been connected to tragedy. Maybe some sleazy producer can have that scene written into a hip Netflix show about how death is just a big hilarious joke.

If doctors, the people in positions of power and influence in the healthcare system, aren't acknowledging the enormous cost of stillbirth to everyone, how are things ever going to get better?

I'm so grateful that I was able to tell my story and my baby's story to a researcher last month. Whenever anyone reads it, it will be to build on a body of knowledge. It won't just be a weird story floating around out there. And then someday, things will get better.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Light

The last couple of weeks I've been buying up Christmas lights to put up in our windows. It never even occurred to me in previous years but for some reason this year it's like I'm competing in some neighbourhood festive lights competition. I've been back to the store 3 times already (fortunately they're all on sale by now) and each time I get home I play it real cool like, yeah I could put these up now, or later, doesn't much matter, but eventually I quit pretending like an idiot and just put them up. The first afternoon they were all up, I turned them on and when it got dark enough I wandered around looking at them and then burst into tears. They were not put up very symmetrically and were all different styles and colours and just reminded me of tacky Christmas lights from my not exactly happy childhood in my small town. Pathetic. The next morning half of them had fallen down because of course they did. Finally I've had to admit that the grief is of course still showing up for me at this time of year. I stupidly thought these stupid lights could stop the stupid grief train from rolling over me, as if these tracks haven't been securely laid down and relentlessly maintained these last seven years. My brain has somehow not yet learned that stopping emotions is a bad idea, however much I mentally chastise strangers on the internet for understandably trying to do the same damn thing. I haven't wanted to sift through those difficult feelings and those difficult memories of what happened seven Christmases ago, when I was hugely pregnant and we were preparing ourselves and our three-year-old for the arrival of her baby brother. No one tells you that at that point, at almost 38 weeks of pregnancy, the baby has already arrived. In your heart, in your home, in your family.

But now it's 4am, I can't sleep and I've turned on one set of the white lights in the living room. And it's...kinda nice. Peaceful.

I haven't been lighting his Christmas candle the last few years. It's just sitting on a dresser in the bedroom and I dust it every once in a while. I've been afraid of making my family sad by getting it out. And I guess myself. It's not great when you restrict yourself from expressing your love for your children in your own home. Still working on that.


Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Greenleaf

I've been watching this show and in an early episode a couple is expecting twins but one of the twins dies in utero and it's never mentioned. One thing that really bothers me is when writers introduce a stillborn baby into a narrative but then just drop it, like there are no repercussions for the family. Now on S2 E11 the bereaved mother confides in a friend that she feels like the baby is a kite floating in the sky alone and she's the only one holding on and if she lets go the baby will fly away forever and she thinks about her every day. Friend says "You can let go" and I think oh shit not this bullshit again but then he says "I'll hold it for a while and I will never let go." and then he says the baby's name. She says she hasn't heard her name since she first died. In a later scene she's holding the twin who survived and telling him "Just because I cry for your sister doesn't mean you're not enough." It really captures the feeling I've had of being pulled in two different directions, mourning my son and raising his sister. I want her to know that true love never dies, and she is enough. She doesn't need to be or do anything to make up for her brother's death.

Scenes like these are rare. I wish all writers would not just use stillborn babies as a gimmick. Unless you're prepared to write them in as characters and not just props, don't do it.

He's not just some tragic event that happened in our lives. He's not a plot twist. He's a person, a family member, someone to keep loving and missing and including. And we will never let go.