Thursday, October 18, 2012

Private

About 7 months after Toren was born, I was bringing our daughter to daycare and we bumped into another mom dropping her child off. She saw me and with a big smile said, "You're carrying less extra weight!" I thought, does she mean....what does she mean exactly? Then she said, "The baby! You had the baby. Is it a boy or a girl?" I ambushed her with the terrible truth and she was horrified. She had assumed Peter or someone was looking after him while I dropped our daughter off. After the initial shock wore off, we were able to talk about it and shed some tears together. Later that week she left a beautiful condolence card for us in our daughter's cubby.

It was pretty surprising to me that seven months on, people around us still didn't know that our baby had died. I don't know all the parents at the daycare personally. Our daughter only attends twice a week. I know some of the families, and some of those families know some of the other families. In the beginning, I suggested to the staff that maybe we could put an announcement in the newsletter. I thought the other families might want to know, if only to be able to talk to their kids about it. I was told they don't announce any babies in the newsletter. They offered for me to write an email that they could send, but I got squeamish because I don't know all the parents personally and didn't know how they would react. It doesn't make much sense to me now, but that's where my brain, and my grief, were at at the time.

When he first died, the staff at the daycare did everything they could to support us. They were so kind that at first I didn't realize how very uncomfortable they were with death and grief. They work with children, all of whom are well (I assume) and most of whom end up having living siblings. After a while, I asked the supervisor if any families had asked about us. I assumed that parents were talking to each other and maybe some of them had questions or wanted to pass on condolences. She told me that no one had asked and then said that she had instructed the teachers that if anyone did ask, they were to say that it was "a private family matter" and to please respect the family's privacy. My head kind of popped off at this point. I very firmly asked her to tell the teachers not  to say this. I wanted people to talk about it, with me and with each other. And I didn't want gaps to be filled in with gossip and guesswork. I told her they could give out my email address. It was starting to feel like a dirty secret. He is our son, a baby brother who died, not something to be ashamed of and hidden away.

To me, this is SO not "private". Toren would have been a member of this community. He was  a member of this community for a short while. Everyone was looking forward to meeting him. And there's just nothing private about being pregnant and having kids. You are very visible, and people participate in the joy and excitement of it, even complete strangers (whether we want them to or not).

A few weeks ago, our daughter asked to bring Toren's picture to daycare to show friends. When she got home later in the afternoon, she told me that she had "lost" the photo right after I dropped her off but then one of the teachers had found it for her at the end of the day. Peter filled in that blank by saying one of the teachers had put it up on a shelf because it was so "special", even though I had instructed that person that it was to go in her cubby so that she could get it whenever she wanted. I called that teacher the next day to find out what happened and she got very flustered. I tried to be as "non-threatening" as possible and gently explained that we have many copies of that photo and that, yes, it's special but it's ok if it gets a bit ruined. Then she said that new teachers didn't necessarily know the story so I told her to please go ahead and tell them because it's not a secret. Then she backtracked and said they do  know. So I said great, that's great (....but do they know or don't they?? Argh!)

It's gotten to the point where I am asking Peter and my mom to drop our daughter off because I can't bear to go there any more. I used to participate in field trips and attend family social gatherings but now I can't. They are uncomfortable which makes me uncomfortable. There is a huge stigma around having a stillborn baby and now I can see why. I recognize my participation in that.

I know I have to do some education with the group there. I just can't face it. Sometimes I'm pissed off that the onus is on me, other times I just feel too defeated. But then I think, someone else's baby is going to die, because now we know that babies do die, and if I can help another family, then I must do it.

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