In the movie The Favourite, a servant is admiring the queen's rabbits which she keeps in cages in her room. She tells the servant that it's "Hildebrand's day" and to take him out of his cage. Then she blurts out, "I have lost 17 babies. Some were born as blood, others without breath, and others lived a short while." Probably not an exact quote but that's how I remember it. As the servant girl is cuddling this bunny, you can see the dawning comprehension on her face that these rabbits represent these lost babies, and that the one she's presently holding represents a baby who was born, or died, on this day. Later they're shown having a little birthday party for the bunny. It's played as sweet, not grotesque. That's how I saw it. I both love it and hate it. It's often both with me, even when it's something "inspirational". In a comfortable place, surrounded by other parents of stillborn babies, I would love to talk about this scene and all the things it brings up. But outside of that space, I worry that it's viewed as morbid, or pathetic. There's a more troubling scene (for me anyway) later on where the queen is having some kind of breakdown and she's shown wandering hysterically around the palace. She comes upon a woman with a baby and tries to grab at the baby, all while sobbing and talking nonsensically. It only last a few seconds but that scene filled me with dread because I feel like it plays into this idea that someone who has lost a baby just wants to replace that baby, and that any old baby will do. I've written about these kinds of stories before, the stillborn baby as gimmick to show a bereaved woman behaving irrationally. Babies and death don't go together - they shouldn't - so the result must be a lunatic woman fantasizing about taking someone else's baby. You can act the shit out of those scenes and then maybe win an Oscar for it. In all the different support groups I've participated in, out of all the bereaved parents I've spoken to, out of all the deepest darkest thoughts and emotions that have been shared with me, no one has ever said anything about wanting to steal someone else's child. And yet that trope appears regularly in popular culture. It's one of the many annoying and harmful things non-bereaved people imagine grief is all about.
The bunny scene, it makes me think of my dog. Both the joy and the sadness she has brought me. I get the joy of caring for and loving this beautiful animal who is so sweet and loving and forgiving. Every time we come home, there she is bobbing and smiling (YES DOGS SMILE, FIGHT ME), and forgiving us for leaving her. I can pour my heart into her. But sadness too because he's not here to love her. But we wouldn't have gotten her if he hadn't died. Probably. It's confusing. And with the sadness, there is also a kind of pathetic feeling. That I am taking care of this animal instead of my son. Actually, that pathetic feeling usually comes with the joy.
Recently, a presidential candidate in the U.S. tweeted out a question - what's the most absurd hospital bill you've received? Among the many horrific answers, a doctor responded that when her baby was stillborn she received a bill for thousands of dollars from the hospital where she works. Awful. A Canadian responded to her that they are grateful for our healthcare system. It's true, I am grateful for that. I did not receive a medical bill for delivering him in hospital, nor for the painkillers and ultrasound I was given (but neither of which I needed. I know they just gave me those things because they wanted to feel and appear to be doing something, instead of just uncomfortably waiting around for this baby to be born.) But we also didn't receive any bereavement services, no decent photos, no investigation, no accountability. Not a single person in power or on the wards is required to do anything differently, which could maybe prevent this tragedy from happening to other families.
We've come a long way from hundreds of years ago when losing a baby was commonplace and there was nothing anyone could do about any part of it, even if you were literally a queen. And yet in our modern times, all around the world, there is so much inhumanity and absurdity that still exists around women giving birth.
Every day there is something. Seven years later. I could write one of these posts every single day if I had the time and the strength. These experiences keep me in the present moment. If my life were a yoga class, I'd be a star student. I can rarely stray too far from today's reality. I don't like thinking about the past. The memories I used to enjoy and cherish, I don't cherish them anymore. They're kind of weird to me now. Like, imagine a time not knowing, not really knowing, that your child can die right at the moment where he was to begin his life out in the world with us. I'm kind of creeped out by memories of the time before he was born. How ignorant I was. Who was that person? And the future....I try to gently explain to my daughter the uncertain nature of the future. That we have to do our best to make it the best Now possible, and not just for ourselves. And also the best possible future. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the idea that I'm really lying to her. That I'm setting her up for absurdity. But she deserves hope. She deserves a chance at a good life, and some amount of certainty along with the uncertainty we all must live with. And she deserves not to be weirded out by her own story.