Yesterday, my hair started falling out. It happens at three months postpartum. The back and shoulders of my cotton shirt littered with hairs. I felt an itch on my chest, reached into my bra and pulled out 8-10 hairs. The drain in the shower is clogging. Some hormone shift around now and it happens.
Yesterday, Vesta said, “I want to see Harvey and give him a big kiss.”
“Okay”, I said and started to walk towards his altar, assuming she meant his picture.
She stopped me, lifted up my shirt and planted a big kiss on my belly. I was startled. We never called him Harvey when he was in there. He was “Baby Brother” then. People ask me how she’s doing and I shrug and say, “Pretty good.” It’s hard to tell with a three year old. I had the same reaction when people asked if she understood the baby was coming, “She gets that there’s a baby in there…, ” I’d say. It felt impossible to tell how much she really understood about him being in my belly and then coming out and then entering our family. Now, I know she makes the connection: Mama’s belly, Baby Brother, Harvey.
“He’s not in there anymore, remember?”, I say but she had already bounded off and is on to the next thing.
I wish I was bigger than this.
I wish I could walk into a restaurant without strategizing about where to sit to avoid having to spend my meal looking at a baby. I wish I could sit down on the bus or at the cafe and it not matter if a new parent and baby came and sat directly in front of me. I wish I could strike up a conversation with new people by asking questions about their children again without the fear that they will start asking about mine. I wish my first reaction to seeing a new baby was happy and congratulatory and not the sudden and overwhelming need to run away and hide. I wish my first reaction to seeing a pregnant woman was not “Oh God. I hope your baby doesn’t die.” I wish I didn’t wish bad things would happen to other people’s babies so that I could be less alone.
This makes me small. I feel petty emotions that I am not used to. I think mainly, if not only, of myself. I am a child again. The years of work to climb out of depression, become emotionally intelligent, practicing empathy. All gone. I am reduced.
Yesterday at the gym, after dancing in class together where I moved very small, modifying and changing movements to accommodate my aching muscles, a woman approached me and asked, “What’s happening with you?”. Without thinking I said, “I’m in mourning.” And, before she even hugged me and said “Oh honey, I’m so sorry”, it clicked.
I am in mourning. You probably have already gathered that, but it was news to me. It was what I imagine Oprah means when she says she had an”Aha moment”. A cosmic knowing, a tingle down the spine, an instant integration, a sudden and complete understanding.
It is a state of a being, this grief.
I am in mourning and there is something about knowing that now that is comforting. Maybe there is an end to this. Or if not an end, maybe it at least changes into a different state or stage or phase. Maybe it changes enough so that I can be a grown up again. So that I can see a baby and smile at him and then at his mother. So that I can hear of a birth and be joyous for the family like I once was and also, from this new place, bow my head in deep gratitude that her baby survived. So that I can be a normal human again and not the crippled animal I have become. There are people around me that tell me that it will be so but I can hardly imagine it and I’m quite sure I will never get there. But, I am in mourning. I am not mourning, it is not me. And maybe that means there is an out.
There is a reason that in some cultures and religions, people wear black after a loved one dies, signaling to the rest of the world that this person needs space for her grief. She needs to be met with patience and understanding. Her sorrow needs respect and acknowledgement. Someday, when they are “out” of it, they wear color again. Some people never do. But others, whether asked by religious or cultural expectation or of their own volition, begin to wear color again. They were in mourning and now, if they are not out, they are at least in something else.
Today, I met two new people at work. They each knew only that I had been on maternity leave.
“How many children do you have?”, the first asked. “Well, I have my daughter who is almost four . . . and, “awkward weight shift,” . . . well . . . I had a son but he passed away.”
“Oh!”, she said startled, eyes widening, “I am so sorry. When did this happen?”
“About three months ago,” casual, like I don’t know that it was exactly three months and two days ago or 13 weeks and 2 days ago.
“Oh I am so sorry. I am surprised you are here.” I quickly begin telling how work is helping, making me feel like I have a purpose, giving me a sense of normalcy. Am I smiling while I am saying this? Am I talking really fast? Am I not sad enough?
How am I to be? And how is she to be? It’s the worst possible thing a parent who has not lost a child could imagine and I am rather casually talking about it, possibly smiling, only three months out. I am not sure since I have mostly left my body. So I say, “It’s so new. I haven’t really . . . I’m not sure how to . . . I don’t really know how to talk about it yet. I mean . . . to people I’m just meeting, so . . .”
“You just had a baby, right?” the second asks.
“I did but he didn’t make it.”
“Oh!” startled. “I’m so sorry. That happened to me niece.”
“Oh, thank God”, I think. Any familiarity, any relating, is so helpful. Now she can tell me what happened to her niece’s baby and I can tell what happened to my baby. Then she can tell me what her niece did for support and I can tell her I’m doing those things or that’s a great suggestion or I haven’t gone in that direction yet. Then she can say, “I’m so sorry” again and I can say “Thank you” and we can move on. Except that she says, “Well, I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have asked if I’d known.” And once again, I too casually reply, with a smile, and a comforting touch to her knee.
I wish these unsuspecting strangers, these people coming to me for pain relief and easing of symptoms, were not my guinea pigs. I wish, that as the words were coming out of their mouths, that I wasn’t thinking “Okay Monica, here is your opportunity to say this, to practice this, to figure out how to be.”
I wish, I wish, I wish.
As my Grandma would say, “Wish in one hand, shit in the other”. Except mine are nouns, not verbs.