I’ve decided. I’m not “doing it anyway” anymore.
I’m going to stop taking revenge on my grief. I’ve had enough of not feeling human but just doing human things in the hopes that someday, I will feel human again. The only way out is through, but now I’m going to lift my eyes instead of nose-to-the-grindstone my way through my life. I’m not going to stop crying until I am done crying. I’m going to fall apart and stay apart until I feel ready to pull it together. I’m not going to pull it together. I’m going to be together when I’m together and apart when I’m apart. If I don’t want to, I’m not going to. If I can’t, I’m not going to convince myself that I can or that I should or worry about how it will affect other people or what other people will think of me.
I hid away this year on here, in these words. As soon as I could, I began to just act normal, to pretend, to put on a good face. After awhile, everyone becomes uncomfortable with grief, with vulnerability, with authenticity, when it’s not pretty. Even the griever. It’s terrible, it’s mundane, it’s heavy, it’s burdensome, it’s too much to bear. So we tuck inside of ourselves and we cry quietly at night or pull the car over and rage within its safe confines. Why do we do this? Why do each and every one of us do this and then pretend that we don’t? Why do we put the good face on for the world, sharing only our joys and successes? Why is “good” or “fine” to the question “How are you?” the only acceptable answer, the only answer we know how to respond to without awkwardness? We all have felt terrible and not said so because we don’t even have a framework in the culture to respond appropriately to that honesty. We have to package everything up so it will feel okay when we leave. For some reason, it’s not acceptable to feel anything but happy or fine or okay (even though most of us are not these things most of the time) and it certainly isn’t okay to be vulnerable enough to say so. It’s awkward to leave the conversation if there is something hard left unfixed or unqualified as having a bright side. But there’s is no fix for this, no silver lining, no one can imagine how to survive it. “I can’t imagine”, they say. I want to say, “Yes, you can. You can imagine. Understand is what you can’t do and that’s okay. That’s a given. But, yes, take a second or two or three to imagine and then, tell me what you want to say to me.”
I am not who I was and I am not going to be her ever again. Losing my child has turned me inside out, upside down and backwards. I don’t even recognize myself and it suuuucks. I hate it. I hate who am now, on many levels. I, more than anyone, would love to have my old self back. Be the friend who is dependable, generous, and consistently communicative. Be the mother who has patience and compassion for her living child, who doesn’t yell without thinking or scold too harshly for the seriousness of the misbehavior or just plain out ignore her cries. Be the wife who can take care of things, who is not continually falling apart, who is predictable in whether she will be smiling and warm when he walks in or barely acknowledge his existence for the evening. Be the businesswoman who follows up with clients and stays in touch, builds a strong network, remembers details about last session and life events to ask about without writing them down. Be the woman who smiles at the baby or asks the mom how her pregnancy is going or listens with genuine interest about how the parenting of two children is going.
When someone is in labor, I am torn apart. I am wracked with dread that someone will die. I am sure that they will. Just as sure as I am that they won’t. So, I am also plagued with penetrating envy because no one is going to die. Just mine. I have thought it and my friend said it: I took the statistical hit for our friends. It is so very unlikely that another baby we know will die. In the world outside of my support group, of course. In that world, where “babies don’t die” and people still feel immune. Where we are the freak accident, the statistic that is so low it’s miniscule. In the world where the low end of the statsitcal spectrum still bring comfort.
I am envious because despite all of that, most likely, their baby won’t die and they will get to hold their baby who is alive and can cry and will open its eyes and look back at them and nurse or eat and fall asleep and then wake up again, still alive. And mine died in my arms. And I can’t have another one. And even if I could, it would change nothing for me. I would still be without Harvey, still with this trauma, still with this same heaviness of grief, just with the exhaustion of a newborn on top of it.
I am also angry. I also have a rage inside me that is like a wild fire, unable to be controlled or contained, but just burns and destroy and kills until it puts itself out. I am angry that it was him, me, us. I am angry that I made decisions that can now be looked back upon and judged and doubted and used to justify his death. Used to stave off any fear that this could happen to “me”. That others can take my experience and tell themselves that I will: have my baby in a hospital, go to an OB, have a c-section, be where medical attention can be brought immediately and on and on. I am angry that they get to feel safe and sure and I live in their same world except nothing is safe, no one is safe and security is a foreign concept. I am angry that my body opened up, my insides tore apart and bled out and didn’t give me or anyone else any indication, except that I was light headed as I began to push him out, like many when in the most intense part of the most intense physical experience of our lives. I am angry at the doctors who allowed a woman at our support group who had classic signs, every single sign, of uterine rupture to continue to labor until her baby died. And that no one will quietly blame her for that because she made the right decisions, because she was in a hospital, because doctors were taking care of her. Doctors who ignored every sign because there was no reason, none at all, to believe that her uterus would rupture except that it did. Except that there was the tiniest possibility that began with a decimal point and several zeros. Doctors whom I screamed at in my head as she told her story, doctors that I begged to notice, to use the less than half an hour of time they had to get that baby out, at doctors who did nothing instead.
I am devastated. That the world just keeps going. That people keep getting pregnant and survive their births. That my baby died. Once their baby is born, I fall to me knees. I want my baby back. I want him back in a way that I am sure that I will die. That I would do so willingly if only he came back. It’s not just that I want him, it’s that I want the world to have him. That I rather he have the chance, rather than me, if one of us must go. I remember the first time I held a newborn. He was the brother of the girls I nannyed for. I remember it like it was yesterday: I held him as the early August sun shown through the bay window on us and I thought, “I would throw myself in front of a bus to save this tiny, little human.” I was taken aback by this thought, by the swelling in my heart, by the activation of my human DNA to keep the youngest of us alive at all costs. I remember thinking I could never have my own children because if I felt so strongly the protector of this one, if I could fall so deeply in love with a child not my own, I could never handle the way I would feel about my own child. But I did. I held two of my own newborns and I can’t handle it. I can’t handle the love, the loss, the success and failure at keeping each of them alive. I didn’t understand then that even though I couldn’t handle it, I wouldn’t die. I would have to keep going, unable to handle it.
I remember on Saturday, the day Harvey was born, when I was finally able to hold him for the first time in the NICU. I remember that as it became clearer that he was going to die that my heart tore apart, it was if I could literally feel it tear in half, that if I looked down to my chest I’d see it in two pieces. I remember thinking that this is the exact same feeling I had when I held Vesta for the first time: the center of my chest, my heart, expanded immeasurably so as to be able to hold this much love, to be able to sustain this much compassion and empathy for every other mother and parent in all time. As I held Harvey, I took note that my heart broke apart at the exact same measure, the exact same capacity, the exact same width, height and depth that it had swelled when Vesta was born. This heart that began to grow inside me for him, my Harvey heart, before he was even conceived, was irreparably and forever torn apart.
I also remember being in the NICU surrounded by four of the most important people in my life: my life-long friend of 33 years, the man who became my chosen brother at the age of 20, my best friend of nearly 15 years and my husband’s brother, who is his best friend and also like a brother to me. I remember being surrounded by all of them, all of them who love us beyond our knowing, who would do anything for us at any minute of the day or night, and currently were and would continue to for weeks, months, a year more. This chosen brother of mine who rushed to my bedside that very moment after hearing my voice on the phone say nothing but his name. He said “Hello”, I forced out his name, and he said “I’m coming over” and hung up and arrived minutes later. Danny’s brother who got the call about Harvey and was on the next plane to be with us. These amazing people who have saved my life more than once. I sat there holding my dying baby and I wished it on any one of them, on all of them. I wished with all of being that I could trade places with them. And the truth is, I still have that wish. I still want out of this so bad that I would wish it on my best friends, on anyone but me. People come to group and say, “I wouldn’t wish this on a dog” or “on my worst enemy” and I think to myself, “well, either you’re lying or you’re a better person than I am because I would give this to literally anyone else besides us.” Since Harvey died, I have wished that more babies died so that it would be more common and more understood. That I could walk through the world, not as an enigma but as one of us, one of us unfortunate souls who lost her baby. Who lost her babies. People used to respond to the question, “How many children do you have” with the number living and the number dead. Now one in four babies die in pregnancy, birth or in the first year of life but we don’t tell each other anymore. I have wished that my friend’s babies or children would die. Just so that I won’t be so alone. Just so that someone I hold so dear will sit with me and we can hold each other and we can weep and wail because we know, because we understand, because we can relate, because we are not alone in this crazy, fucked up universe that took our babies. No, we have each other to find understanding and comfort in. But of course, I also know too well that this, too, I will still be alone in this. It would do nothing for this grief except multiply it. It would only create more sadness that I can’t handle and she can’t handle but we have to keep living through anyway and I don’t want anymore of any of that. No, there is no fix for this. None irrational nor rational. Just moment after moment where my mind tries to escape it, somehow, anyhow, even giving it away to those I love the most.
I haven’t felt happy, truly happy, for another person since Harvey died. I cannot hear of a pregnancy or a birth or even something wrong with a child from which they recover and feel genuinely happy. A baby was born recently that potentially had something wrong with it and I almost said out loud, “I only want to hear about it if the baby dies.” I’m so used to those kinds of thoughts that I almost said it like it was an acceptable thing to utter, to even think. It was a challenge for me at the March of Dimes walk to see the NICU babies there who had survived, whose families had averted this terror. In the beginning, whenever I would see a pregnant woman I would instantly and silently beg her baby not to die and then I would look away quickly as the fear, envy, angry and devastation all rolled in. Now, I cannot bring myself to ask one question of a pregnant woman and only do I congratulate her if she announces it to me. Same for families with two children, but only if the second was after Harvey was born and especailly if the first child is near Vesta’s age. I can hardly look at those families. Their happiness and ease, even the struggle they don’t reveal, tears at me, grates on me. It is very specific and very narcissitic, this grief. Except when it’s generalized and I hate everyone for not having this burden to bear or for the relative ease I imagine their life to have. I believe that in this land of plenty, I am suffering the most. I have a file in my mind for “not problems”. My dear friends, my clients, aquaintences, people posting on Facebook, even strangers I over hear, they all have or have had problems that are not actually problems because their baby didn’t die. I used to be a life coach for God’s sake. I used to listen and empathize and meet people where they were at without judgement. Now, I spend most of my time rolling my eye inside and making my lot in life out to be the worst case scenario, outside of say torture and war (but it’s right up there!). And these are only some of the crazy thoughts, the mixed up emotions. I am forgetting and leaving out many. I will spend many moments in the days ahead thinking that “I should add that one to the blog post!”
That’s where this shit takes me. It takes to me places I could never imagine in a million years. It collapsed me into a pile of the smallest, worst, most selfish emotions and thoughts that a human can have. And it hasn’t let up. This is why I don’t feel human anymore. Because I can’t believe that humans could feel the way that I do, could have these thoughts, these wishes, these emotions. Could lose so much of themselves. So much of what made me “me” seems to have died with my son. I’m in this trench, in this muck and it’s worse than I imagined because it reverberates out into every crevice of my life.
And even now I want to make some apology for all of this. I have an impulse to now talk about the light that I can see shining down on me as I lay here covered in muck in this trench. I want to tidy this all up. But I’m going to resist. I’m not going to do it because it’s not done yet and there’s no silver lining, no pretty ribbon to tie it up with, at least not that I can see. I’m not going to because I can’t be the only one. Because there is some mother out there, empty armed and broken hearted and feeling inhuman for all of this insanity going on inside of her. Not exactly mine but close to it, or some of it and not others or maybe all of it. And now, she is less alone. She feels less crazy. And I am here for her. And I am here for me. This blog has always felt like a way to give some of this away. To vomit my experiences all over my computer and click publish and somehow they go away a little bit. Somehow I get a little respite just by saying it out loud. So, you, Mama. You reading this, longing with every cell for your child, feeling crazy in your mind, your body aching and nauseated, you write it down too or paint it or scream it from an isolated cliff somewhere. But get it out of yourself a little bit. Give it to others for a minute or two. You’re not crazy. Or maybe we are but if we are, at least we have each other.
I just want my baby back. That is what is at the end of every thought about him, every heartless wish, every insane, hateful emotion and thought that my grief brings up to the surface. At the point of many months, a year, more than a year out, if I can get to that end, if I can get to “I want my baby back”, then there is relief. If my husband can hold me up while I wail, if I can pour these deepest, darkest tears out alone in the middle of the night, if I can get to “I just want my baby back” there is a purity. There is a freedom. There is a truth. A truth that feels universal, an absolute truth in my universe: I just want my baby back.
Because that is the seed of all of this. All of this wishing terrible things on others, the inability to feel happiness for other or empathize with anything less than a dead child, all of this anger, hate, envy, and devastation, it’s all because I want him back. Pure and simple. And the more time that passes, the harder it is to get there. The loss gets confounded by the tricks and twists and turns my mind takes me on. It get confounded by living my daily life and mostly being okay or pretending to be okay. It gets confounded by interacting with other people, people who I love and hold dear and now, out of the fog of early grief, everything is more confusing because I don’t know how to be anymore. Others don’t know how to be around me for fear that they say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing. And to make matters worse, they might get referenced here.
But here is me. It reflects on no one but me. I went for a walk tonight in the middle of writing this, my very deepest, darkest most secret thoughts, and I thought to myself “You are writing a journal entry and then opening it up and offering it out for the whole world to see. Don’t do that.” I was talking to myself about stopping publishing these because it’s not just about Harvey anymore or my own personal raw grief, it’s about people I love, people I work with, people who are not volunteering themselves to be written about and referenced. People who have not consented to be vulnerable. But I have. I have chosen to be fiercely vulnerable. To put what is true for me out there for the world to see. To make the world a softer place, a place with more understanding of the full specturm of beign human. This blog is about me, in the end. Every entry, every word, is my current grappling, my current phase in this journey I don’t want to be on. I am pushing myself through fear and doubt and confusion and doing it anyway (oh, darn it…).
My next challenge is to become fiercely vulnerable out in the world. To keep on crying when I need to keep crying. To tell those very same best friends that I can’t do it anymore today and I need help. To stiff upper lip it when that’s all I can manage. I want to be more real. I want to be more true. I want to heal and recover and mend. I want to stitch myself back together and I want to do it with my tears, my honesty, my vulnerablility, my hope, my fears, and with the support offered to me time and time again by those who love me, those who have only just met me and every one in between so kind to offer themselves to me. I need to take care of myself which means I need to let others take care of me.
I have no hope to be beautifully or expertly put back together. My stitches will be imperfect, my edges frayed, some parts of me will remain forever torn away from each other. But, within the confines of that imperfection, within this experience riddled with duality and contradiction and hypocrasy, I have a new strategy: no more apologizing, no more pushing myself too far, no more sacrificing my own well-being based on what I believe others want or need from me. Perhaps I will get “worse” before I get “better”. But I have to get better because I want to live again.