Wednesday, December 8, 2004

I Lost the Baby

I Lost the Baby
Stephanie Hartman

Stephanie's second son, Zachary Alan, was stillborn at 36 weeks and 2 days on July 31, 2004 after a fundal uterine rupture at the onset of labor.

Why do women who have had a miscarriage or a stillborn say "I lost the baby" when it carries with it such a connotation of blame? I've been saying that I lost the baby. Because I did. I had him, he was there, so close to being born, just a fingertip away, and he slipped through my fingers. All those hopes, all those wishes, our future together was lost the minute they swiped that fetal monitor frantically across my abdomen. In the blink of an eye I went from familiar territory to a new world that I'd never hoped to enter. I don't know how to go forward and I can't go back.

I can't find my baby. I lost him. I go to roll over in bed at night and put my hand on my stomach in my sleep to support it...and I don't find him there. He's not in the cosleeper next to the bed or tucked into the crook of my arm nursing. I rinse my hair in the shower, look down, and realize the mountain of a belly is gone...slumped like a pear. It's like that total feeling of confusion after Kevin's c-section—he was in my tummy, then he wasn't—how did he get out? Now I don't have a tummy and I don't have a baby and there are moments where my brain just can't comprehend how that happened.

As for the "I" blame part…I do blame myself in this specific situation. (I'm not saying other mamas should blame themselves or that I am being rational.) More specifically, I blame my body (not anything I ate or did or didn't do regarding food, exercise, sleep, etc.). Nothing was wrong with Zach—he died because something went horridly wrong with my body and it killed him. My body killed my son. And I hate it for that. Mama's bodies aren't supposed to kill their babies, dammit. It's the worst fucking betrayal that my body could have done to me. And I have to live in and with this body for the rest of my life with that knowledge. And I don't know how I'm going to do it. I desperately wish I could transfer my head onto a different body. I truly hate inhabiting this one because of this. It's something I can't escape. It's like having to look at a gun that killed my child every damned day—it's always there in the mirror.

My breasts ache and are leaking. I can't roll over in bed or get up from a chair without pain in my incision or my back. My arms are covered in bruises and puncture holes from IVs. I have adhesive residue all over my body from the various hospital things. I look like I'm 6 months pregnant. I walk fine some moments, other moments I'm hunched like a little old lady. My feet and legs are swollen with IV fluids. Luckily I can avoid full length mirrors so I don't have to see my incision, or my fresh stretch marks, or my half shaved pubis (gotta love operating rooms shaving techniques). I'm sweating like a pig as my body tries to get out all the fluids—and because of all the various drugs in the hospital I think my sweat smells nasty. I've got to keep track of when to take my ibuprofen, my extra high iron supplement, my tummy medicine, and my Ambien. Pete has to make sure my incision isn't infected or opening and help me put on my abdominal brace.

Lyrics from Radiohead's "How to Disappear Completely" keep going through my head...."I'm not here...this isn't happening...." We went to a bookstore after having my staples removed. Pete could barely figure out how to complete a transaction. It feels like no one remembers Pete is mouring also. He's had to be so strong for both of us, and it just sucks. He took care of me and Kevin for all those weeks while I was on bedrest. And now when he needs to be able to grieve, he still has to take care of me and Kevin. The real world is too fast and too noisy. Our culture is so fucked up when it comes to grief. I want to be part of a culture that has ritualized, visible signs of mourning. Not because I want to brag about my pain, but because that way people know you are in pain and can treat you accordingly. So sales clerks aren't rude, people aren't impatient as I walk slowly and carefully, so that no one says anything stupid. I want to take Zach's ashes and smear them on my forehead. I want a special colored scarf to wear. I want something that warns people, "Hey, be gentle with me."

To get some exercise, we decided to walk to a nearby Mexican restaurant with Kevin in the stroller for dinner. I decided that I really wanted a drink. So, I ordered a strawberry daiquiri. The very nice waitress came back and was playing with Kevin, she stopped, and made some comment like, "Oh, you're going to have another one!"

Me: (flatly) "No."

Waitress: (pointing to my stomach) "Really?!? Oh, well after my first baby I didn't go back to my size, blah blah blah, special Spanish tea I drank, blah blah blah, went back to normal, blah blah blah."

Me: (nodding dully)

Whatever happened to people being embarrassed and shutting the hell up when they've just assumed you were pregnant when you weren't? How about a simple "Oh, I'm sorry and then scurrying away? Somehow my idea of the t-shirt that says "The baby died, don't ask" is seeming less and less ludicrous. It's either that or never leave the house again.

This Friday Zach will have been dead four weeks. Four weeks. That's longer than I was on bedrest. If he'd been born four weeks ago he would have been past an initial growth spurt by now and headed for a second one, nursing up a storm. We'd be up every two hours at night, sleepless and insane. Kevin would probably alternate between melting our hearts with brotherly love and making us furious by hitting/throwing things at Zach. Pete would be back at work, and I'd be tearing out my hair trying to get through the day while juggling the two boys. We'd all be exhausted, overwhelmed, short tempered, and convinced we weren't going to survive the craziness of it all.

But it would still be ten million times better than what we are going through now. Because Zach would be here, and we could hold him and kiss him and know that he was going to grow and change and that the craziness would pass like it does for all parents of two young kids. It's like the difference in the pain of getting a piercing and the pain of having a medical procedure done. The pain of one is mitigated by the joy of having something you wanted in the end, while the other just fucking hurts.

I'm amazed at how this really isn't getting better. Logically I know it is normal for it to get worse as the shock wears off. But on a day to day basis it terrifies me. It feels like it will never ever get better. I'll never be clearheaded, able to plan, logical, or in control of myself ever again. I'm terrified for Pete to go back to work someday. I don't know how to take care of Kevin all day anymore. Right now I vacillate between mad love for him and fury because he's making me insane (with behavior that I know is normal for a two-year-old). My anger at him scares the crap out of me, and I have thoughts of resentment that I have a screaming demanding toddler instead of a cuddly nursing newborn. I can't lift him very often or for very long. I can't do two things at once or think two things at once. I can not function. I have a toddler to take care of. I am terrified. And now Kevin is awake from his nap, and I can hear him saying "Mama!"

Life must go on.

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