At the Conference Again

I am incredibly tired.  After hosting a conference for two days, wearing heels that I do not normally wear and sleeping in a bed that wasn’t my own, I could probably nap for days before I feel rested.  But when I want to write about a particular experience, I find that it is best to capture as immediately as I can so as not to have the details dim.  Even if the details are already dim due to fatigue…Every year, I host an annual company conference, a gathering of about sixty attendees in various locations around the U.S.  In 2016, it was a mere two-and-a-half after I lost Iris.  No one at the conference even knew that I had been pregnant – with either Nelle or Iris – as the previous year’s had occurred before I became pregnant.  It was just another year.  I had been struggling to keep myself together, struggling to meet work results related to the conference, and had to face in person a co-worker who had heartlessly told me that “grief isn’t relevant to the planning of this event.”  That was the first year.

Last year, I was about 25 weeks pregnant.  I didn’t want to go.  I knew that there would be no way I could hide my pregnancy.  I would have to face the constant questions of “Is this your first?  When are you due?  Boy or girl?  Congratulations!”  Smile in front of the grimace and reply.  I couldn’t respond in the way that I wanted.

This year, nearly nine months after Autumn was born.  Sporting a tattoo on my arm, less than two weeks old.  The first evening, I took a group of eight customers out to dinner.  I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt.  My tattoo is subtly on the inside of my upper arm, so it can only be seen from certain angles.  But the woman sitting next to me, whom I have known for many years, noticed and asked if it was new since she had seen me the previous year.  I responded that it was new.  Another woman at the table – one I had not met before – asked the significance of the words “Be still.”  I replied that I have two older children, ages eight and six, and then had two stillborn babies in 2015 and 2016.  I had turned to yoga at that time and so the words “Be still” had become my mantra for both yoga and also religious significance.  I ended with saying that I now have a rainbow baby, which is a baby born after loss.

I later texted a friend about the conversation, telling her that I had used the words “stillborn” to describe both losses, even though Iris was medically a miscarriage.  But it never sits right with me to differentiate her from Nelle in that way, since I went through Labor and Delivery for both.  My friend reminded me that no one gets to label or define my experience except for me.

The next evening, I sat in the lobby, in front of a large fireplace, with some of the same women from the previous night.  One woman talked about her experience with breast cancer, and that the day she finished chemo, she found out that a co-worker also had breast cancer and became a guide for her – providing support and sharing information.  I used it as a gateway to tell the people I was sitting with that I was part of a support group for parents who had lost babies and found that now, two years out, that I am often the “giver” of support for parents who are new to their losses, rather than the “receiver.”  Telling them that it won’t always be as awful as those first few months.  One woman said “Yes, so you’re past it now.”  I opened my mouth to respond, but the other woman quickly interjected by saying “I don’t think you could get past something like that.”  I told her she was right – it isn’t something you move past, ever.  I am constantly reminded, as an example, any time someone asks me how many children I have.

I continued by telling them that I participate in hospital panels to educate staff on how to handle a patient like myself, who comes into Labor and Delivery knowing that she will not be taken a baby home.  One of the women’s mouths fell open slightly.  She had clearly never considered how a baby is delivered when the baby has died.  Before it happened to me, it was something I had never considered.  The other woman told me that her husband had a sister, who died at 26 weeks.  And there was a gravestone for the baby on the family plot, but that her husband’s family never talked about it.

So finally, for once, I was more open in talking with people that I don’t know very well.  I could speak in a way that educated, but did not (hopefully) make them feel uncomfortable.

The first night, I drank too much.  After dinner and finding my way to the hotel bar, I wanted to numb the experience of remembering the past two conferences.  It made for a difficult night of sleep and then being tired the next day.  Not wanting a repeat experience, I hardly drank at all the following night.  And while being in a hotel bed made sleep a little more difficult than it otherwise would be, that night I slept more soundly and woke up on the last day of the conference feeling more satisfied.