The Language About What Happened

2019-11-16 The Language About What Happened

Photo by LoboStudio Hamburg on Unsplash

In marriage therapy this week, Ger and I were talking about a confluence of events that started in 2016.  To describe the precipitating event, Ger said “It began after she had… her medical issues.”  He made a gesture with his hand to imply “you know what I’m talking about.”

I turned to him sharply and said, “You can say the words.  Our daughters died.  This all started after our daughters died.”

He gave a half-correction in saying “Yes, that was it” before continuing on to discuss what he had wanted to discuss – which wasn’t their deaths, but rather a series of cascading decisions that happened after.

Later, we sat in a restaurant for lunch.  It has become our ritual to have a lunch date after our monthly check-in with the therapist.  As we sat across from each other in the restaurant that was slightly too cold, dipping bread into olive oil, I asked “Why did you use those words – a ‘medical issue’?”

He shrugged a bit “What should I say?”  It was a genuine question.

“Our daughters died,” I replied.  “Our therapist knows this.  We weren’t talking to a stranger in passing where it would be hard to tell the entire story in a matter of seconds.  To reduce it to a ‘medical issue’… we have to be able to say those words.  Especially to each other.”

He nodded.  “Ok, I’ll say that next time.”  And I knew he would.

But to me, his choice of words still showed how he tries to keep a degree of removal from what happened to us.  He supports me endlessly, and fills our home with birds and trees – knowing that these represent out daughters, lights candles, and goes to the pregnancy loss Walk.  He cried with me and knows what impact this had on our marriage and family.

Yet, over four years later, he still says “that medical issue.”

I didn’t check into the hospital to have my gall bladder removed.  I checked into Labor and Delivery.  That place where most moms labor for hours and hear a baby’s cries at the end for their efforts.  I had pitocin, an epidural, only ice chips, and a long wait.  An OBGYN and nurse would check on me regularly.  And though I declined, I was given the option to hold my daughters after they were born.  When I left the hospital, it was in a wheelchair, as with most moms after they have given birth.  Except I was not holding my baby.

Later that night, we were watching the final episodes of season 3 of The Handmaid’s Tale.  The show is intense, so I can’t watch it alone.  The storyline revolves around mothers who are separated from their children in many ways: both at birth, and from older children.  In the formation of this dystopian world, one high-ranking official comments in the episode that those in power overlooked “mental health and maternal love.”

As we watched the harrowing decisions that one mother makes in an effort to be reunited with her child, Ger commented, “Why would she risk so much?”

I hit the pause button and turned to him.  “Because.  Otherwise she will never see her child again.  A piece of her is missing.”  My voice broke a bit.  “I know what that’s like – to never see my child again and every day wonder what would have been.”

He took my hand and kissed it as tears slid down my cheeks.

Reflections On Medical Care

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Recently, I asked Sue if she remembered the first time that we spoke.

“It was on the phone,” I said, “And I screamed at you.”

Sue is the perinatal bereavement coordinator at the hospital where I delivered Nelle and Iris, and also a labor and delivery nurse.  While I was in labor with Nelle, her name came up over and over.  “Sue’s not working today, but you should really talk to her.”  The nurses, the social worker – everyone kept telling me that I should speak with her.  My only thought was “Well she’s not here.”  I was handed a folder of information on What To Do When Your Baby Dies.  It included a list of funeral homes, information on depression, and a brochure about the hospital’s support group, SHARE.  I threw the folder away. Continue reading

Missing the Echo

When Autumn was born, suddenly there were echoes of her sisters surrounding me. Close parallels, repetitions, deja vus of the last two times I gave birth, with an intensely different outcome.  Or is Autumn the echo of those experiences?

My body bleeds, shedding the remains of my uterus.  It was torture to endure the physical postpartum symptoms, for weeks, with no baby at home.  My heart was bleeding simultaneously, shredded and lying in raw pieces.  Now I look at the physical aspect of postpartum and remember with pain the last two times I had to endure this.  The last time my body went through the ritual cleansing after having released a baby. 

My body lactates, the echo of when my body purposefully produced milk and I had no babies.  Swollen and painful and frantically trying to suppress milk with sage and frozen cabbage leaves. Now I welcome the milk’s nourishment, but cannot forget those moments spent in the shower, trying to hand express milk to reduce engorgement, crying over the unfairness of lactating when I had no baby. 

There are cards received in the mail. Meals delivered.  Twice in sumpathy, once in congratulations but that’s what people do: they send cards and food. 

I set up the nursery today.  I had set up a nursery for Nelle. Same dresser.  There were clothes that I unpacked, clothes that had been gifts for Nelle. Tags still on them.  Unworn.  A reversal of when those clothes had to be packed up and put away.  That room was supposed to be Nelle’s nursery. Then Iris’s nursery. Now Autumn’s nursery.

There were stuffed animals, also gifts, that felt even more personally like they belonged to Nelle. One was a pink Ugly Doll.    Each pregnancy, I bought my baby an Ugly Doll. Theo has one. Quentin had one. Nelle had one.  There was also a stuffed dog, an early gift from someone; I can’t even remember.  Do they belong to Nelle?  Or do they belong to Autumn?  Tears stung my eyes as those items came to light after so long in storage.  It was such a strong emotional reaction to what those clothes meant and who they were for.  They were not for Autumn. They were for Nelle.  They should have been worn before now: hand-me-downs instead of tags intact.

And now there are photos.  The only photos that all three share are ultrasound photos. Now Autumn is here and I take dozens of pictures every day, trying to capture every tiny facial expression and movement of the baby in front of me.  I have already replaced the framed ultrasound photo with a newborn picture of her sleeping.  She is so much more than an echo: she is a manifestation of her sisters, giving me a face where I previously could not picture my babies.