No. The heart of the matter is she delivered a stillborn baby, by herself, at home.
There was a story in a local paper on the weekend about a young woman who didn’t know she was pregnant, was feeling ill, went home from work and was shocked to deliver a “non-responsive” baby on her bathroom floor. She tried at first to keep what had happened a secret: she cleaned up her bathroom and took the baby outside, left it in a garbage can. She didn’t tell her boyfriend about the baby when he came home from work, but asked him to take her to the clinic or hospital because she wasn’t feeling well. At the hospital, it was clear to doctors that she had recently delivered a baby, but she denied it, and the doctor called the police. At first, when talking to the police, she continued to deny that she had been pregnant. When she did admit to delivering a baby, she gave the police false information about where she’d left the baby, until at last, she led them to the garbage can outside her house.
The prosecutor on this case recommended “a two-year conditional sentence with strict conditions, probation, 75 hours community service and thousands of dollars in restitution paid to the police and her boyfriend.” She explained her outrage: “The heart of the matter is really this – she lied. None of us would be here if she had simply told the truth.”
The heartlessness of this amazes me. But then, some part of me is not surprised, either. It is clear that this prosecutor has never delivered and held her own dead baby, or likely anyone else’s. It is clear she has no idea the kind of trauma that is involved and that surely must be enormously exacerbated by the surprise of delivering a baby at all. Her righteousness, her defence of the “truth,” in the face of the terrible shock and fear this young woman must have felt is disheartening.
I have been so busy the last few weeks that I have not had time to think very much about Anja, but for the last several nights, when I turn out the light to go to sleep, my head has been flooded with the memory of the hospital room where I delivered Anja. I remember it as a blue room, dim, quiet, the people coming in and out quiet, too. A slim, red-headed nurse sitting silently beside my bed and me trying to make polite small talk because I didn’t want her to feel bad.
I remember the IV dripping into my arm and waiting all night and all day for the contractions to start. I remember being awake in the middle of the night while R slept on a mattress beside my bed, thinking about Christmas and how only a few weeks earlier I had been imagining all the future Christmases with sisters, two little girls excited about Santa and stockings and playing their own secret games in their sister-world. I stroked my belly and tried to understand what it meant that my baby was dead.
I remember much later, late afternoon, feeling suddenly like I needed a rest and knowing somehow that when that rest ended, the real labour would begin. And being terrified. I remember when the contractions suddenly started, hard and fast and with almost no space between them, and the intense fear I felt: fear of seeing my dead baby, fear that she would be horribly disfigured or come out in pieces, fear that she would be a monster and that I would not be able to love her.
I remember trying so hard not to push, knowing that I had to but telling the doctor that no, I didn’t. I was so desperate to keep her in and so horrified of seeing her out. I remember not being able to look until the nurse said, “She’s beautiful.” And R said, “She looks perfect.”
I remember the awful OB who came and wrenched his hands around inside my body and pushed hard and rough on my stomach, trying to get my body to pass blod clots. I remember bleeding and bleeding and being asked questions, examined, and only wanting to hold my girl. Wanting only her.
I remember the horror of having to leave my baby behind in the hospital.
I remember the untellable shock.
I wonder what I would have done if I’d delivered her at home, on my own. There is a part of me that might have wanted to keep her hidden, to not tell anyone. My secret. No one could label her stillborn, cut her open, weigh her organs and dictate coldly and smoothly their appearance, her appearance as a perfectly normal baby girl. No one would burn her body to ash and return her to me in a small plastic bag. I could have taken her to the park in the middle of the night, buried her under a tree, a huge red cedar to guard over her. I could have sat in silence, under the moon, on her grave and known that she was perfect and only mine.
I think about this young woman whose shock and fear must have been almost unbearable and I wonder why that prosecutor thinks she should have known what to do, should have had the coping skills to do exactly the right thing at such an extraordinary moment. I did not know how to cope and I am considerably older, knew I was pregnant, knew my baby was dead. I want to reach out to this girl and tell her, it’s okay; you are not a monster; you are not a criminal; you don’t deserve this.
And I want to sit down with that prosecutor and have a long, long chat. I want to tell her what it’s like. What it’s like to sit in a dim room waiting, what it’s like to push a dead baby from your body, what it’s like to hold your dead baby in your arms. I want her to see that the heart of the matter is not the lie. The heart of the matter is the dead baby. And that that is not a crime: it is a tragedy.