I’ve seen different statistics for the frequency of stillbirth in Canada. 1 in 160 is one of them. 4.5 in 1000 is another.
* * *
I was having a hard morning yesterday. Miss E was practicing her attitude, and I was exhausted and impatient and snippy with her. I’m behind on all my work projects because I have no childcare right now and M doesn’t stay asleep long enough after I put him to bed at night for me to manage any serious writing. Our apartment is a disaster. I haven’t cleaned the bathroom in weeks because I am waiting for something to be repaired and every day our building manager says it will be ‘tomorrow.’ We had no groceries and I couldn’t care less about planning for supper. Just when we were almost ready to head out the door, M tossed his shoe into the toilet.
At the centre of it all is what I recognize as my decreased capacity to cope with the regular ‘little’ problems of an ordinary life. I look ‘ordinary’ from the outside, but I am still working through the effects of the incredible trauma that completely altered my life – altered it forever – on January 12, 2012. Luckily, E and M and I were meeting my friend Andrea and her daughter: dear friends, safe friends, friends who get it. We picnicked. The kids played. Andrea and I vented. We both described feeling ‘grief fatigue,’ wishing we could just get away from this, knowing it is forever, that there is no getting completely free. Ever.
* * *
Later, E and M and I met other friends for some playground time and sidewalk chalking. The kids tore around. My friend and I chatted. The sun shone on us. M was covered in dust from the playground and pink and orange chalk dust, lurching up and down the sidewalk, trying to climb everything. E was taking charge of my friends’ two, acting the zookeeper to their lion and tiger. It was time to go in for dinner and I’d decided we’d just have some simple spaghetti and a salad. I felt so much better than I had in the morning. Good friends. Friends with whom I can acknowledge that decreased capacity, who share it or at least understand it, expect it and forgive it.
* * *
We walked in the door and R said, ‘your mom just called and said something’s happened and you should call her.’ I didn’t think it was going to be something bad. I thought she’d tell me a funny story about their new puppy.
The baby my cousin and his wife were expecting in August was stillborn. Their baby died and she was induced and delivered their dead child and then they had to go home to the house they were preparing for this little life and to the five-year-old who was excitedly anticipating his new role as big brother, and now they have to learn how to survive, how to live the rest of their lives with this trauma, with this terrible ache, without their daughter.
* * *
1 in 160. 4.5 in 1000. 2 in my relatively small family. What the fuck? I realized I thought I’d provided them all with immunity. It happened to me, so it couldn’t happen to any of them. I even resented them a little, because I knew they would get their baby and they’d never have to know what it felt like not to.
But it doesn’t work that way, does it?
It can happen to anyone. And it does. It’s pure shit luck.
* * *
A friend said: ‘They’re on day zero of a new life story.’ That is exactly right. I have spent much of the last 18 hours in tears. I remember exactly what it felt like to come home without Anja. When I woke up this morning, I thought of my cousin’s wife waking up, her first morning at home without the baby. It’s sickening. I can’t stand that what happened to me is happening to someone else, even though I know it happens all the time. Every morning, someone somewhere is waking up without their baby for the first time. Every day, parents are learning, out of bitter necessity, how to outlive their children and siblings are learning hard, hard lessons way too early about death and grief and stress and sorrow.
* * *
E heard me say ‘oh no, oh no, oh no’ into the phone. ‘What Mommy?’ she asked. ‘What Mommy?’ Her face stricken, contorted and anxious. I told her exactly what happened. ‘You know how J’s mommy and daddy were expecting a new baby? The baby died, just like Anja did.’ ‘Oh no,’ she said, too. And then she ran to her daddy and burst into tears. We are all reliving our own early days and it is awful.
But then I remind myself how much less awful it is to relive it than to live it the first time. The memories are painful, but I understand them – at least to a degree – now; I realize she died, that we will never know why, that there was nothing I could have done. Or, at least, most of the time I realize these things. But in the beginning? In those first few days and weeks? It is pure horror. Absolute shock. I can’t bear it. I can’t bear to remember how it was. I can’t bear to think of them living it now. And I can’t stop myself from thinking, remembering, reliving.
* * *
We aren’t a close family. I don’t know if they will want to talk to me. I hope they do. I hope I can help them. I remember how desperate I was to find someone else who knew. Someone else who understood because they’d lived it which is the only way.
* * *
I wish I didn’t know that you don’t ‘recover’ from this. I wish I could stop thinking about how sometime in a few years, my cousin’s wife will have a morning just like I had yesterday and it will be all the normal frustrations of a busy life of work and parenthood and all the rest of it, but at the core of it, always, always, will be the dead baby; the dead baby and all the love and grief at the centre of everything that ever happens or doesn’t happen from here on out.
* * *
A friend – that friend – invited me to her baby’s shower. I told her I couldn’t come, that I hoped she understood how that type of event was beyond my ability, still, maybe forever. I thought, as I emailed her, how it is hard for people to understand how something that happened nearly two and a half years ago still feels to me like it happened yesterday. Except, now, when I am thrust back so completely to what it really felt like when it had happened yesterday, I know how completely far away from yesterday we have travelled. It is so much better. We are so much better. And still, still we are so terribly damaged. So terribly, terribly depleted.
And they have all this road to travel.
I can’t bear it.
I can’t stand it.
* * *
The woman across the hall from me is due on Tuesday. On Thursday I knocked on her door to drop off some baby bottles that M never used. She said she was glad I’d come by because she was feeling unsettled. My skin prickled. But then she said it was because she’d had a call from the hospital and they wanted her to come in for a non-stress test. Had I heard of this test? Had I ever had one?
Oh, lady. I answered cautiously that I had. I asked her why the hospital thought she needed it. ‘Oh,’ she said, smiling wryly, ‘because I am over 40. It’s my age. But I feel great.’
I told her I knew a lot about non-stress tests because I’d had many. I told her how uneventful they are, most of the time. I told her, carefully, not wanting to scare her, what happened to Anja.
I really didn’t want to scare her. I thought: it happened to me and I live right across the hall from you and it is NOT going to happen to two people on the seventh floor of this particular building so you are safe. You are safe, and I don’t want to ruin the last days of your first and maybe only pregnancy.
It is all I can do right now not to run across the hall and ask her to check herself into the hospital and stay there until that baby comes out alive and screaming.
* * *
I remember so well that first day home. Going to the park with E to make snowmen. Calling funeral homes on my cellphone. The feeling of absolute shock and the knowledge that I was probably only feeling the tip of it.
I don’t want this to happen to anyone ever again.
I don’t think I have ever felt so powerless and small.