Posted by: Jayme | May 24, 2007

An article about stillbirth

Someone sent me this article from their local parenting mag. about the loss of a baby.  Feels like I could have written it…

Happy Birthday, Albert


Rosemary McKnight honors the memory of a son who died in utero.

The date was written at the top of the page. I stared at it, its printed shapes and forms suddenly foreign to me, like strands of tangled black spaghetti on a plate. I’m still caught in that date, in a time loop I’m destined to stay in forever. They don’t prepare you for that.

Most would see it as just a day, but it’s not that way for me. For me it was the 24 hours between the knowing, and the knowing. The trigger that made the world as I knew it fall from the universe. From the time my obstetrician told me, “I’m sorry, but your baby has died,” to the time I felt his tiny shape and weight in my arms and knew for sure.
But he was warm. He was still warm. And my ever hopeful heart leapt to my throat in absurd desperation. There’d been a mistake. Some sick, perverted, twisted mistake. Except it wasn’t his warmth that I was feeling, although I wished, with all the bargains I could make with God, that it was. It was my own. And it made no difference. So I reasoned with myself. For comfort. He may never know my touch or my love, but at least he felt my warmth. At least I gave him that. They don’t prepare you for the warmth.
The ABC series Seachange got it very wrong when its character Carmen thought she knew the exact moment, the exact millisecond, when her baby passed from her. Scriptwriters have a lot to learn if they believe that there’s some sort of divine meeting of spirits between two people who have never met. There isn’t. There is no magic knowing when it comes to a baby dying in utero. There just isn’t.

There are only strange physical indications. Like the baby going to sleep and seeming to take a long time to wake up and start kicking again. And the slackening of the once-taut pregnant belly that you’d thought couldn’t possibly get any tighter lest it explode. And then there are the loved ones who, when in your state of anxiety and confusion you tell them that something is wrong, tell you that you’re imagining things, that everything is fine. Setting you adrift, abandoning you in a strange foreign world where you feel truly alone.

I suppose I should feel guilty, but I don’t. I suppose I should feel angry, but I don’t. I don’t feel. Period. But I’m expected to. At the hospital everyone keeps looking at me, looking for my tears as if I’m some kind of performing animal. But there are no tears. So they keep looking at me as though I somehow haven’t got it yet. Then it clicks. I have to show them. Not for me, not for my baby, but for them. So I do. Now I feel something. Hate. For them. For making me sell my soul when it was all that I had left.
I walk to the car with my husband in numb silence, accompanied by a nurse whose name I know I will never remember but whose kindness I know I will never forget. My only advocate, who defied my doctor by letting Chris stay with me because I needed him. In the carpark there are eyes all around us, but they aren’t on us; they’re on me. She’s a freak. I’m a freak.

“There was nothing wrong with the baby. There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with your husband. Sometimes these things just happen.”

I stare at my obstetrician. Is she for real? Of course there’s something wrong. I lost the baby. He was inside of me when he died. Me. No-one else. I picture myself leaping across her desk, her shocked face not registering as my cold fingers grab hold of her throat and squeeze, her eyes opening wide at my smile, silent and sinister. I may look angry but I’m not. I’m like a nuclear reactor, a chemical cocktail of reactions that have nothing to do with me.

Someone speaks. It’s Chris’s voice. I turn my head to see him sitting in the chair beside me. How long has he been there? Oh, that’s right. He came in with me. I see his mouth moving, forming words that I cannot hear. Words meant for someone else. For some other family. Some other shell-shocked family with no dream and no escape.

I can barely look at him, so calm, so together, a far cry from my last image of him falling over the delivery suite’s garbage bin in a sheer, cold panic. My six-foot-six giant of a husband, felled without a touch. And I watched it on all fours in a fog of slow motion, helpless to help him. There was no help for either of us, as I lay in the grip of another type of panic. An actor frozen in some whacked-out scene of some whacked-out play that was now my life. A bizarre play that I couldn’t walk out of or even walk away from. Like a victim pinned in a car wreck. Waiting for my body to break open while draped over a beanbag in a strange kind of pain that transcended physical labor. Waiting an eternity for the death knell to ring. For the baby. For you. But there was no ringing. No cry of life. No sound at all. Just silence. And the crashing of a garbage bin.
“Can’t you give her a caesarean?” I heard Chris plead as I moaned in agony far greater than any contraction, the shocking end to a joyously easy 32-week pregnancy, with nothing ahead for us now but 24 hours of labor with no reward. “No. It’s better this way if you want more children,” the nurse whispered. “Caesareans scar the uterus, and that isn’t necessary now.” Now that the baby is dead, she meant.

But I didn’t want to go through labor knowing that there were only nightmares waiting for me. I didn’t want to have to push or see or hold anything. I didn’t want to have to do anything. But they make you.

I wanted to run away. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go to sleep, wake up and have the nightmare over. I wanted a caesarean. I wanted there to be no baby. I wanted my first child to still be that beautiful dream in the future. I wanted to say something. I needed to say something. After all, they were talking about me, making decisions about me, for me. But I couldn’t speak. I could only moan.
“Get her pregnant again as soon as possible,” a male grief counselor tells my husband. The female health-care workers are horrified. “No, no. She has to grieve for her baby first. You should wait a year before you try again. It’s best that way.” They’re arguing about my life. Actually arguing. Can you believe it?

What the hell do they know? What the hell does anybody know? Don’t they know that ‘best’ doesn’t exist for me any more? I had the best body, strong and fit. I was in the best of health, had never smoked and didn’t drink. I had the best pregnancy – hell, I never even had morning sickness! A perfect pregnancy for a perfect baby for a perfect nursery in a perfect home in a perfectly mapped-out life. What the hell do they mean, “more children”? I did everything right and still got everything wrong. I understand now what Auden meant when he wrote, “For nothing now can ever come to any good”. What chance does hope have when even ‘perfect’ dies?
One year on I hold another child in my arms, whose warmth radiates back to me this time, and whose tiny movements make my soul shiver. It’s a strange kind of happiness to smile down at one while crying for another with all the secret yearnings of a second heart. And I’m amazed that it took a man in a woman’s tragedy to tell it right. To understand that one year makes no difference to a mother and that no amount of time ever will. To understand that no matter how many other children she has she will always remember that one, sometimes with smiles and sometimes with tears.

These are my memories, my remnants of the two of us. The memory of your breath-catching kicks, and of those interminable stretches that sent your foot jutting out one side of me and your softball-sized head out the other. And the memory of my smiles that you made.

Happy 12th birthday, Albert. At least they can’t take that from us.


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