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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ask a Dead Baby Momma

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dear Dead Baby Momma:

I'm pretty sure that I'm going to be afflicted with a deadly illness. Any thoughts?

-Deathaphobic in Suburbia

Dear Deathaphobic in Suburbia,

Did you just ask me if I have any thoughts on deadly illnesses? Boy, do I ever. You've come to the right place, my friend.

There are two routes I can take in responding to your concern. One is the bad-friend route, and the other is the good-friend route. I'm going to take the good-friend route, because I could never live with myself if I didn't. But first, let me give you a glimpse of the bad-friend route, so you can see what that would have been like.

There used to be a controversial website floating around out there - it might even still exist - called Butterfly-Something or Something-Butterfly. The goal of this website was essentially to help anorexic women become better anorexics. Yes, you read that correctly. A clearinghouse for resources not meant to cure anorexia, but to augment it. Things like: recipes for soup made of water, cabbage, and air; tips for hiding one's protruding hipbones; methods for outsmarting scrutinizing doctors and mental health counselors. I read about it in the paper, and thought to myself: wowsers. Amazing! That's like angst-igating on steroids!

I bring this up as a way to illustrate the bad-friend route. If you ENJOY your deathaphobia - that is, if you take sadistic pleasure in it - you might like the bad-friend response to your request for my "thoughts." Such a response would go something like this:

You very well could be afflicted with a deadly illness anytime. In fact, it could be happening now. Better start doing something to analyze it, avoid it, legitimize it, feed it - BEFORE IT KILLS YOU!

Mathematically, the odds of a deadly illness are low, of course, unless you have a genetic history of deadly disease or have obvious increased risk factors (drinking, smoking, snorting crack, living above a nuclear waste dump). Any sane person with a medical degree would tell you so. But for someone like YOU, as a person who has likely experienced the improbable scenario of getting KuKdx1, 2, 3, or even more, the entire concept of "odds" goes out the window. "You're probably fine" loses its meaning after a while.

Which means that YES - that pelvic pain you're feeling? Your ovaries are probably rotting, cervical cancer cells colonizing your entire abdominal area. Go get checked out. Chest pains? Screw the antacids! That's a heart attack! Get thee to the emergency ward! That slight tremble in your fingertips? Parkinson's. Definitely Parkinson's. The fact that you aren't pregnant, although you've been trying for five months? Fatal fallopian blockage for sure. Go request immediate surgery before the blockage travels up to your lungs, impeding all air flow. The fact that a lot of people you know are suddenly coming down with the cancer bug? Yes, it's likely contagious in a cosmic sense (albeit not a medical sense), so go ask your doctor to test you for every kind of cancer on the market.

Oh, and to prevent modern-era-induced death, don't do ANY of the following: 1) eat food microwaved under plastic wrap; 2) use any soaps or lotions that aren't natural enough to eat directly out of the tube; 3) eat white foods; 4) touch anything not made of wood, stone, water, air, or fire. 5) eat anything other than organic vegetables from your grandma's garden.

BUT NO. Let Dead Baby Momma give you the good-friend response instead, the right response, the responsible response. As an advice columnist, this is my obligation. It goes like this:

Difficult as it may seem, there is one - and only one - way to confront your fears, not just of deadly illness, but of anything. Of infertility, of troubles at work or at home, of knocked-downage. That is: to let go of your bananas. Best put by this favorite prayer to whatever sadistic - but good at heart - asshole is controlling the gears up there:

Dear Sadistic - But Good At Heart - Asshole Controlling the Gears Up There:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Isn't it lovely in its concise brilliance, this one? Yes, whoever said this is right, and whoever can do this deserves full admiration, for it grates directly against human nature and tendencies more than any other thing. It's why frantically worried women marry people like Kevin, who are "wise enough to know the difference."

Disease: you can't control it. My suggestion would be to take a middle-of-the-road approach, hovering between good-friend and bad-friend. Be educated and proactive, yet not obsessive. Choose three obvious anti-deadly-disease habits to implement regularly, just to make yourself feel better, and give yourself a semblance of control. This might include not licking plastic, not smoking, and not inhaling gasoline, for instance. It will feel like being on a diet, and allowing yourself the occasional chocolate. It will feel good.

Yet on the inside, keep harvesting knowledge of what you can and can't control, for this is what allows you to move forward without fear. Write it down in a notebook. Two columns: "CAN CONTROL," and "CAN'T." Once you think about it, you'll see that disease - deadly and otherwise - ultimately fall into the "CAN'T" category. So does knocked down-age, for the record.

And then you can let it go, like an overripe banana, using all of that controlling energy for other, more productive life projects, like writing a column like this, or looking up cupcake recipes and trying them out, or going out to buy new sexy underwear and seducing your honey, or hosting a cocktail party, or taking a Calgon bath, or sitting at the park with a bag of cherries from the farmers market and spitting seeds on innocent pedestrians. All perfectly valid uses of that leftover energy.

In fact, Dead Baby Momma says: let's all make this our personal project, shall we? And report back on our progress? Go forth fearlessly, Deathaphobic in Suburbia! Thou shalt find your way!

Send your Dead Baby Momma questions to: monica at exhalezine dot com.


April 9th, 2009

Dear Dead Baby Momma,

How much longer am I allowed to openly grieve for my dead baby among friends, family members, and other people in my life? I'm updating my Outlook calendar right now, and want to make sure I mark that grieving cut-off date with a red flag.

-Trying to Stay Organized in Seattle

Dear Trying to Stay Organized,

Ancient scholars have been studying this perplexing question since the very first human pregnancy loss in the world. The current, commonly accepted answer is perhaps best stated by Deborah Davis, author of Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: "there is no established length of time for the (grieving) process." This implies that it is socially acceptable to keep talking about your dead baby in public forever and ever.

Have you ever seen the cartoon movie Bambi? Remember the part where Bambi's mother is shot and killed, and Bambi runs away scared? And wasn't it depressing and disturbing to witness that scene as a young viewer? But then mother, or some other caring adult, probably told you something soothing like, "it's okay, honey. That wasn't a gunshot. That was a drumbeat of love from the happy fairy, and Bambi's mother didn't just fall to the ground bleeding, she collapsed in a fit of joy. The red stuff is, um, actually a pile of cherry Lifesavers that fell out of the Lifesaver delivery truck."

You felt better when she told you that. The world seemed okay.

That's what Deborah Davis is doing: telling you that to sooth your soul. What she's not telling you is the unspoken secret: there is a cut-off point. That is, not a time line for your actual internal grieving, but a rough period of time after which other people in your life will expect you to have internalized and moved on. They won't ever tell you this outright; that's why we call it the unspoken secret of our society. It is safe to say that if you push the boundaries of these cultural and societal expectations, people will think you're a self-pitying, unstable, self-centered ball of yuck. I know that seems harsh and unfair, and it is.

The good news is that there's an easy way to calculate your own PGCU-Date (Public Grieving Cut-Off Date)!

Simply follow the steps below.

First, ask yourself: did I have what others perceive as a miscarriage, or what others perceive as a stillbirth? Then, look at list below. "Miscarriage" answers will be first, "stillbirth" will be second:

LEVEL 4 PEOPLE (acquaintances, distant Facebook buddies, the man behind the counter at the deli, colleagues who hardly know you): 1 Week / 2 Weeks. Note: longer is possible, with risk of having people suddenly, mysteriously drop you from their Facebook friends list, tired of reading your depressing status updates.

LEVEL 3 PEOPLE (guys in general; friends who you hang out with regularly but rarely discuss emotions; close-but-not-too-close family members like in-law and cousins, the 1-2 colleagues who know some detail about your personal life): 3 Weeks / 2 Months. Note: longer is possible, with a risk of a sudden decrease in invitations to cocktail parties.

LEVEL 2 PEOPLE (Really, really good friends that you see every day; people who you vent and emote to on a regular basis; most likely to be female; closer family members, like parents and siblings): 2 months/6 months. Note: longer is possible, with risk being given a pep talk, a loving plea to move on with your life, a subtle push to find out if you're suicidal, a gentle prod to find out if/when you're planning to try again, because it might be a good idea.

LEVEL 1 PERSON (your spouse or boy/girlfriend, also known as the Other Person Who Helped Make This Baby): 6 1-2 Years. Note: longer is possible, with risk of possible relationship erosion and loss of libido, so be careful.

LEVEL 0 PEOPLE(women who have gone through your exact situation, or men who have gone through your exact situation, more or less the same amount of time ago; that one best, best, best friend who still lets you vent about it and asks how you are; your mother; your dog; maybe even your spouse): Eternity. Note: longer is not possible, because there is no such thing as longer than eternity. Not even in the cartoon movie Bambi.

My recommendation is that you print this handy guide, Scotch tape it to your refrigerator with your own PGCU-Date highlighted in yellow. This way, you can always refer back to it.

Thank you for your question, Trying to Stay Organized in Seattle! I am pleased to open up my fountain of knowledge on your behalf, and hope I've cleared things up for you.