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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Stillbirth: What Ya Lose

Greetings, Guests and Regulars...

I've got it! I get it! Everything makes sense now! It's taken me...what...two-and-a-half years. But I think I'm there, finally.

Today I was slowly swimming laps at the community center pool, not unlike a gigantic manatee pursuing a floating head of cabbage. Of course, there isn't much to do while swimming except...well...swim. And watch wavy blue lines go by. And think.

It was during this prolongued bout of thinking and wavy-blue-line-watching that I realized with certainty what it actually MEANS to get knocked down, particularly in later stages of a pregnancy. I'm talking specifically about stillbirth: death of a creature big enough to create noticeable spasms of movement, make you look and feel like a fatso, and cause you to expel a "pee pellet" everytime you laugh or sneeze hard.

Now, I realize how absurd that sounds. Any old dumb-ass can look up "stillbirth" in the dictionary. The Center for Disease Control has a pretty sweet definition, which lumps stillbirth and miscarriage together:

"'Fetal death' means death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy and which is not an induced termination of pregnancy. The death is indicated by the fact that after such expulsion or extraction, the fetus does not breathe or show any other evidence of life, such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles."

Fair enough.

Yet, despite such scientifically graphic definitions, I never felt like I quite understood what it meant to lose a baby, or a fetus, or whatever - and why it was so sad, so baffling, so destructive to my psyche. All of my KuKd experiences have felt like a great big broom swooping down from the sky and smacking me and Kevin upside the face, leaving us standing there like dazed and confused imbiciles, stung and wondering what the hell had just happened.

I mean yeah, something died. I got that part. A fetus at four months. A blighted ovum - a ball of nothingness. A baby-like entity at 33 weeks. But what do you do, what or who are you supposed miss, when you happened to take a more measured and cautious (maybe old-fashioned?) approach to pregnancy, keeping excitement under wraps until the purported due date? Didn't personify the unborn fetus? Didn't find out the gender? Didn't think about names and spout them off to the world? Didn't blog about his/her gestational progress? Didn't get ultrasounds every month or whatever to watch it kick? Voted pro-choice, which I did and still do (there! I said it!)?

That was me, all of the above. "I miss my baby" just sounded simplistic to my own ears, insufficient. There wasn't any rationale for "missing the baby" to add - because it's not like I could say something like, "I miss his laughter!" or "I miss the way his poopy diaper smelled!" How could I have known what his poopy diaper might have smelled like (not that I couldn't muster a reasonable guess)? Even suddenly affixing a name to him - as though he and I were old friends - somehow felt weird to my hyper-rationalizing mind.

So, stillbirth for me was confusing and hard to think about, and absurdly difficult to explain it to others in a way that made sense. I wanted to tell my friends why it sucked so bad, but the words never came. So I just resigned myself to feeling crazy for a while.

* * *

BUT I GOT IT NOW! As of 12:26 today at Helene Madison Pool! It dawned on me with crystal clarity, a working understanding of stillbirth, a confirmation - finally after all this time - of what it is about getting Knocked Down that brings a person so very far...well...down.

This realization comes from my now having whatever a seven-month pregnant woman actually has that could be lost, other than a simple developing infant, and imagining with a dry throat what it would be like to lose that "thing" again. I can think about it more clearly than before, understand it better. It was today in the swimming pool as I slogged my way through the crawl-stroke that I began to take stock of what that enigmatic "thing" actually IS, analyze it, define it.

If I were to lose this baby now, it wouldn't be simply "death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception," as the Center for Disease Control wisely phrases it. Nuh-nuh no. I mean yeah - scientifically it's an accurate definition, but wholly lacking in depth and substance, and dismissive of the more intangible things that evaporate when a late-term baby dies. Now I get why definitions like that didn't do much for me back in my darkest days, and didn't help my friends and family understand our circumstance any better.

My swimming-pool epiphany began like this. If the spastic little ball of movement in my belly were to disappear today, here's what I would lose besides the spastic little critter himself:

1) The imagined child I envision him becoming. It changes regularly, but right now, the "vision de jour" is of a toddler with tousled brown hair and freckles, pin-striped overalls like the sort a 1920s railroad worker might wear, a red shirt underneath, and a really straight nose like Kevin's. He's a nice kid, the one that I picture. He respects our dog. He likes to color and look for bugs in our back yard, and he can sing on-key and hit a Whiffle ball with a plastic red bat. And the kid can make noise, too; I heard his little-boy squeals down at the shallow end of the pool today, which was sectioned off from the lap-lanes for "family swim time."

2) The imagined life I have laid out for him. It's stretched before us like a red carpet. I saw it clearly as the wavy blue lines went by in the swimming pool today. It involves lots of overseas trips and very early introduction of spicy foods, because the last thing I want is finicky child who only eats french fries. It involves being surrounded by awesome grandparents and aunts and uncles who channel love in his direction, and messy art projects in the kitchen. It involves camping and hiking and sports, because no son of Kevin's will go un-trained in basic ball-throwing and ball-catching skills and fire-making skills. It involves all that and then some, a thousand little details that I can spin like yarn and exaggerate inside my head like a compulsive story-teller.

3) The imagined ways it will change our marriage. Maybe this is all hogwash. But in my fantasy future, a child only brings me and Kevin closer together, our "team" made stronger by this sudden hardcore project to manage. We start lining up babysitters as soon as we can and going on regular date-nights without the kid, because having our cherished time at the tavern to lean into one another over cheap beers can only make our child more secure in himself and his family, more awestruck at the strength of his parents' friendship.

4) The opportunity to love a human more than I ever thought possible. What more can I say about this? A real living child provides an opportunity to love in a bigger, better way.

Oh, there's probably more that could be added. But already, that's a lot - isn't it? And once I took inventory of all that lose-able stuff, I thought in wonderment:
WOW. I lost all that? And not just me, but gadzillions of OTHER dead-baby mommas around the world have lost it too, and are losing it at this very moment, and will lose it tomorrow and the next day and on and on into the future, as long as fetuses happen and fetuses die?

Ah-HA! That's why stillbirth is so surreally, achingly difficult. Letting go of the physical dead baby, described so aptly by Center for Disease Control - now that's the easy part. Who is going to complain about lightening a 6-pound load off one's torso? Not me. It's letting go of the imaginary part - the hopeful, fairytale-spun future associated with that fetus - that's the most vomit-worthily difficult. For me anyway, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life...letting that go. And anyone who has to go through that letting go, well, deserves a trophy on the fireplace mantel or a badge of honor at the very least. Somebody should start that as an international custom.

Man, if only I'd had that nice, tidy explanation to e-mail to all my friends during the lowest days of my knocked-downage! Maybe it would help the world "get it" better. Or maybe it would only leave them more confused. :-) I'm good at confusing people, including myself.


Brenna said...

This is one of the things that will forever cement Adam, Joey and Paul's special place in my heart--their state of pure, imagined perfection. They'll never have an opportunity to disappoint someone, to hurt anyone's feelings, to thwart any of those imagined expectations I may have been building for them. Like your Zachary, their lives existed primarily in my mind--filled with the potential for everything and anything. I guess for me, there's a bitter sweetness to that.

Reba said...

you said it perfectly. i just have to add one more thing that is lost when you get knocked down, an important thing:
#5 both your imagined self as mother to the unborn baby, and the current "you" who is imagining all these future things

for me, those me-s both died when the babies died.

KuKd Chick said...

Brenna, yes - thanks for getting it. The vision lives on in our minds. Real life would have been better, but anyway...

Reba - YES! You are so right on that - how could I forget the loss of one's imagined self as a mother! That is huge! That was a sad, hard thing to let go of. Me as mom. Thanks for reminding me of that.

Karen said...

Interesting to read through your thoughts on this, Monica. So much is lost. So much is changed. I feel different as a mother to my other children since their baby brother died during my labour (full-term stillborn - I found it really hard to push him out because I didn't want to *not* hear him cry). I'm so frightened of losing one of my living children. I'm not hyper (I don't think), but neither am I as laidback as I used to be. And the children often talk about what might have been. It's getting the other adults in my life to see that grieving for our stillborn child after seven months ("still?" I've been asked by incredulous people) is normal. I think it would be abnormal not to grieve.

sbi said...

This was a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it.

Cristin said...

You really nailed it. I have realized that from the moment you see that little + sign, or 2 lines, or YOUR PREGNANT on the little pee stick that your mind goes into hyper drive. You fast forward and plan and plan and plan and dream of all your life, of his life, our your lives together. I don't think anybody who hasn't had this rug pulled out from under them can possibly understand. They get to live out those plans and dreams (even though they change with the reality), so they don't know that when those hopes and plans get ripped away from rips your soul as well.

myskytimes said...

All I can say is: Word. Word. Word.
A blogpost worth reading over and over...


AnxiousMummyto3 said...

Hey Monica,
Thanks so much for writing this. I really feel that there is so much truth here. Even though I've had m/c & ectopic which are different in some ways as you said, I felt this stuff so deeply. A lot of the fear of losing all those dreams is where my anxiety stemmed from when I was PG with DD. I told my therapist pretty much exactly what you said-her response, 'well you have to realise it was not was just imaginary.' She was not helpful at all-so I stopped seeing her. It is just so hard to lose your future, you pretty much lose all hope. I agree with myskytimes & send you big hugs!!

Amy said...

Perfectly worded, as always. Please can you put together that email? Then I can send it to my well meaning but ompletely clueless friends? I want the world to see through our eyes.

BluebirdSinging said...

This is the hardest thing for most people to grasp.

My husband was having a particularly bad day recently and someone at work asked him what was wrong. He replied "I miss my daughter". They then asked "how can you miss someone that you never knew?"

(He works with some top-class A-holes if you ask me)

But in a way, part of what was said is right. We never knew our daughter outside the womb, but we knew what we had imagined our life would be like. We knew what we thought it would be like to parent and raise a child together. And when she died, all of that was ripped away from us forever.

Great post - thank you.

chicklet said...

While different, that's exactly why I was sad when we thought we'd never have a kid - it was grief over all those things I'd pictured but now wouldn't have. You explain it brilliantly.

Amy said...

That's exactly it. I had it explained to me by my mother. I miss the would have beens, and having an older child only makes those more real for me because I know exactly what I'm missing.

Inanna said...

I miss knowing him - the core of who he was, already formed and rolled tight in my belly, a seed waiting to sprout that just never got to see the sun. Yes, I miss the boy and the man he would have become. But it starts with that seed. And that lifeless, broken seed is all I have, now, to remember. Yeah, I'd say that pretty much sucks. There's a lot of suckage in the world. This is one of them, without question.

aliza said...

yes! yes!
it is all of this and more than we lost. so so much and so hard to explain and even grasp in its magnitude.

here's hoping our new little ones
(the little brothers) will make it here and we will have those futures together. and still our first borns will always be missed.


KuKd Chick said...

Blue Bird Singing:
Yup, sounds like your man works with some real fucktards.

...Looks like this notion resonates with a lot of peeps. Yeah, figuring out what exactly I missed...that's always been just this hard, weird thing for me to figure out.

Anonymous said...

I kinda feel that way about my abortion.

KuKd Chick said...

About an abortion - I can totally see that. I think the same weird, surreally sad feelings apply.

Cape Girl said...

Wow, perfectly put. These are exactly the things my husband and I discussed in the days immediately following our loss when we sat huddled on the couch. I've tried to explain it to people, but I've never really been successful...

Lara said...

Definitely all those things you describe. Though the cdc description may be clinically correct.... It is also clinically correct that you/we birthed babies with little hands and feet, and in taz's case the best butt(booty, tush, bottom) just like his big sister's, a button nose or a big schnoze like dads, hair and eye's like mom. For sure you can't discount the hopes and dreams but just having a baby-(the most magical miracle in all the world )-die is enough to destroy your self esteem, alienate or make you in to an alien, wail and act like a lunatic, suffer infinite sadness. I guess for me that real physical loss of a being is enough to earn that badge you talk about.

Much Love and KUKD understanding to you on what I found to be a true test of patience and resolve-pregnancy after KUKD. Keep imitating a manatee and try the hypno birthing cd's. Only thing that could make me sleep the last month. This after KUKD moma is still holding visions of a "healthy screaming kick ass little rug rat" for ya!

Desiree said...

Vomit worthy - so perfectly put, as usual.

I just knew that our little girl would have honey-colored hair and have fair skin and have her daddy wrapped around her finger. That was the hardest to let go.

When they told me the baby's heart was no longer breathing the only thing I could think was 'get it out - right now, right this second.' Letting go of the physical is infinitely easier than releasing the image of a sweet litte girl with honey-colored hair.

You're so awesome Monica and every time I come to your blog I say a little prayer to the angels to give you a happy fat baby that gives you a giant toothless smile whenever he sees you.

Liz said...

somewhere in my reading over the last (almost) three weeks since my daughter dies i found this quote
"losing a parent is losing your past, but losing a child is losing your future"
and that is it right there- and why i don't appritiate the comments that have been made to me about how so and so losing thier mom or dad "understands" . they don't

loribeth said...

Yep. That's it. Exactly. Thank you for this.

Kells said...

Thank you for sharing that.

When a woman miscarries or loses a baby before term, it is definitely still an intense loss (no matter what "age" the baby/fetus is). When it happens you lose "possibility," all the possible worlds you have imagined for yourself, your family and your child, disappear. Loss x1,000,000.

And I appreciate what Reba added too.

Anyway, I don't mean to ramble, but I was touched by this and the realizations you came to while swimming.

Thanks again for this post.