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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dear Public

Greetings Guests-n-Regulars!

But now that I've gotten that last post out of my system, I'm feeling compelled to reign it in a bit and be...well...civilized. Special thanks go out to the calm, male voice of rationality piping into the comment thread:

Everything I knew about birth pretty much came from synthesizing hundreds of television and movie portrayals. Now that I’ve been through one successful birth process, my knowledge includes that.

I had not one inkling of what happens with stillbirth and the related processes until I read this blog. I hope you can forgive the sins of the ignorant, because there’s just so little information out there. It’s not a common conversation topic, and I’ve never heard of stillbirth featured in a movie or sitcom.

That’s one reason why these blogs are important. Many readers are all too familiar with the heartbreak and reality of stillbirth, but many of us never had a clue.

Blogs are a great place to vent about common frustrations. But also, I'm pretty sure he's right: that most people don't mean to be insensitive our women's past KuKd experiences, that the "sins of the ignorant" ought to be forgiven. How could people understand? They can't, of course - which is one of the things that makes miscarriage/stillbirth such a lonely and confusing experience: there are just so many things in there that the world doesn't get. So we're forced to work through it on our own minds, and bitch about it in places like this.

Anyway, Chris' comment got me thinking: why not just put it out there and explain this thing that I wish others understood? That is, use this blog educational tool of sorts? Maybe - just maybe - someone who hasn't been through it before will read it, and have a little bit better an understanding than before. And maybe, somewhere down the line, that little bit of understanding will have a positive effect for somebody else.

Here goes nothin.' I'm going out on a limb here with all kinds of general platitudes and "you" instead of "I," so correct me if I miss or misconstrue anything.

* * *

Dear Public:

It's one of those extra logistical matters slapped on a stillbirth-mommy by the doctor, no less surprising for us than for you: when a pregnancy ends, the fetus or baby must be expelled. And if the baby has developed into anything beyond a floating blob of blob-ness, that means going into labor, whether naturally or induced.

I'm not talking about some special, less jarring, more merciful variety of labor that Mother Nature reserves for stillbirth mommies. Indeed, one would think that modern doctors would have some trick up their sleeves to allow you to avoid such a dramatically painful, physically challenging "end" to your life as a pregnant woman - especially when you've just had the emotional wind knocked out of you. But no, they say. It's best for everyone - including your own internal organs - if you undergo labor the straight-up old-fashioned way; the heavy-duty, screaming-and-shitting-yourself-while-your-partner-stands-by-dumbfounded way.

With good reason, you wonder how your life reached this level of surreal horror in the past 24 hours. Nobody - your mother and grandma, your childbirth classes that you may or may not have taken, your now-useless What to Expect pregnancy bible, your sex-ed teacher from junior high - ever taught you how the fuck to do this particular...thing. You've never seen it on TV or in movies, so you've no pop-culture knowledge to draw from.

Yet amazingly: you find yourself suddenly knowing with primitive certainty that you can do this, and you will - because Mother Nature wouldn't ask you to perform the impossible. That's the remarkable thing that dead-baby labor teaches you:

Humans are capable of doing a whole damned lot.

Armed with that knowledge, it's time to grit your teeth, strap on your workboots and gloves, and get the fuck going. Nobody is going to push this baby out of your vajayjay for you.

* * *

Good news: you do have a bit of help along the way, aside from the casseroles already stacking up on your distant front porch from well-meaning friends and neighbors.

The most prominent "help" is the formation of a temporary, translucent blanket of numbness around brain. This film of numbness (which has been unscientifcally proven to last longer in men than in women) is one of your body's most brilliant natural survival mechanisms, for it enables you to stop thinking and feeling just long enough to focus instead on this final, painful task at hand. Think of it as a shield of sorts, blocking - for the time being anyway - the black tidalwave of grief lapping at your ankles and threating to pull you under. It keeps you afloat in the short term. Without it, nothing would ever get done in this world.

There are also various forms of "help" for kicking your confused-as-all-hell body into baby-expulsion mode. Some women prefer the "scenic route:" that is, waiting for her body to discover on its own that oh yeahhh! I get it! I'm supposed to get RID of this now! Other, less patient types (like me) prefer the faster and efficient (although much less scenic) "interstate route" to labor. And that, of course, means things like pills lodged between your gum and cheek, and seaweed sticks shoved up your vag. Yes, seaweed sticks. Don't ask me what these do; it's something involving the cervix. And certainly don't ask me how someone invented this as a labor-inducing method, what ancient Chinese woman was experimentally sticking things up there "just to see what happens."

* * *

Welcome to the danger zone: this slow-motion window of time after news that you won't be getting your living child, but before labor has begun. Even with these meds, going into labor can take hours, days, even longer. During this time, you've nothing to do but lie around in a hospital room and wait. And think. And feel. And rest your hand longingly on your still-bulging-but-now-unmoving belly. And watch cheezy infomercials in the middle of the night - lots of grinning elderly people with white dentures. How depressing.

Not surprisingly, it's during this lag time that your treasured "temporary blanket of numbness around the brain" can falter, slipping down and exposing your psyche to the cold, harsh wind of reality, the magnitude of your loss. On and off, you bawl. Your partner is by your side instantly, clutching your hand, dealing with grief in his own way - but ultimately you two are alone on separate islands for a while as you work through this in your heads.

Sleeping through the night is difficult if not impossible. Nurses slip in and out of your room to adjust various wires connected to you, waking you from half-sleep. A few of them look you in the eye but most don't. Either they've been in the business too long to still feel compassion, or the sight of your still-bulging belly makes them uncomfortable. Friends and visitors might come by to see you, too. They'll look at you, right in the eye - but not at your belly either, because they can't. It's like the elephant in the middle of the room that nobody wants to talk about, gone from a symbol of life to a symbol of death in an instant.

It's no wonder you can't keep your grief at bay during this time. You wish these seaweed sticks would hurry the fuck up and do their job.

* * *

And then, labor itself. No point in going into that here. It's just like any other labor, for the most part. The cramping, the breathing, the pushing, the groaning, the epidural (for some of us), the partner hovering above you, the hoping the sight of a bloody infant and its accoutrements coming out of you doesn't ruin your sex life forever.

The only difference between this and "real labor" is that, at the end, something big and three-dimensional and quiet slips out of you, instead of something screaming and writhing around. The placenta comes out afterward, this gigantic disk of tissue. The nurses whisper as they whisk these things away while your head falls back on your sweaty pillow. The air feels heavy and static, sad. Even the doctors, the old crusty ones who've seen everything, have grim looks on their faces. Nobody throws confetti or brings foil-wrapped chocolate cigars in pastel pink or blue; nobody's snapping pictures on their cell phones; nobody's making mad phone calls to friends and family to share the glorious news. Everyone is just glad its over, and wishes things could be different. The communal sense of that is palpable.

You're exhausted but relieved, astounded at the capabilities of your female body, and your partner is clutching you in your arms and pretty much loving and admiring you more than he ever has before. On his pyramid of needs, your survival comes before the baby's - and now that he's seen you make it through this physical hurdle, he knows that the two of you will ultimately survive.

* * *

What happens in the end is different for everyone. Some women hold the baby, as we're told again and again that we should. Some don't. Just about all stillbirth-mommies, though, can't wait to get home. The job of that "temporary blanket of numbness around the brain" is now done, and you can feel it shedding quickly as reality hits you. Time to go and begin what will be the much, much harder job of grappling psychologically with this death of someone you love, perhaps one of the most confusing and misunderstood sorts of death in the world.

The good news is that, having now made it past this physical hurdle, you know deep down you'll survive this part too. Delivering one's dead offspring turns out to be one of the most intensely beautiful, macabre, transformative, awe-inspring, humanizing experiences a woman can possibly have.


Beckie's Infertile said...

Thanks for sharing, I would not have known any of this.

This must have been heart wrenching! I am thinking of you guys.

You are one brave and strong woman!

Kara's Mom said...

Thanks for putting the experience out there. Your post brought tears to my eyes, as I relived my own experience delivering my stillborn daughter 20 months ago. It is something people cannot grasp, until they have lived through it.
thinking of you....

Murgan said...

Thank you, as always, for sharing this.

Megan said...

Several events have made it clear lately that we just do not talk about the unpleasant things in life.

I'm starting to understand that less and less.

There can't be happiness without sadness and why shouldn't we acknowledge both?

Thanks for posting this.

angie said...

Brilliant. I have the urge to post this in a non-stillbirth community. People need to know. I'd just like to add--milk comes in too, and you get hemorrhoids. And not everyone, even when they have little kids running around, gets casseroles. I got one meal. A month after Lucy died. And yes, I made casseroles for every freakin' pregnant person I knew. People in my circle must have thought they just took her out, and BAM I was normal again. I had to recover from birth and care for my two year old. I am bitter tonight. Sorry. XO. Another brilliant one.

Cape Girl said...

Thank you. That was s perfectly put.

Michelle said...

I am just bawling right now. Going through miscarriage is so hard and feels so lonely but doing what you had to do is just so sad and so Awe inspiring. I know you had no choice but your strength is amazing. I so admire you and your strength. Thank you for sharing this painful experience so everyone else can understand. ((HUGS))

Jem said...

I'm speechless. So moved by what you wrote, by your courage of naming the scariest thing imaginable. I do hope this opens the eyes of those who are "ignorant" of the details.

AnxiousMummyto3 said...

Your courage and ability to craft something amazing with your words still astounds me. I hate to repeat everyone, but I do thank you so much for sharing and I hope that someone, somewhere reads this and learns from it.

Heather said...

Also feeling bitter tonight I wanted to add that no one catches this baby. They just flop out onto the table. That was the hardest part for me. No one caught my son. And no one made me a casserole either, even with a one year old at home. And my family who came to "comfort" (or see the train wreck) left my house a wreck when they left after spending the weekend. We also get the joy of the phantom kicks and ghost milk (after of course it has "dried" up!).

myskytimes said...

Monica, thanks for this post! Makes me want to copy, paste & mail it to all my friends, family, newspapers, tv-stations and all the other people on the planet!!

You nailed it here: "Delivering one's dead offspring turns out to be one of the most intensely beautiful, macabre, transformative, awe-inspring, humanizing experiences a woman can possibly have."

True... sad but true.

PS: No one brought me any casseroles either. It was like: she's home again so all is back to normal, right? Sigh.. I'm so sick of it sometimes...

Molly said...

Great post. I'd just like to add the phone calls. Somehow, someone has to tell people about what's happened or about to happen. In my case it was my amazing, strong husband who called everyone. At the hospital he called my mom and my sister as well as his family. After we got home he called our friends and somehow got the words out. I just could not do it. I could not get the words to cross my lips and I could not hear people's anguished responses. He was my hero for doing that for us.

biojen said...

Thank you, you capture it all so beautifully. I think I will link this to a few people, maybe then they will understand.

desiree said...

Jesus Monica. Jesus f*ck (I can't bring myself to be as vulgar as I want, even though I know I can.) Wait, never mind. FUCK! HOLY FUCKING FUCK!

Okay, sorry for the cursing. Oh Monica.

Sometimes I wish you weren't such a great writer. It's like I was there. And I didn't want to be - but I had to, I had to read to the end, I had to read each line slowly, going back over them. To give witness to you, to honor you. You did that - you did that and you survived.

I have nothing really to say but I am crying and hugging you and rejoicing in what I pray will be your triumph in a few weeks.

Oh Monica, my angel, my hero. That sounds so weird to say to someone I've never met but it's just what's on my heart.

Don't worry I'm not a stalker or anything. Just a baby sister in suffering.

therootofallevel said...

i'm having flashbacks from your last post. the one about people getting in your face trying to 'remind' you of the pain of labor.

you said it here:

"Time to go and begin what will be the much, much harder job…"

you've already lived through the hardest parts. every day after you have given birth to death.

thank you for writing this.

Lani said...

thank you for sharing that monica.

my situation was not stillbirth, silas died right after delivery, but aside from that, the after affects are the same. the milk, the phone calls, the grief, the hemorrhoids. all of it. and no live baby to show for it.

my heart aches for all you mamas who birthed a baby knowing it had died inside you. it is like you said "the most intensely beautiful, macabre, transformative, awe-inspring, humanizing experiences a woman can possibly have."
all of you women are the bravest& strongest i've ever known. but like i tell people who call me brave and strong, what other choice is there?

i have missed you and your blog but for a while now i haven't been able to read too much- going through my own ~trying to get pregnant still~ bs. but angie posted this up and since i always loved your writing, i knew it was a must read. so thanks to both of you bringing me back.

thinking of you tons right now as you go through your final weeks. sending you lots of love xo

KuKd Chick said...

For those of you who did not get casseroles stacked on your porch, or who didn't get extended sympathy-visits, that is BOGUS and the world needs to know about this! Just further proof of how blatantly misunderstood stillbirth is.

Casseroles are overrated anyway.

The Ramirez Family said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. Only those of us who have experienced this can truly understand what it takes. You said it perfectly. Thank You!!!

after iris said...

Can I just give a huge primal roar of 'YES' to this whole post. This is how it was for me. Thank you for putting it out there.

the misfit said...

I like to think that I have a lot of common sense about medical matters and that as an infertile I'm sensitive to all these things. I knew that miscarriage (early or late) involves passing the baby in whatever stage it was at at death. But I just did not realize that a late-term miscarriage ended in full-on labor. I suppose I thought that they could just give you a general anesthetic and take care of it for you. Even with your description I just can't even imagine. Thanks for sharing this - I think it's information people need to hear.

Also, the seaweed bit sounds like laminaria - the hard long wedge-shaped bits of dried whatever that expand exponentially when wet. So they shove them into your cervix, right, and then they get bigger - like a nasty little jack, I guess. And I believe the idea is that once your cervix starts getting forced apart, it decides that "open" is the order of the day and continues the process? Obviously, I have no first-hand knowledge of this business (and sorry if you knew all that already).

Mrs.Spit said...

Oh God yes.

Jill said...

well, yes, exactly. I dearly hope there are are few who recognize it as truth the way I did.

Curls O Fred said...

Flashbacks to my own experience. Thank you for sharing this so people can learn to understand, even if it's just a tiny little bit.

Ya Chun said...

oh yes.

I think there are some physical differences to delivering a dead baby - such as the fact that they aren't actively participating by tucking their chin and by pushing with their feet on the top of the uterus.

It's those little things that help, and maybe most moms don;t even know that they happen with their baby.

glasshalffull said...

8 weeks ago today I was just leaving the hospital after having delivered my son who we lost at 36 weeks. I was spared the seaweed but Monica so eloquently captures the numbness that I believe got me through those 12 hours of labor. I watched no TV and listened to no music (didn't want any associations with such tragedy). Afterwards, when I had to move to another unit I refused to be moved by wheelchair and had them move my whole bed to the new floor while I laid under the blankets, ashamed and embarassed (WHY?) as I left L&D. I did watch my contractions on the monitor and was amazed and dare I say dazzled (?) that my body knew what to do, even though there was no promise of life at the end of the process. But the bit about my partner ultimately worshipping the ground I walked on and holding me after? Dead on. He constantly acknowledges my strength and power due to my ability to have the baby- it feels so silly getting that 'recognition'- I just did what I had to do and what anyone else would do if put in that shitty situation. This post seals the deal in terms of connecting with other women who have had to undergo this horror and I thank you, Monica, for acknowledging the tragic beauty in it.

KuKd Chick said...

Hey Glasshafful (that's quite a name you got there) - WOW. Thanks for this perspective from a VERY new stillbirth-mommy who experienced this so recently. I'm so sorry about your loss, and really happy to have your perspective on this.

glasshalffull said...

Monica, it's me Riki (we connected on Facebook a couple weeks ago). Would you believe I developed the "GlassHalfFull" name when I started my SweetieJosepf blog (during my pregnancy)? Guess I am stuck with it and on my most recent weeks which have been particularly crappy, I am so glad I chose it.

*~*Lis*~* said...

What a post. I personally sill fell into the "blog of cells" catagory with my losses so never had to go through this. And believe it or not there actually was an ER episode where the baby was lost at 30-something weeks and she had to deliver - this was before my own drama and I was socked at this, who'da thunk it?

I think thigs like this *should* be "public knowledge". I try all the time to use my IVF experiance to "educate" people. I can't tell you how many people think I just went to my dr and got "implanted" with babies.

But on the other hand ignorance is bliss right?

Chris said...

I feel enlightened and kicked in the head. Powerful account. Documentary writing at its most meaningful.

Supposed to be... "Mama G"... said...

Thank you for your blog. I am a brand new follower today, and I just gave birth to my still born daughter two weeks ago at 36weeks + 5 days gestation. I am searching for others who can comprehend what I am going through. I have never felt so "out of place" in my entire life. I want to post this link to all the people who say "i know what you're going through" then tell me about how somebody they know lost a baby early in their pregnancy. A loss is a loss, no matter when it happens...but to have to deliver your baby when you know it is dead is something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. You have given me hope that maybe someday, I will be able to cope. Thank you...

Hope's Mama said...

Brilliant post. Just brilliant. Thank you so much for writing it. I want to cut and paste and post it to everyone I know, as others have said. Also agree with Ya Chun - we don't get the help of the babies. And Molly who pointed out the dads still have to make those calls to say the baby is here, just that the said baby is minus a pulse. I know I'm way late to this (stupid internets has been on the blink) but I couldn't stop by without saying THANK YOU and keep churning out these amazing words. You are a gift to this community of mamas.

sasha said...

your blog is awesome
here I have a site for those females
who had tubal ligation surgery but
now they wants kids again tubal reversal said...

Thanks for telling it. I didn't have a stillbirth but a m/c and no one except those who have lived it, understand the gravity and gruesome reality of it. Thanks for putting it out there and helping people understand a bit more. And as effed up as it sounds, thanks for the chuckle too.

KuKd Chick said...

SUPPOSED BE A MAMA - 2 weeks ago...AGGHGHH!!!! I'm so, so sorry and feeling for you....oh my goodness. I would say welcome to the club, but that sounds horrible. It's a crapola club to be in. Stay strong!

Thanks all for the words...glad I was able to carve out something normal-sounding with this post. It was a hard one to write, for some odd reason.

Transplant said...

Wonderful post. I am thinking that I have seen *one* representation of this on film--an episode of ER. The young doctor played by Noah Wyle and his girlfriend. That episode opened my eyes.

Any one else remembering this?

Supposed to be... "Mama G"... said...

thanks KuKd... I found this blog on a day when I really needed it. I am gradually catching up by reading through your posts (one a day.. depending on how I "feel"). in this post you captured the dead baby momma's birth experience perfectly... There are times that I swear I'm going crazy..and in the last two weeks I can honestly say that there hasn't been a day where I haven't cried.
also- I appreciate your humour, as hard as it is, we have to laugh at some things.

PFM said...

Monica- Thank you for writing about your experience. I would never have known all of this and you have helpd me to be more understanding to women (and men) who have gone through this.

Big Love, Big Acceptance - or so I say said...

As everyone else has already said, this is amazing. I laughed and cried as I read this. While I can't say I "know" what you experienced, my baby died 2 1/2 days after she was born. She had trisomy 18. But I can relate to the numbness, the loss, the grief. After my baby was born there was no joyful exclamation, "it's a girl" - it was silent as doctors and nurses rushed to give her oxygen and tried to figure out what was "wrong."

thank you for sharing, and for letting me share. It is through reading others' blogs, and slowly sharing my own that I don't feel so alone and isolated.

Love to all of us.

KuKd Chick said...

Transplant - never seen that one but it would be worth it to me to look it up on youtube - seriously a fictional account of stillbirth would be soooo fascinating to see!

Big Love, Big Acceptance - glad you found "us" here, and sorry about your daughter's death after birth. I'm glad you're finding some connection and strength through sharing your story and reading others'.

Allison (Ali) said...

Everything you said is so true, even though I was only 20 weeks when I had to give birth to our angel Cadynce. I still felt all the emotions and denial and everything else you described.

Thanks, for sharing so that others who might not have gone through this might begin to understand.

Tina said...

This was hard to read Monica. It is all so true and brought back alot of emotions for me. i wish this were required reading for everyone on the planet. xx

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