Let me preface this post by saying that I wrote the majority of this last Thursday. This is what kicked off my 3 day depression bender.
I should’ve known it was going to be a bad day when I started tearing up on the drive to the commissary. As usual I had no idea why; I just randomly felt like crying. After a quick trip (in and out in 35 minutes…new personal record!) we headed to library for story time. The first half went great. And then out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of a teeny tiny baby. I had spoken to the mother four or five weeks ago–at my last story time before having Zoe. We didn’t chat for long last time but I had remembered the conversation and was keeping an eye out for her because she wasn’t at story time the last two weeks, when everybody else found out about Zoe. At the time I had only been wondering if she was going to remember that I was pregnant and then I was going to have to go through the whole thing again with her. Apparently I had completely blocked out the knowledge that she was also very pregnant. It never even occurred to me that she might have her own teeny tiny baby with her.
She also has toddler, a boy about two months older than C. Her husband is also stationed at Fort Lee. She also had a baby girl, a teeny tiny girl with lots of dark hair, just like Zoe’s. She looked to be about 2 weeks old. She was wearing a headband with a huge flower on it, just like Zoe would have been wearing that morning. She was sleeping in a carrier on her mom’s chest, just like Zoe would have been. Her mom took both of them to the park right next to the library to play after story time, just like we would have done. She pulled the baby out at one point to breastfeed her on the bench while keeping an eye on her 2 year old, occasionally hollering “Be careful!” and “I’m almost finished and then I can come over!”, just like I would have been doing. She was me. She was doing everything exactly the same as I would have been doing that Thursday morning. Except she has her baby and I don’t.
This time there wasn’t a husband around to watch C while I went outside and cried in the car. I held it together as best as I could. For the last 15 minutes of story time I kept on needing to stop singing the songs, close my eyes, take a deep breath and swallow the tears. I tried my hardest to think about something else, anything else, but it wasn’t working. So instead I concentrated on not losing it. And I was successful.
People keep on telling me how strong I am for getting through this and for the most part I think it’s a crock of shit. As I’ve recently learned, 1 in 4 women experience the death of a baby, be it through miscarriage, stillborn or neonatal death. It doesn’t take a special kind of person to get through this situation; anyone can force themselves to do it, to go on breathing and living. You just do. But sitting there in that library, trying my best to avoid looking at that baby girl, trying my best not to cry, trying my best to sing the songs and interact with C and managing to succeed–now that I will give myself props for. Because I could’ve gotten up and left. And I could never go back to story time again. That’s how some people would choose to handle the situation, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But that’s not who I am. I’m stronger than that. I have to be. Otherwise I’m never going to be able to leave the house.
After C got his stamp we beelined for outside. I heard the mother tell her son that they were going to look at books, so I knew I would be safe for a little bit at least. I kept one eye on the library door the entire time, watching for her to come out, waiting to see if she was going to go home or come to the park. About a half hour later I saw them coming, the boy in the stroller and the baby strapped to her chest (finally, one difference! I wouldn’t have had C in the stroller). They were heading for the park. I panicked, unsure what to do. Part of me was dreading her coming up and talking to me, but part of me wanted her to. I wanted to see her baby up close. See her full head of hair. Look at her teeny tiny finger nails. See what color her eyes are. Hear her cry. Find out exactly how old she is. I wanted to tell her what happened and beg her to hold her baby. To hold her upright in the kangaroo hold. Smell her intoxicating baby smell. Hug her. Cuddle her. Kiss her soft head. Do everything that I never got a chance to do with Zoe.
But I don’t know this woman. She obviously didn’t remember me. I had only seen her one other time before and we spoke for less than 5 minutes. And like I said in an earlier post, I’ve lost damn near all of my baby weight, so I think that combined with the fact that I don’t have a newborn with me means most people who met me in passing don’t put together that I was about to have a baby last time we spoke. Having a conversation with her about my baby who died would make her very uncomfortable. And who knows what she’s like about strangers touching her baby, let alone asking to hold it. And it’s not like I would be able to keep it together; if I did get a chance to hold her, I’d be bubbling like…well, like a baby. I can picture it–shaking uncontrollably, the tears streaming down my face, the snot dripping down onto her head. A new mother’s worst nightmare, even for one as laid back as I am about germs.
And I also couldn’t say with 100% certainty that I wouldn’t get ahold of that baby and then run for dear life. I now understand fully why people steal babies. All I want is a baby. More than anything else I have ever wanted. And while the normal, sane part of me realizes that it wouldn’t be the same, that no baby is going to replace Zoe or help my grief (no matter how much J thinks it will), the grief-stricken mother in me just wants a baby. Any baby.
We stayed at the park for another half hour after the baby got there. I couldn’t help but stare at them the entire time. I went through a wide range of emotions. Jealousy–why did she get to keep her baby and I had to lose mine? Longing–look at what I missing. Bitchiness is the best I can think to call this one–judging her for how she parented, for how she looked (trying to make myself feel better about my situation). I didn’t want to stay and watch, but at the same time I couldn’t make myself leave. This was my chance to see a baby Zoe’s size, to close my eyes and pretend that was me at the park, not her. To watch the baby and see exactly what she was doing and wonder if Zoe would be doing the same thing. Not only do I now understand why people steal babies, but I also understand why grieving parents watch other people’s kids so closely. They’re living vicariously through you.
I waited until I heard her tell her son it was time to go before we left. After I strapped C in his seat I sat in the drivers seat and cried and cried and cried. Which was even less helpful than usual because C thought this was hysterical. His bubbles of laughter kept on interrupting my sobbing and I vacillated between laughing and crying. Once I was finally ready to go I realized that she had parked next to me. She was putting her son in the car on the side next to C and since the door was open I couldn’t leave. Not that I was in any condition to drive at that moment anyway–seeing them again had started a whole new bout of tears. And then I was worried that she was going to see me crying and ask if I was okay. Which made me cry even harder because no, I was most definitely not okay. And will never be completely okay again.
All I can hope is that as Zoe would be getting older and older it’ll make identifying children the same age as her more difficult. That and there are going to be more of them. Seeing a brand new baby like that in public is pretty rare; people are so paranoid about taking new babies out into the world. But you can’t go anywhere without seeing a ton of 6 month olds or 2 year olds or 5 year olds, etc. Especially around an Army post; we breed kids like there’s no tomorrow. So at some point seeing a child Zoe’s age isn’t going to tear me apart at the seams. At some point I’m going to become immune to it. The wound won’t be fresh; I won’t think of Zoe every waking moment of every day. And that terrifies me more than the all-encompassing grief does.
So it’s now today. I went back to story time; I had never even considered not going. I was relieved when we showed up and the mother wasn’t there with her teeny tiny baby. But, just like last week, they showed up about halfway through. Just like last week, we went outside straight away after story time and they joined everyone else about 30 minutes later. This time, however, I was able to keep it together. I debated over and over whether I should go up and talk to her. It wasn’t until she placed the baby back in the stroller and I thought she was going to leave that I had a moment of pure panic. I wanted–no, needed–to talk to her. To know how old her baby is and to see her up close. Fortunately it turned out she was just laying her down for a nap, not going anyway.
I took a deep breath, drank some water and walked over. I smiled and asked her how old the baby is (two and a half weeks. Exactly two weeks older than Zoe). What her name is (Audrey). Told her she was absolutely gorgeous. Asked how Dominic, her two year old, is handling the transition (surprisingly well). Where she delivered (St. Francis, the same as me). What OB she used (St Francis Midwives, same as me. Except she had used the midwives, not the doctors). If she’s an easy baby (so far so good). About her delivery.
The whole time I wanted to tell her about Zoe. To tell her that I had also delivered there; that I had also gone to that doctor’s office. To tell her my birth story after she finished telling me Audrey’s. To tell her that I had had a baby girl and she died. And I missed her. But how do you do that? And, even more so, how do you do that to a new mother? A stranger nonetheless. This woman doesn’t want to hear my sad depressing story. And I don’t want to make her feel bad for me. But at the same time the conversation just seemed so superficial. I mean, even if Zoe was here and we were talking about all of the things we had in common it would still be superficial. Sure, I’ll see her at story time next week and the next week, but we’re moving soon. I’m not looking to make friends right now. But I felt like I couldn’t be myself. Like I was lying. Like I was betraying Zoe. I just kept hoping and waiting for an opening. For a moment I thought I had one. She asked me, “Don’t you have another child?” I froze. Was she asking me about Zoe? And then I remembered that the time I had met her pre-Zoe it was an inservice day and I had J with me at story time. And then I debated for a split second about mentioning both children. But I didn’t. Then we got to talking about the age difference between J and C and her two little ones and the pros and cons. So then I was hoping she would ask me if we were planning on having any more children. We even stayed at the park about 15 minutes longer than usual, hoping I could talk somehow work Zoe into the conversation. But I never did.
I think my obsessive need to talk to this random woman all stemmed from a realization I had last Friday while walking the dog. I started off thinking about how I can’t wait to move to a place where no one knew that I was pregnant. Where I don’t have to fear being stopped at the gym or on the street or at the grocery store with the question, “Weren’t you that pregnant lady? How’s the baby?!”. And then it hit me–no one’s going to know that I was pregnant. Which means no one’s going to know that I had a baby named Zoe and she died. I won’t have any friends to talk about it with in person. I mean, when’s an appropriate time to tell a new friend that? How do you even bring it up? How do you know when a person that you’re talking to is someone that you’re going to hit it off with enough that you’ll still be friends 6 months down the road? Because I don’t want to share the intimate details of my life with just any random person. How do I make a friend and not have them already know that vital part of my life, the part that has changed me forever?
So I think today was partially a test run. To see what would happen. And sure enough, I walked away from the conversation feeling bad. A liar. Hopeless. I can sit here and tell myself that there are a number of factors why I didn’t say anything about Zoe–because we’re moving in three months so there’s no point in making new friends now; because she has a brand new baby herself and I don’t want to make her feel guilty/bad for me/plant the seed that something like that could happen to her. But I know that’s not at all it is.
And I know too that the obsessive need to talk about Zoe will lessen with time. That a few months, a few years, down the road I won’t feel like I’m lying if I don’t mention Zoe to random people. That at some point she isn’t going to be the center of my universe, the center of every waking thought, like she is now. That at some point it will be easier to tell my new friends about her once we’ve gotten to know each other and are a significant part of each others lives. Like Jeff pointed out, my wrist tattoos are a good segway into that conversation. It’s just now that it’s hard. Because she is so important to me right now that I can’t fathom moving to Leavenworth and attempting to make new friends in 3 months who don’t know about her existence. Who won’t know to ask me how I am–really ask. And if today’s conversation is any indicator, I’m not going to have the guts to just bring it up out of the blue.
As if making friends wasn’t already difficult enough with each PCS.