Thursday, May 21, 2015

Things that Happen to Other People

Our CEO pulled me aside today and told me he lost his oldest son 7 weeks after he was born, and he knew what we were going through was terrible. My initial thought was that that sounds so awful, I don't deserve any of his sympathy. Kam pointed out later that he wasn't showing sympathy, it was empathy, and that what we'd been through was essentially the same thing.

But sometimes I think about how we only knew about Liam for three months before we lost him. And sometimes I feel like that means I shouldn't be hurting as much as a parent who lost an older baby.

I can proclaim from the rooftops that I know Liam was here, and that he was real. But I don't always know how to admit that what I'm suffering through is a tragedy. Of course it is. I know it, and I feel it. But I often feel like I don't deserve to say it out loud. Like, if strangers knew how much I ache, they would think I was crazy. At sixteen and a half weeks, I feel like Liam was somehow either too young to count as a "real" stillborn baby (much less a real baby), or too old for me to identify with those women who have had to go through all the pain of miscarriage (not to suggest that loss isn't a real baby either). What do I know about missing a baby when other parents are missing babies who kicked more than just once, who had a crib already prepared,  who had graced the world with a tiny baby sigh? What makes me think I'm so special as to call out attention to my pain when so many women are experiencing miscarriage alone in agonizing silence?

I still feel like tragedy is something that happens to other people. The parts of my experience that were most tragic get locked up in a box in the back of my mind because when I take them out they hurt. So. Bad. Every time I think of that doctor's visit... looking at the ultrasound monitor and seeing our baby still, and slumped in that uncomfortable-looking position. I knew immediately that something was wrong and at the same time it couldn't be because that was something that happened to other people. Not. Me. And hearing the doctor explain, "that's the heart... you can see it doesn't look like it's moving..." That's the kind of thing that's never supposed to happen to anyone. But especially not. Me. Not to my baby. Not ever.

So when people ask me how I'm doing and express their condolences, I'm only remembering the bearable half of the story. The part that says, "Liam was here. They remembered." Not the part that says, "You saw your son's heart not beating. You saw the still heart on that monitor and knew your own heart, too, had stopped beating." I watch those memories like an all-too-familiar movie, where you know the ending and still, every time, wish that this time it will turn out differently. Maybe this time his heart will miraculously start beating again. Maybe this time the tech will come in to confirm and say the doctor had made a mistake. Maybe this time someone will be playing a cruel April Fool's day joke on us and our son is actually just fine and some day we'll tell him that story and we'll all laugh. But it doesn't.

That never happened to me. I hear the stories of empathy and think, "I am so sorry. What a horrible thing to have happen. I don't know what I would do if that were me." Because nothing so awful as my baby dying could ever happen to me.

I almost started crying in a random conversation at work the other day. I thought, "I can't start crying, because he'll ask me what's wrong. And then what will I say?" And the voice in the back of my head that speaks too fast said, "My son died. That's what's wrong." And then I thought, "Oh no, I can't say that. He'll assume my son was older and then he'll ask why I'm back at work already and I'll explain that he was stillborn, and he'll think I was overdramatic for saying my son died when really it was only-" and that part of my brain can't finish my thought and that voice in the back speaks up again and says, "But that's what happened."

My son died. What a horrible thing to have happen. I don't know what I would do if that were me. But it is.

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