I guess you could say we were friends, in a very liberal sense of the word. Ann had moved from Louisiana to live with her sister, who was in the Army. She got pregnant, and we were close enough that she felt comfortable asking me to accompany her to her ultrasounds when her sister couldn’t go with her, but not so close that I wanted to spend extensive amounts of time shopping for baby clothes or gabbing about names with her. We certainly weren’t anywhere near close enough for me to share with her the struggle of my inability to conceive. Frank and I were a quarter of the way into our second year of trying, and the tip on the edge of my disappointment was just beginning to be honed into bitterness.
She was 22 weeks along and was having problems. Just two weeks prior, I had sat next to her as the fuzzy black and white image on the screen revealed that she was having a baby boy. Within a couple days of after that ultrasound, Ann began having some uterine irritability and was placed on modified bed rest. A couple of weeks later, Mom and I returned home from somewhere to find Chanel, who then was just 15, in a frantic panic. She told us that Ann had called to see if I was home and if I could take her to the hospital. She had been having painful contractions, and at the urging of another neighbor, had called 911 and was taken by ambulance to the larger hospital with the better-equipped NICU an hour away. We asked if her sister or her mother and aunt (who were both visiting from Louisiana) had gone with her. Chanel said that the sister, mother, and aunt had gone shopping and couldn’t be tracked down, so our neighbor had gone alone. We had just missed the ambulance’s departure by about thirty minutes. Mom and I spun on our heels, exiting through the still ajar door.
By the time we arrived at Labor and Delivery an hour later, Ann had delivered. She was sedated, but roused enough to express her appreciation for us being there. Mom and I flanked Ann on the sides of the bed, each of us holding one of her hands. She adjusted to a more comfortable position, then matter-of-factly recounted what happened: by the time EMS arrived, she began feeling like she needed to push. They made the usual one-hour drive to Savannah in just half the time; the obstetrician who met her in the ER noted that the baby’s arm was already out. She was rushed up to L&D and delivered within the next fifteen minutes. I don’t know if the baby was born alive and I’m not sure that she did either. “He died,” she said simply. “I didn’t even have a name picked out for him, yet.” Then she shrugged her shoulders as if to say that was all there was to tell.
Shortly after, a nurse came in and asked if Ann would like to see her son, to which Ann replied that she would. A few minutes later the nurse returned pushing a bassinet inside which was a much too small blanketed bundle. She lifted the baby and gingerly placed him in Ann’s waiting arms. Mom and I retreated a few steps to a respectful distance. She cooed to him and gently rocked him, as if trying to settle him to sleep. “Isn’t he beautiful?,” she asked as she tilted him towards me. I moved back to her side to help validate that yes, her son was beautiful. She unswaddled his tiny body and marveled over him just as mother of a healthy newborn would, even giggling a bit as she imprinted his uniqueness into her memory. “Look! His nose is just like his daddy’s. He has my feet, I think. He definitely has my hands. Aren’t his fingers long? I think he could have played the piano…or something. He could have…” Referring to him in the past tense seemed to ground her a bit more to reality. She paused, then let out a weak sigh as she swaddled him again, leaned back and said, “No more babies.” She said it politely, almost daintily and in the same tone that one might say, “No more sugar, thank you. Three cubes is just fine.” I think that I actually thought something like this in that moment and was transfixed on the image of a frilly, sunlit afternoon tea party. I was disconcerted by the surreality of the grim situation. Ann leaned back on her pillows and looked up at the ceiling, then handed her baby out to be taken. I couldn’t move. It was all I could do not to lose it and cry the tears that at the time couldn’t work their way from Ann’s eyes. Seeing my hesitation, Mom took the baby and placed him in the bassinet. “No more babies,” Ann resolutely repeated, more to herself than to either of us.
We sat in silence holding Ann’s hands, the air heavy with the stillness of so many unspoken words. Some amount of time later, her sister, aunt, and mother arrived. They barely paused at the bassinet as they barreled into the room. Mom and I again fell back, relieved that her family had finally made it there to be with her. Listening to their conversation as Ann retold the events, Mom and I exchanged looks of abhorrence as we learned that they knew Ann was in some degree of distress before they left her alone to make their frivolous shopping trip.
“I knew you was going to have that baby with all that whinin’ you was doing,” Ann’s mom said.
Before we had the chance to close our mouths from their apparent lack of regard and concern, a nurse came in to check on Ann. Before she left, she mentioned that in the morning, a bereavement counselor would come talk to Ann about her options for her baby. She also asked if Ann wanted her to prepare a memory box with the baby’s foot and handprints, a picture, and the small shirt and hat the baby was dressed in. Ann had had barely a moment to think before her mother snapped, “She don’t need none of that stuff. Don’t no counselor need to come talk to Ann.” The sister and aunt nodded in agreement. The tension palpable, the nurse made a hasty retreat.
The mother turned back to Ann and pressured, “You don’t need no memorial service or nothing like the nurse was talking about. The hospital can get rid of that.”
“That” being Ann’s son, clearly indicated by her dismissive nod in the direction of the bassinet.
Unable to maintain her silence any longer, my mother, who herself is a child and family counselor, interjected and said, “With all due respect, what happens with her son should be Ann’s decision. She needs room to grieve in the way that is best for her, and as her family you should be supportive of her decisions.”
With tight lips and icy glare, Ann’s mother replied, “This is a family matter. There ain’t no room for dead babies in it. Ann just needs to forget about all of this and get on with her life. There’s nothing to remember here.”
I never lost sight of Ann’s face. Her head never shifted from her pillows; her uncrying eyes maintained their frozen gaze upwards.
As I stood on the outside looking in, I wondered what she had been thinking behind the buffered wall of silence she built around herself.
The thought that she was alone haunted me for days to come.
Do you read lostbaby blogs? Do you comment on them? Are there specific things you try to say or not to say?
I have been reading at Glow since the launch of the site in April, and felt drawn to make only my third or fourth comment there:
I don’t have a lostbaby, but I do read lostbaby blogs. I don’t often
comment because what could I say? I can’t speak from a root of
experience and while I do feel heavy emotional shifts of…something
ineffable which is akin to a blend sympathy, empathy, sadness, and a
desire to support, trying to infuse that emotion into a few words on a
comment feels inadequate to the point of potentially sounding shallow
and insulting. In a roundabout way I have made some
semi-personal connections to a few lostbaby mamas, and while I don’t
often comment on their blogs they know I am there reading.
Since posting that comment, I’ve further pondered the question: why do I read lostbaby blogs? What is it I find there, in individual blogs and collectively at Glow, that compels me to tap into the grief and coping of lostbaby mamas?
I think it is because they are woven into a tapestry; their individual threads are colored with various shades of love and loss, and no two fibers are alike. They are beautiful in part and in whole, and recognition of this beauty honors the lives lost too soon and the mothers and fathers who loved them. I am grateful to them on behalf of the Anns, who without their tapestry might never feel a warmth within their isolation. There is something to remember.