At bootcamp the other day, I held a twenty pound medicine ball. I held it in front of me, like it was my belly. I had gotten on the scale that day and I have lost twenty pounds since birth. It was a striking image. That medicine ball was what I had lost. Twenty pounds of placenta, blood flow, fluid, stores all for a 5lb 5oz baby. It was Mabel. There was a very pregnant woman there. I wondered if she looked how I looked. I couldn’t help but stare at the contours of her belly, how she was carrying a little human in there. I thought back when I carried a little human in me- her butt up near my left ribs, head deep in my pelvis, legs pushing out under my right ribs.
I had been worried about returning to bootcamp for several reasons. It was a very pregnancy-associated experience for me. I joined only because I was too pregnant to run comfortably and my elliptical was broken. I was also worried because I had gone to enough of the same morning classes that I knew some people would recognize me, but they didn’t know me enough to know my story. I worried about people asking about the baby. I’ve been to three classes so far- one at a new time and the others at my usual time, early in the morning. At the first two classes there wasn’t a familiar face. At the third, there was an acquaintance who I saw at my last class before I went to the hospital. She said hello, at a distance and I smiled at her. I was a little terrified to engage more, worried that she would ask. I both dread the day and am eager to face it. If I can just start having to deal with the comments, it might get easier. The first ones will be the hardest. I’ll have to say the words. I’ve said them- but on my terms, volunteering the information- to my doctor, to my chiropractor, to Enfamil. But the next up is being asked. And I might even be putting myself intentionally in that situation, but only so it will be controlled. I think I’m more fearful of being caught off guard. I know it will be emotional. It will be hard. It is also inevitable.
I went to that dinner the other night. I was out in public. Alone. (without Chris, that is). And I knew there would be a baby there. I feel like I have to get used to at least some of this exposure and again, I’d rather these first instances be on my terms, knowing it will happen. When I walked in, the table next to us had two of my other friends- I took this as a good sign. Rather than a baby shower at the next table, there were friendly faces (one of whom witnessed the baby shower at the bar). The baby was quiet all night, so it wasn’t too much for me. And ultimately I had a really nice time. The ride home I had a lot of unease, very similar to my ride there. I am struggling with thoughts of how inappropriate it all feels. I was out with a small group- no one turned out to be new to me- half of whom where part of my OB team and so cared for me and Mabel through months of ups and downs. One of my dinner friends who knew I was struggling with these feelings put it well. “It’s just a step, just survival, not moving on, not moving past, just moving… And ‘moving’ with those who knew Mabel means you never have to pretend you wouldn’t rather be with her. We know that. We wish that too.” That’s what I’ve been struggling with. I’m not supposed to be having time for things like dinners and happy hours. I’m supposed to be sleep-deprived, stuck at home wishing I could go to happy hours and dinners. Another friend said, “what would Mabel want you to be doing?” I don’t know. I had her for such a brief time. I barely got the chance to know her.
And then it happened. I had my first surprise encounter. I went on a light hike today with Chris and two friends. It was nice to be outdoors. To feel the sun on my face. To do something, public but peaceful. It felt like the right kind of distraction; I didn’t feel guilty. On the path we bumped into someone I know- a midwife I used to work with. I saw her down the path and just had a feeling it would come up. It was all smiles until she asked- “I don’t really keep up to date on these things, but didn’t I see on facebook that you’re pregnant?” I didn’t have anything ready, and so just looked at her with my mouth open, struggling to respond. She sensed it and asked, sensitively, “oh, dear, did you lose the pregnancy?” Then the words found me, “my baby died.” She was kind and asked a little more- how far along, when did it happen and offered support if I ever needed it. In honesty it was the right kind of encounter. If it had to be my first, I am lucky it was with someone in my field, someone who didn’t run away in horror but at least showed a little interest, someone who knows what it means to be me and to lose my baby. And I did it. I responded. I survived. I didn’t even cry, but I was truly unhinged.
Part of me is pleased with how I reacted and part of me is saddened. I didn’t cry? I’m also not surprised. When I have someone over and I’m showing Mabel’s photos and telling her story, I am usually quite composed. I tell her story with grief and pain but also pride- showing off my baby. So to tell her story “My baby died,” I have those same feelings. I’m saddened that I couldn’t show more emotion when I said it. I need people to know just how sad I am, but I can’t tell them how I spent the morning crying in bed, that I couldn’t stop crying last night on the way home from the movies, that when the tears come, they come hard. I have a feeling that I’m already practicing- numbness in the line of fire. I may be very open in print with my feelings, but I am private with my tears. The fact that I was able to tell her story, shakily but calmly, is part of the process. I’m just moving.