Today I was at bootcamp at my new mid-morning time. We had to get into pairs and I ended up with a woman with a friendly looking face, who was standing next to me. She introduced herself and I did too. After our exchange, she said questioningly, “I’ve met you before? I don’t usually come to this class.” I asked her if she usually went to the 6:30 class and when she said yes, I told her I usually go to that one too but have been going to this one lately. She said she would have gone for the 6:30 class but she has a relatively new baby- 4 months old- at home and couldn’t get up in time this morning.
When we were talking about the earlier class, I could see some recognition in her face. I wondered if she remembered me as being pregnant in that class. I remembered she and another women telling me that they were recently postpartum, because they were doing modifications of some of the exercises too. I wanted her to ask. To say “weren’t you pregnant?” or “didn’t you just have a baby?” I know it would force me to say the words, but then I would have gotten credit. Yes, it would have been hard, but then she’d know and I’d be seen with new eyes. My Mabel would have been acknowledged and I would be seen as a mother.
In another world I would have asked her about her 4 month old and share that I had a six week old at home. We could have bonded over disrupted sleep and even swapped exercise tips that would work well with our new bodies. In another world I would have had a baby at home and probably wouldn’t have made it to bootcamp at all. In another world, Mabel would have lived.
I talked with one of my midwives today about this. It fit into the conversation about returning to work. She and one of the midwives I work with came up with an idea to help with my transition to work. To help deflect some of the “how is your baby?” questions from patients, she suggested posting a little sign about what happened with Mabel. It would be at the front desk, so patients would see it when they check in. I have such mixed feelings about it and I think part of that is because I don’t know how it’s really going to be. If I post the sign, I think people won’t comment and I want some sympathy. I’ll admit it- work is going to be hard and I want people to know recognize that. But I won’t have to face the emotions that come along with people asking. If I don’t post the sign, people will ask and I might get emotional but then I’ll get credit.
I left that appointment and conversation and went to Target. In the aisle, a woman recognized me- she seemed vaguely familiar. She asked if I worked at the hospital and when I said yes, she asked if I was a doctor or something. When I replied that I was a midwife, she said “Oh yeah! You’re my midwife!” She then asked if I had my baby and when I told her yes, she wished me congratulations. My heart was pounding and my face felt hot. I thanked her and that was the end of the conversation. At first I thought about how ironic it was that I had just been saying how I want people to ask and here I was physically and emotionally uncomfortable when someone did. But she really didn’t ask. She didn’t ask how my baby was. I didn’t get to say that she died, but thank you for asking. I didn’t get to say that her short life was hard, but she was loved. I didn’t get to say that I carried her knowing she might die but I hoped she would live. I didn’t get to say I’m really sad and this is really hard. I know if she had asked I wouldn’t have been able to say all those things, but being able to say she died would have hinted at it. Instead she could only assume that I was at Target, excited for a baby-free outing but happy to return home to a little person who needed me. A mere thank you after a congratulations feels like a lie, like I’m denying what happened to Mabel and what happened to me. I want everyone to know her story, but there is just no easy way to make that happen.