I hurried out of my car and across the street to my condo building. Sitting outside was my neighbor who was a regular attendee of the condo meetings, so I was a little confused. I was a few minutes late, so I expected everyone to be there already. He looked up from the bench he was sitting on and asked “Isn’t something missing?”
“Oh? Is the meeting at 6:30 not at 6:00” I responded, thinking maybe I got the time wrong.
“No.” he smiled. “Where’s the baby?”
I should have known. The last time I had been at a meeting, I was visibly pregnant. Somehow this detail was lost on me when planning to come to the meeting.
I opened my mouth to speak, but my voice is caught. It has become my signature pause, this awkward hinge in the conversation. What should have been an easy answer oh she’s at home with her father! has become a silence that lasts a beat too long followed by “My baby died.”
The words are easier to say now. The surprise and awkwardness that follows is still painful. I still feel the need to make it better for the other person. “We knew she would be sick.” I said, to somehow make it better and let him know. It’s okay that she died. She wasn’t going to make it anyways. It’s not like I loved her or anything. To his credit, not a single platitude crossed this neighbor’s lips. I don’t remember his exact words, but a genuine “I’m sorry” were some of them. Maybe it was his medical background, a retired radiologist, but knew nothing he could say could make it better. He put that into words and for some reason, this was more comforting than what most people say. I left him to wait for his sister, the reason he was missing the meeting. “First time in eight years,” he had told me.
When I walked into the basement, I encountered six people siting in metal folding chairs around a long table- our formal condo association meeting. One of my old elderly neighbors saw me and introduced me to the new property manager. “So you had the baby?” she said after introductions.
“yes.” I said without expanding and took my seat quickly.
A few minutes later a couple entered the room. I had met them once before at the last condo meeting. They had just bought a unit in the building and she was visibly pregnant herself. I knew I was expecting a child with Down Syndrome at the time but had not yet had the oligohydramnios diagnosis. When I asked if she had kids, she had patted her belly saying this was going to be her first. They had not asked the same of me.
The couple entered the room, him with a diaper bag slung over his shoulder, she with a eight month old baby on her hip. Tears stung my eyes. Not again, I thought. Today I hadn’t worked; I’ve been working four days a week, giving me one day off to decompress from the stress of working in obstetrics while trying to process the grief that comes with baby loss. This day off is supposed to be the day free of babies and bellies, a day where I can have my grief in peace. I had already had my one surprise baby encounter at the chiropractor.
They pulled up two more chairs at the place at the table with the most space- right next to me. I found myself taking short breaths again, trying to calm myself. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes again. I reached for my water bottle and started drinking water, a trick I learned years ago from a friend. When I don’t want to cry, swallowing and drinking water can actually help. I felt frozen; I couldn’t leave, but I really wanted to.
A year ago I had to miss an important condo meeting- one where I was needed to reach the minimum number of people to vote on the budget- because I thought I was miscarrying. The condo’s fiscal year was up and I thought we might be voting on budget again. I didn’t want to have to come back here again for a while. I tried to compose myself, staring at the a crack in the cement wall as I listened to the voices of the other unit owners discuss slippery stairwells and fallen tree branches. The voices were muted by the hiccups and gurgles of baby sitting beside me. I made sure to keep the kid out of my peripheral vision, but couldn’t plug my ears. And I could see another owner, a seemingly all-business type of guy, turning to face the baby and make cooing gestures at him.
After a few more minutes of my eye welling up only to be subdued by sips of water, the woman announced that she was taking the baby up to her unit; the child was hot being there in that stuffy basement. One of the elderly women at the meeting was clearly sad to see the baby go. She offered to hold the baby for the woman and when she politely declined, the elderly woman tried to insist. She was trying to be helpful and I’m sure wanted some cuddle time. There was a little back and forth between her and the mother, the mother explaining again that the baby was hot and they would be going upstairs. I had to hold back the screams of Just let her go! Can’t you see I’m crying! Let the damn kid go upstairs, out of my sight. I wasn’t mad at the mother or the baby or even the elderly neighbor who wouldn’t let her go. None of these people knew the torture it was for me to sit there hearing and seeing what I was not gifted. I was mad at my circumstance- the one where I ended up childless.
Mother and baby left, leaving the rest of us the conduct the remainder of the meeting. I survived and left quickly afterwards. I had hope someone would ask about my baby afterwards, but no one did. The worst part of the whole experience was not being asked about the baby in the beginning, was not having the baby in the room with me. The worst part was being in the room with the baby and no one having any clue what anguish it caused me. The worst part was holding my secret grief.