The Condo Meeting

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.

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17 thoughts on “The Condo Meeting

  1. When we read, we try to understand, right? We try to grasp more than the words, perhaps?

    As I read this, I tried to understand beyond the words and find a parallel in my own life, a point that mirrors but is not the same. My only babyloss experiences were lived by family and friends, never me.

    Yet this post reminded me so deeply of my hub, his mega accident, and TBI. At one point, post accident, he broke down beyond frustrated because there was no one at whom to be mad or who was at fault.

    He often describes his TBI as the most challenging of all injuries of his injuries, because so much has changed, yet no one sees it. He speaks of it like an invisible amputation and was going to present his writing on it in that context at a conference, but life shifted.

    So at the completion of reading this, I wondered about grief and babyloss and TBI. It seems an easy parallel for understanding, if you’ve lived through/are living with either.

    A bit of research revealed plenty of grief and TBI links, but no babyloss-TBI ones. Yet, one grief one left me wondering if it’s what babyloss grief is like…

    http://m.brainline.org/content/content.php?id=7995

    The “Interference” points echoed loudly on the parallels.

    I only share out of compassion and hope, for it seems to me the better we understand others, the better the world can be.

    Peace.

    • an invisible amputation- what a hauntingly true image. Yes, it sounds like babyloss and TBI have many parallels. You’ve made me ponder about TBI grief- how every day you interact with a a living trigger- seeing the physical representation of the person you once knew so differently. How complex the emotions around that can be. better understanding of others, yes… thank you for sharing this

  2. Oh Meghan, you really did have one big suckfest of a day. Can you sub your DH on the association for awhile? It’s hard enough to imagine myself going back to work much less being responsible for other things that now seem meaningless. I went to a parent night at my daughter’s preschool recently and the only thought in my mind was “who cares about playground sand? My baby died”. And now I imagine how gut wrenching it would have been should a baby have been there. Devastating, my friend. I’ll be holding you and your dear Mabel close to my heart today. You deserve every peace the universe can send your way. It owes you; big time.

    • your comment about the playground sand totally brought me back to a fender bender I had. I wanted to simply say to the lady who had like a two inch scratch on her car (i had a one foot dent on mine)- “you think this really matters? my baby died.” funny how life just seems to flap it’s wings all around us- we are blown away and no one even notices.

      waiting for that universe karma thing. it’ll kick in eventually, right?

  3. I remember during nursing school learning about working with parents who have lost their babies after birth or during the pregnancy – we heard from mothers who experienced it. It was so painful to hear the stories, but I still cannot even imagine how much it really hurts as I have not experienced it directly. Thank you for being so open about your story even though I know it is painful. It brings an immense understanding as to how everyone treats such a sensitive subject and the emotions behind it. I hope you can find peace even though I know the pain will never completely go away.

    • thank you for your kind words. I”m glad your nursing program had the brilliance to bring in women to share their experiences. As helpful as it was to you, I imagine it was just as helpful to them, empowering, letting their babies’ legacies live on.

  4. Meghan, this just broke my heart. I am so sorry and know that no words can make it better. I’m hoping that today will be better…yet still broken.

    Heart,
    Dani

  5. Meghan, I read this right after I had a way too close encounter at work with a mom and her new baby. She told me she was pregnant the day I went on maternity leave and I was so happy for her, but now I don’t want her near me and I kind of hope she doesn’t bring her daughter back for storytime. I feel so lousy for thinking this, but it’s so damn hard having her near me. I hate that I’m reading this and commiserating with you, but I’m glad to read these words only because it makes me feel less insane.

    I’ve used that exact phrase, ‘mad at the circumstance.’ That’s exactly what it is, but people don’t get it. That should be your life and it was taken from you. It’s not even the babies for me, it’s the act of parenting, the love and the care and cuddling. Watching your baby grow and develop every day, it was ripped from you and it’s not fair.

    You have had a fucking lousy week, you deserve a break. I hope you find a way to decompress and relax and treat yourself this weekend.

    • i’m waiting for the days when two of my coworkers who have had babies in the past couple months come back. i dread the cooing, the photo sharing and the talk about what the baby is doing now. reminders of what I have lost. making more mad at the circumstance. this stuff is hard!

  6. I totally feel your pain and the awkwardness in a roomful of people and a baby. I lost my son a year ago to pre-elampsia and HELLP syndrome. Since then, I have problem people asking about my baby, especially in a meeting. I cannot find a better way to say it and I do not want to not acknowledge my baby son did came to me for a short while either. I do not know how to get through this. Your post really resonated with me! Thanks for writing!

    • there is no good way to talk about our babies in venues like these! I find myself catching myself in what I’m about to say, about to reference my own pregnancy or labor but hesitate for fear of followup questions. makes things awkward. I think it just takes time and painful exposure and I”ll learn how to better bring her into the conversation.

  7. Oh Meghan. Too, too many painful encounters and conversations for a single day.

    I really understand what you mean about your heavy burden of grief being totally invisible to everyone in that room. For me, I guess in part because I am a woman, I have this strong desire to be “understood”, as much as possible. With child death and acquaintences, it’s almost impossible. I continue to have the urge to belt out “my son Zachary died” at the oddest moments in random conversation, usually because what is being discussed is so inconsequential that I could vomit.

    Hugs to you tonight.

    • YES! that feeling of wanting to be understood! I have that urge too and check myself often- I think it must be that we are programmed to talk about our children. society however is not receptive to it. so we shoulder the invisible burden of grief. sigh.

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