It was the end of my day and I walked my last patient up to the front desk. “She needs an appointment in 4 weeks,” I told my secretary. As she searched the schedule, the patient tapped me gently on the arm.
“And how’s your little one?” she asked, continuing some of the friendly banter we had started in the exam room. She remembered that I had been pregnant the last time I saw her.
I am so prepared for this question. I’ve answered it time and time again. I’ve come to terms with the fact that people will ask- a lot of people, because I have a lot of patients who saw me pregnant. Probably hundreds of them. Some know what happened and some don’t. I no longer get emotional or shut down when asked. I have my go-to words that fill the once awkward space the question leaves.
But this time was different. I had an audience. I am usually asked about my baby when it’s just me and the patient in the exam room. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked in front of others who know and here I was, with the patient, sweetly asking in about my daughter with my front desk staff there to witness. I felt self-conscious.
“I have sad news about the baby. She died last year,” I told the patient. She was kind- gave me a quick hug and expressed genuine condolences. And then I quickly moved on and brought the conversation back to the future appointment for the patient.
It was a little different than what I usually do in privacy with the patient. If it’s someone like this patient I usually give a little more space for them to react and leave room for conversation if it happens. I think it helps me and it helps the patient. But this time I felt almost embarrassed that my staff had to watch this awkward interaction, perhaps thinking about how awful it must be to get this question over and over. Part of me is glad they witnessed- people getting a little window into the ongoing grief I have, but another part of me is so very shy about it. I can open up about the raw grief I have more easily in the privacy of an exam room, but not while being watched.
Have you had this question asked in a group setting? How have you reacted?
A little change of pace. In the vein of I’m more than just my grief, I will share with you some non grief memories. This was the me, before Mabel.
We sat in the car outside my house. It was too soon to invite him in. I didn’t want to send him the wrong message, but I wanted him to leave knowing I liked him, so I unbuckled my seatbelt and leaned over the center console. The stick shift made my movements awkward, deliberate even. “Smooth moves, Meghan,” I thought to myself as I clumsily tried to avoid the clutch poking me in the side. Once I cleared the obstacles, I bee-lined for his lips. I felt confident. Look at me, the feminist! A woman making a first move! It had worked for me in the past, so I was surprised when he didn’t lean forward to kiss me back. Oh no! I had misread all the signs! This wasn’t a date! But I was in too far to reverse. I continued my trajectory, expecting him to turn his cheek, like any guy would do to dissuade an unwelcome advance, and was surprised again when his face remained facing mine. He just sat there, dumbly, expressionless. Too late to abort, I went for it. The romantic first kiss I was planning on was tossed aside in favor of a quick peck on the lips.
“Bye! I’ll talk to you later!” I squeaked out quickly as I retreated. My cheeks burned in embarrassment. There was nothing like having my first move rejected to make me rethink my whole self-image. I guess I wasn’t as attractive as I thought; the date didn’t go as well as I had imagined.
Slamming the car door behind me I ran into my house and immediately dialed my friend.
“It wasn’t a date!” I told her.
“What?” she said, confused. We had explored the whole subject in detail prior to our dinner. He had asked me out… sort of. We were at a group rock-climbing event and he asked four of us if anyone had wanted to go for a drink that Friday. He was finishing a class that week and wanted to celebrate. I was the first to respond, eager to spend more time with him, “Sure!” When the other two in the group said they had other plans, he looked at me with questioning eyes, “Still want to go?” Absolutely. I had thought at that point it could have been a date, but wasn’t totally sure. When a huge snowstorm hit that Friday and we were both house-bound, he asked if I wanted to reschedule. At that point, I figured it really was a date.
Now I told my friend how drinks turned into dinner and he paid at the end. We did all the typical first date stuff, learning about each other’s jobs and families. Laughing. Flirting. He even drove me home, the easily walkable two blocks to my apartment. Based on that alone, it seemed obvious. But when I explained how I went in for the kiss and he neither kissed me back nor turned his cheek, choosing a neutral reception to my overt moves, she was just as confused as I was.
“Maybe he has a girlfriend and I was just making up the signs that he was interested?” I theorized.
“Maybe….” She said. “But he bought dinner! And drove you home!”
I decided to try not to worry about it and she and I concentrated on our plans for the next night- New Years Eve in New York City. I learned later that when he went to see his friends afterwards, they asked how the date went. “Great!” he said with a stupid smile.
I tell this story often at dinner parties or with new friends. It’s the story of our first-date-that-wasn’t-really-a-date. The failed first kiss never ceases to make the people we are with laugh. My husband groans when I tell this story, but he always gets the last word. “It worked, didn’t it?”