what is it about the dentist and the hairdresser?
I got my haircut, finally. It had been a year. I don’t think I’d ever gone so long. I never get it cut as often as they recommend, but I usually sneak one in every 3 months or so- when my hair starts looking really ratty and I feel like I need a deep clean, I break down and make an appointment. Last time I went was not too long after Mabel died. I had a friend’s wedding coming up and I was part of the bridal party, so I felt like I needed a little cleaning up. I had lost all the baby weight yet, and the one thing I felt I could control was my hair. I went to the local salon- one I had been to only once or twice because I had recently moved to the town and the hairdresser started up her chatty conversation, as most hairdresser do. I’ve never liked the small talk at the salon- it feels so forced. Maybe because I make small talk all day long with patients, I have little tolerance for it outside of work. That visit at the salon turned painful when the hairdresser asked- “I can’t remember, do you have kids?”
I was still trying out responses to that question and the one I chose “none living,” did not feel good. Only led to more awkwardness. I haven’t been back since. I guess I just didn’t feel up to facing her or the question again.
One day last week, I was brushing my hair and my brush snapped in half. It was time, I decided. So finally after a year of throwing my hair in a ponytail daily, I found a salon even closer to my house. When I was greeted by the new stylist I was excited to see she was young- to some that may mean inexperienced, but I’m not that picky and really quite lazy with my hair, so for me it was fine. More importantly I just had a sense that I might not get the jibber jabber I would have in the other salon. once I sat down and we discussed what to do, I pulled out my phone to search the internet as she cut away.
It was great! No small talk, got a good cut. Everyone was happy.
Going to the hair dresser I’ve learned is monumental after babyloss- I know both Wrapped up in Parenthesis and In All Things Rejoice have both written about their experiences and what it means emotionally. The other parallel I’ve seen is experiences with the dentist. Nasrene at Anchors for Reece recently wrote about her latest trip and what it means to do so after babyloss. I was reminded about my first trip to the dentist after Mabel died- and I have another appointment coming up.
I think the thing about hairdressers and dentists is that they both mark the passing of time. Something scheduled every year that usually involves a fair amount of small talk. Under most circumstances such chatter would be welcome and pleasant even. But for us, it can be a reminder of what should have been. That there should be a baby in a carrier at the base of the stool in the dentist chair. That we should be chatting easily about sleepless nights and kid stuff with the stylist. But instead, we sit in those chairs, a captive audience, unable to run away or avoid friendly, well meaning questions that can stab us.
Do you have any experiences like that at the dentist or hairdresser? Any other places you’d throw into the same category?
I made small talk as she ran the credit card.
“Weather’s turned cold, huh!” she said.
“Yeah, and our furnace is broken, so we’ve been without heat for the past few days.” I replied, trying to be friendly.
“Oh no! That’s awful.”
“Yeah, We’re surviving. We have space heaters. It’s the no hot water that’s tough.”
“Oh, no. Do you have kids?”
“None living,” I said quietly, the upbeat tone of companionship gone from my voice, and quickly changed the subject.
“Brr, it’s cold in here!” the phlebotomist apologized.
“It’s ok, it feels good! We’ve been without heat for five days!” again making small talk as she busied herself with getting the vials ready.
“Oh no! Do you have kids?”
“None living,” I replied, with that now familiar quietness in my voice, knowing that the conversation was about to die.
So much for small talk.
I can’t seem to simply just say no. These are the kind of people I should say no to- the ones I wont see again, who don’t need to know about the beautiful baby I brought into the world and said good bye to a few hours later. I should save her story for people who will respond well. But I just can’t. I know we all struggle when asked this question, and I’ve loved reading how people respond. I’ve really respected those who respond “no” or don’t count their one less baby when talking with strangers and sharing their story with closer people. It seems like the right thing to do, though apparently I just can’t- or at least not yet. Perhaps if I had kids, it would be easier to answer. “Do you have kids?” yes, and maybe the follow up of how many would not come. But being a childless mother- there is no simple answer to “do you have kids?” and my conversations over the past couple days have shown me just how pervasive the question is, even in conversations that have nothing to do with family!
I recently reconnected with an old friend/colleague who had moved away. She had learned of Mabel and her story from some mutual friends and called me. Her message seemed urgent and when we finally were able to link up by phone, I understood her urgency. She too had lost a baby. I had known her for many years and knew of her two living adult children, but I didn’t know that there was a child that came before. She told her story; I told mine. Thirty years and very different circumstances separated our children, but some of the emotions were the same.
She relayed a story about one of her living children, a daughter in her 20s who is trying to find herself, her career. Her daughter asked her, “Mom, growing up, what did you want for me? What did you want me to be?”
In her head the answer was clear: “Alive! All I wanted was for you to be alive!” It was not the answer she gave- she spoke of happiness and fulfillment, but her thoughts are so true of those who have lost a child.
What do I want for any future children? I used to think about how I wanted them to go to good colleges, for them to have good friends, for them to be kind, compassionate children. Then I was told Mabel would have Down Syndrome and realized a good college was unimportant. I focused more on hoping she would meet other kind and compassionate kids who would befriend her. I had no doubt that she herself would be kind. I secretly hoped she would still excel in her own way- she was the daughter of two well accomplished adults who would teach and love her in all sorts of ways. Then I was told Mabel would be sick- very sick- and she might not live. She might not live through pregnancy even. I didn’t know what to hope for- hope that she was born alive and we would be faced with all sorts of difficult decisions, worrying about our child suffering or hope that she died in side of me, where she only knew the comfort of my womb, but I”d never hear her cry. I think I ultimately hoped she would be born alive and we would take the decisions as they came. I hoped she would defy the odds, hoped that the doctors were wrong, hoped that she would live. Not just be born alive, but actually live.
I was lucky. Mabel was born alive. She lived- six short hours, but she lived. In my grief, I try to remember to be grateful. I recognize I am among the fortunate in the babyloss community, if there is such a thing. My baby lived. Barely, shortly and sometimes even suffering- but she lived. I hope that she did not suffer long and I am grateful that she died in my arms. Not every parent can say that- many are separated from their child when they die. Many children suffer longer than Mabel.
What a weird world I live in to be grateful my baby lived a whole six hours.
Regardless of whether our babies lived only inside of us, lived for a few hours, a few days, a few months, regardless of where and how long they lived, we all had the same hope for our children and my friend put it well. We hope that they are alive.
How did your hopes for your child/children (living or gone) change with your loss?
She was a child- a real child, seven years old maybe. Tow-headed and petite, with the button nose that was the same as in her newborn photos, she appeared in my dream. She didn’t speak much, but I imagined my mind was formulating how she would have been realistically, with the Down Syndrome and her health problems. In the dream she was healthy. She had two little boy friends, who also had Down Syndrome and she played baseball.
I have dreamt about her a few other times- mostly sad dreams, like trading her in for a health y baby. But this was wonderful- I got a true glance of the what-might-have-been.
Sigh. How sad it is that we see our children only in photos, in memories and in dreams. I’m so thankful I have this one.
Have you dreamt about your lost love one? How would you like to dream about them?
The prompt said to plant something, as an act of remembrance, allowing our children’s memory to grow over time. But it’s October where I live, which translates into a cool New England autumn- not exactly planting season. I have planted a garden in my backyard, a little plot that bears her name, filled will colorful flowers by our white fence. I dug up, tilled and planted a veggie garden in my grief, another piece of land that will forever remind me of my daughter.
Since it’s saturday- our usual Mabel’s visiting day- when I picked up some flowers on the way home from work, I grabbed two bouquets. When we arrived at the cemetery, we placed the colorful bunch of mini roses by Mabel’s grave and then wandered around the cemetery with the other bouquet- this one an orange one, the color of carrots. We sought out headstones with specific dates- short intervals, or sometimes just one date. Often it was one name carved in a stone meant for three that caught our eyes. We were looking for children. When we found such tombstones, we placed a stem of roses- a gift from Mabel to them. Though it may not be planting anything, we remembered them today- acknowledging their short lives, giving them a gift from mother earth, letting them know that they are remembered.
“When is Meghan going be here?” they were asking. I was running late after an especially therapeutic catch up dinner with a friend.
When I arrived at their house, they were waiting for me at the end of their driveway. The five year old jumped up and gave me a hug. “We’re having a party!” she said with her little girl voice, the kind that can’t quite get the R’s right. The six year old ran inside wordlessly and came back with the shell he had painted last week. We all went inside and they both skittered away, returning just seconds later.
“This is a girl in red who is chasing a spider and she picks it up and puts it in a bag,” she says, only “girl” sounds like “giwl,” “red” sounds like “wed” and “spider” sounds like “spida”
“Look!” he shows me another Karate Carrot. “And that’s another one in the background.” He grins up at me, so proud of his work.
“What are you painting?” we asked.
“It’s the karate carrot!” he said.
A Friday night firepit. Something of a tradition among our friends. Summer time has rolled in and in the absence of other plans, someone in the friend group will often suggest a night around the fire. This Friday night firepit was at our good friends’ house- they got married two weeks ago and invited us over to help make a dent in some of their leftover beer and wine.
We sat around the fire and made small talk- the world cup, their recent honeymoon in Paris, the location of the cricket we were hearing. As the fire sparked, I sat on one of the comfy patio chairs. It was familiar to me- it used to sit at my parent’s old house. When they moved, we got a U-haul and schlepped all the furniture they weren’t bringing with them down to our neck of the woods and distributed some of it among friends. These friends have the patio set, a large hutch and an upright piano. Moving a piano isn’t easy, but Chris and this friend made it happen. I was very impressed.
As I sat I this familiar comfy chair, their five year old came up and snuggled with me. She is super sweet and we have always gotten along. When they moved into this new house I bought her and her brother housewarming gifts (books) along with their parents. I remember in my pregnancy coming over one night and she sat on my lap. After a hour or so, she looked at me and said “Do you have a baby in your belly?’ We all smiled and laughed at how cute an observation it was. She and her dad came and visited Chris and I in the hospital one night and again a few weeks after Mabel died. In the house, she looked at one of the photos we had of her framed by our doorway- “is this your baby that died?” she asked with an innocence that only a kid could have.
I like this kid. I’m good with her. Heck, I’m good with kids in general. I’ve been babysitting since I was 11. I was a child development major in college. I worked at summer camps all through college. Once my friends started having kids, I would show them how to swaddle and hold their babies with confidence. I have even been called the baby whisperer. So the unfairness of having a child and her being ripped away from me hurts all the more. Because I would have been great with my kid.
At the firepit, she snuggled up to me and rambled on about a story involving Mrs. Redleaf- the tree in her back yard. At one point, during a break in the story I pulled up my phone to show her a photo of a turtle I had seen in my yard a few days before. Her seven-year old brother came over and looked too. Drawn to the screen, as kids are these days, we spent a few minutes scrolling through my photos pausing to look at other pictures of animals I had. In between we passed some photos of carrots. “Why do you have so many carrots on your phone?” her brother asked.
“Remember how I had a baby and she died?” They both nodded. “Well, we used to call her our Karate Carrot. Carrot was her nickname. I have all the carrots because I’m sad and I miss her.” They accepted my explanation easily and we soon put the photo down and went back to the firepit. I heard more of the story of Mrs. Redleaf and we ate pizza.
Towards the end of the night when the little girl was curled up on my lap, she said that I was her mom now. She even called out to her own mother and said she wanted to go home with us, “because you don’t have any kids. Your baby died, so I want to be your kid.”
Sigh. Kids- they just say the right thing sometimes.