I arrived at work and my first patient was early, already in an exam room waiting for me. I put down my things and quickly went to see her. Afterwards I took a minute and reviewed my schedule for the rest of the day- something I usually do first thing, but I didn’t want to keep my patient waiting. I saw that my next patient was coming in for a procedure. Our new scheduling system told me only that and I was curious what procedure, so I opened the chart and discovered I’d be inserting an IUD (intrauterine device- a form of long acting birth control). I also saw that she was eight weeks postpartum. By the time I figured this out, I had already seen her walk past my office, toting a baby carrier, following my assistant.
I can do this, I thought. Compartmentalize.
Even when I ask to see gyns only, some of my gyns are pregnant. Even when I ask to see no postpartum, some of my patients are postpartum. It’s the nature of our business; there is a lot of overlap.
I saw the patient, did my initial spiel of risks/benefits. I had to leave the room to look something up before getting started on the procedure and while I sat at my desk for that minute, I burst into tears. I had just sat across from this woman, living the life I was supposed to live, her eight-week baby making noises just feet from me. She was the me that I was not, the me I wanted to be, the me with the take home baby. It took all my energy to stay focused on the woman and not look at the baby. I did not coo. I was not cheery. I probably appeared annoyed and grumpy to the patient. Little did she know…
But how am I supposed to be when I was faced with a newborn before I was ready to be? And to have to act professionally. In an ideal world I would just say, have her reschedule- but that’s not fair to the patient. If I’m at work, my goal is to do what’s best for the woman I care for, which means my own mental well-being may be sacrificed. I knew this coming back- just the mere act of returning to work personified it.
I survived. I know this is a lesson in You Will Go On 101. But as this spot-on article says… so what? I survived but I’m still sad. Sadder than I was before I saw that woman with her baby. I survived, but my baby’s still dead.
There were moments of reprieve too. I think I’ve made it clear that my life is not all puppies and rainbows. But it’s not all doom and gloom too. I recognize the good moments.
“When do you turn forty?” I asked one patient trying to figure out if I should order a mammogram this year or next year. “In February,” she responded. My ears perked up- February is my birth month. And Mabel’s. I couldn’t help myself. “Oh, when in February?” “The 15th,” she says. “That’s my daughter’s birthday!” I said smiling and that was that. There was no pause trying to figure out whether to use the present or past tense. The sentence just spilled out of my mouth. No follow up question, which I was actually glad about. I don’t want people to think I’m fishing- purposely trying to get people to ask about my daughter. But I also want those moments of normal mommyhood. To feel what it would have been like for a split second, if she had lived.
And my final patient of the day was one that I was close to, someone I enjoyed. When I entered the room, I could tell instantly she had read the sign. She looked at me with sad eyes and asked if it was ok if she could give me a hug. We spent the next few minutes talking about my daughter. She asked what had happened, if it was ok for her to ask. I told her that I love talking about my daughter. I told her about how we knew she had Down Syndrome early on, the relief that came with the first essentially normal ultrasounds, the despair following the oligohydramnios diagnosis, the kidney problems, the lung problems and her short life. God, I love telling her story. The lovely woman cried for me and for Mabel. She told me I looked like I was doing well, with almost surprise in her voice. So I told her how I had cried earlier that day. I have my moments. As our time talking about me was wrapping up, she ended with a usually cringe-worthy saying. She said “I don’t know if you are religious at all, but everything happens for a reason. God has a plan…” and a few other words that would make other fellow grievers gasp. BUT it was ok. She had proven herself- she was kind and compassionate. I think those words were going to help her find some peace regarding my daughter’s death. I didn’t correct her, nor did I agree with her. I just smiled and returned the attention to her- to help her with her visit.