Early this morning, Dan and I headed north on I91 for the third time in 7 days. Each visit for my incision seems to create more worry in me and resulted in a quiet 75 minutes in the car. Once inside and before I was even seen, I managed to check in on the wrong floor using an automated kiosk which resulted in getting “locked out” of the digital medical record system. I must have looked like I was on the verge of a meltdown when the receptionist was telling me I would need to go back to the kiosk I mistakingly logged into because she quickly said, “I’ll call down and see if someone on the floor can log you out.”
Unfortunately, the anxiety didn’t suddenly disappear as we ducked inside of the exam room. Dan and I sat side by side in almost complete silence as the nurse wished us well and ushered in the doctor. This particular doctor has been with us for most of the hellacious journey. She stood by my bedside after Callan’s death with tears in her eyes. She told me multiple times, that my body will heal soon, but I need to take time to grieve. She soothed both Dan and I on several occasions with her calm, almost meditative voice. Today, after a thorough physical exam of my cesarean incision, the doctor asked me about my mood. My response was a single syllable utterance, “Meh…” and then I burst into tears.
After several deep breaths, I gathered my ability to speak and we talked for a few minutes about how Dan and I are doing together and how we’re navigating this incredibly difficult path. I shared how challenging it is to be in the midst of the greatest emotional pain I’ve ever experienced and at the same time work through awkward and uncomfortable conversations, questions, and comments. She responded with tears in her eyes, “Culturally, Americans suck at this.” Which brings me to the point of this post.
In 1969, the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross published the book On Death and Dying, where she explored the theory of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. The grieving process is not linear, it doesn’t follow a “logical” progression, and is unique to each individual.
I have experienced loss before Callan. Several grandparents, friends, and my beloved Coli have all died. And of course I mourned them. Their losses were felt deeply.
This experience is different. My baby died. He died after my water unexpectedly broke, after I thought I had kept him safe in my belly for 9 long days in the hospital, after an emergency c-section, after he was whisked away to the intensive care nursery to be stabilized, after I was told he was doing well breathing air equivalent to typical air we breath, after I pumped for the first time laughing as Dan took my picture, after we were woken suddenly to see him as he took his last breath. My baby died.
I am sad. I cry often. Sometimes I let out big ugly sobs where I find myself struggling to breathe. Other times there are just silent streams of tears running down my face. My baby isn’t here. His absence is felt everywhere, but mostly, Callan’s absence is felt in my arms. I find myself yearning to hold him. I want to touch him. I want to feel him next to me. I want to nurse him. I want to read him books. I want to stroke his strawberry blonde hair. I want kiss his sweet face. But I can’t do any of these things. I only had hours with my baby. The thing about sadness that you should know is that you can’t take it away. You can’t allow me to experience the things I want so badly. So please don’t try to fix or repair my sadness. Let it be. This is painful and it should be. My baby died.
I am angry. Sitting in the hospital room after Callan died, I found myself wanting to rip the sheets, tear things off the walls, and scream. I was an angry I hadn’t ever experienced. I was angry with the doctors, the nurses, and myself. I was convinced that someone must have done something wrong. I wanted to place blame even if it was on myself. The anger has lessened over the last two weeks, but there are moments where I allow my mind to wander and I go to places of blame which sometimes results in shame. The thing about anger that you should know is that you can contribute to it. If you ask me about what I ate or my activities before my water broke, if you try to solve the mysteries of my premature rupture, if you question the doctors' actions over the nine days before delivery, if you think or wonder out loud about the choices made in the OR or in the ICN, you are (unintentionally) creating anxiety in me. Your speculating, questioning, and wondering aren’t going to solve any mysteries around Callan’s death. What happened needs to be let be. I can’t relive the stories that create more pain. So please don’t do it for me. Let it be. This is painful and it should be. My baby died.
As the stages of grief ebb and flow in the coming days, weeks, months and years, I need to practice acceptance. There will be moments where I’m in complete denial. Where I find myself thinking that there’s just not any possible way my baby has died. And while that might sound ridiculous, it’s real. There will be days where I wake with tears in my eyes and tightness in my chest that will remain with me until lay down to go to sleep after an exhausting day of struggle. There will be anger. The anger might appear in dreams. The anger might be in my tone. The anger will be there. This is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. This grief is painful and it should be. My baby died.
So, while as a culture we suck, there are a few things we as individuals can be more mindful about when in the presence of those in deep grief. Don’t feel the need to be “strong,” allow yourself to feel their emotion. Listen. Sit with that emotion. Think, truly be with your thoughts, before you try to fix or solve anything.