"This" was my baby. And "like that" meant without a heartbeat.
So I chose the only option that made any sense in a moment that made absolutely none at all.
The next day, I was swept into the middle of the great hurry that was procedure number 4 in a day filled with such mundane events before OR staff could go home and relax and watch their favorite television series. I had mistakenly thought that having a dead baby removed at Women & Infants Hospital would be an event approached with the tremendous sensitivity it required. Instead, in the whirl of triage style curtains, it seemed they were running behind, and my grieving thing was holding them up from lunch break.
Trying her hardest to distract me from my rounded belly, the nurse chattered during prep about her two daughters who had joined the military, and how she raised them to be tough, and how kids grow up all too quickly and too soon.
I remember the back of the doctor's masked head as he "introduced" himself while staring at a screen. I remember his ill-concealed annoyance with my insistence on a final ultrasound "just to be sure." I remember his clipped "no" when I asked for a final picture, "Can't do that on this machine." I remember the disgusted incredulity on his face when I asked, before he disappeared behind the curtain again, to "be gentle with my baby, because I love him so much." At the time, it seemed reasonable to me to ask him to be careful. Nothing really made any sense anyway. If I had been presented with a deed to sign my house over to Putin, I would have signed it. The world was unreal and spinning in a frantic, wobbly fashion.
No medical personnel took the time to discuss any options, or to clarify any confusion. Despite the fact that my desires to "have a moment" with my baby afterwards were made abundantly clear, loudly and tearfully, over and over. Before and after, I asked to see the little one that turned out to be a "her." I begged, I pleaded, I insisted. Please. Please, please give me my baby. After all that... I just really, really needed to swaddle her and cuddle. We'd both had been through so much those two days.
"No! It's not possible." I don't remember them even adding a "sorry" to this answer. Apparently, my request was absolutely disgusting,as the baby would not be "in great shape." And anyway--went the prevailing thought--I was "only" 17 week, about a month shy of a stillbirth, and "the fetus" was small. My request was completely unthinkable and totally unnecessary.
Only the funeral home, days later, made it possible. I am forever grateful I was able to tuck her in a pink blanket and kiss her goodnight.
In memory of my youngest daughter, I've spent the last year advocating for change at the hospital that handled my loss so insensitively. I've been honored to meet some of the most fantastic human beings who work at the hospital, staff who were devastated to hear of my unnecessarily cold experience. My "story" ended up starting a "Miscarriage Task Force" that is working to address hospital losses at any stage--from the earliest miscarriages on--with appropriate sensitivity.
It has been a strange, life-changing year. Now, a reality I couldn't bear to dwell on before my loss has become a pretty normal topic. Just beside this computer are books on the experience of stillbirth, pages of literature on how to deal with grief, minutes of meetings about infant burial options and memorial tokens, edits on a better pamphlet to distribute to miscarrying moms. I'm knee-deep in the saddest of subjects. But it has been so very, very worthwhile.
Two weeks ago, I was told that there was a woman like me in the OR, sobbing hysterically over a little one gone too soon that had to be surgically removed. But this time, the chaplain was there before the event. Awaking from surgery, she found that caring nurses had swaddled her little one. Then the grieving mom was wheeled to a new "quiet" room on the floor, so she could say her hello and goodbye in private.
After hearing the news, I found myself grinning through tears. It is so sad that "loss" work is necessary. But I am so endlessly glad my story helped another woman have her once in a lifetime moment with precious little hands and tiny perfect toes. A tragedy and a triumph, all in one.
I'm absurdly proud of this thing; I've never had a job that required a badge. I still giggle with delight when locked doors magically open when I wave it at a sensor. Kinda like how God has, through His mysterious methods, opened doors for me these 12 months to be able to help moms who face sudden ends of new beginnings. It's been a year of difficult conversations, awkward silences, unlikely humor ("We soooo need a new name for 'booty charm' people!") and a billion tears in a job I never, ever would have chosen. But somehow, after all that's happened, I find myself today feeling I'm exactly where I am needed and should be. It's a great feeling, that.
I love you, Perpetua Grace. I'll always wish you could have stayed longer. This whole grave visiting and decorating thing is just plain old lousy; it would have been much more fun to have all you girls together, causing even more spills and clutter in my house.. By now, you would have been crawling everywhere and learning to stuff small objects in your mouth. I wish you could have done that. But I feel you helping out in so many wonderful ways, nonetheless, and I couldn't be prouder, Pepper. Thanks for being you.
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