Written by Corinne O'Flynn
Do you know me? I used to be so cheerful, the proud owner of an easy smile. I was optimistic and upbeat; pointing out the silver lining behind each of the dark and looming clouds. I was walking across the bridge into motherhood, and felt full of dreams for this baby that was growing inside me, our baby, my baby.
Do you remember me? I used to love going out with my friends, chatting on the phone, hanging out doing nothing, dishing over the gossip columns. I was the one who laughed the hardest when we saw that show together. I was the one who would spend hours shopping with you to find that perfect dress for your special event.
I was the one. I was.
Then my baby died and everything changed in that moment. When my baby died, that person I used to be died too. I just vanished into a cocoon of self preservation, learning how to survive the incredible pain. I didn't ask for this to happen, who could? I also had no idea I would lose so much of myself to this. Not unlike a butterfly whose metamorphosis happens while safely tucked away, I emerged completely changed. Unrecognizable.
When my baby died a part of me was torn away. My happiness went on hiatus; my optimism took the first train out of town. My smile disappeared. My soul became brittle and felt like it would just shatter if anything touched too forcefully. My skin tingled with a strange numbness as I walked around as this new person in this new life. I was a stranger, even to myself. Feeling weighted by a heavier outlook, I find myself in the mirror and do a double-take with these new eyes.
My husband and I are trying to reconnect. It is not divorce or separation that we are resisting; we are actually becoming acquainted to our new selves. There is so little to say, yet we have been through so much and it feels like everything has changed. We feel tighter and closer, but so hurt and broken that we can’t find the words.
My family asks where I went, and wonders when I will be coming back. My friends don't seem to recognize me in my new self. It is as though I fell into a magic sleep for a thousand years, and when I woke up everyone was speaking a different language. I feel like I have morphed into a square peg in a round-hole world; I just can't make myself fit into the same old places where I used to be so at ease.
My job has become difficult for me. I have lost focus, lost my drive. My ability to concentrate has been taken over by the part of my mind that commands me to grieve. Without a baby to care for, I am no longer eligible for maternity leave. I don’t have the luxury of wealth to stay home indefinitely, and so I am back to work shortly after my baby died with no idea what I am doing.
People are moving on in their lives, and new concerns are demanding their attention. They look back at me and wonder why I am “still” so sad. For me it is like time has stopped. Weeks and months later, it is as though my baby just died. I watch the clock to mark time that used to be measured by calendar. It has been exactly 24 hours since you died, exactly one week, two days, and three hours, exactly two weeks and five hours. I can’t help it. You died on a Saturday, and every Saturday marks an anniversary for me. I can’t imagine being ‘years’ away from your death.
I don't especially like this new me. At this time while my loss is still so new, it is all I can do to face the raw and unending pain. Nothing seems to make any sense. My entire awareness is wrapped around my empty belly, my empty arms, and the dreams for the child that will never be. The future feels dead for me.
I struggle with the people closest to me whose expectations of my coping skills are not being met. They express remorse that the old me has gone. They wish for me to snap out of it. They actually express anger that I am being such a drag. I can see so clearly that they simply don't understand, even so, it is hard not to be resentful when they don’t seem to care to.
They misread my reasons for declining those baby shower invitations, they don’t see that my reasons have nothing to do with my love for the mother-to-be and everything to do with my own survival. Even putting these thoughts into written word feels dramatic, self-centered, and overdone. But, it is so very real for me right now. Part of me is embarrassed that I feel this way, and part of me is furious that I have to explain it at all. The people who would require the explanation should already understand. I suppose their expectations are not the only ones being left unmet.
Everywhere I go I am surrounded by pregnant women whose confidence about their baby and their future is impenetrable. Their shopping carts are overloaded with baby things, and they chat happily about the names they are contemplating for their baby. She is hoping for a girl, that one really wants a boy. I contemplate screaming into their faces that the gender of their baby is the least of their concerns as I wonder if she will be like me; if hers will be the next baby to die.
My girlfriend told me today that she is pregnant. I want to be happy for her, but her news makes me feel like my heart has been torn out again. I swallow the rock in my throat and feel like I have been kicked in the stomach. I have constant anxiety that the mailbox will bring word of the surprise shower for her. Every time the phone rings I worry that they will mention our friend’s happy news. I think about what to say so I can appear normal when the baby conversations start up. I want to remind them that my baby died, but I also feel like I shouldn’t have to. I am afraid for my friend with my new perspective on pregnancy, petrified of offending her in her blissful state, but still unable to take part in all of the celebration and the joy.
I know it sounds truly insane; I actually feel like I have gone crazy. But there it is, and as much as I wish it were different, it is me.