While I was experiencing the weeks leading up to Abby’s tragic birth, I couldn’t imagine a sadder way to pass the time than feeling the kicks of a baby whose heart was failing. In the weeks following her birth and death, I soon realized that the only thing worse than feeling those kicks was feeling absolutely nothing. No movement. No hope. No sadness. No emotion at all.
I have come to realize that a world full of sadness is ever so slightly more bearable than a world void of any emotion. Some people go through tragedies and can’t turn off the tears. Others experience the same level of tragedy and suddenly forget how to cry. I am of the latter of these two categories. I was discharged from the hospital on a Thursday, picked out my baby’s urn on a Friday, dropped off my mom at the airport on Sunday, and my husband went back to work on Monday. Since then I can count on one hand the number of times I have cried. I don’t say this to make myself seem tough. Many times I wish I could cry, but my emotional infrastructure is currently being rebuilt and I guess the tear ducts are out of order.
When I found a grief counselor that I actually liked, I felt overwhelmed with the task of adequately explaining my endless layers of grief and anxiety to her. When I finally finished, she said, “All the problems you’re describing are extremely normal reactions to a very abnormal experience. If you were totally fine after all that, I’d be much more worried about you.”
This statement that was meant to comfort and reassure me has paradoxically caused me a bit of stress. “Being fine” after a horrific event is worrisome, yet the standard answer I give when people ask me how I’m doing is, “fine.”March and April were probably the scariest months of my life, but somehow in May I started climbing again. I have had many people with nothing but good intentions tell me how amazing and strong I am, which occasionally tips the scales of cognitive dissonance in my mind since I have never felt more weak in my life. When people don’t know what I’ve been through, I’m always hesitant to bring it up because everything is still so recent and yet I seem so on top of things.
September 4th marked Abby’s half birthday and for almost two months I’ve had several boxes of baby shoes tucked away in the back of my closet. Donated by friends in honor of Abby. Photographing baby shoes was much easier when I was safely inside the shell that I lived in for roughly 4 months. I am now beginning to feel again and it is exhilarating and unspeakably painful. I haven’t blogged in a while, but tonight I feel a connection with other women going through this same struggle and it makes me want to be more honest about my grieving process.
Because it is Pregnancy + Infant Loss Awareness Day, I am going to share a journal entry from the first time I tried to go grocery shopping after losing Abby. This is not meant to make people feel sorry for me, but to paint a picture of the crippling effects grief can have on individuals. This is for all my Angel Watch sisters who have ever felt trapped or scared of facing the real world. Because yes there is hope, healing, God, and goodness in the world. But every once in a while, it is important to mention the injustice, sadness, and fear just to validate the people going through it who feel they are not allowed to talk about it.
There are days where I go with the general flow of my surroundings and other days where I stand paralyzed and immovable amidst a shifty and oblivious world. Rotating on its axis. Revolving around the sun ever ablaze in an expanding universe that doesn’t even know my name.
I am invisible. I am thin and frail and often wonder if I’m taking up space or if space is taking up me.
I float through the grocery store with a hastily scribbled list of items. Individual pieces of larger meals I am planning to concoct. But that’s all they are is just plans. Nothing concrete. Nothing certain. Just a thought. A hope. An expectation of things or events that may never actually blossom into fruition. As I’m aimlessly wandering through the grocery store, the lyrics to a death cab song come to mind.
The coast disappeared when the sea drowned the sun
And I knew no words to share with anyone
The boundaries of language I quietly cursed
And all the different names for the same thing
It doesn’t matter which food items I buy. They’re all different names for the same thing. The same meal. Pasta, eggs, stir fry, pizza. They all taste the same when your appetite is broken and your senses are dulled past the point of recognition.
I weigh 94 pounds. And even though I’m ashamed at how thin I am, I’m also paradoxically embarrassed to even take up that much space. My subconscious goal is to literally disappear. And I am slowly succeeding at the expense of my physical well being.
I pass an array of apples so vast and organized that it triggers something inside me akin to emotion, but without any real substance. Like myself, the feeling is present yet lacking any weight or significance. I craved apples while I was first pregnant with Abby almost 9 months ago. My mother craved apples while she was pregnant with me almost 24 years ago.
In a another life, I might have paused and effortlessly tapped into these thoughts and their accompanying emotions, but I was living with a disconnect between point A and point B. With those neural pathways temporarily out of service, I had no choice, but to stay the course on my numb sertraline induced detour. A path that smartly circumvented pain by inevitably avoiding any hint of strong emotion or flashy feelings.
Frail and emotionally unaffected, I grabbed 3 small shiny gala apples and placed them on the scale to see how much they would cost. In a relentless effort to chip away at my protective shell, the Universe showed it’s face on that scale in the form of digital numbers.
1 lb 15 oz.
When you instinctively know you need to acknowledge and release a buildup of emotion, but are hindered by a selectively permeable chemical shell, you end up feeling the only emotion that shell will allow through it’s mighty barrier: fear. You panic. You feel anxious and you don’t actually know why. You wonder if everyone in the entire grocery store is staring at the numbers on the scale and if they are hurriedly shuffling past because they know. The only thing scarier than living in a world where people look right through you as if you’re too young to know anything about real life or pain, is being thrust into an irrational world where every passing stranger is glancing at you in their peripheral because they somehow know your secret.
They know that you are the mother of a dead baby. That you willfully signed the paper work that induced the birth of a baby who was deemed “incompatible with life.” They look at you as though you are now incompatible with life.
And sometimes you well may be, but this is all just paranoia rippling out from a stone that sunk into the fabric of time on a cold night in March when you held a cold baby girl in your shaky arms and wondered how you could possibly go on living in your body from which she was forcefully removed.
1 lb. 15 oz.
You decide not to buy anything else. You walk away from the self check out line with a bag of apples in your arms. You feel comfort from the weight of them and promise you will never let them go.
You place them delicately on the counter and go on living.
Weeks later, you think back on the experience and wonder where the apples have gone. You probably ate them in a moment of thoughtlessness or physical yearnings roughly translated into hunger pangs.
You wonder if you should feel sadness or remorse. You wish you could release some of the uneasiness through tears or despair, but you fall back on the one emotion that never fails you. Anxiety.
Sometimes life is measured in heartbeats. Sometimes length, weight, or compatibility level with life.
Sometimes, life is measured in apples.
And sometimes those apples are suddenly gone. And you can’t even remember how or why it happened.