Well-meaning people ask me all the time. ”How are you doing?” Such a loaded question. In polite society, the typical answers tend to be, “I’m fine,” “Doing OK,” “Getting better,” “Taking it one day at a time.” Etc. So these are the answers I provide; generic responses that vaguely allude to our tragedy without getting into details that might make them feel uncomfortable.
And why do I do this? Why do those of us who have experienced tragedy – of any kind – attempt to protect others from our pain? Because if I’m honest, no, I’m not ok. Most of the time, I’m stuffing down feelings that are just too difficult and painful to face or talk about. Even though I wake up every morning and continue breathing and living, even though I’m able to find joy in raising my son and being with my family, it’s still there. The pain. The gut-churning, tear-inducing, overwhelming pain. Just thinking the words, “Hannah died. My daughter died,” elicits a crushing ache in my chest that literally makes it hard to breathe.
Being honest about my feelings is unpleasant. It’s easier to offer the palatable, polite answers. It’s not completely dishonest, but it spares everyone the awkwardness of the truth. Especially now that we’re trying to get pregnant. I don’t want people to think I’m not ready because I’m still mourning Hannah. I’ll always be mourning. There’s no way to completely resolve the grief, so there’s no point in waiting it out. But I also don’t want people to think that just because we’re trying again, it means I’ve moved on from her death or that I’ve healed. That’s just not the case. Trying again is a step toward the future, but it’ll never erase what I’ve been through.
When people ask how many kids I have, I struggle with my answer. If I say one, I’m denying that Hannah existed. If I say two, I risk the possibility of follow up questions. But, explaining also gives me the opportunity to acknowledge Hannah’s place in my life. I gave birth to her. I was nine months pregnant. She has a name, a closet full of clothes, and very special place in my heart. She’s my daughter, even if she isn’t alive. It’s an impossible question to answer without feeling guilt or anxiety one way or another. I know it’ll be even worse when we eventually have another child.
Six weeks after Hannah was stillborn, I was at Wal-Mart when a visibly pregnant women asked me this question. I was honest with her. I told her about Hannah, and she asked me how far along I was when she died. I wasn’t anticipating this question and I felt incredibly guilty answering it. I looked at her belly and I looked at her and said, “I don’t want to tell you.” She said it was ok, she wanted to know. So I told her the truth. She was sympathetic about it and I apologized. I told her I knew it was last thing she wanted to hear and I was sorry if it upset her. She was very gracious and assured me that it was alright. She then told me about a friend of hers who had lost her baby late in pregnancy. It’s amazing to me how many people react this way. When they tell you about someone they know who has had a similar loss or that they’ve had one themselves. It seems like no one ever talks about it, but when you bring it up, it opens the door for someone else to commiserate and share their own experience.
I know it’s unpleasant to talk about, but I really don’t understand the hesitance to share our stories. When it happened to me, I felt completely unprepared because I didn’t realize things like that still happened. I read all about pregnancy and labor, I participated in pregnancy groups online – and no one mentioned stillbirth. In the most popular pregnancy book about expecting, stillbirth is explained in a page and a half in the index. That’s it. Shoved to the back so that no one accidentally stumbles upon it. And I get it. Pregnant women don’t want to think about the possibility. It’s difficult enough to hear about miscarriage in the beginning. Who wants to hear about a baby dying at the end? Once the first trimester is over, it feels safe. The danger has passed. Stillbirth isn’t that common statistically, but statistics don’t mean a thing when it happens to you. Suddenly you realize the danger never passes. I know it sounds pessimistic and unnecessarily negative, but I think that there should be more information about stillbirth readily available. It should be talked about in an honest way. There are plenty of other things that are statistically unlikely to occur, but we get plenty of information about it to make sure we are prepared for any outcome. It should be the same for late-term pregnancy loss. The first time a woman hears the word “stillbirth” shouldn’t be when it’s about to happen to her.
I’m not sure what the answer is here. I’m not even sure what my intention is. I think some days are just difficult. On Tuesday, it had been four months since Hannah was stillborn. It seems like everything has changed, but nothing is different. We’re trying to get pregnant again, and I keep thinking when I see the positive test, I can breathe a little easier. And yet I know that can’t be the truth. When I see those two lines, the stress and anxiety will be only beginning. But at least I’m trying to be prepared. I know what can happen. I know that being pregnant doesn’t mean I get to have a baby. So whenever I do get the positive, my motto will be, “Today I am pregnant.” And I will do everything I can to enjoy every single moment, even when I’m suffering, because those could be the only moments I have with my baby. Every day will be another day I get with our son or daughter, and for that I will be thankful.