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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Connecting Stillbirth to Life

Greetings, KuKd/TTC Guests and Regulars...

There's a baby shower coming up, and a conundrum in my head to work through. Why can't things be simple and easy, without conundrums?

Feel free to be troubled by that term: baby shower. I know it pains some readers to think about, because it pained me for the longest time. I get that. What other words could be used to describe this event?

For this one in particular, it's a small gathering of uber-high-quality, intelligent, kind and compassionate women from a range of generations - my friends and mother and mother's friends - coming together to eat crab salad on croissants. It's being organized by Jen, the incredible friend that I first called upon learning of Zachary's in-utero demise. The baby-gift-giving concept was making me vomit-worthily anxious, so I stole my friend K's idea of a participatory "book shower:" in lieu of gifts, everyone bring a favorite kids' book with a note inscribed for this unborn baby's first library, and we'll all go around and explain the meaning of the book we brought.

All of that, I'm cool with. Excited about, really. It's the conundrum of where/how the past fits in with this event, or if there's a even place at all for it, that's been on my mind lately.

* * *

A wee bit of background, of course, before returning to the conundrum at hand:

For every calamity that can happen to a person, it seems, someone has written a self-help book about it. And for miscarriage and stillbirth, that definitive book would probably have to be Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby - what's essentially known to be THE Lonely Planet Guide to the Weird, Mind-Trippy Land of Dead-Babystan. If you're like me, you've probably thumbed through pages of it. A well-meaning friend or family member might have shipped a shiny new copy to you via FedEx, or perhaps a grief counselor slid this decent-sized book across the table in your direction. And if you're like me, you probably glanced through the pages with mixed emotion.

First, you wondered crabbily what useful things a PhD-holder named Deborah Davis could possibly tell you. "Deborah Davis" was decidedly not the name of your cool, authoritative older sister who gets it - but rather one of your mother's friends who wore waist-high jeans and made casseroles with french-fried onions in the 1980s. Yet, you also felt strangely comforted by the thought of a PhD-holder named Deborah Davis standing behind you, whispering words of guidance into your ear. Even the cover of this book - sort of a light peach with soothing fonts - was nice to look at. It felt like something official and organized, giving you hope that society was with you on this strange journey, holding your hand and telling you what to do and think, warning you of what was ahead.

At least, this is how it was for me, dipping into this book.

I've pretty sure I've got a copy of it still lying around, dusty and crammed into a storage box in the sagging clapboard garage behind our house - although I've not cracked it open in a year or two. There's one chapter toward the end that I've got half a mind to read right now - and if it weren't 3:00 in the morning and drizzling outside, I might even throw on a sweatshirt over the one I'm wearing, wander out there in my socks while my dog stares at me dumbfoundedly, and dig around for it - just to get to that chapter.

It's called something like "Coping with Subsequent Pregnancies," a section I recall not only ignoring back when I was routinely skimming pages of this book, but feeling mysteriously irritated by it. How dare they include a chapter that had zero relevance in my life, that - in some dull and undefinable way - hurt to even glance at!

* * *

Now, back to the conundrum, to the reason why I feel suddenly compelled to dip into that book again - into that chapter in particular - with the dim hope for some useful insight. Being 37 weeks into what Deborah Davis would probably consider a classic example of a "subsequent pregnancy after stillbirth," I guess I'm not surprised that something as commonplace as a baby shower might trigger a bit of mental weirdness.

The conundrum, the question here, is: is there a place for remnants of the past at this baby shower? A place for the memory of Zachary, the theoretical older brother of the not-yet-born infant whose pending birth is bringing all of these amazing women, shiny new books, delicious crab salad together under one roof? He would have been two-and-a-half years old right now. What about the 4-month "male fetus" before Zachary, that abstract concept of a baby who would have been almost four years old today? Can either of them be honorably mentioned at this buoyant celebration of a new life to come, or will their memory cast a visible downer over the entire affair?

I don't know, of course, because baby-loss - and pregnancy thereafter - is like the Wild West: land without rules or conventions or rituals. You bumble along for years and years, making up rules of social etiquette as you go along - hoping you don't offend or baffle or alienate anyone in the process.

What I do know is that memories and feelings of the past, of Zachary's in-utero life in particular, of the motherhood-fantasy I'd associated with him - crop up at the oddest times nowadays, like when I'm thinking about baby showers. I feel overly reflective sometimes as I try to connect those old memories to this new stage in my life. It's cool to imagine such a thing, that our experiences in life are more than mere unrelated dots on a long line, which we pass through chronologically like unthinking robots, never looking backward or forward. Wouldn't a Zen-Buddhist guru-type advocate such a circular and reflective way of living?

So, the baby shower.

It was Jen, this very same Jen, that organized the one for Zachary two years ago - except that Zachary's, of course, was abruptly cancelled. For the past few weeks, I've had this strange urge to use this upcoming baby shower as an chance to honor and remember not just the new baby supposedly on the way, but the old baby who never got the baby shower. And not just honor the babies, but the "me" that I was back then, who never got the baby shower either. How wrecked and pathetic I was at the time, how inconsolable, how unfair life felt to me.

They're on my mind, that old injured me and the baby that didn't make it - but, as I said - it's not clear to me if there's a place for those haggard relics of the past at this sparkling and hopeful new baby shower coming up. There is, of course, the danger of turning into one of "those people" who can't stop dwelling on their own calamaties, who are always pouncing on opportunities to publicize and dramatize the woes that they cling to. God, how I fear becoming one of "those people." So I've been pondering more subtle possible ways to slip it into the baby shower:

-raise my glass of sparkling cider and bang my fork against it, and demand to make a toast "to Zachary," hoping that people don't squirm uncomfortably in their seats

-covertly write his name in the sheet-cake frosting using my index finger, licking the icing off my hand before anyone sees me do it

-duck into the bathroom by myself for a quick bawl-session on my own

-wander off and gaze pensively out the window, hoping some deep thoughts of the past just come to me naturally

That's it - I'm out of ideas.

Maybe there IS no place for that past here, at least not publicly. Maybe I should do what everyone else is doing - my parents, my in-laws, my friends: keep my eyes trained forward, focused on the current baby in my belly, and quit bringing up the cobwebby past that holds no relevancy in this new life to come. Just chillax and enjoy my baby shower - the books and the crab salad and the company - being surrounded by amazing friends and family. Revel in it for the happy little isolated "dot" that it is, and stop thinking so hard. Stop looking back at past dots and trying to make sense of it all. Maybe it would be considered bad form to do otherwise.

That's cool; I can do that - keep my own little conundrums private inside my head, and grapple with them there. I suppose that's where grief always leads a person anyways: to a place where you're left to handle lingering thoughts and feelings on your own.

But MAN OH MAH, it sure would be nice if there were another way. If I get my act together this morning, maybe I will make it out to that sagging clapboard garage afterall, and dig up old Deborah Davis' stillbirth bible. Maybe she's got some useful gems to dish out on this subject.


Kara's Mom said...

This is a tough one. I've asked everyone NOT to do a baby shower this time, so I obviously won't have this issue. I like your idea of a toast, it does seem right and fitting to mention your precious Zachary at his little brother's baby shower. It may make some uncomfortable, but this is for you, not for them. I think you should do it.

Emerging Butterfly said...

I's o.k. to make others uncomfortable. This is your life. Your baby shower. Zachary wasn't just imagined, and you can't keep him in a closet just because he didn't make it to hold your hand. You can hold him as a presence...because he IS.

I'm convinced that one of the loneliest parts of losing a baby is that no one else seems to want to know that losing a baby happens. They don't want to think about it. For me, it is really meaningful when a friend understands that Simon and Alexander didn't just... disappear. They died. We talk about our grandparents at gatherings, we toast to their memories. Why not give a baby who died the same acknowledgment. He clearly means so much to you, as he should. Toast to your son. Toast to your past. It's not's beautiful.

Leslie said...

I don't know, that's a tough one. Maybe there IS no other way than to pretend that you've moved on. It depends on how you think other peoples' discomfort will affect you. Who cares about THEM of course, but will they be more hurtful to you than it is worth, these uncomfortable reactions of others?

A really tough decision, and one am sure you'll continue to grapple with. If it isn't too obnoxious of me, I DO think it is OK to try to focus on the child you are carrying for this one day.

therootofallevel said...

i absolutely love the baby book idea. maybe you can dig out a book you or someone close to you bought for zach and tell your own story of his book once everyone has spoken.

or maybe you can just shuffle out the store and pick zach up a new one.

OR, you could use your loss. HELL, you could even use the book YOU wrote?

either way, i do believe zach would love to be present during this celebration, and even if no words are said, he'll be there.

MB and Frank said...

if everyone else is to bring a book, why can't you select one from zachary to the new baby? big brother to baby brother? that would be a pretty sweet way to end your baby shower, and i would think it would make you feel that he is loved by all attending. and, if they feel uncomfortable, who cares. this day is about you, and your children, and no one else!

Being Me said...

Nobody gave me a baby shower the second time and the first time, the baby arrived so early that there hadn't been any plans in the works yet. When I was full term the second time (novel for me!), we went and bought a gift from Ella to her as yet unborn sister. It was all I needed to do. The thought of an all-out shower made me blood stop in my veins.

So I say, do what you want to do and have no regrets.

Hope's Mama said...

I too avoided a baby shower the second time around. I had one, round one, and it was everything a baby shower was supposed to be. Funninly enough though, after vowing I would NEVER attend one again, I am throwing one for my baby sister in a few weeks, who is just a few weeks behind you with her first. There are some babies and bumps that don't sting, because they are attached to someone special. And my sister is almost babylost by default, as she has lived my nightmare right along beside me.
Anyway, that story of mine didn't have much relevance to you, but I hope you find away to incorporate Zach in to your day. I love the book idea. I might have just done this myself if I'd heard of it.l

Michelle said...

For what it i worth I definitely think Zachary has a place at this baby shower. He has a place in your heart and in your life and this shower is about you. Like others have said it is not about them but I guess it soes depend on how it will make YOU feel with their uncomfortableness because I am sure there will be some but I definitely like the at least a toast idea but I really liked the person who mentioned the book idea. We did the book thing at my sisters shower and everyone wrote him a note. We also passed out 18 cards and each person filled out a card to give him on one of his first 18 birthdays. IT was a great idea because there are some who definitely will not be around when he is 18 and every year it i fun to see who wrote in the card back then. I hope you have a WONDERFUL baby shower you so deserve it!

Sharon said...

I don't think that honouring Zachary at your baby shower makes you onne of THOSE people. He has a place in your life and he should be remembered as such.
My baby shower was also a mixed bag, celebrating the new baby while remebering the past. The past is as much a part of who we are as the present.
Enjoy the shower Mon!

Rach said...

Your babies, your baby shower, I say honour away. They're your friends and family, they love you and care for you and will not judge or hold judgements against you for doing what feels right for YOU.

I hope it all goes well and you enjoy every minute of it!


Anonymous said...

I like this one (probably b/c I like cakes.)

"-covertly write his name in the sheet-cake frosting using my index finger, licking the icing off my hand before anyone sees me do it"

and the library for your new baby sounds ideal. I have a 22 yr. old and have saved all of her books I cherish them. I feel you though- my friends want to plan a blessingway for me and I'm like- sheesh I don't know.......

KuKd Chick said...

These are grrrrreat ideas, all of them! I really needed this insight because I was feeling swamped inside my head. I like the idea of either bringing in a book that relates to Zachary or kind of giving him a quick shout-out, just something to say I wish he were here with me today to celebrate the new arrival. That keeps it upbeat and focused on the new baby while not forgetting the other one. Ohhhhh life, complicated life. :-)

Anonymous: yeah, the cake thing. That's something I'd do if sufficiently intoxicated.

Leslie said...

Just thinking... ideally your guests will be wonderfully amazing and sensitive enough to do something in honor of Zachary themselves. To let you know that they haven't forgotten. What if you confide your wish for him to be mentioned to one of your closer friends beforehand? Think about if it would be better for someone else to give the shout out first.

Desiree said...

I vote for the toast and the book ideas. Do them both - it's your shower and your feelings, honor them!
Maybe you could light a candle for Zachary and the male fetus? You don't have to make a big deal out of it, but the light of the candles could be a subtle reminder of the light of their little souls?

Besides, anyone who comes to your shower will know your story and *should* understand what you're wanting to do for the little boys that came before this one. And piss on them if they don't.

Schae said...

Zachary is this new person's big brother, he deserves a place at the shower. I don't know why anyone would be uncomfortable, you're honouring his memory. They would be one of THOSE people for feeling uncomfy - how odd of THEM!

Tina said...

You are so funny...I don't even think I looked at the author's name much less thought about what era she would be from!! I haven't looked at this book in many months and didn't know this chaptere was in there, but I think I will be searching for the book today. I know it is around here somewhere. I would love to hear how you honored Zachary at your shower some day! xx