At the kitchen table: taking stock

photo by  Xin Li

photo by Xin Li

1.   How would you describe your relationship to fear before and after the loss of your baby?

Bon:  I thought I was pretty fearless, that I'd been there, done that. Now, I live with this metallic tang in my mouth, far more painfully aware of all the fragile houses of cards beneath my feet.

Janis:  Before: I can conquer it and beat it to a paste. After: It strangles me and I am trying to strangle it back.

Julia:  Before: an infrequent visitor. Now: an egg timer. I am terrified for this baby, terrified of missing something, missing a chance to save him. I hope it gets better if this baby makes it, but I don't know... I get the cold slimy drag me to the bottom thoughts about everyone now, including Monkey. I kick at them, I try not to give in. I mostly succeed.

Kate:  Fear was a bad stink that preceded a sprint in the opposite direction. Now, fear is the price of admission.

Niobe:  I've always been afraid.  That hasn't changed.

Tash:  Before, fear was a rollercoaster ride, messing up a dinner party, another Republican presidency.  Now, fear is ever-present, my constant companion dressed in black and carrying a scythe.

2.  Is your lost baby/are your babies present in your life? In what way?

Bon:  Seldom. When I feel him, it is mostly an act of attending on my part, a stillness and reaching for the sense of wonder I felt when he was first placed in my arms. The need comes less acutely these days, and there is a counter-need, too, to let go, to let him be, to honour the distance between us.

Janis:  Yes, intimately. The girls talk about him often too and last night Sophia told me, "Every night I see Ferdinand in our room." He has also appeared in dreams and .... spiritually... to my friends.

Julia:  As a longing, a missing. Monkey talks about A a lot. We talk less. I burn candles when I need them. According to the ultrasounds, the in-utero baby looks a lot like his brother. I don't know what that is likely to mean when...

Kate:  Sporadically. When I do get a sense of him, he is full of wonder and awe and peace, and he is whole, and he is simultaneously all the ages he should have been. He is my companion.

Niobe:  No.

Tash:  Well, there's a lilac bush, a tree, a soon-to-be-bench, a bracelet, a blog, and a box of ashes.  I guess she's everpresent.  And completely, totally, unreachably not.

3.  Tell us about something said or done after your loss that left you feeling nurtured or supported.

Bon:  The times when people acknowledged him, said his name... and the times his father and his grandmother each said out loud, "I loved him too."

Janis:  Acknowledgement. When they do things for him. When friends just support my space and allow me to be.

Julia:  1) We said the funeral would be for family only. Our friends asked if they could arrange for food for us for after, and if they could come then. We didn't tell them yes until nearly 6pm the night before. When we came back from the cemetery, the table was set, the nicest Old Country catered comfort food was there, along with strong drinks, and a friend who made it all happen. She told everyone else to come a bit later. So when they did, we were ready to see them. 2) Some friends who asked to see A's pictures. Not so much for us, they said, but for themselves. To make him more real to them.

Kate:  Aside from unwavering love from my parents, support from extended family or acquaintances has been rare. In one year, only two people have risked their own discomfort enough to say something like, “I heard about what happened to you and to Liam. My heart hurts to think of it, and I can't believe what you've been through, and I’m so sorry.”

Niobe:  I can't think of a single thing.  But, in general, I'm not very comfortable with being nurtured or supported.

Tash:  A fellow dog-walker whose name I didn't know, and who didn't know mine, came to my door a week after Maddy died with a card and a gift, and before leaving asked, "Could you tell me her name?  That way I can think of it, when I think of her and you."

4.  Tell us about something said or done after your loss that left you feeling marginalized or misunderstood.

Bon:  The most marginalizing for me was the silence. The pretense that all was okay, or that speaking of "it" was just too awkward to even acknowledge, left me feeling exposed and dismissed and adrift... because that response forced me either to don a mask utterly at odds with my inner reality, or broach the unspeakable myself.  And I was too weary and hurt to have the courage for that.

Janis:  Silence, pretending that nothing had happened.

Julia:  My MIL was terribly unsupportive, destructive even. She thought we were doing the grieving thing and the telling Monkey thing wrong, and she just kept telling JD about it. She is also the only relative who hasn't asked to see the pictures. Not that we were close before, but the rift now I don't think can be closed.

Kate:  “Gynecological drama... this kind of thing happens to everyone, you know. What do you think makes you so special? Get over it. You're making everyone uncomfortable.” —Someone I used to think of as a mother-figure

Niobe:  I can't really blame people for this, but the flowers, the endless repetitions of"I'm so sorry for your loss," the over-solicitous "how are you doing?",  the intrusive questions ("what were their names?" "where are they buried?")  ate away at my soul.

Tash:  Tie:  "Did you bring the baby?" —Receptionist at my six-week check. Also: "We're not going to go tonight—they say it might rain."  —Family member, on the morning of a nationally-sponsored candlelight service for children who've died.  They'd known about the service for three months.  And no, it didn't rain.

5.  What's taken you a long time to do again? How did it feel, if you have?

Bon:  To stop comparing my lot against those of the people around me. What part of me has succeeded in this feels free. What part of me has not, yet, still feels small and bewildered and vaguely persecuted, resentful of having to repeatedly adjust my expectations.

Janis:  Baking. It's an act of love for me, a way to nurture those I love. For a long time, I did not have my heart in me to bake anything. The first time I did it again, it took all of me, I was exhausted. I still do not bake as often as I used to. It still takes much energy.

Julia:  It took a long time to go into the building where my old department is. I didn't want to face these people. I didn't know if they knew, and I was so not looking forward to having to tell them. Eventually I had to go for work purposes, and it went ok. My old advisor was great, though that was not necessarily predictable. Others were mostly ok.

Kate:  To revel in this body.

Niobe:  To have a relationship with my family. My ties to all the members of my family have been frayed or shredded into unrecognizable pieces. I can't imagine I'll ever be able to mend them.

Tash:  Taste.  Honestly, it came back incrementally, and only recently did I realize that I'm enjoying eating my food again.

6.  How would you describe yourself as a partner before, and after?

Bon:  Intensely engaged but perfectionist. Now, more brittle and less present, but gentler, too, on both of us.

Janis:  I have become less demanding, more tender, gentler.

Julia:  I think I am more patient and more understanding now. Willing to give more slack. More willing to articulate what I need rather than getting pissed if he doesn't figure it out himself. Usually, usually that's true. Not always. Especially not when I feel myself stretched to the limit with fear and worry. But he has also learned to handle with more care, and that helps.

Kate:  Straightforward and sensible and confident. Then a prickly, touchy, needy, distant, full-of-shadows escapist.

Niobe:  I have trouble even understanding the question.  Being a partner isn't one of the ways that I define myself.

Tash:  Patient, honest, ready to prove the depths of my love, dealing with adversity through humor.  Now, vulnerable, impatient, a bit more needy than I'd prefer, still dealing through humor, thank goodness.  As for honesty, I once threw out a "NICU Graduation Party!" invite (after calling to confirm that Maddy didn't exactly graduate) without telling him, and for some reason it looms over me like a badly kept secret -- that somehow it's dishonest if we don't share every waking moment of this grief in lockstep.