Angie, a writer, poet, and painter, joins us today at Glow in the Woods as a regular contributor. With the stillbirth of her second daughter Lucia, Angie began writing at Still Life with Circles. She shares a piece of art, music or writing from a bereaved parent or family member every day at the year-long creative project still life 365. Angie resides near Philadelphia.
Angie is kind, thinky, and an occasional firecracker. And so here, among us, she just makes sense. Please join us in welcoming her as yet another glowy cabin host.
I don't want her to notice me, but I keep staring at her. I will myself to simply ignore her, but then I look back to make sure she is not looking. My attempt to avoid her gaze wrenches her towards me.
"I know you. Where do I know you from?" My eyes fall on the eighteen month old girl staring at me from her shopping cart.
"That's right! How are you?" And her eyes fall on the car seat propped in the front of my basket.
"How old is he?"
She bends down to see in the front of the car. Math is happening. Confusion is settling in. She stares at me, unsure what to say. I have a three year old and a three month old. Nothing is calculating. Awkwardness has just split again and again like some kind of quickly reproducing virus, filling the air around us, suddenly and oppressively.
"My daughter, from that class, died. She was stillborn at 38 weeks."
We drink in the conversation suddenly diseased by death.
"Oh my God. I have chills."
"Well, to be honest, I have chills too. I haven't talked to anyone from that class, or the instructors, and some of the most loving memories of my daughter is prenatal yoga. I have been afraid to see people, or even go back to a yoga studio."
I said it. Out loud. I am afraid of you. I am afraid of yoga.
With Lucy in me, I felt more beautiful than I ever have in my life. I wore long flowing dresses and walked in the grass barefooted. I reveled in being rounded and beautiful. I was able to grow beautiful baby girls, and it made me feel like magic. I took yoga to connect with Lucy, my second daughter, after chasing my one year old all day. Prenatal yoga was the time of the week that was solely ours. As I practiced, I would think how incredibly happy I was on a deep fundamental level. Every cell of my body was contented. I wanted this exact life at this exact moment.
photo by virginia zuluaga
The prenatal yoga instructor made each of us promise to email or call within 72 hours of our births. So she could tell the others. So she could know about our beautiful babies. She said the same thing every class for the new people and to remind all of us. She. Was. Serious.
I did, you know, tell her in the 72 hour window after Lucy died. I sent an email to every person in my address book with our impossibly sad news. It was the worst thing I could imagine at the time--having to tell someone in the supermarket that my daughter died.
We received many condolences. The ones that were most surprising to me were the ones that weren’t there. There was nothing from the prenatal yoga instructor. I wish I could say that I didn't keep score of such things. But I did. I remember every "I'm sorry," no matter how awkward. Every. Single. One. Weeks passed and I sent her another email about continuing yoga. And then a few more weeks, I sent another. Written delicately between the lines in invisible sanskrit, I wrote, "Please help me, Yogini. Certainly, you of all people have sat with a grieving mother. Certainly, you of all people can help me trust this body again. Certainly, you of all people can shed a beautiful light on this darkest of occurrences. Certainly, you of all people have wisdom about death."
Two months and another email later, I received an email from the yoga instructor with many excuses about why she didn’t say she was sorry earlier. “I wanted to give you space to grieve,” she said. Because emails with a simple “I’m sorry” are always so disruptive, I snarked in my head. She gave me ten free sessions and wished me well.
To be frank, I forgot she ran a business. I considered her part of my holistic maternity care. We talked long after class about birthing. I thought she loved and cared for each little baby growing in each lumbering body that came to her studio. I thought she was a healer, some kind of secular shaman and a person comfortable with life as well as death. How do you soothe people, help them find a center, when you ignore a huge part of this human experience—death, grief, mourning and chaos? Can you sit with life if you cannot sit with death?
To the beautiful pregnant hippy mother I once was with Lucy in my belly, I am now the ugly punk rock girl with pins through her face and a mess of fried green hair. I feel scabby and damaged. I reject yoga. The mind/body connection feels like bullshit to me now.
It is acute in this market, talking to this mother. The refrain in my head is, "The fucking yoga instructor said nothing." But this yoga mother is different. She speaks with sincere compassion about my daughter. If she had only known, she said. She wears her health and happiness, her spirit and her graciousness, like war paint. I wear my grief and sadness like a Kevlar vest. I protect myself against who I once was, maybe who I want to be. But she made it easy for me to talk to her simply by dint of her not making excuses to get away. She listened. There is no magic formula to being a good support in my grief. Listen. Be brave. I want you to work out. I am rooting for you.
Sometimes I think my subconscious is a neodymium magnet. I didn't want to talk to her. I felt nauseous and unnerved when I saw her. But maybe I did want to talk to her. Maybe I want to invoke Lucy's name. Maybe I wanted one of the yoga women to know my baby died, while theirs lived. Or maybe it is this little girl staring at me. I don't usually imagine what Lucy would be doing, or where she would be in her life. I am not that imaginative. But maybe I just wanted this specific experience--Little Girl: Aged Same As Dead Daughter.
I thanked her for standing and talking to me a bit. Maybe, I muse, talking to you might help break that fear I have of going back in a studio and practicing yoga again. But deep down, I know it won't. I don't measure my growth in long speeches, but perhaps a sigh here or there. One day, perhaps, my warrior position will be different. Perhaps it will hold both life and death.
I believe in the mind-body connection sometimes. Other times, I think it paints the world with a broad magical brush, especially when it comes to pregnancy. 'Just buy into the organic / yoga / no lunch meat / no alcohol / left-side sleeping / meditating / positive thinking thing and your baby will be fine.' And I think that is bullshit, even if I think all those things are good to practice in pregnancy. And I think it's okay to call bullshit.
What about you? What large part of who you once were have you rejected after your child's death? What schools of thought, or spiritual and mind/body practices have you retained since the loss of your baby? What have you discarded, and why? What have you found that's given you some comfort?