“Let me see a picture of your daughter,” she says to me. I sit down, start to scroll through on my phone to find the cutest, my most recent favorite. We are in her tiny office, where I sometimes stop in to ask some Spanish question but mostly just walk past, saying hey there or hola over my shoulder. I find my picture, and slide my phone across her desk.
She smiles at my daughter.“Let me tell you,” she says, handing the phone back. “When your baby died, when that happened to you…”
I am taken aback. I have to stop and think. How did she know my first baby died? She didn’t work here. Did she? Then I remember, she did used to work here, in a different position. I barely saw her. And then she was gone for a year, and I forgot about her.
She shakes her head slowly. “I thought about you,” she goes on, in her thick accent that leaves off the final English consonants. “Because the same thing happened to me. I had a son who died.”
She begins to tell me her story.
I nod. “Joseph was thirty-four weeks.”
He was her first baby.
“Me, too. Joseph was my first.”
This was years ago, and in her third world country, the hospitals weren’t good. It was no good. Her words have drifted from English back into Spanish, the language of these memories.
With me it was… I want to say.
They finally got him out with forceps.
For me, they didn’t… I try to interrupt. I am nodding my head, shaking my head, cataloguing the ways our stories are similar, the ways they are different.
Five heart attacks. The last one, they didn’t revive him.
And Joseph… I want to tell Joseph’s story. I want to say his name, talk about him. I never get to talk about him anymore.
In those days, she says, they didn’t let you hold the baby. I wish, I wish I was able to hold him.
It’s not even eight o’clock in the morning. I feel like I’ve been blindsided. My heart is heavy with her story, and my own scars are tender and aching.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to hold Joseph, I don’t say. But I did. I wish I’d held him longer. I wish I hadn’t been so afraid.
I realize this is not the time for Joseph’s story. Not the time for my story. This is time for me to listen to their story.
She tells me about her husband. How she knew she wanted to leave him before their son died. She tells me how quickly she got pregnant again after her loss. An accident. She didn’t want the baby. I think about how hard my subsequent pregnancy was and I wanted it, and my heart breaks for her a little. She tells me about the anxiety. The crushing fear. She doesn’t tell me about her daughter’s birth.
I ask her son’s name and she tells me.
He would have been twenty-two this year, she says, looking straight at me. A soft smile on her lips.
I am counting in my head the number of us at work now that have lost a baby. How I had thought there were just three of us, then four, then seven. Now we are eight, and I cannot comprehend this number, this percentage. How many of us are surviving with these holes in our lives. How many of us walk around each day carrying the absent weight of our babies. How many of us have stories we are longing to tell, babies’ names we yearn to say out loud and hear repeated back to us.
I don’t want to be sitting here, listening to her story. I have a meeting to get to and already I am a few minutes late. Soon I will have to stand, shake off the shadow of Death, and walk out of her office as if everything is okay.
And still I don’t interrupt her, not quite yet. Because I know she needs this. The same way I, too, need to talk about Joseph, and hope someone will stay a moment, and look me in the eye, and listen.
Are you in a place where you can listen to other babyloss stories? Are they somehow comforting? Or do they make it worse? How do you integrate them into your own experience?