When all we have are words

photo by  Xin Li

photo by Xin Li

My body is idle on the couch, but my discontented mind is elsewhere; searching for something I am unaware of. I reluctantly scroll through the search option on Instagram to fill the void of silence…the quiet in my home that reminds me what is not.

This is probably a bad idea. It usually is.

I catch a glimpse of a black and white image of a mother and new son, and I stop scrolling. She holds the baby to her chest, as mothers tend to do, but this picture seems peculiar in some sense. I click on it, scroll in, and try to study his features to determine if he is dead. His lips are too pink, the look on his mother’s face too content. I decide he is alive. Still, she seems oddly preoccupied and indifferent.

I skim the narrative she’s supplied under the image, and see words such as “grief” and “trauma” describing how she felt in this moment in her life, and become more confused. These words are then formed into combinations of various hashtags, and 250 people have “liked” this post. 30 have commented. I wonder again if he is in fact dead. This is our language, isn't it? 

I quickly skim through the comments, the tension within me rising. One after another, mothers share their personal experiences with heartbreak and suffering in the hospital and after. They are talking about their disconnection from their body, their anger, their failure, and desire to go back. They commiserate and lament and support.  They’re depressed, and hurting, and they are finding each other in this space.

They say they are grieving something.

I finally realize the common thread between all these women has nothing to do with infant loss. They are simply sharing in the disappointment of a less-than-ideal birthing experience. The process from labor to baby didn’t go the way they wanted it to go, and they are ruminating over what happened and what didn’t. I’m angry, but I decide this is how they fill up their time and space, because frankly they simply don’t know how much worse it could be. This isn’t necessarily the part that bothers me, although it bothers me.

What upsets me is the fact that they are supporting each other in the same mother tongue that we do, to the point it is nearly impossible to distinguish their feelings from what we would write about ours. It all sounds so similar, when we could not be further apart. I wonder if they knew what we know, how it would change them. I wonder if it would change the way they used the words #grief and #trauma. I want to tell all of them, from this particular woman's post about birth-trauma to the ends of the mother/baby universe:

+ Like you, giving birth didn't go the way we wanted, only our babies aren't in our arms. They are in the ground, or in the form of ashes.
+ Like you, we also have post-partum depression, along with our actual dead child to grieve.
+ Like you, we have painfully engorged breasts, but nobody is there to nourish and provide for, so we let them dry up in defeat.
+ Like you, we too stay up all night, not because our baby is crying, but because we ache for them in the still and quiet darkness that blasts into our broken hearts with such profound noise.

When you are in the pit, after having held your dying or dead child, and words are all you have, they are not enough. If in fact these words serve to describe how they feel, they can’t remotely come close to defining the darkness and emptiness that plagues us.  It seems as though these words have been stolen, describing other events and circumstances, overused and cheapened, and when we need them most, they no longer serve us. 

I know they are just words. I know we have to share them. But it feels like we should get something more. Maybe it’s not the fault of the word. Maybe the words just simply don’t stretch as far as we are gone. Maybe there are no words to truly describe the pain of it all. Sometimes, in my angriest times, I wish there was something sacred, something more, something I could selfishly claim and reserve for those of us who have walked this path and nobody else. It just doesn't seem fair, to share.

But there is nothing set aside just for us, except each other.

Still, I wish.