Monday, March 11, 2013

Grieving the Loss of A Baby—The Silent Sorrow Begins

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”
Matthew 2:18; Hosea 11:1

           My hospital recovery days revolved mostly around warm, soothing showers and eating. I turned the hospital mealtimes into lengthy epicurean affairs: breakfast ran into lunch, lunch ran into dinner. The nurses satiated me with additional snacks throughout the day and night, helping me to fill the empty void in my heart with food. When things were slow at night, I visited with the on-duty nurses, who were physical caregivers and emotional ministers. I craved the reassurance of their physical touch and presence and welcomed their round-the-clock vital statistics audits.
            When I wasn’t gratifying my palate or socializing, I attempted to ambulate around the hospital, turning what might have been a ten-minute walk into a forty-five minute or more promenade. Often, I found it necessary to prop myself against a wall to alleviate the dizziness and exhaustion caused by the extreme blood loss.
            On one occasion, I became disoriented, got lost in the tiny hospital, and found myself wandering around the cardiac intensive care unit, smiling at staff and attempting to looks as though I knew where I was going. On the return trip to my room, I stumbled upon the hospital chapel, a cubicle measuring the size of a small walk-in closet, containing a single chair, and a small pedestal table offering a guest signature book. One wall displayed a beautiful stained glass cross, and I was greatly comforted by the presence of this familiar Christian icon. The cross always forces me to look up. I’d been studying the floor a lot during my brief sojourns around the halls.
            The miniature room’s subdued lighting provided a welcome respite from blanching hospital light glare. Sitting to rest and staying to thank God for my physical salvation, I also asked forgiveness for any unrecognized—or willfully ignored—sins that might have brought me to this arena of such severe pain and loss. Had there been a trespass following me like a shadow, looking for an opportunity to cross my path and break me? I sat praying and pondering undisturbed for what seemed like an hour. Eventually, reluctantly, I left the little sanctuary and its welcome seclusion, only because I needed to lie down.
             On another day, after collapsing into bed following one of my walks, my mother’s cousin and her husband surprised me with a visit and a beautiful red hydrangea, one of my favorite flowers. My spirits soared as she and her husband talked, shared, and reminisced. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself or think about my abdominal pain. She knew what I was experiencing; she was a kindred spirit and had an empathetic ear. She was also much-needed company. When they departed several hours later, I regretted to see them go.
            Dr. Gordon maintained the frequency of his visits and talked about releasing me on Thursday—three days after my surgery. But I didn’t want to go home. To what did I have to go home? I was getting an inordinate amount of attention at the hospital. The nurses were caring, the food was plentiful and surprisingly good. Chris would be working and Parker was in preschool. The house would be an awfully lonely alternative to the ministration I’d become accustomed to receiving. A neighbor had told me weeks earlier that she couldn’t wait to be released after her C-section delivery of her daughter. But she took home a new family member; she had a nursery to fill. She had a reason to return home.
            Large arrangements of plants and flowers filled my room, sitting alongside flower baskets sent for Easter. No, “Congratulations. It’s a Girl” balloons, or pink porcelain boots filled with flowers, or boxes filled with delicate blankets in which to bundle a new
baby. My room was covered with plant arrangements and notes expressing sympathy and regret, delivered by courteous, smiling hospital staff volunteers and flower couriers.
            The blooms brightened the room, and the accompanying notes expressed love, caring and concern. I was overwhelmed by the compassion expressed by employees of the company where my husband Chris had worked for just two weeks, as well as the love expressed by our friends from his former company and my technical school co-workers. I thought surely something would arrive from the church: a card, a flower, a visitor…Something. But something, and no one came, until the final day of my hospitalization when my pastor arrived to visit. 
            Why doesn’t anyone call? I wondered. Chris relayed to me that a couple of our friends from church called him to ask about my condition. Why weren’t they contacting me directly? Did they think I needed rest? I did. Did they think I didn’t want to talk? I needed conversation as badly as I needed to breathe. Were they afraid to talk to me? Being alone and forgotten loomed as my biggest fear.
            As the hours wore on, my hopes and expectations disintegrated when I realized that the calls weren’t going to come. Additional visitors, aside from my cousin, weren’t going to emerge from the noisy hallway outside my door. Joyful, exuberant laughter shared in other, happier rooms floated into my silent space. Jubilant people, carrying grinning pink and blue Mylar balloon bears floated in and out all day. I finally had enough of other people’s joy. I asked a nurse to close my door, to blockade my senses from the joyful ring of congratulatory voices and celebratory, affectionate embraces.
           The mortician came and went—twice— to obtain the endless, pertinent information for his forms, and divulge information about the loss of his daughter’s baby in her fifth month of pregnancy. Although he projected sincere, patient understanding, I was numbed by the repetitive, cursory, clinical questions and shocked by the cost to cremate my tiny infant. I didn’t know what else to do. A casket and plot seemed so expensive, and we didn’t have the money. Chris should have been there with me to help make those decisions; the mortician should have called him to schedule an after-work appointment with both of us. I should have asked for it, demanded it. But I was numb, and I didn’t know, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know; and someone should have stepped in to be my advocate. Instead, I bumbled on alone in decision-making.
            Nature also seemed to be on an unforgiving rampage, dealing another cruel blow when my breasts engorged with the milk intended for Victoria’s sustenance. What would normally signal a glorious ability to nourish a life became a cruel physical assault of a fallen creation.
            Eventually the flower and plant arrangements ceased to lift my spirits; the casual, superficial conversations with the nurses decreased in frequency. Slipping into depression, I asked the nurse to redirect my calls to the nurses’ station the final day of my stay. Per my request, the room lights were extinguished, and the blinds over the window looking out onto the sun-drenched outside courtyard closed. Simultaneously, I craved both the gentle, caring embrace of a human hand and ached for solitude. My room became a darkened cell of mental anguish.
            I craved privacy for the frequent waves of sorrow that drowned me, for the times when my hands sprung reflexively to my face to shelter my weeping eyes. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry. I was embarrassed, always taught never to divulge my true emotions, to always maintain a sense of internal, and external control. Only weak people cried.
            The room was too big; the room was too small. I wanted to unleash the inhuman scream silently piercing my brain. Oh, how badly I want to cry, unhampered by guilt or the ghosts of judgmental, condemning voices. Control, control, control, Andrea, ! No emotion, remember? Emotion garners punishment: sit ups, push ups, laps around the gym. Disdain, disgusted looks. Just stuff it and get on with life. Pretend it didn’t happen; pretend your pain doesn’t exist. That way everyone will be proud of how well you’re handling all of this and handling yourself. My heart threatened to split and leak its contents all over my controlled veneer.
            I sank into a black hole of grief. Rhythmically rocking my body back and forth, I implored in desperation to the vacuous room, “Oh, Victoria, what happened!? Where did we go wrong; what did I do?” Over and over I begged for an answer that never came.

            The silent sorrow had begun.

NEXT WEEK: Parker’s initial reaction to Victoria’s death and my home going…
(I said I’d have Parker’s reaction this week, but I decided to move it to next week’s post, since it seemed more appropriate to individualize that painful event for you.)

NOTE: There will be an additional post this week Wednesday where I will give you suggestions on how to say goodbye to your baby.

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!