Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Real"

It's the loneliest feeling in the world, grieving for someone no one else knew but you. I wrote that as a comment the other day, I just typed it out without really even thinking about it. But when I reread it, in my futile attempt to prevent commenting with glaring typos which, without fail, I always do, the words affected me. Even though they had come out of my own head and had landed on the screen from my not so nimble fingers typing them out, they bothered me.

All week I have been thinking about them. The idea that this horrible grief is made worse by the fact that I can't share any memories of my baby with anyone. I can't say, "Oh, remember when Caleb...." nope, nothing. Sure, I could drive down to my doctors office and ask my favorite ultrasound tech if she shares my same memory of how hard it was to get "the baby" to stay still so we could get a clear picture of him, but it's just not the same thing is it? I can remind my husband of the nights when I would sit in bed and watch "the baby" kick, and that's about as close as it gets. Watching my belly shift and bob as this tiny creature explored his surroundings. Everyone else has only dreams of him, hopes for him, ideas of who he might be. But he wasn't really "real" yet, to the outside world. We didn't even know if he was a boy or a girl, he was still, just "the baby".

So this grief thing becomes everyone feeling bad or sad, for me, because I lost the baby. While my grief is because my baby is lost. That's the lonely part. No one can ever really miss him because no one ever knew him. Not what he looked like, how he smelled, how his tiny hand felt wrapped around my finger, how his chubby little foot looked when I lifted it up to look at his toes, how much he looked like his big sister. None of it. My husband has been telling me this since day one of this nightmare. He said, "It's not the same for me. I didn't have the same attachment, he wasn't living in me, I didn't know him like you did." When he first told me that, I was really angry. I thought it was his chicken shit way of copping out on grief. I would argue with him, "He was your son too! You saw him, you felt him, you did too know him, he was real!" I wanted him to acknowledge that he had lost his son too, I wanted him to hurt like I did, to feel like I felt, to miss him like I did. I did not want to be the only one who felt the way I did. But now I know, what he already knew, I was on my own and no one was ever going to know the loss I had. No one.

When I asked my husband if it ever bothered him to answer the "How many kids do you have?"question, he said he didn't even think about it. He always answers "two". He said it's not that he doesn't believe or feel that Caleb was his son but that now, he has "two" and that's it. Like they say, you can't miss what you never had, right? Who the fuck are 'they" anyway???

I suppose my trying to talk more about Caleb IRL is my way of making him 'real' to the outside world. On Friday, I talked to two of my friends about him. One just listened, it was a brief conversation but I felt so much better saying out loud what I was thinking in my head, rather than just burying my thoughts with random chatter as is my usual M.O.. The other, my pregnant friend from ballet, actually asked more questions, including the "are you thinking about trying again?" one. I shared some of my delivery story with her, especially the parts where my OB became the worst doctor in the world with her infamous "If you do this vaginally you'll feel great! when you leave the hospital", said to me in her office upon learning our child was dead and discussing 'delivery' options and "Well, you only had 1/2 a VBAC." said to me in the moments after I delivered Caleb. I think my friends comment was, without misquoting her, "What a fucking bitch." and she then offered to help me find a new, nice OB should I ever manage to get myself pg again. That's the first time I have ever told the story out loud to anyone outside my family. Saying it out loud, to my friend, made Caleb feel more real to me and I hope real in some way to her. It gave him a moment, the briefest of life experiences. It gave life to him outside my belly in the strangest of ways. I imagine in my head, my friend relating the story to someone else, which means she will talk about him, even if it is only to say "When my friend delivered her stillborn son...", and even though they will never know Caleb, they will know he existed and that he was real.

Sometimes I compare myself to someone who suffers from "phantom limb" syndrome. A victim of a horrible, tragic set of circumstances who has some part of their body, a leg or maybe an arm, removed and yet still reaches out at random moments, years later, to scratch an itch on that same leg or arm because they can still feel that limb. In the same way, I have had a part of me, who was this whole other person, literally ripped from my womb and I know for the rest of my life, for as long as I draw breath I will always feel the pain, the ache of his absence and I will always, always know, that something is missing. And that he was real.


“What is real?” asked the Rabbit one day.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.
“It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for
A long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you
Become Real.”
“Does it hurt? asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.
“When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once”, he asked or bit by bit?”
It doesn’t happen all at once, you become. It takes a long time.
Generally by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off,
And your eyes drop out…But these things don’t matter at all,
Because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people
Who don’t understand.
“…once you are Real, you can’t become unreal again.
It lasts for always.”
The Velveteen Rabbit

10 comments:

Julia said...

This thing used to drive me crazy-- the idea that all of these people around, going about their business don't even know he was here. That he was a gorgeous boy, that his fingers were long, that he was big and strong, just dead. Took a long time for that part to quiet down. This is also, I realized, perhaps the biggest reason I can't deal with my MIL why I have decided she is not part of my family-- she was one of the few people who were supposed to remember him, and she chose not to. It is hard to think about what we miss about them. I finally settled on everything, all the things we never got to know. Yesterday I asked my daughter what her favorite good memories of A were, and she couldn't come up with them. So we talked about the time she came to the ultrasound and watched him swim, and the many times she would talk to him and put her hands on my belly to get a kick. That helped her, but yes, all of this is so inadequate.
About husbands. You know, I actually thought/still think that my husband had it worse in the beginning. Not only did I have a job to do, so I could and did concentrate on that, not only did I, through a random walk in the blogosphere stumble onto the grief community before, and so kinda had an idea of what might happen, but I also had that connection to A, knew something of him, while my husband was pretty much sitting and waiting to meet his son. So he felt very very cheated, very very robbed. We switched off on the "worse" title a few times since then, but I am sure he is not hurting less than me. And in a perverse sense, I am grateful for that, because at least we understand each other. Although I have to say that while my answer to that question is always "one living child," he doesn't always want to go there.

Can I tell you, though? Caleb was real. If nothing else because you love him, and because you tell us about him. And I also like your friend a lot. Fucking bitch is just about right for that OB. Stories of insensitive medical personal always make me angry, in large part, I think, because we had the best experience possible under the circumstances, as far as the sensitivity and care was concerned.

c. said...

It makes me so sad that we are the only real witnesses to these babies. That we grieve and grieve and grieve for little beings who mean so little else to everyone around us. Of course, they start to question our sanity or judge us for “grieving” a little too long. We’re grieving imaginary babies, in their eyes.

I like your story about telling your friend what your doctor said while discussing delivery options and motivated by the insensitivity of the comments made, she will very likely tell someone else the story of Caleb’s birth. I like that, in the retelling, he becomes real. I guess the lesson is: tell everyone. Tell everyone and anyone who will listen. Tell, tell, and tell some more even if they’ll think you’re crazy. Because, in telling, in sharing, in exposing our grief, our babies are made real. Like the velveteen bunny, which by the way I cringe every time my children bring out for story time, because it is so damn long. I think I will bring it out tonight though.

Beautiful, moving post, Kalakly. XO.

Rosalind said...

I remember when you wrote it and it struck a cord in me as well .. Because I find my grief is starting to turn inward and becoming more private..Three and a half months later everyone IS over it and i'm here trying to be as normal as everyone else. The reality is I need to talk about Micah more, I need to share some of my memories that are slowly coming back to me. It's just hard for me to find te right time for that to happen...I don't know ..It's just lonely as hell

Coggy said...

I think Rosalind summed it up. My grief is definitely becoming much more private. I feel like everyone has forgotten. When I mention J to all but a handful of people I can hear them stuttering mentally. 'My G*d is she still talking about him!!'.

It is so hard when we are the ones, the only ones really that can keep their memories alive. I want to talk about him often, sometimes it's not just with grief. I want to reminisce I want to talk about the funny things he did. I can't understand why they don't see it the same way. Sometimes when I talk about my pregnancy I think feel like people think it doesn't count because I don't have a baby now.
You're right Kalakly this is the loneliest thing in the world. I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that as long as DH and I remember him and talk of him that's all that matters.

Coggy said...

Sorry I wanted to say I love that quote and it's very apt.

missing_one said...

I think you hit the head on the nail.

When someone dies, everyone mourns who knew that person together. They take comfort in each other.
The problem with mourning our babies is that other people only have to mourn the "idea" of our babies (even DH). We mourn the actual person...the person we knew as well as the idea.

So our grief continues long after others' grief subsides.

hugs. I remember this all too well. The weird thing is now, I feel really special to be the one who knew her...weird...

charmedgirl said...

when i imagine getting pregnant again (ie, a fantasy), i always imagine that i will keep it a secret. not for fear of losing the baby, but because i revel in my secret, just me and the baby in there. i have yet to figure out what exactly the pleasure would be in that....maybe the fact that no one would know that baby until they're "out" anyway? kind of like what you're saying?

this is my second time around this post. i couldn't comment the first time because that velveteen quote hit me like a ton of bricks. god above.

also, i wanted to add, that i always felt that motherhood was the lonliest thing i'd ever experienced (not so much anymore, but when they were younger). grieving a dead baby who never lived outside me is right up there.

passingwindows said...

That is such a beautiful post. Talk about Caleb as much as you can on here, I will always listen. I often think of my son and how I am the only one that knew him. I still can't talk about him without crying but I love your story of telling your friend who will tell someone else who will tell someone else.

Depressionista said...

I remember. I remember telling my husband that I just wished somebody missed her as much as I did. So sorry.

charmedgirl said...

shit!! this fucking sucks.