Goodness, I didn't realize that last post was going to turn on the waterworks for so many readers. Well, what would life be without a good cry every now and again, right? I even watered up while writing that one. It's funny; I showed that post to Kevin (who, incidentally, stopped reading my blog a long time ago - the dastardly bastard), and his response was: "I don't get why this one is making your readers get all sappy and emotional. It's just...a post about my school reunion." Sigh. Men.
Moving on...I was going to talk about something lighthearted and silly this morning in the spirit of balance and contrast. But then good old Stirrup Queen brought my attention to a recent article in the Washington Post, in which staff writer Alan Goldenbach laments society's apparent inability to talk about stillbirth. My gut reaction to this article was surprising even to myself, so I'll share that here and save the fluff for next time.
Here's the thing (sound familiar?): Goldenbach wanted answers about his own son's dirth, but his doctors pretty much dismissed his questions and were reluctant to look more deeply into possible preventable causes. Cord accident or something similarly, unnervingly vague. Shit happens, they basically told him. Goldenbach's point was that everyone, even doctors, are unable to talk about stillbirth and its causes and possible prevention measures, and that this was...well...frustrating to say the least.
But what really caught my attention wasn't the article itself, but the eye-popping comments that were posted by readers in response. Check out these zingers:
"Oh, for pete's sake, people. I'm a mother, so I understand how crushed you all must be if you have lost a fetus or child. Nobody should have to go through it, but surely you realize it is a fact of life that people die at every stage of development and life from causes that are nobody's fault. Some of the bits of this article and the comments are ridiculous. Everyone should be told of all the miniscule risks that nobody can do anything about?"
"Our planet has 7 billion selfish dolts running around on it already, with projections for 9 billion by mid-century. So when Mother Nature occasionally decides to cull or limit our human herd, it's best that we not overanalyze her judgment or resist it to any great degree. Instead, let's learn to embrace Nature's judgment and properly resolve that, when our number is up, we go quickly and courageously for the good of the whole."
"I hate self-indulgent first person pieces like this that have come to define the health section."
Yowsers! Seething, searing verbage! Sounds like some shit is going down, if you ask me. Doesn't that make you want to gather around the hallway in highschool and start shouting FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT!? The Black-Clad, Pierced-Genitalia KuKd Fighters verus Pale-Moon-Faced Anonymous and Insensitive Commenters Who Clearly Don't Get It. Fist-swinging, hair-pulling action:
Let me start by saying that as a (god, I hate this word) blogger (actually, I'd prefer to be on the called a Caffeinated Talkaholic with a Laptop Stuck to the Tops of My Thighs) with a couple of dead babies under my belt, I initially felt this odd sense of reponsibility for "defending the KuKd tribe," so to speak. That is, springing out of my butt-imprinted chair, arms flailing, and screaming out the most obvious response that others might expect:
THOSE INSENSITIVE, DICK-HEADED COMMENTERS!
In fact, we might all feel better if we stood up together and said it. Come on, everybody now. One, two, three: THOSE INSENSITIVE, DICK-HEADED COMMENTERS!
Good. We can all breathe easy now and settle down.
* * *
But I'll be honest here. Philosophically, I agree with the core meaning of those comments. Don't sue me for this; I just do. I think Jesus would agree they're true (and nobody knows Jesus better than I do). I think Mother Theresa and Ghandi and the ancient Greek gods would agree they're true. Those comments could very well be posted by people in my own circle of highly opinionated friends.
Now, do I agree that these things said by commenters are 100% right 100% of the time for 100% of people in the world? No. Do I agree with how/when/where/to whom they were presented? No. Were there about eight million better ways for these commenters to get their points across than sharing them in an irritated tone of voice with a man who has JUST lost his baby? Yes. Are these comments likely to do any good whatsoever in the grand scheme of things, change anyone's mind about anything, make the fact of death any less horrible for anyone? No - not in the way they were channeled. Wrong place, wrong tone, wrong time. Too bad for those commenters, and too bad for Goldenbach who as to suffer through reading them.
* * *
There was a post I did a long ago, back when I first started this blog, when my brain was still like a fragile 1,000-piece puzzle thrown hastily together and not quite in tact. I can't seem to find this old post, probably because I deleted it, fearful that I might offend someone in this emotionally charged, dead-baby blog-o-realm. This post was about the various societies and associations and organizations and what-nots "for the prevention of stillbirth" that I'd come across during my post-stillbirth Googling spree.
They were filled with lots of bold red fonts, grave and terror-inducing warnings about how often the Evil Stillbirth Monster really can be stopped! If only we know what signs to look for! If only our government understood, and would fund the research for this! If only our doctors weren't uncaring jerks, they'd stand behind us on our question for more facts! Join the fight against the evil nameless, faceless Dictator of Stillbirth today! He's up there like Darth Vador, controlling the gears as he looks downward at YOU, innocent and unsuspecting pregnant woman, ready to snatch your infant with the flick of a dark gloved hand!
BE AFRAID! BE VERY AFRAID!
These sorts of things didn't get me revved up in any way. On the contrary, they made me immediately click the "X" in the top right-hand corner and run into the other room. They seemed like dangerous pitfalls, beckoning me to come in to grope around bits of illusional control: "Moooonnicaaa! You could have done something diffeeerrentlyyyy! If only you'd been counting kiiiicccckkks....asking more questionnnnnss...You could be doing something nowwww....to prevent this in the futureeeee...if you sit here and Google enough shiiiiitttt....if you call your doctor enough tiiiiimmmmesss...."
And why NOT leap right into those websites, start making Excel spreadsheets showing every factor that has ever been correlated with baby-loss in the world so I could ensure I'd do everything right next time, and maybe even pinpoint the cause of Zachary's death - from breathing in urban areas, to petting a stray dog, to washing my hands fewer than 20 times a day, to eating a molecule of Brie cheese, to not instantly calling my doctor in a panic when I didn't feel the baby do at least ten full-on rounds of gymnastics inside my belly? Why not follow my doctors around the hallways and demand that they give me some answers, which they obviously had but were withholding, or simply weren't digging deeply enough to find them on my behalf?
It would have been completely natural for me to do so, to make that spreadsheet, even to start a stillbirth-prevention research group of my own. Just like with Washington Post writer Alan Goldenbach: it's a natural article for him to write, a natural frustration to have about our medical system, where he's looking for answers and not finding any. I looked this up, just to make sure I'm not pulling this out of my arse. Here's what a University of Indiana professor says:
"The bereaved feel a strong need to regain the feeling that their life, somehow, is normal. Unfortunately, the "normal" they now experience is no longer normal as they knew it before. They are caught in a paradox of needing a normalcy that is predictable and understandable while seeing a world that is neither.One example of the coping that results from this quandary...is an effort to reclaim normal by actively seeking out and processing information about the loss. It focuses on regaining a sense of structure in the parents' lives, attributing meaning to the loss and events surrounding the loss, and the gathering of information that would provide a context for understanding."
So, regarding Goldenbach. I'm pretty sure that's the psychological place where his article comes from, where a lot of blogs in the KuKd blog-o-sphere come from, where a lot of frantic post-Kukd Googling comes from, where genetic counseling comes from, where switching doctors altogether comes from, where suing doctors for malpractice comes from, where years of infertility treatment comes from, where our incredible urge to research and plan and fix things comes from. And you know, in a lot of ways it's probably good that human brains are programmed to react to trauma like that, because sometimes - not always, but sometimes - all of that answer-seeking and researching and planning does have positive results, right?
That's the part those commenters were obviously not seeing or understanding. They were falling into the classic trap of viewing reality with blinders on, the way we so often do with all kinds of things. Analyzing death and looking for ways to prevent it, as Goldenbach was doing: it's either just plain brilliant or just plain idiotic, totally right or totally wrong, regardless of multiple perspectives or various nuanced sides of the issue. Same with abortion, the Iraq War, choosing plastic bags over paper, or any other political or cultural or social issue on this whole huge planet: people get into this ridgid, righteous mode of claiming that everything can be defined as either right or wrong, good or bad, in a binary way. It gets us in trouble sometimes. It makes us come across as assholes, as these commenters did.
And what a shame - because, as I've said, these commenters make perfectly legitimate points, in my opinion! All that good thought gone to waste because they couldn't step outside their own minds and see things differently, and respect where Goldenbach was coming from, and recognize that their comments wouldn't do any good in the context of this article. They couldn't change their tones a bit into something more helpful and positive for people who are grieving.
* * *
By the way, it's not that I didn't have my frantic-researching bonanza a-la Goldenbach. Calling the docs over at fetal medicine every day, making folders of information on fetal heart calcification, all that helped me initially, giving me this weird illusion that I had control, which somehow soothed me at the time. But I realized soon enough that this was pretty much just eye-candy, or soul-candy, sweet and caloric but not very nutritious, and not any real way to recover in the long-term.
Not to get all hippy-dippy, but in the end I sort of saw myself as a fluttering leaf on a great big maple tree of humanity. My baby was up there too as a leaf on that tree, one baby-leaf out of godtrillions. And when his number came up, his leaf was plucked and poof - he was gone. There were some genetics involved, but nothing conclusive. In the end, I felt OK with that, because to me, this never seemed like a preventable something. It seemed like a part of the cycle of life and death, a meant-to-be sort of occurance. What made me so special as to deserve anything more - more answers, less senseless death - than the hundreds of thousands killed in any given recent disaster? The answer I came up with was: nothing.
That's just me. I'm not saying that my perspective is the be-all and end-all way that everyone should view their own baby-deaths or fetus-deaths or even difficulty making babies in the first place. It was just what was healthy and best for me and my cynical, over-thinking brain.
So, going back to the Washington Post article (you knew I'd return to that, right?): would I go out for coffee with a group of those commenters? Sure. They've got strong opinions that I happen to agree with. I'd be curious to see how they changed their words, their tones, maybe even their viewpoints altogether, while actually sitting face-to-face with someone who has lost a child and not casting out comments from the safe and anonymous world of the Internet. Would I go out for coffee with Goldenbach? Sure. I can sympathize with his situation at the most basic level.
Maybe we could all get together in a park one day - a bunch of people from all sides -and have a potluck/share-a-thon.
Or not. :-)