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Stillbirth: What Ya Lose

Posted Jan 03 2010 3:42pm
Greetings, Guests and Regulars...

I've got it! I get it! Everything makes sense now! It's taken me...what...two-and-a-half years. But I think I'm there, finally.

Today I was slowly swimming laps at the community center pool, not unlike a gigantic manatee pursuing a floating head of cabbage. Of course, there isn't much to do while swimming except...well...swim. And watch wavy blue lines go by. And think.

It was during this prolongued bout of thinking and wavy-blue-line-watching that I realized with certainty what it actually MEANS to get knocked down, particularly in later stages of a pregnancy. I'm talking specifically about stillbirth: death of a creature big enough to create noticeable spasms of movement, make you look and feel like a fatso, and cause you to expel a "pee pellet" everytime you laugh or sneeze hard.

Now, I realize how absurd that sounds. Any old dumb-ass can look up "stillbirth" in the dictionary. The Center for Disease Control has a pretty sweet definition, which lumps stillbirth and miscarriage together:

"'Fetal death' means death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy and which is not an induced termination of pregnancy. The death is indicated by the fact that after such expulsion or extraction, the fetus does not breathe or show any other evidence of life, such as beating of the heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles."

Fair enough.

Yet, despite such scientifically graphic definitions, I never felt like I quite understood what it meant to lose a baby, or a fetus, or whatever - and why it was so sad, so baffling, so destructive to my psyche. All of my KuKd experiences have felt like a great big broom swooping down from the sky and smacking me and Kevin upside the face, leaving us standing there like dazed and confused imbiciles, stung and wondering what the hell had just happened.

I mean yeah, something died. I got that part. A fetus at four months. A blighted ovum - a ball of nothingness. A baby-like entity at 33 weeks. But what do you do, what or who are you supposed miss, when you happened to take a more measured and cautious (maybe old-fashioned?) approach to pregnancy, keeping excitement under wraps until the purported due date? Didn't personify the unborn fetus? Didn't find out the gender? Didn't think about names and spout them off to the world? Didn't blog about his/her gestational progress? Didn't get ultrasounds every month or whatever to watch it kick? Voted pro-choice, which I did and still do (there! I said it!)?

That was me, all of the above. "I miss my baby" just sounded simplistic to my own ears, insufficient. There wasn't any rationale for "missing the baby" to add - because it's not like I could say something like, "I miss his laughter!" or "I miss the way his poopy diaper smelled!" How could I have known what his poopy diaper might have smelled like (not that I couldn't muster a reasonable guess)? Even suddenly affixing a name to him - as though he and I were old friends - somehow felt weird to my hyper-rationalizing mind.

So, stillbirth for me was confusing and hard to think about, and absurdly difficult to explain it to others in a way that made sense. I wanted to tell my friends why it sucked so bad, but the words never came. So I just resigned myself to feeling crazy for a while.

* * *

BUT I GOT IT NOW! As of 12:26 today at Helene Madison Pool! It dawned on me with crystal clarity, a working understanding of stillbirth, a confirmation - finally after all this time - of what it is about getting Knocked Down that brings a person so very far...well...down.

This realization comes from my now having whatever a seven-month pregnant woman actually has that could be lost, other than a simple developing infant, and imagining with a dry throat what it would be like to lose that "thing" again. I can think about it more clearly than before, understand it better. It was today in the swimming pool as I slogged my way through the crawl-stroke that I began to take stock of what that enigmatic "thing" actually IS, analyze it, define it.

If I were to lose this baby now, it wouldn't be simply "death prior to the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of a product of human conception," as the Center for Disease Control wisely phrases it. Nuh-nuh no. I mean yeah - scientifically it's an accurate definition, but wholly lacking in depth and substance, and dismissive of the more intangible things that evaporate when a late-term baby dies. Now I get why definitions like that didn't do much for me back in my darkest days, and didn't help my friends and family understand our circumstance any better.

My swimming-pool epiphany began like this. If the spastic little ball of movement in my belly were to disappear today, here's what I would lose besides the spastic little critter himself:

1) The imagined child I envision him becoming. It changes regularly, but right now, the "vision de jour" is of a toddler with tousled brown hair and freckles, pin-striped overalls like the sort a 1920s railroad worker might wear, a red shirt underneath, and a really straight nose like Kevin's. He's a nice kid, the one that I picture. He respects our dog. He likes to color and look for bugs in our back yard, and he can sing on-key and hit a Whiffle ball with a plastic red bat. And the kid can make noise, too; I heard his little-boy squeals down at the shallow end of the pool today, which was sectioned off from the lap-lanes for "family swim time."

2) The imagined life I have laid out for him. It's stretched before us like a red carpet. I saw it clearly as the wavy blue lines went by in the swimming pool today. It involves lots of overseas trips and very early introduction of spicy foods, because the last thing I want is finicky child who only eats french fries. It involves being surrounded by awesome grandparents and aunts and uncles who channel love in his direction, and messy art projects in the kitchen. It involves camping and hiking and sports, because no son of Kevin's will go un-trained in basic ball-throwing and ball-catching skills and fire-making skills. It involves all that and then some, a thousand little details that I can spin like yarn and exaggerate inside my head like a compulsive story-teller.

3) The imagined ways it will change our marriage. Maybe this is all hogwash. But in my fantasy future, a child only brings me and Kevin closer together, our "team" made stronger by this sudden hardcore project to manage. We start lining up babysitters as soon as we can and going on regular date-nights without the kid, because having our cherished time at the tavern to lean into one another over cheap beers can only make our child more secure in himself and his family, more awestruck at the strength of his parents' friendship.

4) The opportunity to love a human more than I ever thought possible. What more can I say about this? A real living child provides an opportunity to love in a bigger, better way.

Oh, there's probably more that could be added. But already, that's a lot - isn't it? And once I took inventory of all that lose-able stuff, I thought in wonderment:
WOW. I lost all that? And not just me, but gadzillions of OTHER dead-baby mommas around the world have lost it too, and are losing it at this very moment, and will lose it tomorrow and the next day and on and on into the future, as long as fetuses happen and fetuses die?

Ah-HA! That's why stillbirth is so surreally, achingly difficult. Letting go of the physical dead baby, described so aptly by Center for Disease Control - now that's the easy part. Who is going to complain about lightening a 6-pound load off one's torso? Not me. It's letting go of the imaginary part - the hopeful, fairytale-spun future associated with that fetus - that's the most vomit-worthily difficult. For me anyway, it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life...letting that go. And anyone who has to go through that letting go, well, deserves a trophy on the fireplace mantel or a badge of honor at the very least. Somebody should start that as an international custom.

Man, if only I'd had that nice, tidy explanation to e-mail to all my friends during the lowest days of my knocked-downage! Maybe it would help the world "get it" better. Or maybe it would only leave them more confused. :-) I'm good at confusing people, including myself.
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