It’s difficult to believe that nine weeks have passed since I delivered my baby. This means that my maternity/bereavement leave is nearly over. My job, as a registered dietitian and certified lactation counselor for the WIC program is one I have been at for eight years now.
I am fortunate (if one can say that this situation has any fortune to it) that my employer has allowed me to take 12 weeks off, as planned. I fully expected to be told that I would only be allowed 6 weeks, just to recover from the birth. But apparently, when someone’s baby dies, nobody wants to raise the issue. I’ve encountered other mothers, online and in my support group, who returned to work sooner, welcoming a much-needed distraction from grief, and a desire to find some sort of “normalcy.” I can see that. I have had a few fleeting moments of envisioning myself back at work. I then tell myself that once I have gone a full day without crying, I will be ready. That hasn’t happened yet. The no crying thing.
When I truly envision returning to work I begin to panic. Last week I had a nightmare about going back. When/if I return to work I will be surrounded by triggers. Pregnant women. Babies. Happy families. Sisters. Constant reminders of what I have lost.
I have a coworker who is pregnant. She is due next month with a little boy. Eighteen days after I delivered my dead daughter she texted me asking for my address so she could invite me to her baby shower. I never responded. Her office is next to mine. After I returned from my first maternity leave, she said she could hear me pumping through the thin walls. How am I going to endure that sound when she returns in November?
There are two women in my building at work who delivered this spring. Healthy babies. Living babies. One, a boy, born in March. Another, a girl, born in April, 4 weeks premature.
I will have clients who last saw me pregnant. They will say “You’re back! How’s your baby?” I know this because that’s what happened last time, when I had my live baby. I rehearsed this with my therapist 2 weeks ago. It was awkward and unrealistic. In the role-play I mumbled something along the lines of “my baby was stillborn.” I could say that my baby was “born still”, kind of the same idea. But is that clear? She was born still, unmoving, because she was dead. Does the general population know what stillborn even means?
I could say “I lost my baby.” But, I didn’t lose her like the red marmot windbreaker that my husband gave me for Christmas one year. I loved that jacket. I didn’t misplace her with my keys, running frantically around the house muttering “I’m going to be really late now.” And I didn’t lose her like the 20 lbs that slipped easily off my body after delivery.
I could say she was “born sleeping” but I feel like that is misleading. Though the image is lovely–it reminds me of that Christmas song, the one that sings “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” My daughter didn’t cry, her eyes were closed, like she was asleep. But her heart didn’t thump in her tiny chest circulating blood throughout her body. I didn’t hold her, tummy to breast, hearing her tiny little sighs while she slept. She never opened her eyes. She didn’t wake up.
I could say, like many do, that “she was born an angel” or “I’m a mommy to an angel baby.” But I really don’t believe that to be true. If there are angels–and I would like to believe that there are–my human baby didn’t transform into a celestial being when her heart ceased beating.
I could say she “passed away” or “didn’t make it”. But then there may be assumptions. People will wonder, did she die because she was premature? Was sick? From SIDS or suffocation? Shaken baby syndrome? I want it to be clear to people that she never took a breath. I’m unsure why this is important to me.
I once worked in a long-term care facility. The terminology used to announce death was “expired.” As in “Mrs. Jones expired last night.” But my beautiful baby isn’t a tub of yogurt gone bad. She isn’t the license plate tabs that we forgot to renew in the midst of our grief. She isn’t a credit card buried deep in a purse.
I feel frustrated that our culture doesn’t address death head on. I feel anxious (actually I feel sick at the thought) to delve back into the real world. I have no idea how to prepare for this.
When did you return to work after your loss? What words did you use to tell others what happened?