Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tonight we had Trudy for dinner.

Trudy, Trudy.

Do you know who Trudy is? She is the only person on this entire planet, besides my parents and sisters, and Greg's parents and brother, who has seen all three of our children. I call her our guardian angel. She kind of is.

Trudy came into our life at 3:00 in the afternoon on the thirteenth of May, 2003. Her shift had just begun, and our life had just in a single moment, ended and begun again at 2:14. We had lost our parenthood, and were snatching it back again just as Trudy came on shift. Our daughter had disappeared, and we were clinging to her, realizing that we could hang onto her, get to know her, be with her for a time in this earthly life while we still could. Trudy helped that to happen.

She stayed with us, nearby, bringing us the things that we needed, taking photographs, talking to us about Charlotte's beauty and our family's closeness and trust. She marvelled at our instincts to parent this little girl as any parents would, despite what had happened. She followed our lead and we followed hers. I don't know how we could have negotiated that day without her.

When the time came to say goodbye, Trudy was the one who walked out of the room with my baby girl. I saw her back turn, and Charlotte disappeared. As my heart literally ripped in half, I saw Charlotte again-- for a split second-- in the crack between the curtain and the wall, as Trudy turned to close the door behind her. My tiny daughter was cradled in Trudy's left arm, her little face peeping out from the blankets Greg had so carefully swaddled her in, just as he had been taught in our childbirth class. I saw her again, and the door clicked shut.

I loved Trudy so much that day, I loved her for taking such good care of us, and for treating Charlotte with the dignity that she deserved. I loved her because she asked us questions about our baby, about who she looked like, because she called her by name. I loved her because she gave us respectful space but she also talked to us, got to know us, and didn't avoid us. I loved her for being this absolutely present and spirtual witness to our day together.

After we went home, I loved her because she had seen Charlotte. She was somebody who actually knew, she had seen the evidence, that I was a mother. I wanted to thank her for everything she had done. It seemed right when suddenly we realized that we had a mutual friend, and one June morning we sat in Sally's yard, eating cinnamon buns and drinking strong coffee with cream. Trudy was back in our lives, and apparently she liked it that way.

I love having Trudy in my life. She is quite honestly the sole witness of Greg and my time with Charlotte. Our families came, and they visited, but not for long. Trudy was there for it all, she watched us, she helped us, and she carried our baby away from us with such solemn grace and reserve. It seemed right that she happened to be there for the births of our next two children. We are the only family for whom she has worked with for three births.

Last week, Trudy came to our conference. There are times when I feel so steeled to my own experience. I have become so accustomed, through the work that I do, to speaking of Charlotte and of my loss experience with nary a flicker of emotion, let alone a tear. Somehow being able to maintain a straight face has made me better able to share her with the world, so a great deal of this time this is how I operate. But last week I sat on a parent panel, and I looked out into the audience and I saw Trudy sitting there, with her wide, blue eyes, and beautiful smile, and I could see her as the only person I had to turn to on that very day, the real day that it happened, the only day I ever held my baby girl, and suddenly it became real for me again, that it was really me, my baby that died. My own little daughter. Not just some sad cause that I work tirelessly for because nobody deserves to be treated badly. The sad cause that I am so devoted to because my very own child died. I broke into tears, and as I spoke they spilled down my cheeks and I had to get some kleenex and stop for a minute and I can tell you that hasn't happened in a long, long time.

I remember reading something like this in a battered, green book I borrowed from the support group that I had attended. It was an early 80's SANDS publication from England, and it was called, quite simply, "When a Baby Dies". There was a quote in that book from a woman who recalled that, when they had told her the news that her baby died, she went almost robotic, not truly realizing that it was in fact her own child who would be born dead. She then went on to describe the outpouring of emotion that overwhelmed her when she did give birth, and suddenly the pieces all fit together all at once: it was not just the sad tale of someone's lost baby, but it was her little girl who lay lifeless in her arms, who would never take a breath, and there was nothing anyone could do to undo any of it. That feeling, put into words by this anonymous woman, was so familiar to me, as I had experienced a very similar dissociation and then immediate connection and loss upon Charlotte's birth. But I now realize that this continues to happen as I grow and grieve, I will lose her and then gain her again, and then gain her again. I dissociate at times because it's too sad, and I can't cry right then for whatever reason, and she becomes this sad thing that I talk about, and then there are these days where it just hits me like a ton of bricks; my baby is dead, my baby is dead.

I have no five year old child upstairs asleep, my daughter has no sister, I have only two children right now. This is all because my baby is dead, because that woman that I talk about all the time is in fact me, and I'm the one whose baby died, and I will always be her, no matter how much I'd sometimes like to take a vacation from that feeling in the pit of my stomach that won't go away.


Meg said...

I'm so glad you had Trudy to ease your experience. And, now you've been paying it forward. How wonderful.

I can't express how much I wish things were different for you. I wish you had your sweet, beautiful Charlotte everyday.

Hope's Mama said...

you're an inspiration carol. and charlotte is so beautiful.

Heather said...

I had a Trudy too. What special women.

Like you said, sometimes it hits from a different angle that it was our babies who died, that we are those women, and it breaks me down all over again.

Thanks for this post.

Shannon said...

I wish there was a vacation from it too. I would go and never come back.