Thursday, December 4, 2008

The winter I was pregnant with Liam, I took a pregnancy yoga class. It was with the same teacher that I had taken a class with the year before. I had been apprehensive about re-entering the class, wondering, in fact, if I might actually overlap with some people who had started at the tail end of my pregnancy with Charlotte. I sent the teacher an e-mail, asking her if it was alright if I came to the class, and wondering what I should say when people asked me about my pregnancy. After all, surely I couldn't speak of my recently deceased baby in the presence of a roomful of pregnant mothers?
It turned out I could. Arden, the teacher, was so gracious she made me burst into tears, which I had been practicing very hard not to do. She told me my birth story was a birth story like any other story, with a mother and a birth and a baby, and she told me I should never hesitate to tell anyone what had happened to Charlotte. She encouraged me to be true to myself and my child, and to remind myself that loss and grief are not contagious. I do not think I have heard such honest words since then.
I began the class in my usual location, and enjoyed attending. It was the one time of each week where I actually acknowledged my pregnant body and the new little soul blossoming within. One week, I couldn't go to the Northampton class, so I decided to drop by the Amherst class after work. The roomful of women there did not know my story. When I entered, they were talking excitedly to one another. I unrolled my mat and took off my shoes. I sat down, leaned onto my legs, and breathed.
I was having one of those days where I did not have the emotional energy to take care of other people. You know, if you too are bereaved, what I am saying. When you speak those words, "My baby died," the person looks shocked, then sad, then pitying. They feel terrible for having "brought up" this sad subject, and wonder if they have just ruined your day. So you have to convince them that, despite the dead baby, you are quite fine, (which is actually a lie) and not to worry one little bit. Some days, the emotional energy of facing the guilt and horror that will surely follow the dead baby announcement seems too much.
I was having one of those days, go figure. So I tried to just look like a yogi, breathe deeply, and not interact. But the truth is, I like to talk. So when I heard a question that nobody else had an answer to, I couldn't keep my mouth shut any longer.
"Has anyone here taken the Hypnobirthing Series," a juicy, jolly young woman asked. She looked so full of everything; of life, and hope, and innocence. But I had taken the series, and I had loved it, so I did speak up.
"I took it with my first baby, my daughter, it was wonderful, " I told her.
Suddenly, everyone in the room wanted to know all about it. So I spoke to the advantages of the training in mentally preparing onesself for birth, in creating healthy, productive attitudes towards birthing as a natural process, in thinking of myself as an animal being who knew, inherently, how to birth.
"But did it really help you when you gave birth? What did you think?" They all had their eyes on me, wanting to know. I just couldn't throw my curveball to this room full of innocents.
"I actually had a lot of complications with my birth, " I answered evasively.
"So was it really great to have all those techniques to use?" she asked.
"I didn't actually end up using many of the techniques during the delivery." That, kind of a very vague lie, skirting around the issue that I was actually paralyzed with grief and fear and that all the plans I had made for my birth went down the drain.
"Well, did you feel that having the hypnobirthing made you more prepared for the complications?"
Holy shit, woman. You are going to want to stop right there. You don't know what you are getting yourself into.
But of course I didn't say that.
"My situation was very, very complicated. The Hypnobirthing didn't really play into it at all."
"But do you think that having the more relaxed mindset helped you to be more flexible with what was happening?"
Fuck. Can you not take a hint? There are 16 highly pregnant woman staring at me right now and you are backing me into a corner. If you know what is good for you you will stop right now.
"I had a very difficult experience and the course did not really prepare me to handle what happened."
"So what happened?"
This woman was not giving up. She wanted to know what this Hypnobirthing had done for me, and she wanted to know tonight. I hated to break her heart, but I had evaded the question already as many times as I could. They were all staring at me. I had to answer.
"My daughter actually died during the delivery. I don't think there's a course that could have prepared me for that."
I think not.
All the faces in the room crumpled slightly, and the interrogator almost sprung back, exclaiming, "Oh! I'm so sorry!" There was a flurry of activity as yoga mats were adjusted and items were removed from and replaced into bags. People looked both horrified and pitying, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that not a single mother in that room worried for one single moment that their baby would be born dead. I was the horror story in the room, the person that you would never become, and they all felt awful that they had dragged the terrible truth from me as slowly as possible.
And me? My greatest regret was that I hadn't come out and said it right away, because in my interest in protecting them, I now appeared hesitant to speak of my experience, which I was not. I would have been glad to fill them in on any of the details of my very average, completely normal birth experience. Everything was normal, of course, except for the absence of a pulse. But because I was trying not to burst their bubbles, they now felt awful for "bringing it up".

As if I hadn't been thinking about "it" all day.
"It" has a name, Charlotte. And I never stop thinking about her, even now.


Hope's Mama said...

Oh Carol. I sort of imagine having scenarios just like this play out in my future. I too plan on going back to a pregnancy yoga class, when I'm lucky enough to be blessed with another little life inside of me. As to whether it will be the same class, I'm not sure. I have a similar post coming up on wanting to tell others about my story. I don't want to scare other women, I guess I just want to try and help them and warn them. Basically I just don't want to hear of other babies dying in the senseless way Hope did.
Thinking of you and sweet Charlotte.

Sara said...

I think you were brave to go back to prenatal yoga. I couldn't do it. I couldn't go to class, be in that room with all the happy, innocent pregnant people. I went to regular yoga, at the same studio where I went during my first pregnancy, and it has been good for me, but I didn't want to be the negative energy in that room and I didn't think I could handle all the glowing around me.

Since I have known you, almost a year now, I have known Charlotte, have known that her life, however short, had meaning, and that she is still part of your family.

Meg said...

However you were perceived, YOU know you didn't want to deny her. You were actually doing something very nice for those ladies. You were sparing them the dread and fear. You didn't want to burst their bubbles. I think that's exceptionally kind. You should be proud of that. If they felt uncomfortable about talking about it after that it's not because of you. No one who hasn't lost a child knows what to say anyway. Even if you had stood up and said, "ask me anyting, I love to talk about my daughter" nobody knows what is too much to ask or anything like that. So, you did the right thing.

Shannon said...

It's so wonderful that Arden was so supportive and encouraging of you and she validated your experience with Charlotte. I wish we all had someone like that to pick us up when we fall down from the heavy weight of grief.

I agree with Meg, it's a hard line to walk between being true to Charlotte and also trying to spare others from feeling just a little bit of your grief.

And I know exactly what you mean about not having the emotional energy to take care of other people.

Jen said...

Carol, I am so grateful for your voice and your commitment to Charlotte.

THAT GIRL said...

You are so true to your blog's title... "happy sad mama"... you elicit from me "happy & sad" when I read your words... but, mostly, you bring to life that deep, internal, primal mother's love... "mama"...

CLC said...

That was a beautiful thing yoga teacher said about Charlotte. If only everyone felt that way. And people make the choice to not want to hear about it or believe that it could happen to them. I don't blame them for that, but you should not feel bad about it as something you did or didn't say. But I know exactly what you mean when you said you felt like the horror story. I have felt that way many times.