Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Elephant in the Room

A few weekends ago, I did something I hadn't done in a long, long time.

The anticipation of doing it made me almost ill, not because I worried so much about what would happen, but because suddenly I was being thrown back there, to the place I hadn't been in so very long, and thought I was all finished with being there and I didn't want to go back.

So where is there? I was invited to a sledding party, and among the other guests was a family who had been in our first childbirth class, when I was pregnant with Charlotte. The last time I spoke to Betsy was on the evening of our last childbirth class. We both had been due on May 5th. We had special snacks that night, and an extra long meditation session. My life was still one of innocence.

It wasn't my last communication, though. When I logged onto my e-mail on, perhaps, May the 15th to send my birthing class the notification of our baby's birth and death, my inbox flashed with an e-mail from Betsy.

"Is this someone's idea of a cruel joke?" she had written. "My due date has been changed to the 10th, and so they won't induce me until the 24th. Arrrgh!"

I think I almost laughed. Cruel joke? I had a better one for her.

I didn't fault her, mind you. I have been that woman, 8 days late, just thinking I would do about anything to get the baby out.

But I hadn't seen her since. And so here I was, now almost six years and three births later, going out to a party where I would suddenly be the woman with the dead baby. Where I would see her across a big backyard, and I would have to walk that mile across the yard wondering if she was going to say something or not. And of course the whole time I am knowing that she's thinking to herself, oh, god, here she comes, that poor woman, what should I say to her? So I feel sorry for myself, and I feel sorry for her, and I'm knowing that I will just die if she says nothing, and I truly have not walked this walk in five years.

I also felt almost repelled by the idea of seeing her daughter, I felt incapacitated at the thought that my two children would be in a room with a little girl who is almost precisely the same age as their older sister, and they would not even know it. (their daughter was born six days after Charlotte). I worried about having to talk to her. I worried that she would be nice to Aoife and make me cry.

But mostly I worried about the elephant in the room. I had almost forgotten about him over all these years.

He was there, for a little while, but I just dreamed him up. When I arrived at the party, all the guests scattered around on a majestic hillside with panoramic views, sleds flying and chidlren shrieking with delight, I looked around deftly, surveying the scene, and determined that she wasn't there. When their car pulled up and they piled out onto the snowbank my radar kicked in right away and I kept track of them for 10 minutes ago on my subtle radar, until I realized that I wasn't engaged in anything except making sure I wasn't making eye contact with Betsy, and so at that point I marched right up to her on the side of the hill and re-introduced myself and that was the beginning of that.

She was lovely, really, and even surprised and delighted me by asking me lots of questions about Charlotte and our birth and what it was like to be pregnant again. She was impressed to hear about my group and the work I've done in the community and we talked for quite a long time, me still avoiding her daughter, but it was a satisfying conversation and I was almost thrilled with myself for having just done it, for having just walked over to her and squishing the elephant flat because I couldn't deal with him at all.

Later on, when we were in the house, I couldn't help but watch her daughter, and notice how tall she was, how long her long bones were and how grown up she looked compared to the four year olds in the room. She was blonde, and her hair was straight, and maybe from the back she could have been my child, but she wasn't.

On a comical note, the evening ended in laughter from me, on the car ride home. For days, I had been stewing about this meeting, and I had told Greg the day before that they would be at the party and he had sort of mumbled and commiserated a little bit with me about how that might be hard. So we're in the car, driving through the darkness with this brilliantly full moon casting silver light on everything around us. I'm feeling kind of rosy and glad that this momentous event is behind me, I've had a lovely time and surmounted this obstacle and accomplished something difficult. Best of all, the stewing and the worrying and the consumption with being thrown back into my depressing and awful past is completely over and done with. So I turn to Greg and I say to him, "So, did you talk to Betsy or her husband?"
I could see him sit up a little straighter, and he turned his head and said to me in a most jovial tone, "No, I completely forgot that they were there. "



Shannon said...

How funny, I could see my husband saying the exact same thing!

I'm glad that the party went well and you squished that elephant. :)

Delia said...

My husband would have done the exact thing or maybe worse, "Who?" He's good at forgetting! Way to go on moving that elephant! :)

Jen said...

You are a brave elephant-squisher, and you inspire me.

Meg said...

Good job, Carol! I'm glad you confronted it, so you could enjoy yourself.

ezra'smommy said...

I know that feeling of relief, having survived a day, interaction or an event which I anticipated with dread because of that same elephant. I love when people surprise me with their compassion.

Anonymous said...

i imagined your post like a movie scene in my head. the elephant walking around that field that only you could see.

you are brave. i'm not sure what i would have done. confronting things... well i'm not that good at that one.

loribeth said...

The anticipation is almost always worse than the reality. But your husband totally cracked me up at the end. Men indeed!!

Did you ever see the episode of "Everybody Loves Raymond" about the suitcase, & the ending with Marie, Frank, & the big spoon & fork on the wall??

Dalene said...

Good for you for confronting the elephant. I, too, would have stewed for days leading up to the event. And more often than not, the anticpation is worse. Funny how it works that way. Over the weekend, I went to the first baby shower since Baker's death, and I actually had a decent time.