Friday, January 29, 2010


Everyone is asleep but me, and I am alone downstairs. It is the first time I have been alone downstairs in exactly eleven weeks. I actually feel aware of the bend of my middle, aware of not being pregnant, because I haven't sat here, alone, since I was pregnant. I can feel some sort of plateau happening because I am okay alone down here.

On Wednesday I left my baby to run my meeting. I felt tormented about doing it, and concocted a very convoluted plan whereby my friend Gina met us at the hospital and wore Fiona for the two hours while the meeting took place. Greg and I went out on 20 minute intervals to check in on them. Fiona Clementine, despite the fact that at home she often nurses every 20 minutes in the evening, slept the entire time. Amazing, and so good for me... because I absolutely loved being back at Empty Arms. It feels so awkward to say that I loved being there, because obviously it is sad, but it just fills me so much to be around people who have done this. That, and feeling like what I have created is helping somebody. Some people. At the end of the evening I took Fiona back into my arms and sat with her in a darkened conference room and nursed her. My hands fit around her body and I felt her in a way that I needed to be reminded to feel her, because she is here with me, and going to the meeting helped to shake me back to that amazing realization. Not just that Fiona is NOT GONE, which sometimes is the focus, but that she is actually here. Unlike some other babies, who are not.

I asked people to speak about a dark place for them, either of the past or right now. My moment was so vivid, and I described it in detail and then thought some more about it as I lay in bed later that night. I remembered a shower I took, it might have been day four, or five. I stood under the water for a long time, my breasts were huge and pouring with milk, and they hurt so much. I knew I wasn't supposed to touch them or express any milk, to make it stop, but I couldn't bear it. I squeezed them under the hot, hot water, just a little, just to take some of the edge off. I can remember the milk swirling in the drain, round and round, and I could have even just been imagining it mixing with the water, visibly going down, down the drain, headed nowhere. Nowhere it should have been. Warm tears rinsed my face and the salt of them mixed with the milk and the blood and the water at my feet.

I stepped out of the shower, eventually, and I began to towel off. Maybe it was the drying off, or perhaps I heard something, but I was momentarily distracted, and at this second in time I caught sight of myself in the mirror and lost my breath.

There were several things, several things. My belly hung, pouchy and low, with a sunrise of sleek, shiny stretch marks radiating upwards towards my navel. It was halfway pregnant looking but so obviously devoid of life to me. Above it were the rock hard breasts, mocking my empty handedness. And I dared at that moment to meet my eyes, and gazed into the saddest face I had ever seen.

I remember the word "ravaged" bouncing around in my head like a ping-pong ball, my body was ravaged and torn and swollen and broken, and my heart was the worst of it all. The inside of me felt unrepairable, uncomparable to the outside of me which would one day heal.

Somehow looking at my body brought me up one more notch towards understanding what had happened, towards understanding that the baby, the long awaited baby, had been born, but that she had died. That the baby had been a little girl named Charlotte, and that her brief appearance had already been made, and that she was gone. That she had once been, but her time was finished.
And I was still here.

I sank, naked, onto the blue bathroom rug, cotton with big hooked loops. It was a 2 by 3 rectangle and I folded myself onto it, belly down, and cried for a long time. I did not want to see myself.

That memory is seared into my brain.

At that time my body was ravaged, it had been torn apart by the birth simply because my baby had died. The awfulness of the swelling and the bleeding and the engorgement and everything else that goes along with the time after birth felt mocking and horrible and painful and wrong, and that was because that baby was not there.

And I thought later on about how it makes perfect sense that I feel haunted every time I give birth, haunted by my body even though none of that swelling and bleeding and engorgement feels so awful when the baby lives.

When I think about what I have been through I find it extremely odd that I feel so normal most of the time now.


Isla's Mommy said...

"Ravaged". Precisely. It's a wonder any of us have survived.

When my milk first came in and dribbled down my chest I imagined my breasts were weeping for her. As if my body, separate from my mind, was greiving for the life no longer within and was simply no longer. But then when my breasts continued to swell and leak it occurred to me that my body wasn't weeping, it didn't understand she was gone. The horror of it was so unnatural my body couldn't understand.

So unnatural. So far my experience with birth has only involved death. It's difficult for me to imagine this body, these breasts, after birthing life. It's difficult to imagine this body could birth life at all.

Oh how I hope one day it will all feel almost normal to me too.

You're an inspiration Carol! And seriously, could that little Fiona Clementine be any sweeter?! I definitely see her resemblence to Charlotte. This will probably sound really strange, but I was confident when you were pregnant she would be a girl and would be very special. I think she carries a piece of her sister's soul. A tiny little piece of Charlotte back on earth. She is Fiona of course, her own unique little person, and Charlotte can never be replaced, but when I read about your feelings for Fiona I can't help but wonder if that is why you are just that little bit more protective, a little bit more in awe. If she were here with me now, I don't think I could put her down myself.

M xo

Christy said...

Carol, This is one of the most profound posts I have ever read. For some reason, I'd like to see it in one of those pregnancy magazines in the doctor's office. With a caveat: Only babyloss mamas read, please. It is healing. I probably would not want to read it if I was younger and ignorant of babyloss and in prime childbearing age. But on this journey, it is healing. And more than wanting to read it in the magazine, I want to be in teh doctor's office with that purpose!

your words speak directly to me. And the fact that is has been so much time passed since you experienced this and recall it with such vivid memory--I so relate to this. "the saddest face I ever say" yes, I remember seeing that face. "rock hard breasts mocking my empty hands" I've been there.
"my body was ravaged and torn and swollen and broken, and my heart was the worst of it all" Oh mygod, how true is that.

I am so glad you have little Fiona but I so know that she does not make the pain of Charlotte go away. And there are days whne she doesn't even ease that pain one little bit, because it never will go away. But I'm glad you have her to physically put life into your arms and need you and your body like you wanted Charlotte to so badly.
THank you for sharing. A very moving post.

Anonymous said...

My heart aches for you all over again... for all of the woman who live through this sort of goodbye.

Beautifully written... sears straight through to the heart. Your posts often keep me grounded in my job... I would hate the day I would grow numb.

Beth said...

it's so true, how DO we possibly do anything normal ever again after being so torn. the images in the shower with the milk and tears and water and blood... wow Carol.. so intense. and I know that we've all seen our own saddest faces. I cried in the shower the other day too... the water dripping down my face undistinguishable from my crocodile tears.

My breastmilk was leaking the most on the day of the funeral. I had to change my shirt a few times. When people would hug me, squeeze me, more would leak out. what a cruel joke.

Erika P said...

I had a mirror moment, too, that I remembered after the meeting. While I was in labor with Sierra, I avoided looking at myself in the mirror in the hospital bathroom. After she was born, and I went to use the bathroom for the last time before we left, I looked. My eyes were so sad and swollen from tears and a sleepless night in labor, and I was so ashamed and angry that my body had killed my baby, that I couldn't stand the sight of myself and wished that I hadn't looked.

I also have some pictures of myself taken about a week after Sierra's birth. I went in to the lab to give a tour to some Smith students as a favor for a friend. She sent me the photos with a thank you note. I appreciate having them but I can't look at them - my belly is hidden behind a fish tank but I'm haunted by my eyes and the memory of how I felt while giving that tour.

Powerful post, Carol. I'm so grateful for you, your group, and your willingness to share here. I'm very glad Fiona and Gina did well, and glad you had that moment of peace nursing her after the meeting.

Hope's Mama said...

Ravaged. Oh yes.