Saturday, August 28, 2010
I've just begun a new book, and I recommend it highly. About What Was Lost, compiled and edited by Jessica Berger Gross, contains eighteen pieces written by published authors on their experiences with pregnancy loss. I haven't even passed the halfway mark, so I won't comment extensively on favorite passages or pieces at this point, except to say that I can't put this one down and I think all of you, bereaved or not, should read it.
One of the things it's gotten me thinking about, not that this is specifically addressed in any one part, is that every year it seems to me like pregnancy becomes more and more of a hallmark, disnified event. I don't know if it's my loss talking, or my mothering talking, or just my outlook on life. But it seems to me, pregnancy and birth are life changing events, huge, emotional, spiritual transitions. And most people celebrate it by buying and gladly receiving things that they don't really need, or at the very least don't know if they'll need. I can tell you that my baby seat doesn't get sat in very often; and my swing doesn't get used ever. The 40 or 50 onesies in the zero to three month size usually don't all get worn, because I own a washing machine. The twenty receiving blankets I have, it turns out, are actually not the right shape to swaddle a baby. And you're actually not allowed to put blankets in a baby's crib anymore, so it's a good thing I have a couple of girls who like to play dolls so those blankets can get used for something. If I had to think of what I would go out and buy, if I was having a baby and just bought the things as I needed them, I can tell you this about a newborn: I would bathe them in the sink, I would only need about 7 outfits total, and the bureau drawer would have worked just fine if the baby wasn't in bed with me. A few big, large swaddling blankets that are essentially commerically unavailable would have also been useful. And then, I would have appreciated stacks of letters, cards, and notes from all the women in my life telling me about when they became mothers. Describing their transitions, the falling in love, the beginning of the journey. About the challenges of caring for a newborn, the shock of the change from somebody with a pretty strong sense of personal autonomy to somebody who doesn't even decide when they get to go to the toilet. As it turns out, I wouldn't have needed the sink, or the blankets, or the bureau drawer, but I imagine those letters would have been read and re-read, forming for me in my mind a vision of motherhood as something I might have had.
It wasn't until after I was pregnant with Charlotte, and had my own requisite shower with all the appropriate gifts (which I greatly appreciated and thought I needed, by the by), that a new concept was born: the registry. The registry! Here now, one doesn't just receive everything that she doesn't really need in stacks and piles, but one itemizes and decides what one is to receive. I know what you're about to say-- doesn't the registry make it simpler, so that if you don't want the swing, you don't get one? And so only 12 onesies arrive, instead of 40? But you haven't read far enough, because what I'm weeping and tearing at my hair about is not the fact that one can carefully choose what one thinks one needs for a baby, but just the very concept that a socially acceptable part of becoming a parent is now signing up on a little computer for which things you'd like to receive. It's all about the stuff, all about the stuff. Most people are so prepared with things they probably don't even realize that there's a huge life change coming. And if they do, they've probably never considered what it might be like.
That being said, when Charlotte died, I was actually grateful for the stuff. It was the evidence of my motherhood: the things mothers need. My love was invisible, and my pain and emptiness were hidden beneath my clothes like the zig-zagging stretch marks that decorated my belly. If I had a house full of things, that made me a mother, right?
But a heart full of love? What does that make me?