There’s a series of steps the hospital takes when preparing to surgically remove a stillborn baby.
I learned there’s a delicate dance to protect the mother’s body from unnecessary scarring while also slowly preparing the body to a place for surgery. The night before surgery the doctor inserted a 3cm speculum and slid match-shaped sticks in my cervix to help it soften.
This is quite painful.
Not only is it uncomfortable, but it’s for no good reason. All these months I’d told myself that the poking and prodding was worth it — I’d have a baby to hold at the end of these appointments. But not this time. My legs were spread apart for an eternity, it felt like. Lee was with me the entire time, holding my hand, stroking my forehead and telling me stories about his favorite memories of us. Soon we were tucked into a birthing suite where we ate a late dinner and fell asleep not long afterward.
There’s only so much you can do
The next morning a new nurse brought me two white tablets to place between my gums and my lips.
“Let those soak for 30 minutes and then swallow with a swish of water,” she said.
The tablets had no taste, but I was warned they would induce strong cramping.
During the 30-45 minutes before surgery, there’s only so much you can do.
I observed my mind and my body: they were calm. I wasn’t spinning in thoughts or worries. That familiar anxiety was nowhere to be found.
Slowly, a gentle heaviness came over me, as if a silent observer was in the room, placing a blanket on my shoulders. I told my husband I didn’t feel scared.
In that moment I knew my body was deepening. It was going somewhere I had never been before. Like a new dimension of my personhood showed up.
In my mind’s eye this new person had long, silvery gray hair and was wrapped in bright Native American colors. It was as if she pulled up a chair to sit with me and follow me to the operating room.
She smiled at me with her eyes.
“I am part of this story now,” she seemed to say, though her lips didn’t move at all. My body wasn’t resisting her, as if to assure my mind and heart that she was welcome here.
“You may lead the way,” I said.
Then I closed my eyes and laid down on the operating room table.
When I woke up
I was prepared to feel her gone. To feel my plump, round belly deflated. She wasn’t there anymore. Mercifully, I remembered nothing and I felt nothing from the surgery. When the anesthesia wore off, the first thing I heard was the nurses taking notes about my movements. All I wanted was to curl into bed and have Lee hold me.
My body was quiet. My mind was still. My heart was in shock.
This had really happened. You are really here. This is a hospital.
You and Lee said goodbye to your baby girl today.
That’s all I heard in my mind, save one thing. Everything was in my body. My body was in charge that day. My body had led the way. She knew what happened. She felt it, she braced for it, she showed me that grief is instinctual. Grief swept over my body in that hospital room long before my mind and heart had a chance to invent stories or distractions.
The one thing my mind did say, in an angry, defensive rage, was this: “No more giving your voice away.”
Making room for the quiet
The last month I’ve spent doing the foundational healing, it seems. The physical recovery has been easy enough. I cried every day for the first two weeks. But slowly I’ve begun to cook and take care of things around the house. Everything feels brand new, but not in a good way. There was this corner of the house I had imagined rocking my baby to sleep. Now I have to learn to walk by it and not dream of her. Then there’s doing the dishes and remembering: there’s no reason to think through bottle washing strategies. The laundry room, the kitchen table, the guest room, the living room, the night lights we installed in our bedroom — I have been learning how to be around these things without being carried away by a vision of sonogram pictures in my mind.
It’s so very quiet.
A week after the surgery I told Lee that I felt so, so empty. When I said it out loud, I kept hearing that word echo: empty, empty, empty.
Suddenly it didn’t feel like a stinging reality, but rather a soft comfort.
I remembered that emptiness is considered a spiritual gift in Buddhism. When you are empty of the self, you are available to fill with everything: limitless loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity.
These days are empty and also so, so full at the very same time.
They are quiet, and I spend my energy trying to do the predictable householder things: the things that make me feel capable again. But I am also trying to resist filling my days with too much.
It occurred to me the other day that social media fills a lot. It’s such a wonderful place/way for friends in far places to reach out, to check in on me, to send their love and support and prayers. But it is also very loud and intrusive and sticky.
Starting May 1, I’ll be taking a social media sabbatical from Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. It’s my way of honoring this time of life in which the quiet seems to be trying to say so much. It’s my way of redirecting my free time to nourishing activities (and not mindless newsfeed scrolling).
If we’re phone friends, you’ll still get a flurry of puppy pics and camping photos in our text threads. This is definitely not an attempt at isolating myself in any way from the friends and family who have held me so dearly. If we’re social media friends, I’d love to stay in touch, too, either through my email list (on the right side of my home page) or through my gmail account (reach out to me if you don’t have it).