October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. It is a time of reflection and remembrance for the 1 in 4 people who experience the death of a child while carrying a pregnancy or shortly after birth. The reality and weight of pregnancy and infant loss is a very difficult thing for many doulas, nurses, midwives, obstetricians. Processing our grief about the passing of other people's children can be complicated. Because I have experienced my own loss, as have other affiliated doulas in our company, writing about loss as it pertains to birth work seemed very daunting. In fact, I procrastinated and put this off. It scared me. But the first step of awareness is honesty, and the truth is that doulas mourn with you when we walk alongside your family during time of deep loss. So here are some honest thoughts and feelings about pregnancy and infant loss through the eyes and heart of a doula. --MMT
It is 6:00 in the evening on a Tuesday, and I am at Publix. The one by my home, the East Lake Publix, the one I go to at least once a week. They know me there, know my car with the sweet newborn on the side. They call me the Baby Lady in that Publix, and everyone is always so kind.
I have just come from the hospital. On my way out, I walked with a mother clutching a stuffed animal to her chest. I helped get her in the car to go home. There was no car seat to install. There was no going home outfit. This family was going home with fewer people than had arrived.
On the half hour drive to Publix to pick up dinner for my family, I thought of the evening. I remembered my stepson needed help with a homework assignment. I wondered if the dogs had been given time to be outside enough that day. I looked ahead to the next few days and the tasks I needed to complete. I listened to the radio. I rolled the windows down to smell the rain.
All of that seems so heartbreakingly normal. All of that sounds so callous. I had just attended someone’s birth and funeral only hours before. How could I possibly think about food? About my own children, about the future, about my schedule? Someone once observed, when this had happened before, “Doulas must have to process really quickly in order to be able to move forward. You must be really strong, to not let it affect you.”
To not let it affect me.
Standing in the produce department at Publix, trying to fight through the brain fog to figure out a suitable meal for the hungry people in my home, I have to really concentrate. Everything seems far away and confusing, but I keep on task.
And then I see it.
A display for fruit and veggie pouches. No GMOs, no dyes, no preservatives. Organic.
I start sobbing. Deep, heaving sobs, without regard to anyone or anything. Wailing and drooling and clenching my fists. Looking around at these people, who were just going about their day as if they could bear to breathe in spite of this incredible loss. A baby is gone, and we are buying fucking carrots right now.
It isn't fair. None of it is fair. The mother I have just left will never give her son one of those pouches. She will never be able to watch him eat a banana. She never heard his voice. And now the world just keeps on turning? Time continues on after this? Everyone just keeps going? It isn’t fair. Everything seems unspeakably cruel, and I am overcome.
One of the kindest, gentlest gentlemen I know, the gentleman who has been helping me with my groceries for two years, puts his arm around me and lets me cry. After awhile of that, he asks me, quietly, "Sometimes the babies aren't OK?"
"That's right, Robert. Sometimes the babies aren't OK."
There is my secret. You see, I think about your children in the grocery store. That is the place I allow myself to feel all the feelings I must compartmentalize to effectively continue living my life, doing my job, and participating in my family. Publix is where I cry and remember your children and think of your families. I say their names in the aisles. I calculate how old they would be. I think of the time I spent with your families as you were giving birth. I mourn with you.
I’m writing this to tell you that when it seems that doulas are holding it together after we serve you during the loss of your precious babies, it’s a lie. Plain and simple. Our poker faces are strong, and we are good at switching gears in order to keep on keeping on, but we mourn with you. We think of your children.
We say their names.
We will never, ever forget them.