Cruel World

Just a warning: this subject is profoundly upsetting. I’m fine, but someone else isn’t.

Since giving birth, I have more often lost control of my emotions beyond a reasonable response under the circumstances.  The first time it happened, a few days after Sprout’s birth, was when this story* hit the headlines.  I sobbed uncontrollably for a while, thought I’d got over it, and then was being driven through the city concerned weeks later when the tears fell again.  The second time I saw a documentary featuring a couple whose baby had died at 26 weeks’ gestation.  Their baby’s first two names were the same as Sprout’s.  It took me several hours to stop crying, and several days to stop dwelling on it.

And then.

A friend and colleague became pregnant.  There was much rejoicing, and she had a text-book pregnancy.  She went on maternity leave amidst a flurry of gifts and smiles.  We all looked forward to meeting her offspring: no doubt it would be, as she is, a delightful kindhearted ridiculously-smart wonderful human being who would never intentionally harm anyone or anything.

My boss called me the other day.  He said, through a cracking voice, that my friend had been for a routine scan feeling fine, but doctors were unable to locate the baby’s heartbeat. Her baby had died.  That is all the information he was able to give me, so my brain filled in the rest.  Intra-uterine death is the medical term.  How that term disguises the true reality.

I knew that at some point, her living baby-with-feelings would have closed its eyes for the final time.  Her labour would have been induced, and my friend would have had to go through it knowing that her baby was dead.  Perhaps she hoped it had all been a terrible mistake and she would have a living baby after all, only to have this tiny hope smashed too.  She would have been asked if she wanted to hold her dead baby, and she probably said yes.  Then she would have looked into its face and felt, well, who can say except she?  She would have had to choose whether to consent to a post mortem.

I do not know if the baby was a boy or girl, but I do know that she had chosen names, and prepared her home with all the equipment and accoutrements one needs to care for a tiny delicate being.  She would have had to go home and face all the preparation, and un-prepare it.  I know she will be feeling disbelief, anger, devastation, loss: emotional pain so bad it is physical.  Her heart just fell off a cliff and got stomped on when it landed.  In addition to that, she is recovering from labour: hardly a walk in the park on the sunniest of days.

What do you say or do to help?  I finally settled on sending a card, and agonised over what to write in it.  After all, my own baby is alive and well and six months old.  I am acutely aware that I have what she so desperately wanted: being reminded of my very existence might worsen her pain.  I do not want to intrude, but I also did not want her to feel alone, unacknowledged, and ignored.  So I sent a card; it’s all I can really do until, in time, perhaps she will be ready to see people – me, and maybe my son – again.

I grudgingly observe that there are two tarnished silver linings.  First, she is young and has plenty of time to recover and try again (though lard knows any future pregnancy would surely have its own emotional issues attached).  Second, my friend is entitled to a full year of maternity leave should she wish to use it.  This gives her plenty of time to access the kind of emotional support she will need, without financial concern, and only return to work when she is ready.  Plenty of people don’t have that.

I feel odd about my own reaction: weirdly self-focussed and guilty about that. Like I have no right to be, and should not be, as upset as I am.  I have not gone through this terrible tragedy; she has.  I can only gaze in from the periphery and begin to imagine how it feels.  Yet I am unable to press pause on my brain.  I am desperately sad, and enraged that such tragedy could happen to such a wonderful person.  I feel helpless, and wonder even whether I did the right thing to send a card.  I look at my own baby and feel incredibly lucky but also devastated for my friend.  Buying a card for her, I burst into tears in the shop.  I wake at night and think about what happened, and cry.  I ponder for hours the fact that however sad I feel, she feels infinitely worse.  It is unhelpful that I have only baby-care to occupy me, so everything I do (down to the nursery rhymes  – seriously, have you paid attention to nursery rhyme lyrics? many of them are acutely distressing) reminds me of her situation.

I know that in time, these feelings will pass.  Far into the future, perhaps they will lessen for my friend, though I am damned sure hers will never disappear.

How could this happen to her?  It is a bloody cruel, cruel world.

*In summary, a woman with mental health issues left hospital with her four-day old baby and jumped off a cliff.  Mother and baby died.


1 Response to “Cruel World”

  1. 1 jennatjugglinglife June 28, 2015 at 3:26 am

    Having a child changes how you interact with the world for sure. I can still remember the anxiety around keeping my firstborn safe.

    I am so sorry for your friend. (And I remember that story–she had the same name as someone I know who died of cancer last year. It was very odd all around.)

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