Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Worcester Day

(This turned out to be a LONG, messy, ugly post.)

I went to a smallish university about 50 miles outside of Boston. When I was there it was struggling city, parts were fine and suburban, but my school was located in the heart of the city, or a mile from it, where things were kind of grey and dingy. Main Street South was known for its poverty, homeless population and CU.

It seemed any time my mother came to visit, the weather was crappy. From my first visit my senior year of high school, it would be unseasonably cold, with grey rainy skies and wind. Low light. (The only time the weather was strikingly different was my graduation day, when it was 75 and sunny, a gorgeous day.) In my family, and then with my college friends, we began to refer to days like this as Worcester Days. Just grey, rainy/drizzly, shitty weather. Lo these many years, the expression has maintained, and that's what's bouncing around my head today. It's a Worcester Day here in March in the Midwest.

It occurs to me too, that a family joke was that my mother brought the rain and lousy weather. Frequently when she visited anyone, the weather was unseasonable and usually rainy. On my wedding day, a little more than a year after she died, there were torrential downpours. It's a nice fiction.

I'm out of sorts today. More than usual. Or, again. While I usually enjoy my husband's writing, his telling of our story is stirring up all the feelings from that time. Things I hadn't thought about, or hadn't in a while. Perhaps I need to get out some of the difficult stuff. This is going to be long and messy.

**This first part may be disturbing/graphic, discussing physical -- might want to skip down a bit ** I may take this part out.

This week, I broke down and looked at the pictures of my boys. By myself. Hadn't seen anything with their image since we left the hospital. Jacob looked about as I remembered him, like a very little baby, but with reddish skin. In these photos, they posed him, and I was aware of things being placed strategically, over an ear, over a hand. The shape of his head looked odd. Joshua looked horrible. There, I said it. His head, his face and his body were distorted with the effects of death and the other d word I can't bring myself to use. My sweet baby barely looked like a baby. But they took a picture, and a picture of the boys together. It ripped my guts out, and I could only look for a moment.

***End description***

(PLEASE, I am not interested in debate: You have your feelings, I have mine. Let's just respect each others' differences and let it go at that. None of this is easy for me to say.)

I have very mixed feelings about pictures of my children, dead. Holding them, dead. As a Jew (very, very, very reform, more cultural than religious) I don't really believe in an afterlife, as much as I would like to. I would like to picture my mother tending my boys in heaven, finally getting her grandchildren. It's a comforting image, that they're not just gone. Just gone. All these people I love. But I don't believe in that. I always considered myself an agn.ostic, just not too sure about any greater power. After the last 7 or 8 years, I have grown far more skeptical -- any god I would want to believe in would be loving and compassionate; lessons would not have to be learned this way, or any of the ways i have been forced to learn them, and would not subject those I love to the suffering I have seen.

What I'm trying to get to is that it is -- and was -- hard for me to believe that there was anything left of my boys' spirits or souls (or whatever you believe in) once they died. I would so love to think that they were hovering over me sending their love as they left this earthly plane. That they waited to say good bye me, for me to say good bye. Somehow it would be so much more comforting to think that inside those poor sweet little bodies was anything left of my sons. Anything I could hold onto for just a little while longer.

When I gave birth to my sons, at those moments, I was too drugged or out of it to be a mother to them. Or to remember being a mother to them. And that kills me. Makes me wish I could be with them now, to make up for it somehow. The day after then night they were still born, I slept a lot, met with social workers and medical staff, got a transfusion. C had already said that he did not think he wanted to see them. He wanted to remember them as he always thought of them, and with the joy he had felt while they were alive in me. I had decided that I would want to spend some time with them before we left, to say good bye. To see them and hold them. But as the time drew nearer, I knew I couldn't do it. The idea that they would be cold and still. That I could be holding their bodies, but not THEM. I broke down when I decided I couldn't see them. I just couldn't hold them knowing there was no life in them. That they were already gone. A held me while I bawled my eyes out.

I often regret not holding them, seeing them during that time. My only chance to hold and touch my children. Ever. Even if they were dead.

But. I look at these pictures. I think about how I was barely functioning in the hospital, and after. And since. I really believe that if I had gone to see and hold them that day I would have completely lost my mind. Hysterical. Kneeling in the corner, rocking back and forth.

I'm not proud of that fact. It makes me feel week and neurotic and compounds the "bad mother" voices in my head. (And I am not looking for reassurances here, just trying to be honest.) I read so many stories of women fully conscious for the stillbirth of their children, how they held them, and bathed them, and dressed them, and I look at them with awe, envy their presences of mind and their strength. I envy them those few moments they got to spend with their children.


I don't go very often to visit the gravestone of my mother, it's not comforting to me -- I don't feel close to her there. My dad and brother go relatively often, on her birthday, my parents' wedding anniversary, the anniversary of her death. I've talked with my sister, and she has also said she doesn't care to go to the cemetery because that's not her there. Like me, she feels that the spirit of her life, and the things and people she touched are not in that box in the ground.

We had the boys cremated. There are times when I wished that we hadn't, so there would be something substantive left of them. Even if it's just a box in the ground. We haven't memorialized them yet, but I would like to get some sort of stone, some sort of marker put somewhere for people to see. Something permanent that says that these boys existed, they lived, if for a short time, and they were loved.


Anonymous said...

I have no idea if this would be appropriate or not but have you looked in to preemie dolls?? They will send you a doll the exact size and length of your baby. Even though they are just dolls, you will forever remember how they physically, if not emotionally, felt to you. Please don't be offended by my suggestion, I do'nt in any way mean to offend you but maybe it's something you can look into. I can't imagine what you're going through and it breaks my heart that your pictures are causing you so much pain, perhaps the preemie babies could help represent your boys in another way.

niobe said...

You have no idea how comforting this post is to me. I really thought I was the only person who couldn't bear to see her babies. Though, of course, I don't have any pictures either, so I have no idea what they looked like.

CLC said...

oh, STE, this post is heartbreaking. You know, I think we all have regrets about what we should have/ could have done, but who the hell can think clearly when you get this kind of news? I have many struggles with the where/what is she now question. I like to think of her being an "angel" but at the same time I am not really sure if I believe in that stuff. While I am sure it's no comfort, I do want you to know that I have had many of the same feelings as you.

c. said...

I find this post quite heartbreaking as well, STE. I wish the boys had looked as you had wanted. And I absolutely don't think you are a bad mom for voicing your feelings about what you saw and I know you don't need me to tell you that either. We all have had feelings/thoughts we are not proud of. I think it's only natural to want our children to look perfect and death, sadly, is so not.

I, like so many, would like to believe my son is somewhere, watching over me, awaiting my arrival and the hug I want to give him should I see him again. BUT, without proof of something more, I find it hard to believe there is anything. I've been tossing that whole agn.ostic thing in my brain for a few years. This experience, really, has made me wish I could just believe in something again.

Thinking of you STE. Wishing you less Worcester days...

luna said...

thank you for this achingly honest post. I think many of us who suffered similar losses can relate. you can't possibly imagine yourself being in that position or what you would do. every minute is about trying to make it to the next one. just getting through.

like niobe, I have no picture except my ultrasounds so I'll never know what my boy looked like. and like you I struggle with the question of whether he had a soul before birth that could connect with my ancestors or even return to us one day. most importantly though, I agree the spirit of those we've lost lives on through the memory of their time with us. and that's the only comfort I have.

thinking of you. ~luna

Amy said...

You are not a bad Mom, I know the voice resonates inside but it's not a true voice. At least not to me.

I think the tribute the voice you and your husband give by blogging lets us all know how much your boys are loved how they were alive inside of you and how they existed only for a short time here on earth.

I know you are not looking for reasurance or the like however, if you need that I am here, we all are.

We do all have regrets (I think) as time passes we all wish something had been different that day but we can't go back.

I am thinking of you all today. With all I have I send you hugs. With a heavy heart I feel your sorrow.

Tash said...

First, may I just say, that my husband does not read my blog for the reasons you state. We're in different places, for different reasons, and he doesn't want to be thrown off kilter when he's not expecting it. I happen to think that's totally fine and normal. I think what you both are doing writing things down is amazing, but I don't think either of you should feel compelled to read the other's -- not that it should be "secret" or "private" or anything, but that you're different people. You support each other in other ways, blog reading does not have to be a part of it *if you don't want it to be.* I don't think it will hurt your relationship one iota. Just my .02.

As to the topic: We all do what we do when we do it based almost 1000% on our guts. There is no room, we are all to exhausted and mentally spent, for having the brain take over and think -- we make all decisions on gut alone. And your gut told you something, and I for one think it's a good thing you listened and followed it. It told you that for a reason.

It's difficult not to have regrets no matter the situation, but it's important I think to move beyond them. As for the photos, please know it's hard for me to look at my daughter's photos when we thought she was *healthy.* We have some, I have yet to see them a year later. To me, these are the lie, the big fake out. They make me ill. A number of people have trouble looking at photos for a number of reasons, not all of them due to the way the babies may look. It's totally fine and says nothing about you as a mother if you want to put them in a box for a while.

I don't believe in an afterlife either. And since my daughter didn't have a "life" so to speak while she was here, I'm not really sure what to believe.

meg said...

STE, I have experienced a stillbirth (at 20 weeks). Before the delivery, I was 100% sure I did not want to see the baby. My husband looked at her and told me it was o.k. to look. I don't regret seeing her and holding her. BUT...I do have regrets. We didn't bury her. We just didn't know what we were doing and we were out of our minds with grief. I ache at the thought of that, to this day. And we didn't take any photos, just one that the hospital took.

My point is, that we have regrets no matter what actually happens. If we see the baby or not. If we hold the baby or not. If we unwrap the blanket or not. If we take photos or not. I honestly think that even if we had someone standing there telling us to do every single thing that we needed to do, that we'd still have regrets.

There is no guidebook for how to handle this. All we can do is do the best we can, in an unimaginable situation. I have no doubt, that you loved your boys and did everything you could for them. And somehow we have to find a way to be at peace with how everything unfolded for us at the hospital. That's what I'm trying to do. Take care.

Ashleigh said...

having a stone put in for Owen was very helpful for me personally- it made something about him permanent- they way i wanted him to be.

i agree with clc, we all have regrets about the things we did/didn't do in those horrible moments. try to be gentle to yourself....

G$ said...

Like Niobe, I find this post comforting too. I thought I was the only one.

Antigone said...

I screamed that I didn't want to see him; but the nurse still carried him over and placed him in my arms. I knew he was dead before I gave birth. I knew that my holding him wouldn't help him and could only traumatize me. If the nurse hadn't forced him upon me, I wouldn't have seen him.

Sue said...

Thank you all for your kind words and reassurances.

It is also a comfort for me to know that I am not the only one.