A Personal Essay On Miscarriage and Infant Loss.
The pain of miscarriage and infant loss is unspeakable. And yet, we must give it words. As with all our struggles – all our anxiety, depression and traumas – we are tasked with what seems like the impossible: finding the language to describe our immeasurable pain and speaking those words out loud.
October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. I would be negligent to not take advantage of a ‘holiday’ to speak about the journey that 1 in 4 women will experience. Rather than offering the knowledge and tools of a therapist I want to share with you all the voice of a woman, a colleague of mine, who has walked this path herself.
I hope that her story will speak to the hearts of all those that have lost a baby and to those who are looking for guidance on how to support and love the families who are grieving. I offer this to you unedited with Stacey’s closing thoughts, “I am willing to give you a cathartic experience through me, but on one condition—that you take this information and pay it forward.
”There’s Nothing to See Here…Keep Moving.”
By Stacey Durrance Fletcher (2019)
Shortly after Benjamin’s death, I had to run to the grocery store. In my world at the time, this was a huge task. I remember some days getting in my car after the kids left for school and just driving around. My husband was at work, the kids at school, and everything appeared to be back to “normal” in the world…except for me. I would order a diet Coke through the McDonald’s drive-thru line so I wouldn’t have to see or speak to anyone. We lived in a very small town, and I saw familiar faces everywhere. I would drive through town, circle the cemetery, and navigate back up the canyon to my home.I remember one night waiting until after a movie started to go into the theater and leaving before the end so I wouldn’t have to speak to anyone. Ben’s death was still too raw. People were curious about what happened, and I did not have the energy or strength to explain how he died one more time.
I remember sitting in the grocery store parking lot for a long time. It was so cold outside, but I sipped my icy Coke like it was nectar from the gods. Getting a Coke was the only thing that I did for myself each day, and sadly, it was part of what was keeping me sane.
I finally gained enough courage to enter the grocery store. I literally walked with my head down and held onto the shopping cart like it was a life raft and I had just jumped off of the Titanic. I was sinking, and the cart was keeping me afloat. I frantically skirted through the store, randomly throwing in items that would make some sort of crazy dinner combination. I raced to the checkout and found myself standing in a stupid line,and then I heard these words from the ladies in front of me, “Did you hear what happened to Stacey Fletcher?” Immediately, I looked up because I heard my name. I did not recognize either woman. “Her baby died, and it was the stupid doctor’s fault.He was born alive, but something the doctor did killed her baby.” I WAS FROZEN. I could feel my grip tighten around my life raft. I could feel the water of grief rising to take me under. I searched their faces as they casually unloaded their carts onto the black conveyor belt. I did not know them. More importantly, they did not know me. I was standing right behind them, and they did not recognize that I was the character in their sad, tragic tale. Their story about my beautiful boy continued, but I don’t remember what they said, other than the information was not correct. I slowly released the grip on my shopping cart and frantically walked to my car. Strangely, I can still feel the blast of cold air that hit my face as the double doors opened for my escape. It took some time before I could start my car. I’m sure the checker was angry about my cart. The women from the line loaded their car and drove away long before I could start mine. By then,they were onto a new conversation and were laughing and planning the rest of their day.
I share this story for two reasons. First of all, gossip is dangerous and devastating.‘Nuff said. Secondly, I think there is something deep within us as human beings that is curious about another person’s pain and suffering, something that we need to monitor closely. It is somewhat cathartic to live a tragedy, fear, illness, love, torture, or pain through the experiences of others, or even through a video game, rather than having to go through it ourselves. The motion picture industry is a testament of this, but so also are some of the darkest times in human history. The Romans, as well as many other nations, were masters at this idea. I believe that each of us has dabbled in this darkness on a smaller scale. We weave sad tales about other lives without ever really thinking much about it. Cancer, sex, death, suicide, relationships, family…these are topics that we discuss and move past a million times a day. We allow ourselves to feel just enough to peak our curiosity, our adrenaline, or self-esteem. We want to briefly touch the fire, without ever really getting burned. Burns hurt. Burns scar. Burns turn things to ash. What is it in our human makeup that makes us this way? Do you ever drive past an accident without slowing down to look?
Child death is a horrible fear. It makes Jaws look like a goldfish. In fact, there are not many movies/TV shows that touch the subject; however, when they do, the response is overwhelming—shout out to This is Us! The fact is that one in four pregnancies ends in loss; We have a much higher probability of losing a baby than being killed by Freddy Krueger or a freaky clown in a sewer. Yet, in the end, we choose the horror show over something more realistic. I think because we can talk ourselves out of the clown attack;a dead baby is just too real.
Now that many years have passed since the grocery store incident, I don’t really blame those ladies. In reality, they were scared—scared about what happened to me. It is a universal fear for every parent. They did not need to know me to fear my story. I may have done the same thing. It was just crappy timing. Yet, I wonder if they had lost a baby themselves if they would have talked so casually about my loss. I wonder if they were more aware of the devastation or the loneliness or the depression that comes with child loss, that maybe their actions would have been different. I wonder if they had read my thoughts this month and gained some awareness of how it feels to hold and bury a dead child, that they would have held the tragedy a bit more sacred to their hearts.
My challenge to you reading these comments is this…what will you do differently now that you have been told what it feels like to lose a baby? I will keep writing this month,and I will keep being blunt and honest about my experiences and my healing. I am willing to give you a cathartic experience through me, but on one condition—that you take this information and pay it forward. When you hear of a loss, don’t just talk about it, do something about it. Take a Coke to her home or pick up that poor grieving mother and take her with you when she is ready. Don’t get me wrong. I had wonderful friends at the time. They called, but I didn’t answer. They came to my house to get me, but I was hiding in a corner too broken to answer the door.
My next comment is key, AND THIS IS WHAT I WANT YOU TO REMEMBER: I secretly wanted them to knock down the door and find me. I wanted them to walk through my house and open doors and call my name. I wanted them to chase me around town in their car and make me stop. I wanted companionship and friendship so badly, but I did not have the energy to even open the door or to ask for help. So…when your friend loses a baby and says that she is okay when you ask…don’t believe her.She probably is not. When you think she isn’t home, or doesn’t want to grab lunch, she is home, and she does need to eat. Just take her food and eat on her front porch with her. Public places are exhausting. If she does not respond…try again the next day. Do not give up because chances are—she doesn’t want you to give up. Eventually, the fog will lift. Your friend will surface; just do not expect her to be the same. Do not limit her mourning, and keep going back.
Baby death is not something that you catch. It is not something that will rub off on you;but it is something that can change you, even if you never lose a baby yourself.Awareness brings change. “Did you hear about Stacey Fletcher” could have ended with…”I hope that she is okay and knows that she is loved.” I still probably would have run for the parking lot, but those words would have helped me take a small step forward on my journey to healing and light.