Friday, July 21, 2017
I quit my therapist. In my defense, she offended me.
I should have known the first day we met. I sat down to face her and I explained why I was there; glazed over the most brutal and traumatic moments of my life in five sentences. I spoke of her hair and how her eyes never opened. I explained how that winter has never lifted; how the grief, ever so stealth-mode, has stopped chasing me from parking lots and Christmas dinners and has manifested in less tangible ways. Beneath the skin. Tearless and fearful and commonplace, like a target on my back.
She insisted we complete a family tree, and when it came time for names I said the boys first.
"And the baby?" she asked me. "What would her name have been?"
I cringed, but she never looked up from her legal pad.
Since my daughter died I've searched for validation. Behind furrowed brows in doctor's offices and double strollers on playgrounds. From near strangers who speak of a master plan, as though stillbirth were some necessary evil; the only path one could have taken to arrive where one is today.
I have learned that, unfortunately, not everyone is capable of awarding this to me. There are people who will never acknowledge my daughter's existence to my face. There are medical professionals who will say stupid things behind thin rimmed glasses, and there are friends who will shun me for politely and respectfully exiting difficult group text messages. (I must add an aside here, to anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation: save yourself the months of self doubt and resentment and shame, and heed the words of one of my new favorite writers: "These people are not your friends. They are just people you used to know.")
The grief that follows the death of a baby before its birth is unlike any other kind. I have learned this truth in the aftermath of my own personal tragedy. In remembering my daughter, there are no family pictures in the hospital circle drive. There is no reminiscing about her first steps at Grandma's on Easter morning; no grade school buddies who visit every year on her birthday. I don't hyperventilate at the scent of lemon meringue because I don't know what she'd have liked to eat, because she never opened her eyes.
And so you grieve it all, really--what might have been and what will never be. You hypothesize, grasping tightly at the ancient, sporadic kicks from within--the only physical memories anyone will ever have of this person, and you grow them as though you have a clue. You stare longingly at Disney princesses on TV and you take walks around the block at dusk and you say to yourself, she would love this, as if you know. But you will never know.
Sometimes I am grateful that I may grieve in the abstract. That this pain, this all encompassing ache spears me daily in less specific ways. I can sing to her brother at night without breaking down at the parts she used to join in. I can walk the grocery store, push the cart and never expect to feel her soft hands on mine. I can say things like, "She never knew anything but love," and almost believe it.
But then I'm reminded, ever so suddenly and all too often, that the world doesn't know her like me. Never held her weight in their arms. Doesn't remember all she might have been. Hasn't seen her like I have. Doesn't see her at all.
In these moments I do what any mother would. I clear my throat and I shift my weight, and I correct them from their expensive couch.
"Her name is Josephine."