"Don't you think it's unhealthy to talk about it all the time?"
"Don't you worry about what people will think if they read your blog?"
"Is writing about it really what you should be doing now? It's been over a year..."
When I was in college, my five roommates and I worked at a certain world famous theme park. One day I came home complaining about a man who I had called security on for having exposed himself. Nutty park patrons were something we all dealt with daily, and my story kicked off a sort of round table of griping about the weirdos that colored our days. I thought my story was the strangest, that was until one of my roommates, a hostess at a park restaurant blurted out, "you think you deal with weirdos, girl you don't know weird until you have dealt with the 'towel baby'. "
'Towel baby' was just that - a towel, dressed with sunglasses and a hat to resemble a baby. The park patrons who brought 'towel baby' were regulars at the parks, such regulars in fact that my roommate had been instructed during her training that she (and all the other employees) were to follow along with the couple's delusion.
When waiting on their table, staff were to comment on how cute 'towel baby' was, take food orders for 'towel baby', and treat 'towel baby' as they would any other child at the park. As they ate, the couple would sneak bits of food away from the table, to give the illusion that the child had eaten it himself. My roommate told me that she had heard that the couple had lost their child, and under the pressure of grief, the wife snapped one day and began treating the towel as it were her child. Not wanting to upset his wife's already delicate mental state, the husband went along with the front.
Many who heard the story of 'towel baby' would write her off as a wacko and laugh. I even came across a forum once devoted to making fun of this woman. In the years since I heard the story, I have often wondered how it was that someone could be driven to such a place mentally.
Nine years, and one dead child later, I have a little bit better idea.
I was telling the story of 'towel baby' over our IBMD lunch, when one of the mothers I was lunching with told me about a woman who lived on her street when she was a kid. She said the woman had lost her child, and would spend her days walking up and down the block, pushing a stroller with a doll in it. She believed the doll was her child. Neighborhood kids would taunt the woman, even going so far as to throw the doll into the river. "She believed it was her baby," this mother told me. "Can you imagine how traumatic that was for her to see what she thought was her baby being thrown into the river?"
The story was heartbreaking.
Images of bereaved mothers are often portrayed in movies and on television as women who have simply snapped. On the show One Tree Hill, a nanny went crazy and tried to replace her dead child, with the boy who was under her care. The villain in the movie The Hand That Rocks The Cradle went insane after, among other things, miscarrying a child.
Do you see a theme here?
Urban legends, literature, movies, the media, each offer depiction after depiction of women who have not only lost their children, but their minds, and honestly, having lived this nightmare of loss, the assumption that losing a child can send a woman over the edge doesn't feel all that far fetched.
There are no words to describe what it is to go on living after your child has died. No words to describe what that does to a person, or how it feels. For me, compound that loss with infertility, and the list of descriptors grows longer by the day.
These are a few I would use, but even they don't do it justice.
My grandmother lost two babies back before women could talk about losing a baby. I thank God that she went on to have more children (one of which was my mother who went on to have me) but I don't really know how she did it. Especially not back then. Back then, some women would put on brave faces. Others became shut ins. Many, unfortunately, were unable to fall in line with society's expectations and grew too hopeless to go on living. Whenever I hear comments made to other BLM's about moving on, I think of these women, and I cringe. Is that what pushed them over the edge? One too many people passing judgement on their grief?
What society doesn't understand is that grief is not a phase, or a choice. Anyone who believes that the grieving have any choice in the matter are either incredibly lucky for having never faced anything so painful in their own life, or incredibly foolish. As a bereaved parent, you can choose to put your best face on, you can choose to put your best foot forward, and still end up drowning in your own tears because of the many varied day to day reminders of what you had with your child, what was lost with your child, and what never will be for your child. It is a long and nasty process, and if there were any choice in the matter, the bereaved would take it. We want to be free of our heartache but it just isn't that simple.
My child died.
It was horrific to watch.
There is no cure for that.
I started this blog nearly a year ago (5/17/09) with a poem I had written about Mother's Day. It was my first Mother's Day, a day I had envisioned during my pregnancy, and one that I was being forced to spend without her. That first Mother's Day was full of grief. My second was grief and anger at my lack of fertility. Sometimes I can't help but wonder how life can be so cruel.
This past year I have chronicled the occasional ups and many downs of surviving child loss while facing infertility. This blog has been my place, my catharsis. This has been my space to vent and be heard and understood and thank God for it, because it is only through being honest here, that I have maintained my sanity.
Some think that grieving openly is unhealthy but I beg to differ. It is suppressing our grief that is unhealthy.
Our grief is a wound, deep and in pain, and it has to be examined and cleaned and dressed for it to heal. Sometimes the same areas have to be cleaned two, and ten, and a hundred times, and if that is what it takes to heal, so be it. Not dealing with our grief would be like expecting a band-aid to heal a wound.
Placing a band-aid over a wound for the sake of not troubling others with the ugliness of what has happened is an invitation for infection. Sure it might look better on the outside, but beneath that clean, shiny bandage it would be festering (sorry, gross analogy) and could cause irreparable damage.
Damage that might make a woman believe a doll, or a towel, is her child.
I have been thinking alot about the 'towel baby', and the doll in the stroller. I have been wondering what makes them different than me, than you, than any of us in this God awful baby loss world.
Just like us, these women were at one point considered normal. They had their whole lives ahead of them. Just like us, these women rubbed their bellies, and anticipated their child's birth. Just like us, in some way or another, they witnessed the end of their child's life.
I think that is where the similarity ends.
Unlike these women, we have sought out the help and validation of others who are walking this path with us or have walked it before us. Unlike these women, we know how healing self expression can be. Unlike these women, we understand that what we are going through and feeling may not be the societal norm, but is perfectly normal under these circumstances. Unlike these women, we are lucky.
Yes, you read that right. Lucky.
Lucky because we are still here.
We know that we could try masking our grief, or ignoring it, but that doing so wouldn't make it go away, it would only cause it to manifest in other ways.
We are lucky because we are tending to our grief, and as impossible as it may feel at times, we will be better for it.
It is only through tending to the wounds of our grief that they can heal, and we can survive - sanity and all.