My six-week postpartum appointment was this morning. It felt like a definitive “end” to such a long journey. No more pregnancy-related appointments, ever. I spent time picking out what to wear, as if I wanted to convey “See? Even five years older, tired, and dealing with a baby after loss, I can still bounce back!” The medical staff would not even notice my effort. It was more of an assurance for myself.
As I drove to the office, I remembered my postpartum visit after delivering Nelle. The receptionist handed me a bill for $500 as I checked in. I wanted to crumple it up and throw it back at her. The waiting room is always filled with pregnant women, or women parading around with their newborn babies. I did not want to take Autumn to my appointment today. I remembered how hard it was for me, sitting there at my appointment after losing babies, and feeling like I was surrounded by happy moms with their babies. I did not want to be “that mom,” just in case there was another woman in the waiting room going through what I had gone through. But the timing did not work out, and I knew that Autumn would be hungry and I had no pumped milk. I had to bring her.
Upon going into the exam room, the medical assistant handed me a bib that said “Dr. Weeks delivered me!” Quentin has the same bib, delivered by the same doctor in the practice. He delivered Nelle as well, but they don’t give you a bib at your postpartum visit for a stillborn baby. As I waited for the doctor to come in, I stared at that bib a bit resentfully. I still went through labor and delivery with Nelle and Iris. There was an epidural, and a nurse, and a delivering doctor. No bib though. No joyous celebration of a healthy baby taken home. I doubted that the doctor would even remember when he came in that he had delivered Quentin five years ago, let alone my stillborn first daughter. I could feel myself starting to be choked up, but willed myself not to cry. No one would expect tears at a postpartum visit with a baby in my arms. It was supposed to be a happy moment.
After the exam was complete, I stayed and nursed my fussy baby. From the next room, I could hear the loud, rhythmic heartbeat of another baby and the mother’s voice as she talked to the doctor. That room
Of course I could not escape the office without being asked “Is this your first child?” I was asked not once, but twice. First was the medical assistant at the onset of my exam. Then again in the elevator, where people feel compelled sometimes to break the silence. Much like I intentionally dressed myself in order to prove something, I intentionally dressed my baby. I put her in gender-neutral clothing to stave off any comments. I never realized how much “Finally got a girl, huh?” would hurt until I heard it. “Now you have a girl” made me want to scream “No – no! My first girl was born two years ago.” So the baby was dressed in green and tan, in an effort to avoid that discussion. I avoided that one, but still had to face “Is this your first?” As I headed back to the parking garage, a man asked that dreaded question. I gave a weak smile and said “No. This is my… third.” “Ahhh… they grow up so fast,” he said, trying to continue the conversation. “Yes, I know,” I responded “My son turned eight yesterday.” I wanted to fill the elevator space with my own voice, so that I could control what was left of the ride, rather than risk another question.
I arrived home, so tired. All of the appointments associated with this pregnancy made me so… tired. And now everything postpartum: bleeding, lactating, fatigue, weight, checkups. The same with every delivery. Except this time I actually took home a baby.
“Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery’s shadow or reflection: the fact that you don’t merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief but live each day thinking about living each day in grief.” -C.S. Lewis