“What are you still doing pregnant?” The doctor asked, jokingly, as she walked into the room.
“I don’t know!” Kenny and I laughed.
“Well, how about we get you over to the hospital and get an induction started? Today’s your due date and, at this point, it’s a little dangerous to stay pregnant.”
“That’s fine with me. I was gonna ask if you could strip my membranes today anyway.” Kenny was so excited! He had been giving baby Kenny verbal eviction notices for about a month.
“Ok, great. Let’s just get a heartbeat and I’ll go make that call.”
I pulled my shirt up and she pulled out the doppler. She placed it at the top of my stomach. She usually placed it at the bottom and we would instantly hear that dub lub. This time, we heard nothing.
She moved the doppler to the side and said, “C’monnn! I can hear you in there moving around!”
Kenny and I had just listened to our son’s heartbeat two days earlier. It’s something we did often, so we had doppler placement down pat. We told her to put it at the bottom because that’s where we could always hear it. She moved it. Still nothing.
“Well, I obviously don’t know how to use a doppler. I’m gonna go get the machine because I’m not hearing anything.”
She left and came back with a portable sonography machine. The screen faced the doctor and I, Kenny sat behind it. She cut the screen on and placed the doppler on my stomach. There was still no noise. Instead, I saw my son, and his heart was not beating. She squeezed my hand and took a deep breath.
“I’m gonna have one of the ultrasound techs take a look because I’m not seeing anything,” she said with concern.
She walked out of the room and I started to hyperventilate. Kenny came to my side, still hopeful. Still praying. I couldn’t tell him there was no hope, that I’d seen our son laying lifeless inside of me. I couldn’t.
When they came and got us for the last ultrasound, I just laid on the table and closed my eyes. I prepared myself for the silence that was louder than any noise I’d ever heard. Not only that, but I knew Kenny’s heart was about to break. I knew that no matter what happened next, I would have to be strong.
“We don’t know what happened. Looks like there was fluid around the heart, but we aren’t for sure.” She had an insecure tone when she talked. Her eyes were glossy, as if she was holding back tears.
I wanted to call her 17 different types of bitches and tell her that it was all her fault. I wanted to tell her how afraid I was of having this baby from the beginning because it’s dangerous for black women to give birth in America. I wanted her to know that I was educated and that I knew all about infant mortality and blame her for making me one of those moms. I wanted to tell her that she came highly recommended, that I did my research and picked her out of a very short line-up of black doctors in the city. I wanted to tell her that she had failed me. Instead, I just nodded my head. Because what difference would it make? None of it could bring my baby back.
She gave us instructions on how to get to the hospital and where to go once we got there; I didn’t hear anything. We walked in silence to the car, tears falling with every step. When we got home to pack our bags, we just sat. Numb. It was all so surreal. The baby that we loved and watched grow would never get to come home with us. The next few days were a whirlwind. I gave birth, hosted family members, went to Kentucky, planned the funeral, drove back to Indiana, celebrated my daughter’s golden birthday, drove back to Kentucky, attended our baby boy’s funeral, hosted family members again, and then I finally drove back to Indiana so that my kids could finish their school year. They had about three weeks left before they went to spend the summer with their father and I couldn’t wait. In fact, knowing that I would be kid free soon was probably the only thing that got me out of bed.
What exactly does grief look like for a mother? So far, it looks like everyday life, but with a gray cloud that you’re kind of ignoring because you’re the only one who can see it. It looks like compartmentalization and a list of tasks that need to be completed for our home. I can’t have us walking around, looking crazy because I can’t get out the bed to wash clothes, right? And I can’t be ugly face crying all day in front of my kids, right? Malik would be so worried! As my sister, who also experienced infant loss said, “I don’t know. I guess I haven’t really grieved. I think I’ve just coped.”
Unfortunately, I too have managed to keep my composure. I say unfortunately because I truly believe that self-control during this time can be counterproductive to grief.
Self-control – the ability to control oneself, in particular one’s emotions and desires or the expression of them in one’s behavior, especially in difficult situations.
All you really want to do when you’re grieving is nothing…and beat people up…if you’re anything like me and grief makes you a little angry! However, self-control seems to be my only choice if I ever want to move forward in life once I’m “done grieving.” That sucks because depending on your process, grief can get ugly. I’m sure we all know someone who gave into a vice while grieving and heard the comment “they were never the same after such and such passed.”
The first thing I learned in my grieving process is that we live in a world that literally and metaphorically never stops moving; it can be detrimental if you don’t keep up. I was sitting in the hospital bed, listening to the monitor beep, knee deep in tragedy and I thought, “I gotta call my job!” A few more minutes went by and I remembered that I was also a student, right in the middle of finals. I can’t even believe my mind went there in that moment, but I suppose it had to. God forbid I lose my job and fail two classes! Bereavement only pays so much and I’d never recover academically if I received two F’s. See what I mean? When I say it out loud it sounds so…stupid. “My son just died. Let me call my job so I can get FMLA. Op! I need to let my professors know that my papers will be late because my whole life has turned upside down.” But that’s what we have to do! Mothers always handle business. In that moment, it’s the hardest thing ever but it’s vital for the big picture. Because one day you WILL get up again.
It’s been three months. Instead of setting the world on fire, I’ve done all of the things. I’ve been a functioning mother to my oldest two, attended school field trips, showed up for loved ones at weddings and graduation parties, had friends visit on multiple occasions, did my first vendor show, I’ve partied, gotten a gym membership, ran a business and I’ve been up and down the highway. The truth? I didn’t want to do any of that.
My desire is to get drunk everyday and eat key lime pie, heavy on the whipped cream. I don’t want to be bothered with anyone, or any noise. I want to break all of the chairs that accompany my dining room table (I’ve already broken one, it felt amazing). Then, I imagine myself punching all of the windows out. When I go to the store I think about knocking the aisles over, one big push in hopes of getting the domino effect and then I’d take off running. Putting mommy duty on pause for the rest of the year wouldn’t be so bad either. Sometimes, I close my eyes and visualize myself doing all of these things and it gives me a slight rush.
Instead, I keep it together. Because I’m the strong one. I know in my heart that those who love me would never recover if I let myself go. I just wish they could understand that I’ll never be the same and that I fight to smile and laugh at their jokes. See, my son’s death was a moment in time, but the memory of him and what life was supposed to be like will last forever. Grief will forever be woven into my daily life. Silence hits differently now. Every morning when I wake up, it’s quiet. It’s not supposed to be. So basically from the moment my eyes open, I’m fighting triggers. I’m fighting the urge to stay in bed. I’m trying to convince my mind to think about anything else other than the fact that my child died inside of me. One day that may get easier, but you know what? It might not. So, yeah.
I started this series to begin my healing process and to also give grieving mothers a voice. That day, after the proverbial veil was torn, I thought “why doesn’t anyone talk about this?” People will tell you that grief comes in waves, but they don’t tell you what it feels like to walk into a room full of caskets and pick one out. I quickly learned that it’s hard talking about something as delicate as the loss of a child with people who’ve never experienced it, no matter how good their intentions are. You get responses like “God doesn’t make any mistakes”, or “everything happens for a reason”, or “you’re young, you’ll have another baby”. I’m going to let you guys in on a little secret, those are some of the WORST things you could EVER say to anyone experiencing a loss, especially the loss of a child. We typically think in our heads: 1. God is clearly punishing me (so now we hate ourselves). 2. *Cardi B’s voice* What was the reason?! 3. Yes, I may have another baby, but no one will ever replace Kenneth Dewayne Smith III, the love that was placed in my heart for him, nor will a new baby ease the pain of losing him.
I know that I can’t bust all my windows or knock over everything at the store, so I hope to tell my story and share my thoughts so well that you feel my pain. As you learn to empathize with me, I hope it makes you a better sister, aunty, brother, cousin, or whatever your relationship may be to your loved one who has experienced the loss of a child. Understand that she (or he) is searching for a peace that she may never find. We have to start giving people the time and space they need to grieve however they need to, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us.
Mothers, I want you to know that you aren’t alone. If you haven’t been able to grieve, I hope my story gives you the courage to tear your room up and put it back together whenever you see fit. Break all the way down, honey! And no judgement here on what your process is because let me tell you, I’m itching to break another chair! I think I just might do it! I want a new dining room table anyway. I’ll keep you posted.
Let’s go heal.
To Be Continued.