But mostly what I did was hide. I hid from people who maybe didn't know what had happened. One day, Sam and I were in CVS and we saw a woman whose daughter had played soccer with Sam when they were both about four years old. Her younger daughter was named Grace and was the same age as our Grace. Sam stopped playing soccer after a year or so. I hadn't seen the woman since. But now, here she was in CVS with her daughters, her Grace. I crouched behind giant rolls of paper towels. I ran up an aisle as she entered it. My heart was beating fast while the sound of her voice floated across the store. Sam held my hand tight, unsure of why I was acting this way. He was getting used to my hiding. The week before I had hid behind my car to avoid a woman I knew pumping gas across from us...
I hid from everything.
~ Ann Hood from her memoir "Comfort"
I have been hiding since Zachary's death. B and I haven't been back to our favorite restaurant. I never returned to my exercise classes (and the instructor who was pregnant with her daughter at the same time I was pregnant with Zachary). I haven't set foot in our neighborhood grocery store..., B has taken over that responsibility. Only on the rarest of occasions, and only after carefully considering crowd levels, potential triggers and my emotional stability, do I go into town. One time, I coaxed myself to the downtown library for C.T.'s sake, something I used to do with him almost weekly. I walked in and immediately marched us back out upon seeing someone I used to know and be friendly with, who may or may not have known about Zachary. I just didn't have it in me that day to face her and tell her the story, to tell her we had another son, and then, that he became ill and died.
People hide from us too. We feel it. From the moment Zachary's prognosis turned grim, some of the hospital staff began avoiding us. When I posted to Zachary's caringbridge site that he had died, several people sent a quick I'm so sorry message and then, just as quickly, disappeared altogether. There were the many school moms who ignored me, ignored that fact that Zachary had existed at all, as soon as I returned to my drop off and pick-up duties. And now, there are the people in our life who hide more subtly..., by forcing only sunny interaction with us, by refusing to say Zachary's name aloud, by failing to ask (genuinely and with time and space for us to actually respond honestly) how we're doing, by essentially avoiding us until they perceive we are ready to roll with the good times again.
The hiding I do now is fraught with layers of complexity and history. I remember when we lost B.W., how excruciating it was to readjust to being out and about, to re-engage with people who couldn't comprehend my reality. A new dentist I saw, upon seeing my health history, greeted me with, So, I see you had a little "mishap" in October of last year... The death of my first son, followed by birthing his corpse - a little mishap? I should have slapped him. There were people who couldn't contain their curiosity about how B.W. had died. A co-worker said do you think he died because you're too skinny to carry a baby? A woman at church told me my blood clotting disorder, which had been identified as the probable cause of B.W.'s death, was not what killed him. She assumed her 30 minutes of investigation brought to light something of substance, assumed we were clueless and hadn't already pursued answers for months on end. I remember all sorts of insulting platitudes. A former boss at work said something like well, at least you didn't get to know him. Oh, right, because the last thing I wanted, in becoming a parent for the first time, upon seeing the human son I'd grown inside my body, was to know him. People were always telling me I was still young enough to have more, as if that would cure me of my grief, as if B.W. had been nothing more than a mistake or failure, some *thing* to be replaced.
But the most damaging external personal assaults after B.W.'s death came from some of the people closest to me. I am certain many of these instances are completely unknown to the offenders, who simply could not fathom the depth of my loss. In most cases, I did not have the strength to tell them and then brace for their unpredictable response. Others were too blatantly hurtful to continue the relationship at all. At about nine months out from B.W.'s death and birth, one of my closest friends, who I'd known since I was in first grade, completely gave up on me after I ducked out early, in tears, from a street fair she had invited me to. She couldn't appreciate how extraordinarily difficult it was for me to make the effort to attend at all, amongst the happy masses; how violently I was triggered upon running into her sister-in-law who sported her new baby boy in the same stroller we had selected for B.W. At one year into my grief, another of my good friends basically told me that I was carrying on a little too much with my grief. She said that by comparison and hypothetically speaking, the loss of my son to stillbirth wouldn't compare to a scenario in which one of her living daughters died. You can imagine which she perceived was more tragic, more grief worthy. These two women were bridesmaids in my wedding. Their desertion and cruelty, in my time of deepest despair, hurt me more than I'd ever been hurt by a peer. I haven't spoken to either of them since 2007.
And since I am human, I have muscle memory. All of this plays into the hiding I do now, after Zachary has died.
Now, I hide because I worry about running into one of Zachary's doctors, who failed him and us. That would probably render me inoperable for a couple of weeks. I worry about the chance run-in with someone who hasn't seen me/us in a couple of years and probably has no idea we had, and then lost, another son. Oh my goodness, it's been too long... how have you been? It's not a question I am able to answer honestly without talking about Zachary - just the basic facts, never mind the shattering details and the life altering impacts. And worse still, I worry about the people I haven't seen, who have never *really* acknowledged Zachary's death. I fear they will choose acting oblivious over offering their sympathy and acknowledgment about Zachary's death. It has already happened several times since Zachary died, and it kills me every single time. I worry about strangers, mostly other mothers, who try to be friendly with me. One of their first questions is bound to be so, do you have other children? Yes, two actually. Both dead - yep, separate instances and circumstances. And you? Can you imagine how quickly they run?
I also don't think most people can comprehend what it is to have to tuck away the grief and wear a mask, for some kind of gathering, when your child is dead. Just the thought of being social, of participating in a celebration or in casual small talk, especially in a group setting, still makes my skin crawl. It is So. Much. Work. In the context of the everyday, now fourteen months after Zachary's death, it is expected that I'm managing... and honestly, I have no choice. But, in the atmosphere of a planned get-together, a party or celebration, it is nearly impossible for me. It is still so hard, so insulting, that life goes on.
I wish I were strong enough for this stuff not to hurt and affect me so deeply, but the truth is, it does. It was such a build-up, years of work and persistence, to finally exist again in a place of relative comfort, in everyday life and socially, after B.W. died. My heart had to be stitched and reinforced and repaired again and again, over those years, as I interacted with people outside of my safe zone. And when Zachary was born, I remember feeling even that much more a part of the world again. I was so grateful, even proud of how far I'd come. That was right before the rug was pulled again.
My hiding these days is only marginally successful, as it seems most places and people are unavoidably triggering. A few weeks ago, stopped momentarily in my car, I saw my old exercise instructor walk across the street. Her daughter, who was due to be born just a week or two before Zachary, was already riding in an umbrella stroller. An umbrella stroller. (I think I repeated those words, head shaking in disbelief, 500 times, that evening and over the coming week.) My heart pounded violently as they walked across the street, right in front of my car. There they were. Out and about, living and breathing and doing what people do when they bring a new son or daughter into the world. To contemplate their existence, their easy happiness, the mundaneness of their everyday, the timeline I should be living out with my Zachary, is one thing. To see them in person, actually experiencing life together, was quite another.