First, team, for anyone who selected “Other” and wrote in a response for the polls on yesterday’s post, I wasn’t able to read those write-in answers. And I really want to know what they are, so if you haven’t already, please give me your suggestions as comments. Thanks.
I finally got an opportunity to share a little bit of my personal history with my awesome boss yesterday. We were having a conversation about something else, but it became relevant, so I told her: a few years ago, Doug and I had an unplanned pregnancy that failed, I’m still not really over it, etc.
“You know,” she said. “What people don’t realize is that you never really ‘get over’ a loss like that. We would never expect someone to ‘get over’ the death of a parent or a close friend; losing a baby is a death, too.”
I was so excited, I went completely off the topic of our conversation, and explained how I’d only been able to really understand my miscarriage grief after Simon died: once I had something concrete to grieve also, I learned to differentiate between mourning something and mourning an idea – and how the former is so much easier to comprehend, explain, and straight-up accomplish than the latter.
And again, she understood. She agreed with me. I have no idea how she knows all this – she’s child-free by choice, citing her nephew and her hundred-some employees as all the kids she needs – but I assume it’s just because she’s very, very wise.
Then last night, a friend sent me a link to this article, an advice column I’d never heard of, by a woman named Sugar, who likes to refer to the people to whom she’s dispensing this advice as “dear,” and “honey,” and “sweet pea.” If you can get past all those inappropriate pet-names, and the fact that Sugar takes a long and roundabout route to answer the question (which I’m getting to), it really is worth reading.
But in case you don’t have the time, allow me.
The asker, who calls herself Stuck, got accidentally knocked up by her boyfriend about a year and a half before writing to Sugar, and decided to keep the baby. It was a girl; they had a name picked out. Then, when she was over six months along, she miscarried. (I didn’t even know this was possible – at some point, don’t they have to call it a premature stillbirth?) Her doctor told her she’d lost the baby because she – Stuck – was overweight. Now she’s devastated, suffering from multiple eating disorders, and wondering why she hasn’t “gotten the fuck over it already” (my words, not hers), like everyone in her life seems to think she should.
Sugar begins by expressing how sorry she is for Stuck’s loss. She then goes on to say that the people in Stuck’s life – the ones who think a year is plenty of time to move on – can’t possibly understand the “mind-fuckingly, soul-crushingly life altering” trauma that Stuck is experiencing, having never experienced anything like it themselves.
Then she says this:
They live on Planet Earth. You live on Planet My Baby Died.
Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in. Because I can’t even explain how reading those words made me feel, except to say, “Yes, yes, YES!”
Then Sugar goes on to tell a beautiful and tragic story about the year she spent as a “youth advocate” for teenage girls in ridiculously bad situations: they were poor; they were abused; their measure of success was to get through high school, graduate, and get minimum wage jobs – all without getting knocked up or thrown in jail. At first she tried to help the girls; she called child protective services for them, and she told them that everything would be okay. And then she found out that child protective services doesn’t really have the funding to help teenagers, and that her repeated calls were in vain, and so she started telling the girls that maybe everything wouldn’t be okay, but that they had to do their best to fight through the shit-storm.
Like I said, Sugar takes a long and roundabout way to get to the point, but, she explains, she had to tell this story about the teenage girls, because the advice she eventually gives to Stuck is exactly the same as what she told the teenage girls all those years ago: maybe everything won’t be okay, but you have to do your best to fight through the shit-storm.
Actually, she says it a lot more eloquently than that:
You will never stop loving your daughter. You will never forget her. You will always know her name. But she will always be dead. Nobody can intervene and make that right and nobody will. Nobody can take it back with silence or push it away with words. Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live though it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal. Therapists and friends and other people who live on Planet My Baby Died can help you along the way, but the healing—the genuine healing, the actual real deal down-on-your-knees-in-the-mud change—is entirely and absolutely up to you.
Another moment of silence, please, to let that one sink in.
And now, poetry.
“An old man threw himself up.”
Ah, but this is not my demon.
My demons do not throw up;
they throw down, into walls,
into the floor; they destroy.
My demons scream and tear
and shed the weight of emotions
(never the weight of food and bile).
They purge my heavy heart with violence.
My demons hide until they can’t,
and then they burst through,
and rage and ravage anything they can find,
anything I love.
We have learned to get along, mostly.
They still win a few battles
and leave me feeling broken,
uncontrollable and ashamed.
But mostly, I have tamed them,
and when I am an old woman,
I will throw myself up to the heavens,
and laugh at my hard-won triumph.