The TLDR version: It sucks. Horribly. No, worse than that. Don’t do it.
Oh, internets. This is the worst dream I’ve ever had. I’m ready to wake up now.
I keep trying to tell myself it could be worse. This might have happened when I was a child. It could have been violent. She might have suffered and suffered — and point of order, people telling me “suffering is over now,” but this is not the same situation as dying at the end of an increasingly painful bout of cancer or similar. Yes, she was sick, but she’d been sick for my whole life, and it’s a bit hard to tell me to think of all of that time as pure suffering. Yes, she’d had some particularly unpleasant migraine and tendon problems recently, but when I talked to her on Sunday afternoon, she said she was feeling much better. Nor did any of that have to do with her dying, though I’m sure plenty of people who don’t know the details basically think, “Bionic’s mom was sick for a long time,” as if that explains it in any meaningful way.
She had a pulmonary embolism. At home, alone. No warning. Given her propensity towards large bleeds under her skin and a fear of stroke, no one would have thought she should have been on a blood thinner. Not much narrative satisfaction to be found there, sorry.
(May, please go give H an extra hug for me.)
So, yeah, no warning at all. And hey, there’s could-have-been-worse there, too. We might have been fighting. I think I forgot to say I love you on our last phone call, but at least I’d been saying it pretty often. It might have been the long, drawn out, cancerous sort of death more typical in my family. I’m not sure if that’s worse or not. It might well have been, given her auto-immune disease, some awful series of infections. Cascading, horrible medical interventions. Tubes and wires. Disagreement on the definition of “hopeless.” Soul-rending decisions.
It could have been worse.
The trouble, dear internets, is that it turns out that the Pain Olympics don’t make me feel any better, even when it’s me versus hypothetical me.
Given that focusing on the supposedly positive isn’t doing a damn thing for me (read: I am crying in public, bawling at (mostly) home, and have the emotional reserves and cognitive abilities of a newborn), all I can give you is a list, in no particular order, of things that make grieving while pregnant especially awful. You know, in case you were considering choosing this course.
- You have to eat. At a time when renunciation of the flesh seems so right, too bad. You aren’t in charge of that anymore, and the very small person who is, is extremely determined. But Bionic, I hear you say, some of us like to eat our feelings. And being pregnant means you can eat as much as you want! To which I reply, hope you like wet sand, because that’s what everything tastes like now.
- You can’t drink. Yes, I know, I know: plenty of people think a glass of wine doesn’t matter this late in the game. But I don’t want a glass of wine, and I’m pretty sure getting regularly blind drunk is still a no-no.
- None of the good drugs, either. Sorry, they’re all category D. I checked.
- You know that thing where you wake up and can’t remember what you were sad about, and then you do remember and it’s like being thrown off one of those 700-foot fjord cliffs all over again? Being pregnant means you get to do that four or five times a night, every time you need to pee or feed the tiny tyrant. See also: crying yourself to sleep.
- Oh, were you happy about being pregnant? Maybe even enjoying it, despite the discomforts and indignities? Too bad about that. Now you’re not happy about anything. You do get to keep the discomforts as a parting gift.
- Meanwhile, you’re supposed to “take care of yourself,” which means take care of the baby, even if you don’t feel like it. Vitamins, for instance. Trying not to get listeria. You’re supposed to keep going to your prenatal appointments, even if you’re pretty sure your mother died during your last one, right around the time you started shaking and crying in the waiting room for what seemed like no reason but is in retrospect exactly like what happened when your grandmother died.
- Speaking of PTSD, guess how much cerebral CPU processing capability is now available for dealing with all that birth stuff you were trying to sort out? What, this isn’t what you meant when you said you wanted to stop obsessing over those fears? Your therapist, who is trying to break up with you*, says it’s appropriate that you aren’t thinking about all that, which makes you wonder if she owns a calendar and knows the basic theory of its use. Of course it’s appropriate, but it’s also a bit dangerous, no, given that this baby is likely to be born more or less on the original schedule? If there were any justice, you’d be allowed to hit pause on the whole gestation thing while you get your sea legs, but if there were any justice, you wouldn’t be in this position.
*Well, what she said was I could keep coming if I just wanted a place to cry and say whatever I feel like, but that doesn’t seem all that useful, really. I’m not working on the birth stuff at all, things being how they are, nor do I need therapizing about the grief in a way I can’t get from people I actually know and trust more. I’m not depressed, per se; I’m just really, really, really sad. Surely I could do something else with the money.
- Speaking of that baby, whose arrival you were already scared about, how on earth are you supposed to take care of it while you’re like this? Let alone do a better job than you did last time, the way you had promised yourself you would? (You know, so your mother wouldn’t worry so much.) Do a little poking around the Internet on the topic, and find reports of a study showing babies born to grieving mothers have a higher rate of serious illness in their first four years of life, plus the news that you are basically guaranteed to get postpartum depression.
- For the sake of your electronics’ integrity and not being yourself reclassified as an inland salt water sea, try really, really hard to avoid thinking about how this baby won’t know your mother (and your two-year-old probably won’t remember her). Don’t worry; you will fail in that attempt one thousand times a day.
- In case you manage to steer clear of that thought for a minute, apparently a cavalcade of perfect strangers — work colleagues of your father, that sort of thing — now feels empowered to stand too close to you at the visitation, the last time you will see her body, and tell you how sorry they are WHILE RUBBING YOUR BELLY. This ranks among the most profoundly inappropriate experiences of your life, and it keeps happening again and again and again.