We are sitting in a room with about six other couples. The bright florescent lights illuminate a ring of chairs looping around the room. It is the middle of winter, and the window exposes a barren, snow-covered garden.Upon looking around the room, we see distraught faces of the others, some sitting with crumpled tissues in hand, others stoically looking at nothing in particular. No one is talking; it is eerily quiet. I am extremely uncomfortable, even more so than 10 seconds earlier, when we stood outside the entrance trying to collect what little composure we had. We had taken the seats closest to the door. I’m not sure why we do this. Because we don’t want to venture inside any further and contract the gloominess that permeated the room? Perhaps we wanted a quick escape route in case the meeting became unbearable? Either way, it was awkward. I don’t know exactly what I expect from the support group, and I am not prepared for how the next two hours will unfold.
Many of the couples were clearly returning support group members, with some counting their time served in years. We go around the room, each person or couple saying who they are and why they came. Even as strangers, we share a common trait: we lost a baby at some point during pregnancy or after birth. But, just admitting this isn’t enough for this group. We can assume this kind of loss is what brought us here, but sharing the details of our experiences is suppose to be the key to our healing. As each person or couple takes a turn, everyone’s story is different, and shocking, opening my eyes to a whole new world. I wonder, who are these people who lost their babies? Where do they come from, why do we never hear about them? And, most frighteningly, how did I become one of them?
The stories are all the same, yet different. One couple spoke of their twin boys, “We lost both of them, for no known medical reason. We had a nursery for them, we were so excited. And then it was over, and they were gone forever.” The woman chokes up, fighting back tears. This happened two years ago, and the emotions are still raw. They look on to the next couple, as if begging to be relieved of the spotlight.
Another couple suddenly lost their seemingly healthy baby at eight months; the mother contracted a virus to the infant’s undoing. She pauses and takes a breath before speaking. Her husband is squeezing her left hand, as her right is twisting a small charm on her necklace. “It was the day the ladies in my office threw me a baby shower. They had everything decorated, and brought in food. It was so nice, yet I couldn’t enjoy it because I began feeling sick. I did my best to open all the gifts, and appear to be having a good time, but by the end of the party, I had to go home to rest. Since I was 8 months along, no one thought it was strange that I needed this down time. By the next day, however, I was in the hospital, going into pre-term labor. She-our baby-didn’t survive the virus I contracted. Our baby died that day.” I can tell she is struggling to get the words out, feeling like each word is a dagger stabbing her in the chest. She is pained. The look of guilt covers her face. “I keep thinking, what if I didn’t get sick? Did I not wash my hands enough? Did I not rest enough? What did I do wrong?” The tears are falling, her gaze falling down exclusively on her necklace charm. Her husband, who has been silent until this point, quietly speaks. “We were blindsided by this. Everything was going along so well. My wife was healthy. The baby was healthy. And then something went horribly wrong. But I know it’s not her fault. It’s nobody’s fault. There was nothing we could have done differently to prevent this, the doctor said so.” By now, the woman regains her composure, barely. “This necklace contains the last trace of our baby. We had a little bit of her ashes put in this charm. I cannot take it off. I wear it all the time: when I’m sleeping, when I’m in the shower, always. I don’t know what I would do if I ever took it off.” She pulls out her e-reader from her bag. “The only other thing we have of her is a picture we took shortly after she was born.” Her finger swipes the screen, scrolling through what seems to be an infinite number of items, until she comes across the perfect picture of her angel. Looking softly, admiringly, at the screen, she passes it to the right. When I get to look, I almost lose my cool. First appearance, it seems like an image of a content, sleeping, perfect baby girl. She’s wearing a darling flowered dress with matching headband. However, knowing this picture is not what it seems, that she is not sleeping, breaks my heart into a million pieces.
One man, there alone without his wife, describes how they have had seven miscarriages and was truly lost for what to do. He describes how the pain had become so fierce, that his wife could no longer bear to come to these meetings. For his part, the pain was so great that he couldn’t stop attending. After he introduces himself to the group, he shares somewhat happy news: they’ve adopted a little boy. We all smile (sadly) and nod as he passes around a picture.
As the picture gets to me, I feel a pang of guilt, as I secretly hate him for sharing this picture, his news. I am in no mood to hear of a happy adoption, nor of how he and his wife finally have the child they so longed for. That is not why I came tonight. I do not let that feeling escape my thoughts, and look adoringly at the picture, passing it onto my husband, Jason. He seems more emotional looking at the little boy than I, and he quickly passes it along. I think about how our loss has changed Jason. I have known him for nearly 10 years, and I have never seen him cry so much. I have never seen him tear up over a picture of someone else’s kid. I have never seen him so choked up he was unable to gets any words out. Now, I have seen this repeatedly over the past several weeks. He is a changed man.
We continue around the room. One woman, alone, talks of her two failed pregnancies, one as a molar pregnancy and one as a miscarriage. As she’s describing what a molar pregnancy is, a group of cells growing but not forming an actual life being, I wonder how in the world that can even happen. On top of learning that her lump of multiplying cells is not a human form, she tells us about the possibility of the cell cluster becoming cancerous. I admire the courage she has and am slightly thankful that my baby was a baby, not cancer. She is an engineer, well educated, and in a stable marriage. She is young, fit, with flowing shoulder-length brown hair. Her face is delicate, despite her grimacing expression as she tries not to cry. She does not talk about her husband and I immediately wonder why he is not here with the rest of us. She seems so normal. Any baby would be lucky to have her as a mother. Finally it is our turn to talk. Jason and I look at each other, holding hands, and we are trying to figure out who will talk first. I clear my throat and start to say, “My name is Laura, and this is Jason. We just recently…” and then I choke up. I stare at the floor, try to breathe deeply and collect myself, but I fail. I can feel all eyes on me as my sorrow becomes overwhelmed by other peoples’ sorrow. In his true husband fashion, Jason picks up where I left off. “We lost our baby last Friday. We don’t know what happened. We were told it was probably a genetic disorder.” That’s all he says, and we both go back to staring at the floor. I’m grateful that he finishes my thoughts, because I don’t think I could take the embarrassment of crying in front of all these strangers for much longer. That’s as much as we say during most of the meeting. Jason musters up the courage to speak a few more thoughts, talking a little about how difficult it is to tell others our story and how we feel we let our families, friends down. For the remainder of the two hours, we sit and listen. And cry.
One story in particular touches us, a story that is similar to ours. This couple is quiet, like us. They never removed their coats, and I wonder if they also were planning a quick escape. They seem young, maybe in their early 20’s. Quietly, barely above a whisper, they talk about how recently it happened and how fresh the emotions are, just like us. The husband talks about how he was so scared at the hospital, not only because he was losing his baby, but watching his wife hemorrhage meant he had to worry about losing her. He begins to cry which makes Jason cry. Then I cry. Others too. Jason leans over, and in a hushed voice confesses to me that he knows exactly how that man feels, because he was put in the same position. “I knew we were going to lose our baby, but I don’t know what I’d do if I also lost you.” I know exactly how he feels because the only way our situation would be worse is if we didn’t have each other.
Although we only attend this one support group, it is pivotal to our understanding of a world that exists that is never talked about. In this world there are no baby showers. Nurseries remain empty. Piles of maternity clothes sit folded high up on closet shelves. Who knew that so many people lost their babies? Who knew there were so many ways that babies could be lost? I say “lost” but I mean “died”. Have I spoken that word before, about us? I always had the notion that miscarriage could happen, but was rare. For everyone else outside this group, healthy babies abound. Women focus on getting through their first trimester, and then they think “Whew! We made it!” What is disheartening is that we are an anomaly like most of the other people in this support group. Jason and I know from that point on, we are changed, not only because we lost our baby, but because we are now members of a secret club only survivors can belong to.