We all know it, the electrified feeling of fight or flight. That feeling where your hair is standing on your arms and you are focused entirely on the situation at hand. That running on the inside, vibrations in your fingertips, feeling that you get. The feeling that you have when you hear a very strange noise in the house, and you know that you’re the only one home.
“Oh my gosh- It’s been so long since I’ve seen you! How’s the new baby?”
The look on her face was priceless- the looks on all of their faces are priceless when they ask this question. I want to sit them down with a cup of tea, and warn them that my answer is going to be toxic. I want to hold her hand and walk her through it. Slowly.
Instead, I look back blandly- because I have mastered bland. If there was a blandness contest, not only would I be a winner, but there would be a special category for just me. Ambassador Empress of Blandness and Invisible Feelings. Deliverer of Unwelcome news, and Unwanted Information.
Now, I have to work through getting the words (the baby is dead. The baby is dead. The baby is dead) out of my mouth, but I have to fight against that biological situation that I am in- the space where my body realizes that I’m in danger. Fight or flight has kicked in.
As I respond with my memorized and oft-repeated stock answer, the light slowly fades from her eyes.
“Unfortunately, she passed away (dimming eyes) shortly after she was born (face begins to turn slightly pink) from a lethal congenital birth defect (tears begin to well up). We were aware that this was going to happen (wipes absently at her eyes), and we chose to honor her life (pulls at her own fingers) by carrying the pregnancy to term.”
My biological responses are humming. I feel sick to my stomach. My arms are tingling. My vision hones in on the parts of her face that are making the noises I hear.
“I’m so sorry.”
“I didn’t know.”
I know that in a few moments she’ll recover herself, and then her look will go from sadness to frustration. Frustration that she doesn’t have the right vocabulary to express what she’s feeling. Frustration that I have brought this dark realizations (babies die) to the forefront (and it doesn’t just happen somewhere else).
I say this as if she’s done something fabulous, or given me a gift that I love.
The alternative is, “it’s ok”.
But it’s really not.
It’s not ok that (the baby died) I’m in this situation.
The worst part is as I say these words, as I am telling her about my sweet little baby- SHE IS SHIELDING ONE OF HER YOUNG (about 9 years old) DAUGHTER’S EARS.
What I am saying is obscene. It is unfit for children. No one has told that to me, and I feel sorrow that I have shared such a thing as my (dead baby) sweet daughter with my 8 year old son.
I am a character from a Gothic Romance, a Bronte creation.
I am the mad woman in the attic.
I am the horrific consequences of fervor gone wild.
In an exchange which costs no more than a few minutes, as I scramble my instinct to run, she successively touches each of her blooming daughters as if to make sure they are real. Her instincts are sharp and her motives are clear. She has already chosen to flee- her fight or flight response has kicked in.
She will go home, and climb into one of her long-limbed daughter’s beds, and read her a story. She will stand in doorways tonight, watching sleeping chests rise and fall. She will not imagine herself in my shoes. She will not ever imagine herself in my shoes. She will go to sleep and her dreams will not consist of searching for lost items.
Her flight instinct was fine-tuned and wired appropriately. It brought her to safety.
I stayed put. I didn’t flee. I ignored the response that whispered to me, “get out while you can.” I did not fight. I did not walk her through the beauty of my still child.