There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
Prior to my current career, I worked for several years as a doula, staying awake for 20-30 hours at a time while I walked laboring mothers and their partners (and sometimes entire families) through one of the most intense events of their lives. I would rub their backs until my hands ached, sit outside their birthing tub or shower and talk them through the waves of pain that came and went with their contractions, help their partners push their knees back and coach them through the pushing process, and advocated for them when their doctors and nurses disregarded their basic wishes.
When I first started, I remember someone telling me that they had too much pregnancy/childbirth related trauma to be a doula. Though I was already a mother, I had yet to experience the intense pain of a pregnancy that doesn’t end with a healthy mom and baby. That didn’t come until I was actively working in the field.
This week, when model and celebrity Chrissy Teigen tweeted a picture of herself in the hospital bed where she lost her baby, I was flooded with memories of my own losses. Her tweet opens with the following statement: “We are shocked, and in the kind of pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we’ve never felt before.”
Prior to experiencing that pain myself, it was hard to imagine why attending births (especially relatively low-risk, healthy ones) would trigger a trauma response, though of course I had enough empathy to understood that they could. When I experienced two losses in a row while having to simultaneously remain strong enough to celebrate my clients’ joy, I understood on a deep, visceral level.
I remember answering the phone to the excited voices of my clients who wanted to go over the results of their most recent ultrasounds, when just days before my husband and I sat with giddy excitement in those same imagining rooms, only to have our baby projected on the screen mounted on the wall in front of us, large enough to see that it’s little heart wasn’t beating.
I also remember talking to my clients about whether they thought they would use an epidural or not for pain management, when the decision I was being faced with was whether to schedule a D&C (the surgical procedure to remove the tissue inside the uterus), or pick up a prescription of Misoprostol and induce an abortion at home.
I also remember, after choosing to go the Misoprostol route (though I made the opposite choice the second time around, knowing that I didn’t have it in me to labor at home again), having to call in a backup doula when one of my clients went into labor, because my husband and I were busy scrubbing the blood out of our carpet, sheets, mattress: more blood than we thought possible, and certainly more than anyone warned us about. They said it would be like a heavy period; our room looked like a crime scene.
It’s been five years since we went through that. We have a delightful baby that is hardly a baby anymore, he turns four at the end of this year. He was 10 and a half pounds at birth, born via c-section because not only was he huge, he was also breech. We called him our “big stubborn baby,” because while his siblings didn’t make it, he wasn’t going anywhere.
While I don’t work as a doula anymore, I believe at this point it is something I could go back to. My pain has, for the most part, receded to the background. But that isn’t to say it is gone. I feel so intensely for Chrissy and her partner, in part, because I know that the kind of pain they are experiencing is a pain that never really leaves you, it marks your soul.
When we lost our first baby, we planted a tree–a weeping willow–in the backyard of my husband’s childhood home, where his parents still live. This summer marked the 5-year anniversary of the birth of that tree, and the day we buried some of our baby’s tissue with dirt and mulch, next to the tree we planted for them. You can see the tree from their kitchen window, and I think about them every time I’m at their house.
On the anniversary itself I lay in bed, being overtaken by a grief that I thought I’d worked through. My body felt hollowed out, my belly empty. I remembered what it was like to carry all my babies, those living and those dead. And I mourned for the ones who didn’t have a chance to live out their story.
There is no correct way to react to such a deep loss. I planted a tree, Chrissy Teigen reached out to her online community with a picture from her hospital bed and a heartfelt description of their pain. That her way was met with trolls who thought she was using her loss as an attention seeking measure, simply because she in fact got a lot of attention (as celebrities do), makes me sick.
If you can’t understand what it is like to lose a baby, and I’m not sure you truly can unless you experience it yourself, you should not judge someone for the way that they choose express their grief. I hope that with time their grief will also recedes to the background, and that future joys will outweigh their current pain. For me it has, but it has taken accepting the fact that it will never really go away.