What happens after a stillbirth? (Part 2 of ∞: Labor)

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Hi all.  With the July 4th holiday coming up, there’s no getting around the memories this time of year brings up for me.  While I fully intend to spend my weekend eating barbecue and splashing with my kids in the pool like every other American, this part of the story was ready to be told…  For those who missed Part 1, it’s here.  Aaand for those who are curious about the Most Amazing Banana Bread in the Universe, recipe is here.  :)

In my opinion, there is no such thing as a “birth story” that is truly interesting to other people.  Does anyone else really want to hear about your contractions, your water breaking all over your kitchen floor (eww), how sweet/ridiculous your husband was acting, how badly you wanted an epidural, how long you pushed, etc., etc.?? 

And I’ll be the first to admit that laboring then delivering a baby that you already know is dead is probably only enjoyable for the kind of people who enjoy Victorian gothic horror stories.

But I did make a promise at one point to tell you about the time I baked most amazing banana bread in the universe, which just so happened to coincide with the labor of my stillborn baby, so I promise to do my best to make it both worth reading and totally un-gory. 

Before going into labor for the first time, I think most people have these little fantasies about how it will go.  I’ll go for a walk with my husband in the park.  We’ll hold hands and take deep breaths together.  I’ll watch silly movies while I wait for the contractions to get closer together.  I’ll take a bath and try to relax.

Then you go into labor and you realize that this thing doesn’t just take over your body.  It also takes over your mind. One minute you’re watching Back to the Future 2, realizing you’re too damn addle-brained to understand a movie that a four-year-old can follow.  The next moment, you’re really, really… focused.  Often on something that might seem incredibly trivial to a normal person.

In my case, I became fanatically focused on bananas.  There were a bunch of them in the fruit bowl.  And they were going bad.  And I absolutely had to do something about this.  Right.  Now. 

It was around 1:00 in the afternoon and I’d been in labor for approximately ten hours when I approached my husband with a copy of the recipe I’d printed off of the Internet.  He’d been asking all morning if there was anything he could do for me…  And for ten hours, the answer had been a sweet, demurring “No.”  Now the answer was a four-alarm fire “Yes!”  I desperately needed him to get off the couch, race to the store, and get me baking powder and macadamia nuts. 

While he was gone, I measured out the ingredients we did have… flour, sugar, shortening.  Yuck.  I discovered that our little-used shortening had gone rancid.  My poor husband dripped in from the summer heat, waving a bag proudly.  “I had to go to three different places before I found macadamia nuts… but I got ‘em!”

That’s great, I replied.  Now go out and get me more shortening. 

If you’re a baker, you might have wondered why I needed baking powder to make banana bread.  A quick scan of the 276 recipes for banana bread on allrecipes.com reveal that none of them need baking powder.  Yeah, mine didn’t either.  What I needed was baking soda.  My husband, upon returning with the shortening, accepted this revelation with a sigh and went back out to face the blistering city sidewalks.

When the banana bread finally came out of the oven, we waited twenty minutes or so to let it cool before diving in.  Wiping crumbs from his lips, he said, “I can’t believe how good this is…  I don’t even care about banana bread, but this is amazing.”  I nibbled a corner of my slice and nodded (as it turns out, eating is not too high on your priority list when you’re in labor), “I know.” 

The thing is, it was amazing.  It was moist, and not too sweet, and the toasted macadamias gave it a nuttiness that perfectly balanced with the bananas. I’m not very good at writing about food, but just use your imagination to conjure the most perfect banana bread in flavor, texture, and temperature (go ahead, spread it with that generous glob of butter if you want)—and this was it.

Later that evening, when I had somehow flipped into transitional labor in the space of 15 minutes and we were rushing to get out the door to the hospital, I stopped short in the hallway, screaming, “The bread!!  The banana bread!!”

My husband turned, hospital bag in one hand, front door swung open with the other, and said (quite eloquently) something to the effect of, “Huh?”

I paused (not quietly) for a crazy contraction.  Then continued.  “Wrap.  It.  Up…  Put half of it in the freezer.”  I’m sure he wanted to argue.  We had to get to the hospital now.  But he’s also a pragmatist, and realized arguing with a crazy lady would take more time than just putting the damn banana bread in the freezer, so he did it.

The next day, I came home with no baby and sore boobs and endless miles of grief ahead of me.  There was a big chunk of banana bread under saran wrap on my kitchen table, and another half in the freezer.

I’m sure there’s some significance to be found here. Maybe it’s the weird way we human beings are programmed to soldier on taking care of basic needs even when everything else is going to shit.  Or maybe it’s how I needed something to control, to care about, at the moment the thing I cared about most was stolen from me. 

Either way, there’s no tidy ending to wrap up this birth story.  There was no baby, and there wouldn’t be one, not for quite some time.  It sucked so hard, and it was so intensely sad, and it was and still is hard to talk about to other people without completely bumming them out.  So on the few occasions my husband and I have told this story, we end with the banana bread.  “But that bread was amazing,” we’ll repeat to each other, shaking our heads, and smiling (just a bit) at the memory.

  

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