It’s the holiday season! Who’s up for a melancholy post? 🙂 My idea for this post began when my sister bragged about her recipe for the Best Banana Bread in the World last week at Thanksgiving. Although my sister is, indeed, known as the baker of the family, I had to hold up a hand to stop her and insist that I, in fact, am holder of the recipe for the Best Banana Bread. It’s an Emeril Lagasse recipe, and I think it has macadamia nuts in the name, but at our house, we call it That Banana Bread You Made While You Were in Labor in 2009. And that got me thinking about my surreal labor and delivery in 2009… It’s a long and winding story (as you can imagine from the title of this post) but here’s the first part (and I promise to link to the banana bread recipe when we get to that part!)…
We found out our first baby had no heartbeat on a Wednesday in June, when I was exactly 36 weeks pregnant. I won’t go through the all of the details of finding out here; it’s a story for another time (which I may never write). Anyway, I’m sure you can fill in most of the painful, traumatic details for yourself. (Except you probably wouldn’t imagine the ridiculous response of the doctor (not ours) called in to confirm the diagnosis, who strode in without acknowledging us, worked the ultrasound wand for a few seconds, nodded to our doctor, saying gruffly, “Yep, it’s not there,” and strode back out.)
I hope that this sort of thing never happens to you or anyone you love. But if it does, it would probably be helpful to know a little bit about what happens next, because it probably isn’t anything like anything you can imagine.
The first thing that you do is go to the hospital. You might think that this is so that they can immediately remove the dead baby from your body. This, unfortunately, would be entirely incorrect. (It is also not, sadly, in order to determine the answer to your most pressing concern—WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED—as the initial response to this question is the medical equivalent of, “Blah blah blah (covering our asses), blah blah blah.” We don’t know. We have to run a lot of tests. It could be months. We could never know.)
No, first, they need to give you some kind of blood test to see if there’s poison in your blood from having a dead baby inside of you. (This is my loose, non-medical interpretation, of course.) The problem is, from my experience and that of others I’ve read, this usually leads to some, uh, potentially awkward shit, as apparently they have to do these tests on the Labor and Delivery Ward, which is filled with women who are carrying very much alive babies in their bellies or their arms.
For me the awkwardness consisted mostly of staring at the ceiling trying not to cry for what felt like an hour (but was probably only 30 minutes) while a laboring Hasidic woman and a dozen of her relatives shouted gleefully across the room to each other in the tiny room that had been pointed out to me on my hospital tour as the Triage Waiting Room.
“Here’s where you’ll go when you first go into labor and come to the hospital,” the tour guide had chirped. “Most women come to the hospital way too early!” As I held my husband’s hand tightly and waited for them to call me that day, I morbidly remembered how I’d vowed then to wait until the last possible moment to come to the hospital… And here we were.
After finally getting my blood drawn, my doctor took us to a tiny private room to “discuss our options.” They were described to me as follows:
a) Have an immediate c-section. Pros: dead baby out, closure. Cons: major surgery, long recovery time, possible necessity of c-sections for future babies.
b) Wait for natural labor to kick in. (I’d previously had abdominal surgery so induction was out.) Pros: Short recovery time, greater likelihood of vaginal labor with future babies. Cons: Could take up to two weeks for my body to kick into labor on it’s own, plus all the cons of going through labor with none of the perks (i.e., cuddly, breathing baby at the end)
This set of choices bewildered me. Besides the fact that I was still adjusting to the idea that none of these options was to give birth to the live baby boy we’d been looking forward to meeting for the last 8 months, I felt completely incapable of choosing between getting-this-horrible-nightmare-over-with-as-soon-as-humanly-possible, and preserving my options for some imaginary, hypothetical future pregnancy, the prospects of which, at the moment, felt very bleak.
Here’s what I remember next: I remember the doctor leaving the room for a few minutes so my husband and I could talk about it. I remember spending most of that time staring into space wishing I didn’t have to deal with making this decision at all. And then I remember agreeing with my husband to try waiting to go into labor for a week, then to reassess how we felt after the week had passed.
So if, god forbid, you (or someone you love) are forced to make the unimaginable decision to walk around with a dead baby in your belly for an interminable number of days, here’s what probably happens next. You leave the hospital and get in a cab to go home to your empty apartment. You stare out the window as the city blocks whiz by, and dread the phone calls you have to make next. You try rehearsing some combination of awful words that might be bearable enough to repeat over and over again to disbelieving loved ones all over the country.
And, if you’re anything like me, you might feel a weird sense of relief mixed in with all of the sadness and anger. You have no illusions about the endless sea of grief ahead. But you don’t have to face all of that right away. For now, you have your next thing—a project to tackle. This baby’s still got to come out. And it’s up to you to make it happen.