Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A newborn's cry

I could hear the newborns anguished cries from the moment I got to the top of the escalator and entered my local Target.  I had no idea where the babe was in the store but I knew one thing for sure, the baby was very new. It's a sound you don't mistake, the sound of new vocal chords clashing together in desperation calling attention to anyone with ears to elicit aid in their discomfort.

I was on a quick mission: berries, bananas, avocados, ice cream....done.

But just as I was checking out the sounds of the newborn got louder as a frantic new mother pulled her cart into the aisle next to mine. "We've just got to get out of here" I heard her say.

My eyes were glued on the panicked mother. She glanced my way and clearly noticed the bump peeking out from my stained winter coat.  Her eyes met mine and I flashed a sympathetic smile, knowing it wouldn't help. She reached into her cart and that's when I saw the little pink slipper feet, stiff and kicking with such ferocity. A baby girl.

Although I needed to leave and my check-out was complete, I found myself desperate to stay and watch this little one...so instead of heading to the exit, I decided to grab a decaf tea at the in-store Starbucks, which also gained me a perfect spying ground. The new mother reached into the cart and unbuckled her newborn from the constrains of her carseat and brought the sweet doe eyed baby girl to her chest.

Instant relief. The dark haired baby girl's cries stopped the moment her tummy met her mother's chest.

And that is when my water works began. I was so confused. I've never been an emotional person. I've always laughed at my friends who tear up during Folger's commercials or award speeches. I'm not that kind of girl. But here I was waiting in line at the Target Starbucks weeping just from watching a small interaction between a newborn and her mother.  What is going on?

Yes, I'm pregnant. Yes, I have increased hormones...but this was just bizarre. I'm an actor and I tend to work from the inside out to form emotions on stage. I often understand the reason for the emotion before I even emote...but here, in this instance I found myself desperately wiping tear after tear off my face trying to conceal this unknown burst of emotion.

I turned away, hid my face in my scarf and tried to collect myself before anyone noticed.  But at the same time I was trying to detect what it was that was making me feel so much.

My mind jumped around...Maybe I was just so touched by the baby's needs being met and by the mother/daughter relationship that I will soon be experiencing....but yet I also felt sad somehow, this couldn't be all of it. Then I remembered taking Gunnar to Target when he was just a few days old and nursing him in the fitting room, maybe these were memory tears, longing for that physical bond only babies share with their mothers. Or maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking about how this baby girl was probably one a week old and how a college friend of mine would never experience that kind of bond with her recently stillborn baby girl.  Though I think these tears were caused by a mix of all of these things I think the lingering sadness I was feeling belonged to the latter.

When I was pregnant with Gunnar I avoided thoughts and stories of stillbirths all together. I couldn't deal with that kind of sadness. Who could? Babies aren't supposed to die. Babies are supposed to be gifts of joy and love. There is so much preparation and anticipation that revolves around the 9 month wait for each little bundle. The thought of all that work, all that excitement and preparation of family change to come crashing to a halt by the tragedy of stillbirth is beyond heartbreaking.

How does one bury a life that hasn't even been given the chance to begin?

How does one decide to pack away the cribs, the carseats and the diapers?

How does one explain to their daughter who was so anxiously awaiting to become a big sister, that she will remain (at least for the time being) an only child?

How?

I don't know. And I hope I never know.  But the truth is it exists, it happens. I know because as soon as I started sharing my friend's story with others, suddenly I started hearing similar stories. It's a reality I think we should all begin to take more seriously. These pains aren't just unused receiving blankets we should pack away in a closet because its too sad to think or talk about. These are the kinds of stories that need to be shared with others because it makes up who we are. I teach my students that in sharing our stories and stories of others we learn to empathize, we learn compassion and little by little with compassion and empathy we can begin to heal the human race.

In my evening class tonight I was calling up students one by one to discuss their midterm grades. I took a deep breath before I called up a young woman who has only come to 5 of 12 classes and hasn't turned in a single piece of work. I explained I was on the verge of dropping her from my class but suddenly thought to ask "Is there something I should know about that's been preventing you from doing well and getting to class?" Her eyes filled with shame and tears as she looked down at her feet "Can we talk about it privately after class?" Later in my office I learned that she had gone into a state of shock and deep depression upon seeing her unborn fetus on the table after having an abortion at the beginning of the semester. And that recently she discovered she was pregnant again..."I'm going to keep this baby. I've been traumatized. No one should see their dead baby on a table. I'm choosing life this time. And I realize that means I need to be more responsible." I offered her the opportunity to stay in my class on the condition that she complete the missed assignments and start making an effort to get to class and communicate with me better. She thanked me and agreed to the terms and gave me a hug.  "Congratulations!" I added as she left the room. And for the second time today my eyes began to fill with water as I imagined this terrified young 19 year old girl with a newborn in 8 months time.

Life is so fragile. We need to be reminded of that. We need to be reminded by crying infants in Target how precious our lives are and how often we take them for granted. We take our lives for granted by forgetting to be kind and compassionate. I almost missed my chance today to offer such compassion. If I hadn't asked my student how she was doing, I could have unknowingly labeled my student as a failure by dropping her from my class.

As I sit here typing I can feel the tiny fragile feet of a growing baby girl gently grazing the walls of my uterus. This baby girl's life is yet to be paved but she awaits loving arms of a mama who, this week, has learned more about how miraculous and precious life can be...and though it seems impossible, I will cherish every cry if I'm so fortunate to hear hers.




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