Monday, January 17, 2011


One of my best friends sent me a text the other day:  You are so strong.

I replied:  You are so crazy.

I know she meant well and I know the text was sent with love and I have no hard feelings toward her.

But I feel compelled to announce the following:  I am not strong.

This should come as no surprise.  Even before Eliza died, I was not particularly strong.  I was more whiney, bratty, lazy.  Any appearance of strength was probably stubbornness or dislike of losing.  The thing is, I don't really like to do things that are difficult.  Nor do I enjoy doing things I'm not good at.  I don't even really like to do things that are boring.  Like sometimes I pretend not to know how to make minute rice just because I know David is more likely to do it himself rather than take the time to explain it to me.  I'm the sort of person who wants instant gratification and household servants (well-treated and fairly compensated, of course) and also, while we're at it, salon-brand shampoo and conditioner (which I do not have, to my dismay).

And now?  None of this has changed.  As different as things are, as much as I realize that my life will always be bifurcated by Before and After Eliza Died, I am no stronger at this point than I have ever been.

Which is to say, still not very.

Two months before Eliza died (two months to the day) David's best buddy from college and his wife lost one of the twins she was carrying.  She was expecting a boy and a girl and her forty week due date was just a couple of weeks before mine.  Then life turned horrible and they lost their little boy twin and she had to deliver the little girl early (Baby Mia made it and has now more than quadrupled her birth weight and is at long last happily home with her mom and dad).

When David told me what happened on that day in October, I cried and cried for Baby Max and for his broken-hearted mom and dad.  "Can you imagine?" I sobbed to David.  "If something happened to Baby Duck, I would just dissolve into a puddle of nothing."

I actually said that out loud.  Now it feels like I was tempting fate.  Idiot.

Of course, the worst did happen to Baby Duck.  My baby died and instead of being a puddle of nothing, I'm just...  here.  Myself.  Only dark and twisty and sad and achy.

I keep breathing not because I have some incredible inner strength available only to the bereaved.  I keep breathing because to stop breathing would require a deliberate act for which I have neither the strength nor the stomach.  It's a passive kind of survival, and often it feels like I'm surviving against my will.  I have no plans to die, but not because I'm strong.  In fact, it's really because I remain lazy and whiny and needy and in the midst of my grief people are willing to pour me wine and fetch me glasses of water and tempt my appetite with soft cheeses, which would be really lovely under any other circumstances.  And also because the damn dogs need to be walked and David needs someone to iron his shirts and pick out matching neckties.

So the question is:  If you're not strong, how do you survive having a stillborn baby?  How do you survive something that, when previously contemplated, appeared to be utterly unsurvivable?   

I have no idea.

I certainly haven't made a conscious decision to do so.  I'm not drawing on a special reserve of super strength that I was saving for just this time.

The truth is that I am no stronger than anyone else.  This is shattering me just like it would shatter you.  As uncomfortable as it is to believe this, my reaction to this situation is precisely what your reaction would be (speaking in broad generalities, obvy).  I am sitting here typing this not because I am strong but simply because I happen to be not dead.

I am quite sure that I am actually not strong enough to handle this.  I am coping the way anyone else would cope, which is to say not very well.

My head hurts and my body hurts and when I do have any appetite at all, I feel guilty about it.  I dread leaving my house and if I don't have a friend coming over, I'm likely to not get out of bed until David gets home from work.  I worry about everyone I know dying, I worry about huge philosophical questions that no one can answer, I fret endlessly over every decision I made both before and immediately after Eliza's death, and I also worry about being able to fit into my old pants when I start teaching again.  I have cried everyday for the past six weeks and I can't imagine what a day would look like if a good chunk of it wasn't blurry with tears.

Everybody thinks that if their baby died, they would simply combust or dissolve or turn to stone and cry an endless river of tears.  That's how I imagined it, too.  Believe me, I wish it were so easy.

In reality, most of us wake up the next day and find--to our great surprise--that we are somehow still flesh and blood and snot and tears and somehow we will continue to go to bed and wake up again and again.  And eventually we go through the motions of watching TV.  Eating dinner.  Vacuuming.  Going to the store.  Going back to work.  Having real conversations and superficial conversations and laughing at The New Adventures of Old Christine because that show really is funny and her brother Matthew sort of looks like my brother, which I also find amusing.  We go through the motions and eventually, with time, it's supposed to get a little easier.

We don't do this because we're strong.  We do it because what the hell else is there to do?

I mean, seriously.  If there's another option, I would love to hear it.  If there were a way to opt out of this grieving process, I would totally get on board.

Remember:  you're talking to the girl who is too lazy to make minute rice.  I sure as hell don't want to be working this hard just to get through the day.

So please, don't say I'm strong.  If being strong means that I'm handling things well, I'm not.  I'm hanging in there and getting by.  Barely.  Some days are worse than others.  I'm managing.  But I'm not full of grit or gumption or inner strength.  I happen to be breathing because when all hell broke loose in my life, that's the way things shook out.  My heart's beating and Eliza's isn't and I have no idea why but it certainly isn't because I'm strong. 

I'm surviving for the same reason anyone else does:  because I happen to be alive, despite the fact that I'm actually not very strong at all.  In fact, if the universe could know just how not-strong I am, perhaps I could get my daughter back?  Because clearly I am not well equipped to handle such a loss.  Seriously.

So there you have it.  I'm not strong.  I'm just surviving what I can only hope will be the worst experience of my life.  I'm hoping that things will get better and fearing all the time that they never will.


  1. I think so many parents hear this after loss, because as you said others just can't imagine surviving it. It's true though you just do it because you have no other choice. You integrate your tears, sadness, and the whole that will always be a part of your heart from here on out into your daily life and somehow with time you begin to pick up the pieces of your life and move forward. I remember crying every day too and wondering when I would go through a day without crying, but I can tell you that in time it happens. You never stop thinking about your baby, but you learn to function in your daily routine and really that does take strength and survival both. There is a quote that a friend shared with me after our loss and I have a bracelet I wear daily with it, it reminds me even when I don't feel it that I am strong.
    "Courage, strength, and hope possess my soul...I will stand firmly and without fear" ~Goethe

  2. I cringe every time someone tells me I am strong (or as my sister likes to tell me "awesome")...I can relate to your post all to well.

    I also wanted to give you a blog award because I appreciate you putting yourself out there. Strong or not, your words are meaningful and I appreciate your blog. You can see it over on my blog.

  3. LOVE this post. You said it so perfectly.

    I once read a similar opinion piece in a newspaper. It was written by someone going through cancer, but same thing: "You're so brave." Ummm, no I'm not. Do I have a choice?

  4. Can I just copy this post and put it on my own blog?

    This part: I keep breathing not because I have some incredible inner strength available only to the bereaved. I keep breathing because to stop breathing would require a deliberate act for which I have neither the strength nor the stomach

    Feels so especially true and poignant to me.

    Much love, as always to you, friend.

  5. exactly. people want to think that going through something like this makes you find untapped reserves of strength, because they are terrified to even imagine that the *self* that they are would ever have to deal with such a traumatic experience.

    great post.

  6. I understand exactly how you feel. I actually remember making a post about this exact topic. People just don't get it. They think we take this huge deliberate stand against the hopelessness and despair. The fact is, we are here & breathing because we have no other choice. & like you, I don't have the stomach to cause myself harm. But I will honestly say that I now understand why people do. Life after is just so very hard :'(

  7. This is so amazing, so laced with fortitude and vulnerability, wisdom and want. As someone who is pregnant, this is hard for me to read but I am so grateful that I have read it. And that I have stumbled my way here to your words. Thank you.

  8. I was always dumbfounded when people told me I was strong, usually when I was in a complete puddle of tears and wanting to die. Just die.

    And I have learned that I am no stronger than anyone else--anyone could do this--well, almost--anyone could survive massive grief. Because there is no choice: you get up every day because people need you, because you're thirsty, because you need to pee. What else would we do?