So I went back to work.
I wasn't supposed to be teaching this semester. Just working on Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays at the learning center. After taking a leisurely eight-ish weeks off for maternity leave.
But University A (the expensive, elitist one) asked me just before Christmas if I'd be interesting in teaching a couple of sections of their English composition class for the spring, and I accepted. It sounded horrible, of course, but I knew that I needed something to get me up and functioning.
So Wednesday was my first day back and it was double duty--first teaching, then doing the director-of-the-reading-program stuff at the learning center.
Before the start of every semester, I always take a little trip to Sephora and treat myself to something fun--new eyeshadow, nailpolish, whatever--to wear the first day of class. I had no desire to do that this year, but then when we stopped at Target for a few necessities, I decided to pick up a lip stain that I remembered had been enthusiastically reviewed on someone's blog.
Wednesday morning, I squeezed my way into a pair of jeggings and pulled on a tunic-length sweater to cover the muffin top. I zipped on boots with heels and armored myself with jewelry--Eliza's name bracelet, the garnet ring that should have been her birthstone, my wedding rings (they finally fit but the engagement ring still feels tight getting on and off), and a "friends" bracelet that the girls gave me recently (I have not yet sent a proper thank-you note for it but I love it).
I managed to avoid interacting with anyone in the English department as I picked up my syllabi and grabbed a cup of hot tea. I knew if someone hugged me, I would probably lose it, so I kept my head down and went straight to my classroom across campus. I stopped at the ladies room and remembered that lipstain was unopened in my bag.
Thirty seconds later, my lips are an alarming fire-engine red and I am frantically scrubbing them with a paper towel but the thing about this lipstain is... it's permanent.
Permanent and BRIGHT red. Crimson. Like Hollywood glam red carpet red. Like totally weird and inappropriate for the first day of class, especially with jeggings and a casual black cardigan.
Rubbing with the paper towel did not help at all. The lipstain did not budge or lighten but instead the unevenness of my application (and the chappedness of my lips) became remarkably clear.
So then the only thing to do was to fill in the uneven parts with MORE lipstain (counterintuitive, I know, but it seemed like a good idea at the time). Then I stared at my reflection with its ridiculously BRIGHT RED lips. It wasn't even a flattering color on me (although it did make my teeth look white). So then I dug an old neutral lipstick color out of my bag and put it on over the bright red. That sort of helped mute it a little. So then I put some brown-tinted gloss on top of that. Much better. Nevermind that my lips were coated so thick with make up that I can hardly talk and the gloss was sticky and probably getting on my teeth. It was almost time for class to start.
I bumped into a good friend on my way there, and I was glad to see him. He asked how I was, his voice filled with concern. I had no time for kindness and concern. "Dude, does my mouth look weird?" I replied.
"Well, uh, it's really shiny. But it looks good!"
This friend of mine is not a good liar. He headed to his own class and I sent a quick text to my best-bereaved-mom-friend and she basically told me to embrace the red lipstick because THIS is my new normal.
So I went into the classroom, smiling and sipping my hot tea. The carefully applied lipgloss ended up all over the travel mug and my red lip stain shined through and class went just fine.
To be perfectly honest, it was a relief to be in a room full of people who didn't know my story and who weren't feeling desperately sorry for me.
My heart still hurt, but I could function. I put on my typical first-day show and it was a pretty good performance if I do say so myself. (My best tricks for the first day of teaching college students: Wear tall boots and drop one of the least-offensive four letter words during class so they think you are both cool and normal--as cool and normal as any PhD could be, obvy).
After class, I headed to the learning center. And that was... much less good.
They'd sent letters home to parents explaining the situation. And yet, TWO different mothers walked up to my desk and said "Oh, so you had your baby!" or "So was it a boy or a girl?!"
The first time, I thought maybe I would pass out. The room got dark and hot and swimmy and although I had practiced a couple of things I might say, I found myself totally unable to speak. I swallowed hard and finally stammered out, "Oh. Yes. Um, Nancy sent a letter home about this. You should speak to her about it." Then I just kept staring down at the desk in front of me, while this woman's seven-year-old daughter shouted in her loudest, shrillest voice, "What happened? What's wrong?" I couldn't speak. I just gave the little girl a goal for her work and said, "Here you go!" and sent her into the classroom. The mother said nothing. I kept looking down at my desk and she finally sort of backed away and into the waiting room.
So, yeah. Didn't handle that well.
Then I blinked back tears and sent some frantic texts to friends. A few minutes later, I was thinking about my best friend from high school pooping her pants on the golf course and pretending the smell was from stepping in dog poop. I kept this thought in mind all night and managed to hold it together.
Then I asked the front office for a copies of that letter, so when the next parent approached me and asked if it was a boy or a girl, I just threw the letter at her. I think that she thought it was some kind of birth announcement. She giggled and then got very quiet. I continued avoiding eye contact and only talking to the students instead of the parents.
Two parents expressed condolences and I could hardly look at them but managed to say thank you.
It was four exhauting hours. I hadn't even got to my car before I called David, sobbing. Pulled myself together and got home to a dinner I couldn't eat. Poured myself a glass of wine and called my mom, sobbing. Wrote an e-mail to Nancy telling her the letter was not sufficient and she needed to screen the parents and make sure everyone knows what happened because I can't handle one more congratulatory run-in. Cried myself to sleep and then woke up at 3am, unable to fall back asleep.
First days back are hard.
* * *
Thursday was a snow day for David's school and he decided not to go in to work because the roads were so bad. I kept my doctor appointment, though. Because what's a fun way to follow up your first day back at work? How about a six week post partum check up and autopsy results?
So we trudged out into the snow and drove to the doctor's office. And...
Everything was fine.
Both in my exam and Eliza's autopsy.
I'm perfectly healthy. And she really was perfect.
Measuring right on schedule, all organs appear to be in perfect working order and located in the right place. No chromosome abnormalities. No sign of inflammation or infection. No indication of why she was stillborn.
I felt like my heart was breaking all over again. I was still so glad that she was perfect (I think I would have directed all my anger and hate at the medical examiner if he had said there was anything wrong with my perfect little baby) but at the same time it almost made everything worse. We were so close. 34 weeks is viable. She could have lived! You know, if she'd only been alive when she was born.
My doctor has ordered a battery of blood tests to be done on me, but he explained that they are really more about being pro-active and covering all of our bases for "next time." He doesn't think we'll ever know what happened to Eliza.
I asked for a copy of her autopsy results. It felt a little morbid. Am I supposed to paste this in her baby book or something?
But you know, a stillborn baby doesn't get a birth certificate. Or a death certificate. How do you commemorate a child who never officially lived nor died? So I sort of clutch at evidence that she was real.
Real. And perfect.
As we rode the elevators down, David said, "Well, least we know."
I stared at him. "What do we know? We know that I can grow a perfectly healthy baby until it DIES?"
Of course I happened to be exclaiming that just as the doors opened to three women waiting to get on the elevator. Good afternoon, ladies.
It is so frustrating not to have answers. It's also probably a good thing that I can't obsess over one specific thing that I could have done differently.
The doctor doesn't know why I went into labor so suddenly or why it progressed so rapidly. Normally this would indicate an abruption or tear in the placenta, but that wasn't the case for me. It's a medical mystery.
My doctor is a calm, soft spoken man, with very kind eyes. I had some tears while he went through the autopsy results but I wasn't sobbing out loud or anything. Still, when he was finished, I struggled to articulate my question. Finally I asked, "If we don't know what went wrong, then how can we possibly prevent it from happening again?"
And my mild-mannered doctor leaned forward and his eyes flashed and he slapped his desk and said emphatically, "This will not happen again."
He explained the increased monitoring, the pro-active approach to everything. He seems to think I'll have no problem getting pregnant and we will monitor that baby's every move and at the end, I will be guaranteed a healthy baby.
I want to believe him. I really do. But we all know there are no guarantees, right?
So today I teach again. This morning I'm back to taking it day by day or--as Tiffany says--breath by breath. My chest still hurts. I still feel like my at-rest position is on the verge of tears, which is an exhausting status quo.
As Elizabeth McCracken says in her book, closure is bullshit. David and I will never have answers and we will never truly have closure. But yesterday, for the first time, even though I'm still not quite ready to do it, I kind of felt like we had permission to look forward. Cautiously, with those equal measures of hope and dread, but forward all the same.
Last night I told David that it had felt like a healing kind of day. And then (of course) I started crying all over again. Not just tears, but the huge, racking sobs. So much for healing. David said, "Well, it hurts to heal." Yeah. It sure does.