If you could choose to forget, would you?
Part 3 of saying goodbye
Trigger warning: This is the third part of a series on the loss of a baby. My goal with this is not for you to offer me sympathy, tho I am comforted by it, but more because I have found that every time I say something deeply true and personal, someone out there needs to hear it. Please be gentle with yourself. Notice if feelings come up and just do something else if that feels better.
I haven't felt up to writing. Or making. So I started painting. It seemed like by painting I didn’t have to think about “it.” I could just paint and think about painting. Applying paint to paper is a joy that I covet. Every time I start a painting I think,
“This is the last painting you will ever make. It is so indulgent. There is really no worth to painting. Only waste: time and resources.”
But somehow, if I can literally force past the thoughts of doubt and just start—magic happens. Good or bad. Just something.
I left off part 2 of this process with entering the surgery room. Seeing my OB. Using my comfort from her as a sign that I was making the right decision, when I knew that there was no right decision. I just wanted one so very badly. I wanted to know that this pain was worth it. That it would limit the long-term pain. But there is no way to really test that. By the time the outcome becomes clear, it will be too late.
I told the anesthesiologist that I wanted to be “out.” For all of it. He said he could make that happen.
For years, my best friend has been in love with a drug-addicted anesthesiologist. I cannot say who or where or why she loves this person, just that he has somehow gotten into her head and stayed there. I used to think that medical professionals were like gods. They didn’t fuck up. They didn’t make mistakes. Then I met this person.
Basically, they had substance-abuse problems all their life stemming from attachment issues with their mother. They had gone to medical school at Yale. They had gone into surgeries without sleep. They had gone in drunk. No one had gotten hurt. Until recently; a shoe was violently thrown in the break room, and someone noticed there was a problem.
I am now somewhat wary of being put under. Also, I think I read something about how recent anesthesia had been developed. I am really grateful for it, but doctors still really don’t know what they are doing. This is not to say that I am not grateful for it. Yes. I still requested to never remember this. But there was a newfound understanding that life is so fragile and waking up was not guaranteed.
The feeling of forgetting is joyful in this context. If you could choose to forget, would you? I have struggled with this decision all of my life. And I don’t know. I am pretty sure I wanted to forget this moment. To be somewhere else.
“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”
―Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
So, I went there. With the use of drugs. The last thing I remember is being wheeled into the operating room. The lights were really bright. And nothing more. I could lie to you and say I remember there were 4 people there, but honestly, there could have been an army of people watching me do the thing.
If you were to humor me, imagine all of your stress gone. And all of your muscles relax. There would be no tension in your jaw. If you can take a moment to scan your body, noting the pain, and imagine what it would feel like to just let go. That is how it felt. That is how I felt. I just didn’t exist for 47 minutes and 36 seconds on September 28, 2021.
It worked. I woke up. To a really nice man. He was handsome. He had twins. His name was Harold. It’s weird that I remember all of these people’s names. And to my surprise, I woke up happy. Really happy. Like just getting out of a massage with your best friend in a hot spring in Iceland happy. I started to ask him questions about his life. Like he wanted to talk about his personal life at that moment. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help myself. I wanted to make him laugh. I wanted him to like me. I wanted to connect with him. I was still drugged.
The moment I noticed something was off—not about him, but that this was not the same situation as, say, meeting a new person at a cafe and sharing your life story— was when he leaned over and asked if he could check my surgery site. To make sure my blood was clotting. It was awkward to have someone who you had just met, been trying to impress, reach over and pull down the covers, gown up, and stare deeply into your vulva. Perhaps everyone wants to have small talk with their nurses, while they examine the uncharted parts of their bodies. I never did that thing with the mirror in middle school. I was never that interested… which kinda surprises me.
Everything looked good. He wheeled me back to the discharge station. “Can I go home? I just want to go home.” They said yes. That all I had to do was pee and then I could get the fuck out of there. I never wanted to be there in the first place. I just wanted to be with my family and eat lots of macaroni and cheese (it was 6pm and I still had not been allowed to eat).
It was surprising to me that I wanted so desperately to go home. The time before then, there was so much tension at our house. It might have all been in my head. But I remember feeling trapped in my home. Not being able to be me without harming others with the way I felt.
I got up from the cot and my legs buckled. I fell. It was a weird fall. All of a sudden these things that I relied on to just do what I told them to stopped listening. And I sat on the cold floor, not able to get up for what seemed like forever. I noticed a band-aid in the corner of the room. And some paper towels under my cot. It was gross. The woman behind the desk didn’t hear me while she scrolled on IG. I understand wanting to escape to relax during the day.
A week after the operation, I was still crying every day several times a day. I lost the ability to complete sentences or retain information. But I did join a support group for people who had lost wanted babies for medical reasons. This is oddly specific. We are a group of people who didn’t want to have an abortion and didn’t have a miscarriage.
It proved to be too soon. The wounds are too fresh to hear about in others. Not because I didn’t want to support them, or that their stories made me feel less alone, they did. They do. But because re-living my own experience was too much. It is too much. I do look at it from time to time.
My heart goes out to people who choose to meet their babies. When I chose not to. Some say that they needed to meet them for closure. I needed to forget. I needed to save my strength for the living. There is a scene in The Knick, where a mom goes insane after her baby dies. She takes care of the dead baby for some time, holding on to its memory for months and it’s the body in her arms. No one knows what to do with her sadness. On a daily basis, I understand my connection to reality to be tenuous. And meeting her would have further frayed the rope I was grasping desperately onto.
On the support group site, there are two rules: 1) Be nice (they don’t get into what this actually looks like or means, they just trust that people know…); 2) You must introduce yourself.
Hi I am Carissa. I have a 2-year-old with Cystic Fibrosis. I desperately wanted a second child, we got pregnant and our care team said we should do testing asap. They advised us that having two kids with CF is harmful to each other. And M's health is stable - but hanging on a thread. I didn't want to terminate - but everyone else felt it was the best decision. They were hopeful about the future of CF but saw the reality that there still was no cure and it is a hard life filled with medical interventions just to exist. I figured that I could control my own emotions but not others and I didn't want to bring a child into the world alone. And I knew I couldn't take care of two kids with CF on my own. This happened in late September. Some days are ok. I am so grateful to have my daughter. Some days, I miss her, our daughter that we had to let go of. Some moments just feel too heavy. But I am trying to keep going for M. And model all the feelings - along with resiliency. Thank you for letting me be here with you.
A few things affecting me at the moment:
This work by the late Susan O’Malley. See her and Leah Rosenberg while you still can at SFMOMA.
A Thousand Years by Christina Perri. This may seem embarrassing, but hear me out. I did read the Twilight series. Yes. I will admit to it. But I wasn’t a fan. This song came on randomly the other day while I was watching M sleep. I watched her chest rise and fall. And I thought about how deeply and madly I loved her. That we were so connected on a biological level. And that connection felt explained by this song. Not Vampire/Human love, but Mother/Child love.