Let's talk about something else for a minute. School.
School is good, but it's been stressing me out quite a bit of late, probably making my already frayed nerves a little bit more sensitive. It isn't that the subject matter I'm dealing with is awful, in fact I'm really drawn to it. Notice how I don't say that I love it or am thrilled by it? The only reason for that is that it seems a little irreverent to say I am thrilled by learning about death. Truly, though, the subject matter intrigues me.
For those of you who don't know, I'm studying Thanatology, hoping to become a grief counselor or something close to that in my next career.
In my introductory course, a professional orientation to the program and the field, the workload is heavy, my friends. Not only are there two group projects (with the requisite lack of equal participation), but there are also two individual papers due and the clock is ticking. For one of the papers, I have to go to the funeral of a person I don't know, observe, and write a paper about it. The other paper, the one I'm working on right now, is an analysis of research, and my chosen topic is that of neonatal or perinatal death and parental grieving. When under pressure to come up with a topic, that is the one that popped into my head first, because it is near to my heart.
My mother, at age 18, went into labor with a gush of blood. One of the women at the house with her hurried out into the fields to find my father - they were living on a farm, of course. They were both farm kids, though my dad was freshly back from the war. The story goes that my dad took the wagon (yes...the horse-drawn wagon) up to my grandfather's house (my mother's father) who had a car. They piled quilts into the back seat and placed my mother on them to try to soak up the blood, but by the time she arrived at the hospital, the quilts were soaked through and blood was dripping out of the door when they opened it.
She said there didn't seem to be a rush on the part of the doctors or nurses. They let her lie in bed for most of the afternoon and only really began to intervene later in the evening. Her labor was difficult, made more so because the whole family had shown up at the hospital, anxious for the arrival of the baby. My two grandmothers were arguing over whether or not it was God's will for a woman to be able to vote.
This was a story she told me at length in 2003, when I was doing a paper for college, taking an oral history. She told it all like it had just happened last week. The pain was never far from her.
After the baby, a boy, was born, he was whisked away from her. She survived, barely, and she kept asking to see her little boy. They had named him William Edwin -- William for her father and Edwin, which was my father's middle name.
She kept thinking she heard him crying. She kept asking for him. She heard from her mother and her sister-in-law that he was such a beautiful baby. The doctors kept her a little bit sedated.
Eventually they told her that he had died, that they were having his funeral. She was too sick to go. I can't imagine what this did to her, a teenage girl with a stormy marriage and an uncertain future. Her baby that she had carried for nine months, that she had bonded with, that she loved, was gone and she had never even gotten to hold him. The only look she ever got of him was because the family had a color portrait taken of him in his casket.
Eddie was the most beautiful, perfect, cherubic baby anyone had ever seen. Growing up, we marveled over this precious photograph of our dead brother. As I got older, I wondered how my mother had ever overcome the sadness. Even later, I wondered at all the things that went wrong and why. No one could even tell her why he died, nor did they try. They thought it was better for her to just forget about him and go on. No wonder she had anxiety. No wonder she was depressed and even suicidal at times.
It was a disaster that ruined her life, though she went on to have five more children, and we all lived. There were no support systems back then. There were only trite reassurances that she would have other children, that she was young, that at least she hadn't had much time to bond with him. Oh, but those people, they don't know what a mother feels, particularly the doctors (all male back then). They don't know that from that first flutter, you and your baby have embarked on an incredible love affair that is mean to last for the rest of your - the parent's - life. In a cruel twist, the baby dies in the womb or shortly thereafter.
My paper is all about the kinds of resources that are in place for parents who endure such a tragedy these days. In particular, I'm looking at how online support groups can help parents who are geographically remote, rural people like my parents were. It's quite likely that many research papers and studies originate out of something we encountered in our formative years, some wrong we wished to right, some long-held question we needed to have answered. In striving to attain the long wished-for goal, we help others who are enduring the given experience in the present. What mother might I eventually be able to help by finding new ways to provide better resources for grieving, coping, and healing?
And so, even though the work is hard, my days are exhausting, and my other course is heaping on even more of a load, I am feeling the reward of the research. I'm thinking of my mother and her reunion in 2006 with her little Eddie, the brother I never knew, the baby she only knew from across the thickness of her belly. I am hoping to change the tide so that mothers and fathers are treated with the care and concern they deserve.
The long days and nights are worth it. So worth it.
Peace - D
[photo credit] (That photo is not Eddie. I have no idea what happened to Mom's photos.)