Over the weekend, Poppy and I attended a Birth Without Fear conference. It was an inspiring day, filled with so many inspirational women and moving moments. But the one that has stuck with me was unexpected.
I first saw her early in the day, when I went to the talk about loss. The speaker was a doula who lost a baby at 34 weeks and, as you might expect, the audience was filled with women who had tear-streaked cheeks and tissues balled up in their fists. The one who sat in front of me wept openly and there was something about her that told me her pain was new. Raw. She had long hair, a full face, a striped shirt, and a swollen belly. A belly that held life, or death, or at least did not so long ago.
I never did speak to this woman. Her vulnerability makes my heart look at her as a girl, but no. She was a woman. Probably around my age. I don’t know her story. She won one of the giveaways and asked if it had any baby stuff in it. I heard her say, “I can’t do baby stuff right now.” I can only assume that she lost a baby very recently, or was in the process of losing one, or was going to lose one that wasn’t compatible with life outside her womb. Or something. I don’t know. But I felt drawn to her.
Our paths crossed many times in the day. I held my Poppy tight against me and watched her quietly, felt the sadness that radiated from her, and thought of Teddy Graham. I ached for her, and ached to reach out and provide some meaningful words of comfort and support, but I felt lost. I may have three children, but I still relate to loss mamas and infertile women more than anyone else. I am not so far removed from the pain and trauma caused by those experiences. And yet, I also am painfully aware how lucky I am and I know — I so very much know — that my loss cannot possibly compare to the loss of someone who loses a baby much farther into her pregnancy. They’re the same thing. And they aren’t. So I feel in limbo. Like I don’t quite fit in anywhere. And when I saw that woman on Saturday, I yearned to provide comfort, but I was holding my perfect baby and felt tongue-tied and idiotic, so I said and did nothing.
When the conference was over, I found a window seat on which to sit and feed Poppy before we made the drive home. And as I sat there in the warm sunlight and thought about the day, the woman with the round belly walked by, carrying her prize basket of non-baby items, quietly leaving the conference alone. She glanced my way ever so briefly and I gave her a small smile, but I don’t even know if she noticed, if she saw that I saw her. Her pain. Her loss. Her baby.
I wish I would have chased after her then and asked to hug her. I wish I would have expressed how sorry I was for her pain and given her an opportunity to talk about her baby. But instead I watched her go and thought of how heavy her heart must be in that moment, but also how strong and courageous she must be in order to attend that conference, a place full of bumps and babies, with such a heavy heart. And to do it alone, no less. As she turned the corner, I said a silent prayer for her, because that was all there was left to do.
And now I remember why I make such an effort to do things that are important to me, despite how fearful I am. Because I hate the feeling of regret. I feel haunted by this woman and her loss, haunted by the fact that I didn’t do something when I felt called to do it. That I said nothing when I was in a position to do so. And I don’t know if it what I would have said or done would have been the right thing to say or do; I just know that I should have acted. I expect better of myself.
And so next time — if there’s ever a next time — I will. I will do better. I will be better. I will continue to try to live a life that doesn’t have room for regret and to connect with other women heart-t0-heart even when I feel my attempts are lacking, insignificant, or pointless. Doing something is better, I am reminded, than doing nothing. I didn’t expect that to be my takeaway from the BWF conference, but alas…it is what is. Unexpected lessons in unexpected places.