According to Merriam and Webster, one definition of labor is: an expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory. Once a year our nation pays homage and celebrates the holiday called Labor Day, however, I have found that in my life, Labor day, rolls around more often.
College exams, grad school projects and commencement celebrations all follow a predictable set of trials that reek of labor and culminate in satisfaction. Never the less, in life, there are unpredictable days of labor that propel you to either sink or swim, fight or be knocked to your knees in fear.
Unpredictable labor days take you by surprise. You wake up one day, excited about a plan, looking forward to a completion and then it happens…your ordinary day turns into labor day.
On July 7, 1977, I was pregnant and excited about an early September due date and another addition to our family. My time had passed in a rather unremarkable way. I looked good, felt good and actually enjoyed being pregnant. As a teacher, I had made it through the school year and even managed to take a graduate course during the month of June. Day after day, that June, I carpooled with two other teachers and we laughed, studied and improved our minds. My already large belly seemed to grow more each day.
Our 11 year old daughter was such a trooper, being watched by babysitters and Aunts (it takes a village). I would come home, exhausted from Grad school and she would let me take a nap. Then we would eat popsicles and watch The Match Game together…our little ritual.
But, on the morning of July 7th, I had woken up a with a backache. Feeling achy was no excuse to lounge about, I thought, so I proceeded to clean house. After all, today was the day the crib would be delivered. My precious daughter checked in with me often but went about her job of playing outside and summer fun book reading.
The bed was delivered and I felt finally ready for this new baby. As the day progressed, though, I knew this was not a simple backache and finally in the afternoon, I summoned my daughter to call her Daddy and tell him to come home.
What happened next is a blur. A slow motion, fast-paced, jumping off a cliff Labor Day. We must have dropped our daughter off w/ neighbors or her Aunt. I can only imagine now, how frightening it must have been for her because I was so afraid myself. Afraid of the severe pain, afraid of what would happen next and knowing in my soul, it was too early for this little one to appear.
The last thing I remember, on this unexpected Labor Day, was lying on a gurney and the nurse and Dr. telling me they would have to break my water. They did so, and water flooded the bed and the floor. The look on their faces was not matching their words of “let’s go have this baby” The cheerful words did not hide the concern of their eyes.
They quickly put the mask over my face and the next thing I knew, it was two days later. Our small town hospital had a maternity ward and then a wing for everyone else. They put me in a room with another woman away from the maternity wing and crying babies. I remember waking up on and off and hearing the woman in my room sobbing. I laid perfectly still in that dark room and wondered what had happened to her. Looking back, now, I wonder if the sobs were mine.
When I finally came to, the Doctor on call approached my husband and I. His military manner was straightforward and blunt. In essence, our little baby girl never breathed a breath of life in this world, her malformation prevented it and he encouraged us to seek genetic counseling. Period, end of story. Still trying to understand what the Doctor had just said, my husband then announced that “they” had already done the autopsy and buried the baby…there was nothing for me to do except feel better and get stronger. My bleeding heart sunk into a pit, a pit so deep, I wasn’t sure there was a way out. I felt silent. I became silent.
I told my husband how sorry I was. I knew he had weathered much pain in his life, but he assured me it would all be ok. We’ll move on with our lives.
I think we drove home in silence. When we pulled up to the house, I saw my parents’ were there. I went to bed and stayed there for what seemed like a long time. I could hear hushed conversations, doorbell and telephone ringing and silently, I lay in bed trying to get the courage to go into the nursery.
I finally walked gingerly around the house into the baby’s room. The new bed, the rocking chair, changing table, it was all gone. In its stead were a desk, chair, and table, all items in an office not my baby’s’ room. I was silently reeling. Well-meaning friends had thought it best to get rid of it all so I wouldn’t be reminded.
My reminder wasn’t furniture. It was my swollen breasts, my empty womb, my sore inner thighs. My broken heart.
Suddenly among the deep sadness, I felt shame. Shame that I had produced this imperfectly formed child, shame that I wasn’t grateful that friends and family had taken apart the nursery. Shame that I didn’t agree with well-meaning phrases..”It’s for the best”, “You can have another baby”, “its time to get on with your life.” Shame that I couldn’t bounce back so everyone else could feel ok.
My unpredicted labor day lasted longer than 24 hours, as often they do. If I could know then what I know now, I would do so many things differently. I just didn’t know, and no one else near to me knew either.
I would hold myself and rock and cry. I would mourn the loss of this precious baby girl. I would hold her clothes, her tiny shoes and drink in their sweetness. I would take time to grieve, be unashamed of my sorrow, my tears. I would not worry about disappointing others on how long it takes me “to get over it”.
I never got over it, I just went on. She is always with me. My little Autumn, my champion for all the wee souls who got a fast track to heaven. I want her to know that I loved her, and wanted her. Even though I was young and unsure of my right to grieve, I mourn her loss yet celebrate her sweet heavenly soul.
Today, I honor two tender souls, hers and mine. Our tenderness gave us strength and gratitude. I will always remember, probably always be sad and always celebrate Autumn. For in doing so I realize, that my Labor Day was her Independence Day.