Why should I have to hide as if I did something wrong or shameful?

By Anne Mellinger-Birdsong

Survived is used in the sense of being stronger for having accomplished a major challenge.

I have survived
The death of my mother
Before I was married
Before I had children.

I have survived
The loss of 3 babies
Much wanted and much loved,
And that has changed me more
Than anything else that ever happened.

I have survived
The questions and harangues
From people who didn’t understand
Or flat out disagreed
With our decision to induce labor
When we found out our baby had Down syndrome (Trisomy 21).
Who didn’t know all the medical problems that go with Down syndrome
Who only knew the high-functioning ones who do OK
Who never met the institutionalized ones, who can hardly feed themselves and can’t brush their own teeth.

I have survived
The subtle shift from friendship to friendliness
The smiles that are on the face
But no hugs or phone calls follow.

I have survived
The comments from doctors
Who thought I didn’t cry enough
Because I only cried at home.

I have survived
The lack of support
When I found out another child had Edward’s syndrome (trisomy 18)
And was dying from heart failure.
And on my birthday, I had to get prepped for surgery to take her.

I have survived
Not being able to look at pregnant women without tearing up.
Women who get pregnant without difficulty
Women who don’t know what the medical specialty R.E. is
Women who had healthy kids and never thought about it,
Never questioned it.
Women who never ached with the choices they faced
Who never ached at the emptiness in their arms
Who never endured engorged breasts with no baby to nurse.

I have survived
Being given advice to only tell close friends
About the heartwrenching choice of ending a pregnancy
Of saying goodbye to my child
Who I wanted so badly.
And I wonder – why is it different from my mother dying?
That is OK to talk about openly.
Why is it different from losing loved ones to heart disease or COPD?
That is OK to talk about openly.
Why should I have to hide it as if I did something wrong or shameful?

I have survived
Not being able to laugh with all the other preschool moms
Who actually chose the spacing of their children
Who have no clue that it might be otherwise
Who never were told by their doctor: “No matter what you decide, the decisions are all shitty.”

I have survived
Telling the perinatal specialist
That I waited for amniocentesis
Because I have the experience to know
That I prefer being induced to having surgery

And yet I fear
I will get more harangues
I will experience more friendliness and less friendship
I will encounter the flamers who send emails full of hate
Trying to tell us we are bad and wrong because we faced such heartbreaking decisions
So I keep quiet
I mostly talk about my living kids
But it doesn’t satisfy
I want people to know all of me
That I have been through two hurricanes of grief and pain
And am stronger for it
That I am not the same as I was
That I am not aloof, just afraid

I want people to talk about heartbreaking decisions
To understand the pain and emptiness of losing a baby
To understand the pain and grief that come with only choices that suck
I want politicians to talk about more than “the life or health of the mother”
When they discuss attempts to pass laws that limit abortions

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