Glowinthewoods, a website for bereaved parents, refers to us baby loss moms as “medusas”. I didn’t get it at first (I’m not well versed in Greek mythology), but now I do.
“You don’t exactly convey approachability,” AB likes to remind me.
She has a point. Every day, I get off the elevator and walk briskly to my office, silently praying nobody sees me. I round the corner, enter my office, and when the light automatically switches on, I immediately switch it off, and shut my door.
It’s not that big of a deal to me. One wall of my office is a floor to ceiling window. On a nice day, the sunlight brightens the small room. But from the outside, my office still looks much darker than it used to, which sends the very real message I still wish to communicate about my world – it is much darker than it used to be.
And I like the door shut, in case something happens that causes me to burst into random hysterics. There’s also less risk that people will notice I’m still wearing leggings to work, which some argue aren’t real pants. Don’t worry – I try to make sure my shirts are long enough to cover my ass.
Anyway, the opposite wall of my office is a floor to ceiling glass wall, with a glass door – it’s like a freaking fishbowl. Everyone can see me.
I’m not completely unapproachable – I’ll smile back at those who walk by and wave. And I’ll gladly open the door, even with a smile, for my boss or the president of one of our companies (not looking to make any career limiting moves here).
And I have welcomed those few who have stopped by to express condolences. Those brave few. They are brave. And they are few. And how thankful I am for them – the people who run to me, and not away from me – this girl with snakes for hair.
Let me pause to highlight that none of this is to say that people at work haven’t been supportive. Most have. Shortly after Matthew died, a couple departments sent lunch and flowers to our home. One night, AB and JVB brought over dinner and some cards they’d collected from those in the office who wished to express written condolences. Some sent cards directly to our home, and some even made donations to our suggested charity. And my boss has been super understanding too. She let me ease back into my work schedule and has been supportive of me taking time off to do “healing things”.
So I’m beyond fortunate. But around here, I’m also medusa.
AB would argue that my perceived medusa-status is partially self-imposed. She tells me others are just scared to approach me. If I act normal, she explains, they’ll act normal. I understand what she’s saying, but I don’t totally know how to do that. I mean, I don’t feel normal anymore – how would I act normal? And would I want to?
And, I’m ashamed. I am not well accustomed to failure. Intellectually, I know what happened to Matthew is not my fault and was out of my control. But of the 40 other women I knew having babies in 2015, I was the only one whose baby died. It’s hard not to feel like a failure – like I failed Matthew, Mark, and everyone who was excited for us. Or that I was singled out by a universe conspiring against me.
I freak out when I imagine what everyone must be thinking. I run through all the possibilities in my mind.
OMG, do they think it is my fault? That I’m a failure? A bad mom? Irresponsible? Stupid? Had stupid doctors? That there was something wrong with me? Or with Matthew? That my husband should leave me?
That this happened to me for a reason? This was God’s plan?
That I’m some sort of freak? Do they know other people who have lost babies? What if I’m the first? Then I’m extra freakish. Do they think what happened to me is contagious? That it’s super weird to display a photo of Matthew in my office?
If I’m ever pregnant again, they’ll judge me, whisper, “I hope it doesn’t happen to her again,” or “she’s so stupid.”
Or do they pity me? Think I’m the most pathetic person in the world? I’m now everyone’s sister in law’s friend’s co-worker – the one who experienced that unspeakable tragedy.
AB says no one is actually thinking these things. And it’s made me think… Is this really just how I feel about myself? It’s possible.
But I also don’t believe these thoughts just started attacking me out of thin air – I think at least some of these thoughts reflect perceptions existing in society, especially among those who have never experienced this kind of loss.
I feel it each time someone says one of my aforementioned thoughts out loud (it’s happened).
I feel it when people say, “I didn’t know this still happened in modern times.”
And I feel it each day in the office, which presents the greatest opportunity for me to run into casual acquaintances. I feel it because…
- For each colleague who expressed written condolences, 5-10 did not.
- For each colleague who barged into my office just to give me a hug, 20 avoid me or pretend nothing happened.
- For each colleague who bumped into me on the elevator or sidewalk and said, “Good to see you back,” 10 still gasp at the sight of me.
I feel it when a work confidant tells me XYZ person said, “I would have talked to her, but her door was shut,” when I know darn well we’ve come face to face, and XYZ person avoided me.
And I felt it just yesterday when a colleague wrote an email to our administrative assistant asking her to ask me to send her a document, when she could have just requested it from me herself. And I felt it yesterday when, after I didn’t immediately send it (no one said it was urgent), my boss contacted me instead of the ones actually seeking the document.
I don’t expect the world to revolve around me, or for everyone to be comfortable with grief, or for people whom I’ve never met to approach me based solely on the company-wide email distributed a few days after Matthew died. And I agree with AB – I’m not always conveying approachability.
But I do feel like medusa. And I don’t think those feelings come all from within. They’re definitely compounded by the aforementioned situations. And it’s not only my perception – three months out, I already know these sentiments are common among baby loss parents.
Eventually this will become part of my new normal too – my acceptance of my medusa status – that some are uncomfortable around me. Or maybe everything will normalize again – they’ll get comfortable once enough time has passed, and they can reassure themselves that I’m “over it”.
Eventually I’ll have to develop the confidence not to care.
I tried to put my confidence to the test the other day. An organization with whom we do work threw a going away party for someone I didn’t know. But around here, you still go, so you can eat something fattening and caloric. I told AB and JVB I wouldn’t be going, but they convinced me to try it. “You can leave,” they insisted.
So I walked upstairs with them, and into the party. There were so many people there – more than I expected. It went downhill quickly. A group of employees from the other organization, which included two women who’d been pregnant over the summer with me, was sitting close to the door. A couple people noticed me – I received some “awkward looks” – I did awkward turtle in my head.
I looked for cake or fruit – only shrimp, which I hate.
It was over – fight or flight responses kicked in. I had to get out of there. I made a beeline for the door, hoping no one would see me (I was later told a few people did). I headed for the nearest stairwell, and back down to my floor, but being the winner that I am, I got locked in the stairwell. So I had to go down 24 flights of stairs and then back up the elevator.
I spent the rest of the day burying myself in spreadsheets, disappointed, crying.
AB says it was all in my head again. She’s nice and said the stares are because I look so skinny.
I still don’t know whether the medusa status is all in my head or a real thing. I’m pretty sure the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I’ll keep working on my confidence.
How was going back to work after your loss? Did you feel like a medusa? Have you felt a sense of shame or failure, even though you know you shouldn’t? Leave a comment.