There’s this nurse from Anthem BlueCross BlueShield (my health insurance provider) who, over the past few months, has had the misfortune of becoming acquainted with me.
My interactions with her have been strictly via phone – I picture her as this fairy godmothery type with 14 grandchildren. She’s saccharine sweet, and it’s likely that life’s proceeded generally well for her, comparatively speaking – she’s entered her golden years relatively unscathed.
But her name’s Tiffany… And I’m thinking this name probably doesn’t fit my imagined description. (Like have you ever heard of a 60-year-old Tiff?) But I’m ignoring this minor detail, as I’d rather continue to stereotype her for purposes of my story.
So I’d venture to guess Tiffany’s reached the end of her nursing career, accepting this cushy job with Anthem, where she’s tasked with calling newly pregnant members to enroll them in this “Future Moms” program as well as following up with said “future moms” on a monthly basis thereafter.
And this is all she does each day – no bed pans or sores or infections or bodily fluids – just conversations with blissfully ignorant “future moms.” So I’m sure the medical questions she receives are pretty inconsequential like, “When will the morning sickness go away?” Or, “Is it normal to have to go pee this much?” Or, “Is it safe to drink a cup of coffee?” And I’m sure she also gets to delve into fun discussions about names and nursery décor and gender reveal parties and baby shower themes. I bet most of her conversations are so fucking joy-filled, laced with gag-reflex-inducing amounts of naiveté.
But not with me.
No, with me, Tiffany receives a healthy dose of schooling on topics such as death and despair and devastation; grief and stillbirth statistics and intensive monitoring strategies for pregnancy after loss.
On a completely separate note, I want to communicate my rage at the name of Anthem’s program – “Future Moms.” I keep putting “future moms” in quotes, because the name of this program is kind of offensive, suggesting that one isn’t a mom until her baby is delivered safely into this world. As such, it implies I’m not a mom, because my baby died, even though I interacted with Matthew and meticulously nurtured him for ~33 weeks, held his lifeless body, buried him, and have spent every waking moment since grieving him and missing him and thinking about him and doing things to honor his memory.
I’m sure some think I’m too worked up over this, but the use of this “future moms” type of rhetoric, which isn’t uncommon, is precisely the type of thing that contributes to those affected by stillbirth and infant loss frequently feeling as though society marginalizes their grief. In fact, I may write Anthem a letter
bitching and moaning about conveying my frustration. (I’ll post it here if I do.)
But anyway, back to my conversations with Tiffany…
It’s late December. I’ve just found out I’m pregnant with Jay. I’ve seen my doctor only days prior. And late one afternoon, my phone rings. I see the call’s from an unknown number, but I pick up, because I know it’s probably the familiar recording offering me a free, 3-day Carnival Cruise. (Which, let’s be honest, has the potential to turn into a 7-day vacay should the power and water systems fail, necessitating the ship be towed 400 miles across the Carribean, at nine miles per hour, all the while passengers pick from buffets of wilted lettuce leaves and spoiled cold cuts, which inevitably causes food poisoning and explosive diarrhea outbreaks, and everyone has to shit, or I guess spray, with power-washer-level force, into buckets instead of toilets as they listen to Come Sail Away millions of times on repeat, or maybe not if the power’s out.) But instead of, “Honnnnnk!” I get…
T – Hi! This is Tiffany calling from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield! Is this Christine?!
C – Yes.
T – How are you today?!
C – Fine.
T – Can you please verify your address and birthdate for me, so I can confirm it’s you?
T – Well, I see that you’re pregnant. Congratulations!!!
Oh my God. How does she know? I’m like four days pregnant. This baby could die. Doesn’t she know that babies can die?
C – Thanks. (My tone’s flat, with a hint of anger.)
T – So the purpose of my call today is to enroll you in our exciting Future Moms program that we’ve recently introduced here at Anthem, which is available to all of our members! As part of this new program, for your pregnancy, you’ll be assigned a nurse to answer any questions you might have! I’m one of the nurses, so you can have your monthly follow up calls with me should you enroll!
Great. I already have like 17 medical professionals involved in my care.
C – Oh.
T – So when are you due?!
C – I don’t know. Sometime in August.
T – Oh. (Tiffany seems surprised by my lack of enthusiasm.)
C – I mean, I try not to think about it… It’s too stressful. In July my first child died after an emergency C-section. There was a true knot in his umbilical cord. He was totally healthy, so this was completely unexpected and traumatic. So it’s honestly just one day at a time for me.
T – Oh… Gosh… I’m so sorry… I still think this could be a great program for you though. You’ll have access to our 24-hour nurse line, and we can help you order things like a breast pump.
Ha. A breast pump. My biggest concern.
C – Yeah, I don’t know if I actually need this program… To be honest, I already have tons of doctors involved in my medical care.
T – Oh, well, if I sign you up, you can always drop out later? Our 24-hour nurse line might be helpful in your situation?
Maybe it’d be nice to have an extra nurse at my disposal.
C – Okay, fine.
T – Okay, great! I’ll follow up with you in a month!
(I’m seldom this brash in real life. Maybe. Though this seemed like a complete invasion of my space. Here I am, in the early days of my then secret pregnancy after loss – I have yet to even process that I’m pregnant, and I get, “Congratulations!!!” I felt violated.)
So, as promised, Tiffany calls one evening ~four weeks later…
T – Hi! This is Tiffany calling from Anthem’s Future Moms program! Is this Christine?!
(I verify I’m me.)
T – So how’s everything going so far?!
C – Fine, I guess…
T – Are you having any pregnancy symptoms?! Any morning sickness?
C – Not really… Actually, my biggest challenge is stress, you know, since my first child died completely unexpectedly at 33 weeks…
T – Yes… This makes sense…
C – I manage it well currently. I’ve tried to just ignore the fact that I’m pregnant. But once I get further along, it’s going to become really stressful. I can’t fathom how I’ll survive. I mean, I’ll be undergoing intensive monitoring, but I don’t know if this will help… With Matthew, I went to the hospital after a period of decreased fetal movement, and they found his heartbeat, but he still died after hours of monitoring – I basically watched him die as I was attached to a medical grade fetal heart monitor. I’m now acutely aware that, literally, any second could be the last.
T – Do you do anything for stress management? Do you see a counselor?
C – I’ve been writing and doing yoga. I don’t see a counselor. I find it most helpful to talk to others who’ve walked this pregnancy after loss journey before me.
T – You mean, there are others in your area? (I sense some surprise.)
C – Yes, lots of others. Some in my neighborhood even. Stillbirth isn’t that common, but it also isn’t as rare as most people think it is. It happens in 1/160 pregnancies, to 26,000 babies per year in our country. Most of these babies are healthy, at or near full-term. I’m trying to be hopeful, but it’s terrifying.
T – Well, maybe it’ll get easier for you once you pass 33 weeks…
C – I think it’ll actually become more difficult. I now truly know there’s no safe zone. I have a friend whose healthy baby died one day before her due date.
T – (Big gasp.) Did she have tons of risk factors?
C – No. And, actually, almost none of my friends who’ve lost babies fit into any of the frequently-cited risk categories. Anyone’s baby could die at any time. No one is immune.
T – Oh. Wow. (Tiffany’s shocked.) Okay, well, before we end this phone call, I have to ask you a couple of standard questions… First, in the last two weeks, how many days would you say that you’ve experienced a lack of motivation?
C – Ha. At least some portion of every day.
T – Oh. Okay. Ummmmm… Second, in the last two weeks, how many days would you say that you’ve experienced extreme feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness?
C – Haha. At least some portion of every day. But I want to remind you that my son died only a few months ago. And I don’t feel these things all day, every day, just some portion of every day. But, best I can tell, everything I’m experiencing is normal based on my circumstances, I can assure you.
T – I see. Well, can you promise me you’ll seek professional help if you feel you need it?
In reality, our conversation lasted for over an hour. (I significantly truncated it for blogging purposes.) We spoke much more in depth about stillbirth statistics and monitoring strategies. At one point, Tiffany asked whether I’m a doctor. When I told her I’m an accountant, she expressed shock. (I think many baby loss parents begin to sound like doctors based on all we learn. It’s sad.)
So I’ve continued to insist I’m probably Tiffany’s worst nightmare, though Mark points out that, based on the length of our subsequent conversations, I might be growing on her, which I’ll admit is possible. (I can be pretty damn likable, even in all of my darkness.)
For now I’m sticking with this “Future Moms” program. (Even though I’m a current mom.) And I’m not sure who’s paying for all this… Me? My employer? The generous taxpayers of America?
But regardless, I hate that I’m now “that patient” – the one who’s so full of doom and gloom, lifting her leg, pissing on Tiffany’s (and probably everyone else’s) day with all of this scary talk. But I also refuse to censor myself for the benefit of others, especially as it relates to this program, which supposedly exists to help me.
But I’d love to be normal in all this again – even if only for a day.