Washington - "This almost never happens. Once or twice in a career."
And so it began, my unwelcome entrance into the complicated world of childless parenting. A world where seemingly every pregnancy ends with a newborn in a nursery, but mine ended in a funeral home.
I assume my doctor meant to comfort me with her words, perhaps to assure me that I would not lose a second child, should I be foolish and brave enough to try again. But what I heard was, "We don't care that much about things that almost never happen" and "You, alone, got completely screwed over. No one else does."
I researched my daughter's case endlessly, ruminating over every appointment, comment, thought, email, anything that occurred late in my textbook pregnancy. But any question was met with a "gotcha!"-style answer.
Why were tests not performed after I reached, and then passed, my due date? Because nothing seemed wrong. Couldn't the final ultrasound have predicted the impending tragedy? Maybe, but these things aren't looked for on the ultrasound. But what if someone had indeed seen something? The delivery plan would have been no different. Tragic outcomes almost never happen after such an uncomplicated pregnancy.
There's less than a one percent chance that a baby would die in the way mine did, at the bitter end of 41 flawless weeks. It seems stories like mine fall into a loophole of cultural awareness - not common enough to hit the typical person's radar, yet not shocking enough to make headlines. The result is a sentiment that feels altogether dismissive and ignorant of tragic outcomes in late pregnancy.
Those of us who know the pain firsthand must reintegrate into a society that changes the subject, avoids our truth, and generally pretends our stories did not occur. Nowhere on a baby registry will you read, "Save your receipts; you might not get to use any of this."
In the barrage of pregnancy announcements that social media oh-so-cruelly propagates, I'm now startled by the assumptions of happy endings. Months later, when I see that the pregnancies did result in live children, it compounds my confusion. I, too, can fall victim to thinking this has only happened to me. I can't look through my network and find one person whose life looks like mine.
I'm not alone, I must convince myself. I hunt for sad stories, scouring the internet for calamities that almost never happen. When I find new ones - and I do, every day - I carry those families with me, reminding myself that others do know this depth of despair. I imagine the struggles hiding behind strangers' eyes. Maybe she's also been asked if she wants to donate her child's organs, I'll tell myself in the line at Target.
Maybe he, too, feels hollow to the core, I surmise. It's refreshing, this imaginary contrast to intact families and Pinterest-worthy birthday parties. I recognize that strangers wouldn't know the pain I carry either, wouldn't know that I'm mothering a memory. Every day, my fellow heartbroken parents and I walk through what feels like fire, wondering how many steps it will take before the burns blister again. Will I bleed today, or did some scabs form? The scars are already there; the rawness of the pain is all that varies.
The world may pretend my daughter did not exist, that her life is so invisible - or her story so rare - that she barely deserves a mention. This story hardly even happens, right? I will not play along. I can't. My daughter's life was real. It's only now, after her death, that I must turn to my imagination to find her.
Yes, I can see her now, in fragments. She's riding along in the grocery cart, chubby legs dangling from the seat. There she is, being a rascal in the backyard with grass stains and a snaggletooth smile. Fast forward many years, and I see my firstborn, holding her firstborn, adding her own branches to our family tree.
And closest of all, just barely out of reach, I catch a shattered glimpse of myself - brimming with new life and anticipation, grateful for a future filled with my daughter's gentle presence - before the tragedy that almost never happens, happened.