I LEARNED ABOUT GRIEF during this time. I learned that no matter the true temperature, grief made the air crisp and cold; that it caused me to drive slowly, carefully; there was very little I could eat. I learned that I didn’t notice things until they flew out at me and that most stories and books and news articles were unreadable, being accounts not of the events themselves, but of me. Of what I had lost and would never have again, of what I had once allowed myself to want, the things I used to love. Of small consolations no longer available. I learned that my heart could stop and start a dozen times a day and that my throat felt so sore and tight I often had to swallow air simply in order to breathe. The world receded; everything took place in slow motion and was viewed as if down the wrong end of a very long telescope. So much was unfamiliar that if I was asked my name, I had to think for long moments. “Grief is a visceral process of disengagement,” a friend said. In my grief, old versions of disembodiment became a cruel joke. You thought that was bad, not being able to walk into a roomful of strangers without disassociating or turning remote and distant? That was nothing. Try this. Try heart-stopping, immobilizing grief.
The stages of grief were slippery, I found, the boundaries melded, the order mixed up, confused. I backed up through denial, depression, blame, and acceptance. I did my bargaining and got angry all at once. I discovered, somehow, in my grief, that routine would be my only salvation — the routine of familiar places, the same aisles in the supermarket, programmed drives and walks. The same food, food I knew I could tolerate. The less I had to think about, the fewer decisions, the more I might actually find a way to put one foot in front of the other.
I backed my car into a vintage Porsche and crushed in its driver’s-side door. I rented a car while mine was in the shop being repaired. As I was parking the rental car in the hospital lot, I heard the crunch of metal going bad. I had somehow smashed the hood under the fender of the high-profile SUV parked next to me. When I got my own car from the shop, I once again backed into a classic car, this time a Mustang. Grief had made me not safe.
In the midst of this grief I somehow betrayed even myself. I put my makeup on. I took care of my living children; I went to the hospital. I did not go back to work. The doctor who wrote the prescriptions for the pills that held me together told me that if I’d had a regular job he would have put me on disability, and it was true: I wasn’t functioning.
The day I gave birth was hot, a Sunday. The heat had been rising since Friday, the same day my pains began. My husband, Cliff, had picked this day to visit a friend in from out of town. At the last minute I had to tell him no. “You can’t go, I’m not feeling well.” Only then did I mention the cramps, the dull pains in my belly. When, at one in the afternoon, I started to bleed, there was no way to deny it was time to get help.
Even as I put my hand to the phone and called the doctor I reassured my husband I felt certain everything was fine, that I was simply having trouble from some early complications, those that had cleared up in the past few weeks. I was barely six months along. I could not possibly be in labor.
The OB on call ordered me to check in to Labor and Delivery. “Things can happen fast with twins,” he said. I walked into L & D at three in the afternoon and was hooked up to a monitor that revealed I was having contractions every two minutes.
When I finally connected the news on the monitor with the pain in my belly — or when the monitor made the connection for me — I was stunned, silenced. Okay, I thought, I’m having preterm labor. No need to panic; there was a lot they could do. In my mind, I was still going home in time for dinner. I waited for the doctor to examine me. The nurse had a glance and said, “Oh my, you are bleeding.” The doctor’s glove came out red. Another nurse had a flashlight beamed on me below. “Oh God,” she moaned, and her expression — a quick glance, a cringe, a look away — told me everything I needed to know.
“Is your husband here?” the doctor asked. “Who’s here with you?”
My husband appeared from around the corner — he had simply gone to park the car; our three-year-old daughter was with him still, this was not meant to be a long visit by any means. I was six to seven centimeters dilated, the doctor announced, much too far gone to stop the labor. I was six months pregnant; my twins were no larger than my hand. I was having my babies today.