Last night at 10 pm, I got a call from the University of Chicago Medical Center asking me to participate in a survey about my experience with the hospital. I suppose hospitals do this from time to time, survey patients to make improvements. I find it odd, however, that they called last night. Had they checked patient records, they might have noticed that seven years ago today, I was having an emergency c-section after a month-long stint on the maternity ward. Our son, Declan, was born a month early, but weighed over four pounds, and the doctors expected him to do quite well. He was being taken off a ventilator when he had a massive lung hemorrhage. After sharing a far too short 36 hours with us, Declan died in the NICU at the University of Chicago Hospitals.
The person who called was just doing her job. I suppose she was surprised by my response when she asked if I would be willing to answer some questions. I told her I did not wish to participate in the survey, and she asked if she could call back later. I told her possibly in a month or so I would be willing, but really, I am not sure that I ever want to participate in this survey. Even though my children, husband and I all see doctors at the University of Chicago, I am still shaken when I go to certain places in the hospital, and I have never really forgiven the doctors, and residents, who were working in the NICU on the day Declan died. They allowed a new resident to remove the ventilator tube, and I was never certain that the resident was competent enough.
When I told Ed about the University of Chicago Med Center call, he launched into a story about birth announcements at his school, and how they just had one that day during his planning period. Ed has also faced his share of insensitive comments, though his colleagues seem less inclined to talk with him about births. He rolled his eyes, said that the call from UCH was worth a blog post, and wondered about the reasons behind insensitivity on the part of people who know us. He followed up with, “I guess this happens to you all the time.” We’ve talked a bit about why — maybe because I am a woman, and women tend to talk about birth and pregnancy more than men, and maybe because I work in a profession that is overwhelmingly female. Whatever the reason, I am often subjected to other women’s harrowing birth stories that turn out fine in the end, or emails with photos of newborns. I get invited to lots of baby showers, and manage to attend a small number of them. The worst of the insensitivity happened when I returned from the leave of absence I had the year Declan was born, and the principal of my school gave his opening address to the faculty using the story of a baby born prematurely, surviving in the NICU, as his metaphor for who we should be as teachers. I was stunned, and then suffered through it, only to carry forward my anger at how forgetful and insensitive even the most kind people can be. That principal eventually became a favorite, even though he left our school a few years later.
One might think that seven years of this would make a person numb, but it doesn’t — it just forces walls of necessity. I have developed better strategies and coping skills, specifically about speaking up when I have had enough of the harrowing birth stories — asking politely that they be told when I am not around. It works, sort of, until the next time, next pregnancy, baby shower or birth announcement.
It is odd to be writing this post today — on this day seven years ago, I visited Declan in the NICU, still woozy from blood loss, still hooked up to an IV, and only for a few moments. It wasn’t until Monday morning, the day he died, that I spent significant time with Declan.
I talked to a colleague once who told me about a cousin who had lost a young child — he had been hit by a car while playing — and the cousin would look longingly at children a bit older, explaining that she was thinking about what he would be like then. It is hard to think about what Declan would be like as a seven year old because we knew him for such a short time, and even now, it is hard to think about how much the face of an infant changes. I still seem him as an infant, and I mourn the loss of the possibility of who he would become.