My husband has a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to throwing things away. Pens, pieces of paper, drinks I’m still drinking, plants – they tend to vanish into the ether of our house. He’s learning to own up to his pitching propensity, but that doesn’t change the rep. If something goes missing, it’s usually ended up “accidentally” in the trash and is gone before Earl or I notice.
The other day, I asked him where something was. A simple seeming something. An odd, stand-outish something. I asked where my orange pillowcase had gone. I’ve looked in the linen closet, I explained. I can’t find it. I’m starting to panic.
He immediately went upstairs to try to put his hands on the thing and after some thumping and bumping, I heard, “Oh sweet Holy Mother of God I found it! Thank you, Jesus!”
Such proclamations of extreme faith are not very commonplace in our home. I was immediately on the verge of tears because that simple declaration told me he knew. He knew the significance of that garish piece of cloth. He knew, he understood, and, for once, his insane cleaning-out tendencies had not gotten the best of him.
You see, we have no orange sheets in our house. This is not a color we use. This is tacky, bright, obnoxious orange. But this is also not just any old pillowcase.
When I had Earl, I got very sick. I got very sick and it happened very fast. At 10:30 on Tuesday morning, I was a normal pregnancy with a midwife birth plan. By 10:30 on Wednesday morning, I was getting in extreme danger of bleeding out from even an epidural and my husband was hearing that they had to save someone, and it wouldn’t be mama.
In 24 hours, they watched my BP go from 140/80 (high for me, borderline for most) to 212/110 (insane in the membrane), I developed HELLP Syndrome (scary stuff in and of itself), and my sudden onset preeclampsia blossomed into full blown eclampsia with one small seizure and one long, frightening, vivid full-body seizure.
My doctor had a cool head. Calmer minds prevailed. They waited. He took a chance with low platelets (but slightly on the rise) and the epidural and things calmed down. It was several more hours after the seizure that Earl was finally delivered by a non-emergency c-section because I had simply stopped dilating. Which was fine by me. I’d asked them to go on and take her 36 hours earlier, but no, no, natural would be better for her. Uh huh. I just nearly died.
I’m grateful, though. I don’t begrudge the doctor, nurses, or midwives anything they did. They were all doing what they thought was in my best interest. Fortunately, the one who was right won out. I survived, Earl never missed a beat, and I still have all my womanly female bits.
That’s a bit of a double-edged sword, though. I have them, but I won’t ever use them again. The chances of a repeat performance on a grander scale (read: the chances I would die) are far too great and/or far too uncertain for me to risk it.
If you know me in real life, you’ve probably heard this story. You probably know how I remember little from that time but the seizure. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t have any memory of that. But I do, so get over it. I remember vividly every second, every sensation, every thought, the sound in my head. It sounds much like a florescent bulb on the fritz, then burning out, if you must know. A sharp, loudening electrical poppy sizzle of short circuitry that started, for me, as background noise to my acknowledgement that, no, I can’t control my arms and legs, I can feel my neck torquing to the left, oh god I just bit through my tongue, I know I’m not going to die, but this will be my only baby, my only baby, my only baby, I’m done I’m done I’m done, and ends up as a deafening, thought-drowning rush of television static at top volume.
See, this is why I got a PTSD diagnosis instead of PPD. That last sentence right there. The one thing that didn’t occur to me in those long seconds was what kind of therapy bill I would rack up in the following years, but I digress.
When I seized, my jaw clenched and my molars went through my tongue. Have you ever bitten through your tongue? No? Did you know your tongue bleeds? A LOT? Like, everywhere? It does. And during the seizure, there was a gush of blood out of my mouth onto the pillow on which my head rested.
The pillow that was covered by an orange pillowcase.
So you can see now why this isn’t just a normal, everyday pillowcase for me. It’s a very symbolic, meaningful, sacred pillowcase.
Actually, no, that’s not entirely true. The one I still have is the sacred one. It’s the one rife with meaning. The one that was on that pillow was disposed of, probably scooped by some nurse into a biohazard bin. Gross as it sounds, I have always wished I still had that pillowcase, stains and all, but in the past few weeks as a counsellor has finally managed to smack me into realizing that I must grieve this loss (of having another baby, not of the pillowcase, although it’s all meshed together), I’ve realized the important one is the one I keep.
That one pillowcase was once a part of a whole – a part of a pair, a set, a complete package. At that same moment in which I felt my body betray me, the same moment in which I lost something very precious to me, that pillowcase lost its other half. When someone tossed its bloodstained mate into a bag, to them, it was just another pillowcase. No big deal. It was just a pillowcase. You have another one just like it. At least you have that.
No big deal. You have a baby. One just like any other you could have. At least you have that.
Right now, I’m on a journey to selfishly reclaim my grief. To embrace my own personal loss. Yes, my husband lost the ability to have any more children (with me). My mother and in-laws lost the possibility of more natural grandchildren. But to them, someone – probably me – told them, “It’s gone. This is all you get. I’m done.”
I, however, held that precious gift of being able to have children in my hands and watched it slip away. I felt every moment, felt my body’s blessed ability slide from my grip. I curled around my womb as it gave me my greatest gift, my daughter, then declared itself done. My uterus, my liver, my kidneys, my heart, my blood, my brain – I heard them all say “no more.”
That is my grief. My very personal, very individual, very unique loss that no one else but me can claim. I lived that loss differently than anyone else. And 7 years later, it’s time I embrace it as such.
For years, I have kept the orange pillowcase as a symbol of what I lost – that other pillowcase was the only physical thing that went with me to the hospital that did not come home. Today, I keep it as a symbol of what I have – me, redefined, still useful and soft, but far more sacred. Far more unique. Unlike anything else in this home.
Not whole in the way it used to be, but whole in a whole new way.