Have you ever had apart of your story be minimized so badly that you feel yourself erupting?
It is Thursday morning which mean I am in a classroom with 38 other aspiring teachers, sitting at cafeteria tables with benches that were not designed for the size of my rear end. I am working towards my K-8 teaching credential at University of Washington and Thursday’s are my Math and Literacy methods courses at a local elementary school. It is a beautiful day outside which in turn means that it is really stuffy and hot inside this room. Scattered about the walls is student work, with a rainbow chain made of construction paper straight ahead of me that I have stared at many of days. That rainbow has led my thoughts away from the classroom to the thought of whether I will ever have my rainbow baby. My attention isn’t great today, as it is three days before Mother’s Day and the lump in my throat is growing like a swollen broken ankle.
The professor is pacing the classroom as she lectures, mostly standing in the back of the room as we discuss writing personal narratives with students. We will be doing shared writing with our “buddies” in the class sessions coming up and in order to prepare ourselves, we will be writing our own story. This particular kind of writing is termed as a “small moment story” where you focus on just a scene or two that is only a 1-2 pages. My professor explains that a small moment story is not a bed to bed story, meaning it isn’t something that plays out throughout the day. I try to think of a brief memory that I could write about for this assignment but my memory has completely flopped since the loss of my daughter. The only vivid memories are of this experience, and I’m not ready to share that with a room full of people that mostly have no idea about my story.
“For example you could write about, say you go into your 20 week appointment and find out something is wrong with your baby. So you know, a really small moment.”
I’m sorry, what did the teacher just say? I feel like I am going to puke, I can taste the metal on the back of my tongue and the lump in my throat is damn near suffocating me. I can feel my lower eyelid filling up, ready to overflow any second. I am in the very front of the room and the panic has set it, my heart rate has sped up, my chest is twisting up into a unbearably tight knot. The rest of my colleagues as well as the professor are all behind me and I’m too scared to stand up and walk out of the room because I feel like everyone will just know, they will see me, see how broken I really am. I look at the one person sitting across me, who is one of the only people in the room that does know a fraction of my story, and say “Did she really just say that is a small moment?”
I have no idea what the rest of the class was about, what was said, what’s expected of me for the following week. She lost what little attention I had left in me. I cannot stop repeating her words in my head, “so you know, a really small moment.” I can remember the teacher saying to give her a thumbs up, thumb down, thumb sideways for if we had an idea of what we were going to write about and I didn’t move. I looked at the person across from me and said, “I’m going to write about this moment.” She replied, “omg, Jean” with a look on her face that said, you can’t do that. At this point I am so angry at this woman, so uncomfortable in my already uncomfortable chair that suddenly feels like it won’t hold the weight of my grief for one more second, that I just say “I don’t give a crap, she needs to know how inappropriate that was.” Why would someone even use that as an example? And a small moment? Seriously? I want to go home and cry all my mascara off onto my pillow.
I facetime my mom at 8:35pm at the dinner table, which I often do. But I am still so upset, still repeating those words in my head and writing this “small moment” in my head over and over about how awful of a thing to use as an example. I said to my mom, “Why would anyone ever say that in a room full of 40 women?” “Three days before Mother’s Day?!?” I told them the same thing, I’m going to write about that moment. My dad, who is just as short fused as I am said to me, “You should.” And my mother who responded a little more rationally told me to write about it and submit it after it the quarter comes to an end. I contemplated staying after class to let her know that maybe that’s not a great example, I’ve contemplated e-mailing her, but what good would it really do?
Let’s just say I did use her sample as my “small moment.” The directions are as follows:
Make sure in your writing you:
- Write a beginning for your story
- Elaborate to help readers picture your story
- Show what your story is really about
- Write an ending for your story
The moment I was told that my daughters brain was filled and filling with fluid and both of us were in danger, was not the beginning of my story. Perhaps an outsider would write the beginning of this story as walking into the doctor’s office, or laying down on the medical exam table, or the moment that someone other than my doctor opened up the door after the ultrasound. Because if it was truly a small moment that’s probably where it would start. But it doesn’t, the beginning of my story could maybe start the moment I saw the word Pregnant+ on the digital pregnancy test on my husband’s birthday. But it doesn’t even start there, so maybe it starts the day my husband asks me to marry him. But it doesn’t start there either, so maybe the day I met him. That could be a definite start to this story. But that doesn’t feel right either. I think this story started when I was a young young girl and knowing that all I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a teacher and a mommy.
Elaborate to help readers picture your story:
As my husband and I sat in the waiting room waiting for our 20 week ultrasound, we were still undecided if we were going to find out if it was a male or a female. Because unless something tragic has happened to you, that’s likely what you think this day is mostly about, but it’s not. It’s an anatomy scan, to be sure baby is measuring the way they should be. When the tech asked if we wanted to know, I said “I don’t know, should we? Sure, let’s do it.” Dylan looked at me and said, “are you sure?” Because I was the one that didn’t really want to find out, I wanted it to be a surprise. I didn’t care what it was, I just wanted that baby so bad. “It’s a girl,” she told us. Salty, happy, tears. There is a baby girl inside my tummy, and I am her mommy. I was elated. We saw all her fingers and toes and her beating heart and every bit of her perfectness. I had no idea what was coming next. We were dismissed back to the lobby for our follow up appointment with my doctor and when we were called back to another room, both of us still had the stupidest smiles ever plastered to our faces. When the door opened it was not my doctor, but one of our favorite nurses. She told us “Dr. So-and-so is on the phone trying to get ahold of MFM (Maternal Fetal Medicine) at the hospital. Your baby has lots of fluid in her brain and we need to get you across the street to the hospital to get a closer look at what is going on.”
CRASH. My life. Everything just fucking crashed.
Show what your story is really about:
One second everything was fine. One second we were looking at ten perfect fingers and toes and thinking about the names on our list and wondering how or if we would find out the sex or how and if we would tell people. And the next second, everything was broken. This moment doesn’t stop here, it couldn’t possibly ever be told by stopping here. We went immediately across the street to the high risk doctor office where I could not even possibly retell what happened there because trauma and shock rob you of your memories. I do know this was supposed to be an hour long appointment in the morning and then we were supposed to leave and celebrate and bask in this happy moment. I also know that my husband had midterms that night and grad school doesn’t care what kind of life circumstances you have going on, you better be in your seat for that midterm. So hours into this appointment, my husband had to leave me to go to class. I had to uber home in tears at 8pm at night, scared to death and shaking profusely just knowing I had to be back there in the morning when the office opened. This story is really about what it feels like to have your entire world shook and being launched off a rocky cliff waiting for the crack.
Write an ending to your story:
WHAT? Well I guess I could tell you how I waited at home shaking, sobbing, laying on the floor with a wailing coming out from inside me. Numb. I could tell you how that day never actually ended because I cried all the tears my body could produce well into the next day. Weeks later, what feels like millions of doctors appointments later, I gave birth to my beautiful, premature, still baby. The most beautiful, perfect, angelic baby I have ever seen in my entire life. Is this the end? Or is the end when I had to give her back and leave the hospital without my child? Or is it that I am still waiting for the end so that I can be reunited with her and walk off into the clouds with my forever baby? This story does not have an end. I live this “small moment” every single moment of every single day. This will never be a small moment to me, but an earth shattering, life changing, before and after time of my life. A time in my life, not a small moment, that forever altered who I am and how I became a mother.
So, dear Professor, I say to you: what a horrible, awful, example for you to give in a classroom full of 40 women days before Mother’s Day. What a horrible, awful, example for you to give EVER. “So you know, just a small moment.” Your example has left me stuck, an old mixed tape spinning in one spot, on your insensitive words. Let’s not use another person’s grief, another persons un-ending, everyday, nightmare of a story as a “small moment” example again … ever again.
(And thank goodness for this space to rage so I don’t get politely excused from my program if I were to hand this in for a grade)