I am becoming an expert in not quite telling the whole truth.
When Henry died I promised him I would never deny his existence. I absolutely love sharing him with the world and am so, so proud of him but sometimes I can’t face telling people he’s dead. Mentioning I have a son usually leads to the question “how old is he?” and at times the uncomfortable silence, horrified expressions, the hurried ‘sorrys’ and sympathetic head tilts that result from uttering the words “my son died” is too much to deal with.
So I find myself not telling the whole story, a position I’ve been in twice this past week. The first happened while giving blood.
In the past I’ve gone through the screening questions quite easily answering no to almost everything. This time, at just over six months postpartum, I could truthfully answer that I hadn’t been pregnant in the past six months but hadn’t counted on the other three yeses acquired as a result of Henry’s birth and death.
Are you taking any medication? Yes, I’m on medication because my newborn baby died for no apparent reason and I’m finding it pretty fucking hard to cope. What I actually said: “I’m taking sertraline for depression.”
Have you visited the doctor in the past week? Yes, because my newborn baby died for no apparent reason and I’m finding it pretty fucking hard to cope. What I actually said: “I saw my GP about how low I’ve been feeling.”
Any hospital admissions or investigations? Since last giving blood I have given birth and as a result of childbirth developed postpartum sepsis and was hospitalised for nine days.
What was actually said:
Me “In October I had sepsis and was in hospital for nine days.”
Nurse “What caused it?”
Me “…I don’t know” half lie, we never did find out for sure where the infection was.
Nurse “what was wrong with you?”
Me “High temperature, fever, rigors, sickness, usual sepsis symptoms”
Nurse “and what did they do?”
Me “blood tests, cultures, scans. Lots of different antibiotics until something worked”
Nurse “…and they don’t know what caused it?”
Me “… er, no… it could have been a kidney infection, the same thing happened the month before and it was a kidney infection then”
Nurse “and how were you treated for the kidney infection?”
Me “with IV antibiotics in hospital “
Nurse “do you have a problem with your kidneys?”
Nurse “so in October you got ill again and were rushed into hospital?
Me “…yeah” why not, we’ll got with that. I guess technically my husband did rush me into hospital. To give birth.
Nurse “and they don’t know what caused it?”
Me “no” I mean, giving birth almost certainly had something to do with it but it feels like this conversation has gone too far to bring that up now.
Nurse “and you’ve been okay since? It hasn’t happened again?”
Me “I’m absolutely fine now, I haven’t had it again since” oh damn, actual outright lie, but I genuinely forgot I was back in A&E with sepsis symptoms again a month later. At less than six weeks postpartum, especially having already had sepsis, I should have been admitted back to the maternity unit but couldn’t face being on a ward with mothers and live babies so ended up in A&E instead. The A&E staff were really nice about it.
Nurse “when did you recover?”
Me “November..?” I honestly couldn’t tell you, grieving for my son is far worse than sepsis and has a surprising number of physical effects in itself.
Nurse “and you feel okay now?”
Me “I’m fine” juuust great. I mean I don’t sleep very well. Or have much of an appetite. And there’s the regular anxiety, heart palpitations, stomach aches and nausea but that’s probably all grief related.
Nurse “at least you’re okay now.”
Georgia, truth skirter extraordinaire.
This conversation probably would have been shorter and less confusing for the nurse if I’d mentioned the part where I gave birth but at that moment I couldn’t face having that conversation. Anything clinical reminds me of being in hospital when Henry died. I was okay with blood, needles and clinical settings before but now it’s all tied into the worst experience of my life and I knew if I mentioned Henry I’d completely lose it, have to leave and would feel even worse about myself than I already do so I needed to not lose it.
The second not-quite-the-whole-story moment was a few days later while having my hair cut, a half-truth by omission when the hairdresser cheerily asked what my plans for the rest of the day were,
“Going to the seaside” I told her while mentally adding “but first I’ll visit my son’s grave. And then instead of taking my baby to the beach like I should be doing and like how I imagined I would be doing I’ll take his photo and teddies and try to enjoy myself making memories the only way I can but while probably feeling quite sad the whole time”
“Oooh lovely” she smiled back and the conversation moved on to the weather.
I could have told her. I felt okay and was actually quite looking forward to the Henry day we had planned. It was the first really nice day since he died so we’d be able to stay at his woodland burial site for as long we liked without being driven away by the cold. My husband had photoshopped a cute sailor outfit onto one of Henry’s photos and I was looking forward to getting some shots of him at the place where we got married. This is somewhere I always imagined us visiting as a family and I was still looking forward to bringing Henry there, even if just in photo form. This is my life, my normal but the mention of a dead baby is such a shock to other people and the hairdresser was so cheerful and smiley I didn’t want to bring her down with that conversation.
So twice this week I’ve not mentioned Henry when I could, and one time probably should, have. The first time to protect myself, the second to protect somebody else. I feel guilty about both. I promised Henry I would never deny his existence but it feels like I have.