This is why I loved the support groups so much, if people thought you were dying, they gave you their full attention. If this might be the last time they saw you, they really saw you. Everything else about their checkbook balance and radio songs and messy hair went out the window. You had their full attention. People listened instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. And when they spoke, they weren’t telling you a story. When the two of you talked, you were building something, and afterward you were both different than before.
- Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, page 107
We go to a support group. It’s on the second Wednesday of every month and the group is held in this little blank room in the middle of some kind of Jewish center in the middle of West LA.
On these Wednesdays, we get in our car and start and stop and turn and start and stop and use my blinkers and somehow, some sixty minutes later, we’re on the other side of the city. I couldn’t tell you a solitary thing about the drive, as my mind is transfixed on what is about to commence. What will it be like today? Will there be anyone new? What part of our story should we talk about?
Upon arrival, I’m faced with a security guard who mans the entrance to the parking lot. He sits in his booth looking purposeful, wearing a gun and motioning people through after a brief interchange. I never know quite what to say about why we are there.
Hello sir. We’re here because our baby recently died and my wife and I don’t know how to handle it and we found this support group and thought it might be helpful because we are in so much pain. Could you let us through?
I mumble something about a support group and then it’s a blur again and suddenly I’m sitting in a chair with a sticky name tag attached to my chest, feeling what can only can be described as anxious exhilaration. My heart pounds within my chest, I twitch this way and that, trying to get my nerves together. Tears have already begun lining up near the back of my eyes, waiting in unison to fall freely if the need should arise. We’re ready when you are, they murmur.
I watch as people come in slowly, like a whisper, and gingerly find seats. Some of the faces are familiar. And some are heartbreakingly new, like last night when two more couples came for the first time, their desperate stares a reminder that babies are still dying.
I’m never sure what to say, so I find myself lost in thought, staring downwards, my arms folded together. And then, as our caring and insightful facilitators open the group, the exhilaration begins to sneak into my anxious heart. I feel like smiling, like laughing, like breathing a huge sigh of relief.
Because these are my people.
They are young and old, african american and caucasian and hispanic and asian, married and single, years removed from their loss and months removed from their loss. Their broken bodies and broken hearts enter the room from around the city, from incomplete families and empty cribs, from lives that they didn’t imagine. And while I can hardly remember their names and I know next to nothing about their backgrounds, or where they work or where they live or what kind of people they are, I do know one thing: Their babies died too.
We share our stories of loss, down the line we go. Genetic disorder. No known cause. Cord accident. Medical malpractice. Placenta abruption. Heart defect. Around the circle we go, trading tissues and tears, our stories uniquely different but with the same tragic ending.
And then we cry some more, and laugh a lot, as we trade updates on our present grief, as we share our sadness and hope.
This stranger said this. This family member said that.
I lost this friendship. I found this friendship.
I’m infertile. I’m pregnant again.
I don’t think I can make it. I think it’s getting better.
My hair is falling out, this new life is so hard, I miss my baby so much.
Us too, us too, us too.
And then our time is up.
See you next month, we say to each other afterward, a little different than before.