The Pep Talk[s]

Friday will mark five months since we lost Joanna. Five months is a long time. But daily I am surprised by my constant anxiety levels. I am anxious about running into someone who knew I was pregnant but does not know that Joanna died.

If I look back to a few months ago, I can see that the issue used to be worse than it is now. I will admit. I would sit in the car at Wegmans and cry. I would will myself to go inside. My heart would pound. My palms were sweaty. Once I could collect myself, I would run into the store and back out without saying a word to anyone. Mostly, though, I would just have Bill get anything I needed so I didn’t have to put myself through that torture.

Now, I sit in the car and give myself a pep talk – the “you can do this, Carol; you’re brave and you’re strong and you’re capable of telling people what happened if you do run into someone who doesn’t know.” So I go inside, even though I feel like most of what I said to myself is a lie.

If you’re brave, why are you panicking? If you’re strong, why are you shaking?

Once I arrive inside, I beeline it to the items I need. I avoid eye contact with anyone I know who I am worried may not know Joanna’s story, so as to not start a conversation. Once I grab what I need, I stealthily make my way through the aisles, attempting to run into exactly zero familiar faces, just in case. Once I finally arrive back to the front of the store, I find a line with a cashier I do not know. I smile and politely say “hello” all the while wishing the cashier could move faster so that I can leave before someone sees me.

I thought by now this would no longer be an issue. But every day I wake up and have to give myself the same pep talk: OK, Carol. You can do today.

Then, once I’ve talked myself into leaving the house, there’s the car pep talk. Moment-to-moment I have to tell myself that I can; tell myself not to turn around and go home.

The third pep talk is for once I have arrived at my destination: You won’t run into anyone at this point who doesn’t know. It’s fine. You need to make it through. Carol, you can do this. It’s just [the grocery store, church, so-and-so’s house]. Even if you have to be brave and tell someone Joanna has died, you’ll be OK. Everyone has to find out eventually. OK. Here we go.

But sometimes the pep talk isn’t enough, and I do run into someone who doesn’t know. Yesterday, this happened. My first reaction was to run away. My brain got jumbled and all the things I thought I wanted to say in the situation were gone. I was embarrassed. I was awkward. I didn’t know what to do. I quickly said something that I didn’t want to say, that was not my rehearsed, eloquent answer, turned around and left. Back in the car, I fought the tears. My heart was pounding. My palms were sweaty. I just wanted to go home and go to bed. But instead, another pep talk.

You survived. It wasn’t what you planned. You were embarrassed but you got out and didn’t have to linger. You’re OK and you’re going to complete your plans for this day. You will not go home and hide.

And so I didn’t. Good talk. [Repeat tomorrow.]

I’ve been trying to pinpoint why I am so anxious. Today I was talking to Bill about it and I think it comes down to the “embarrassed” part. It always comes back to this — it was not my fault. I did nothing wrong. I know, I know. But here’s the truth: even so, somehow, I am ashamed. I am embarrassed, sad, brokenhearted to have to tell people that my body failed my baby.

That I could not save her.

No pep talk can make me feel better about that.

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