There’s no real protocol for crying in front of strangers. I know because I’ve done a lot of it during my reproductive years.
I come from a long line of criers. My late grandfather was a dignified man, a man from a small country region where stoicism blows in on the winds. But Grandpappy would cry beautiful tears at every family gathering. I think it’s in the blood.
My own crying has accelerated since I started creating my own branch of the family tree. When I was pregnant with my firstborn I cried regularly. At the time I was teaching in a local high school and one day I was called to the Headmaster’s office to discuss a difficult student. As my boss told me of this boy’s early life in poverty stricken Chile I wept openly. Another female teacher came to my rescue and remonstrated with the boss, “She’s pregnant!” she insisted. No further explanation was needed.
My mother-in-law warned me about crying through my pregnancy. Apparently there’s an old wives’ tale that says if you cry while pregnant you will have a baby with ‘gravy eyes’. God only knows what that means but my daughter has gorgeous eyes.
My son also carries the gene. He cries easily and loudly. I rejoice in telling people he is a SNAK – a Sensitive New Age Kid, in touch with his emotions.
In recent years I have cried in front of a vast array of strangers. Four years ago when I was 19 weeks pregnant with my third child, we discovered that she had a severe neural tube defect. Over the next two weeks I cried in front of doctors, nurses, social workers, nuns, priests and ambulance officers. I even walked into our local funeral home with my two small children and wept in front of a tiny, dark-haired attendant who I had never met. I’m sure she was shocked to see me walk in off the street, as if this was the corner store.
Sienna’s simultaneous birth and death at 21 weeks saw a fresh new ocean of tears – some laced with grief, some preceded by a bout of hysterical laughing, and mostly of a cleansing and spiritual nature.
Since her stillbirth I have had a run of miscarriages, four to date. I think the last one was where I lost the final vestiges of my childbearing innocence. I felt hard-bitten as I went for my appointments hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
I promised myself I wouldn’t cry that last time, but when my husband and I went for an early scan and saw a perfectly formed eight-week embryo without that comforting flicker of a heartbeat I felt the tears surge, hot and unbidden. As they splashed down my cheeks I tried to wave it all away, ‘I’m ok, I’m ok.’
As an optimist firmly entrenched in this, my ‘Best of All Possible Worlds’, I always am ok. But tears have become a quintessential part of my journey through motherhood. And I have found that it doesn’t matter who’s there with me as they flow: a radiologist with a beer belly; a young Asian intern; a middle-aged gynaecologist in a polka dot bowtie; a receptionist in training; my mother; my sisters; my best friend. These and many others have borne witness to my grief and elation, my tears and laughter, my love and loss. In a strange way I think their presence validates my experience.
I thank them for sharing with me.