I was sitting on the couch, at a cookie exchange hosted by a woman in one of my mom’s groups. For the past half hour, the topic had been birth stories. I sat quietly, smiling and laughing and gasping at all the appropriate times. Trying so, so desperately to not begrudge them their “oh god I felt her STITCH ME UP!” and “I was five minutes away from delivering in the utility closet!”
Two of the women who were doing most of the talking were the type who like to talk about themselves. The type who pretend interest when they ask you a question, but in reality are really using it as a springboard to tell just one more story about themselves.
So I really thought, as the stories started to come to a close, that I’d escaped. Until. . .
“What about you, you’ve been so quiet,” the woman sitting next to me said as she turned to look at me. “Don’t you have any horror stories?”
At that moment, it seemed like 74.5 thoughts raced through my mind in the 1.5 seconds that elapsed between the question leaving her mouth and the answer that eventually slipped through my lips.
“Why yes, yes I do. I delivered a dead baby.”
“My daughter was stillborn and I don’t think I can ever get the image of my husband sobbing as he held her out of my head.”
“I delivered a dead baby. Her sisters spent two months in the NICU. The surviving identical twin has cerebral palsy, probably due to her sister dying in my womb.”
“Waaaaaaaaaah! Sob sob sob.”
“Oh my, yes! Gabrielle’s heart rate started to decelerate so the doctor had to reach her arm up and yank her out by her feet! Even with the spinal block I could feel her big-ass arm inside! I could see it making my stomach move from the inside!”
“Oh god, I’d asked for an epidural at 6:15 am, and I’d already been in labor for four hours. The anethesiologist didn’t show up until 9:20 am, 15 minutes before the doctor asked me to start pushing, and only 19 before I delivered Julia!”
But I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Not the truth, not a lie, and not some story that was somewhere between the truth and a lie.
And so instead I smiled – a smile that feels like some grotesque charade of a happy face, one that I cannot understand how people can’t tell what’s hiding behind it, it feels so hollow to me – lowered my head and said, “Oh no, I like listening to yours.”