Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Price of a Swimsuit

By Bethany Conkel

It was a typical hot and humid summer here in Ohio. I was well into my pregnancy and I was starting to get big. We had already received the news that our baby had a terminal diagnosis months prior when I was just 11 weeks pregnant, and we were bound and determined to make the most of our baby’s life. We had created a bucket list of activities to do with our baby and were trying to enjoy things as much as possible.

One evening my mother-in-law invited me to go shopping at the outlet malls with her and some friends. I thought this sounded like a fun idea. It was right in line with our bucket-list of activities, so I agreed. As I waddled through the sticky outdoor mall area we came to the store Motherhood. Yes, Motherhood, that dreaded store for those of us CTT (carrying to term after a terminal diagnosis). The store that celebrates pregnancy and babies with the utmost excitement. The store with the joyful sales people who know all the right questions to ask… you know, the ones us CTT moms try to avoid like the plague. I stared at the store for a moment and realized the sad truth. I was gonna have to go in. My heart sank a little, but the fact was a much, much, much needed maternity swimsuit was being held hostage inside that store. I had desperately wanted to go swimming, and I knew I didn't have too many other options if I passed on the dreaded Motherhood store. So I mustered up the courage and my mother-in-law and I walked into the store. I looked at a few options, avoiding help from any sales people, and quickly selected a swimsuit that I thought would work well. It had a nice fit, and was flattering to my ever growing belly. Plus it was on sale – even better!

At this point, I was pretty excited. I found what I wanted, was going to get a good deal, and we had been able to avoid the sales people. NO QUESTIONS for this momma! One last hurdle remained: the checkout counter. The checkout counter for a CTT momma, regardless of the store, is a tricky place, but more so in a store like Motherhood. You have to be sure to control the small talk at the checkout counter and steer it in the right direction or you are inevitably going to hear well wishes, happy comments, or be asked a million questions about your pregnancy. Upon approaching the counter I quickly took control of the situation and things were going surprisingly well. The clerk had already rung up my order and I had money in hand ready to pay. Then she asked me for my e-mail address; trying to rush the process, I spurted it out and thought “I’ll give you just about anything if we can finish and I can get the heck out of here...” Then I heard my mother-in-law’s voice ask a question. I instantly left my thought and zoned back in on the conversation.

“Umm, ma’am. Will they be sending her e-mails and things after the baby is born?”

“Ohhh, YES! We send out all sorts of great deals and coupons with our e-mail program.”

“Oh. Well, she doesn’t want that… Can you just remove her from the list?”

“The deals are realllly great! Trust me she doesn’t want to miss out on this.”

“We don’t really come here that often, if you could just remove her from the list that would be great.”

At this point the gravity of my error was hitting me in the face full force. In my rush to get out of the store I mistakenly set myself up for months of misery after I deliver in the form of pregnancy e-mails, mommy deals, and joyful junk that I would never be able to use. Grreeeaaaaat! I had been so close to achieving victory and fell flat right at the finish line.

At this point I don’t remember what the kind lady was saying… it was something like, “blah, blah, blah our e-mail program is awesome….”

I glanced over at my mother-in-law who was starting to become frazzled, but desperately determined to fix the situation yet she didn't know what to say.

Then, before I could stop it… it came out –

“My baby is going to DIE! I don’t need the e-mails because I won’t be bringing my baby home!”

HORROR immediately filled the kind lady’s face. Then panic. Her fingers flew to the keyboard and she frantically tried to remove my name from “the list”. After a moment she stuttered, “I already hit submit and I don’t know how to undo it.” Then poor lady just melted and started to sob. She asked me a few questions about the pregnancy and our situation in-between her sobs. I mentally pulled out my pre-memorized script that I had created for situations like these and I calmly explained our situation and told her what was wrong with our baby.

Next thing I know, the sobbing sales lady left her area behind the checkout counter and came around to the front. She threw her arms around me and held me in a tight bear hug… and sobbed some more on my shoulder. I was officially stuck! There was nothing else I could do except pat her on the back and reassure her that everything was going to be alright. As I did this I remember looking over the lady’s shoulder just in time to see my mother-in-law RUNNING for the door. After what seemed like FOREVER the sweet sales lady released me from her hug and stepped back, wiping the last tears from her eyes. She then said a few nice cliché sentences. Something like, “You are so brave. What an inspiration,” and “I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts and prayers,” (for my CTT mommas out there: yes, it is okay to think “YOU DON”T EVEN KNOW ME”, and “Why am I the one comforting YOU?” – but it is best not to actually say this….). I mumbled a thank you and made sure she was alright. Then she said she would talk to the manager and see if she could get my name removed from “the list”.

Finally I was able to turn and waddle out of the store. After the door to Motherhood closed behind me, I took a deep breath of the surprisingly wonderful hot and sticky Ohio air. Humidity never felt so good!

Technically, I had been victorious for I held in my hand the much, much, much needed swimsuit… but instead of feeling the thrill of victory, I felt the agony of defeat. What was close to being the perfect CTT shopping trip, quickly won a place in the hall of fame for All Time WORST. Never in my CTT journey had I brought a sales person to tears so quickly!

During the ride home my mother-in-law teased me about making the nice lady cry. To this day we still chuckle when we think about that trip. 

But, in all seriousness folks, the journey of CTT is filled with unexpected turns. Sometimes you will be comforted by strangers, other times you will have to do the comforting. Sometimes you will have a plan and it will fall to pieces right in front of you. Sometimes you will find yourself laughing at awkward situations or events, other times they will leave you in a puddle of tears. All these things are part of the journey. Be gentle with yourself, there is no manual or how to book on how to walk this journey. It is a day-to-day, moment-by-moment, do-the-best-you-can experience.

~ ~ ~

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Bethany Conkel lives in Ohio and is married to her wonderful husband, Eric. She is the mommy to two amazing children – one who is in heaven, the other here on earth. Bethany carried her precious son, Amalya Nathaniel (meaning: “work of the Lord”, “given by God”) to term after receiving the diagnosis of anencephaly when she was 11 weeks pregnant. Amalya lived for 1 hour and 20 minutes before taking hold of the Lord’s hand. After he passed, his liver, pancreas, and whole body were donated to scientific research. Bethany has since created a website about neonatal organ, tissue, and whole body donation called Purposeful Gift to help other families explore the option of donation. She is also a certified Birth and Bereavement Doula through Stillbirthday.com and serves with Sufficient Grace Ministries.

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