Last night my dad told me my grandmother’s dog Jake had been hit and killed by a car. This isn’t an uncommon thing where I’m from; the dogs are free to roam all over the farm and they chase cars speeding by on the highway when they get bored. It’s frustrating but that’s how it’s been my whole life. I called Grandmaw to check on her and see how she was doing. Jake was her inside/outside dog, her good buddy who kept her company in her big, empty house. She was obviously feeling down about it. She said she’d never find another dog that good. I tried to reassure her that it feels that way now, and that he was a good dog, but that she’d have plenty of dogs to love in the coming days. People are always dropping strays on the farm, so the pack grows on its own.
She asked me how things were going with the baby. I told her we were taking it a day at a time, and anticipating the visit with the specialist Thursday because we would hopefully get some answers about the things worrying us.
She told me that when she was seven months pregnant with who would have been my first of two aunts, when the baby stopped moving, the doctors refused to tell her she had died. Grandmaw had gotten stung by a wasp and thinks either the sting itself — she was allergic — or the treatment she received afterward led to the baby’s death. She knew a complete halt in movement was not normal, and deep down inside she knew the baby had passed. But this was in an age before ultrasounds, so she could never get visual confirmation. And she can’t remember if they ever listened for the heartbeat. They just refused to tell her that the baby was dead, assuring her that everything was fine and there was nothing to worry about. They gave her pills — she realizes now they were antibiotics — and let her carry the baby to term. She delivered a stillborn baby girl, who is buried in the family plot at Shady Grove Cemetery in Saltillo.
That story fascinates me. I want to be angry, assuming that the doctors knew the baby was dead, hence the antibiotics, but that they just wouldn’t deign to tell my grandmother or do anything about it. This was in the ’50s so I’m not sure how they handled removal of a dead fetus in the last trimester. But how cruel to ignore a woman when she says something is wrong, and then to make her carry that baby to term, knowing it’s already dead.
For all my gripes with the modern medical industrial complex, I am grateful we have made some significant progress, so that at least we generally try to err on the side of caution in prenatal matters.