Why We Write
BETWEEN February and May 2008 I wrote 230 thank-you notes. They acknowledged gifts and extraordinary kindnesses received, but not for a happy occasion. I wrote the notes after we lost our baby boy, a stillbirth at eight months of pregnancy, after five years of trying to conceive and as many failed attempts and lost pregnancies. I had waddled into the hospital emergency room the night of Thursday, February 7, 2008, in labor and giddy with excitement. My husband, John, and I left the hospital on Saturday, February 9, with our son’s death certificate: Liam Méndez-Booth; Friday, February 8, 2008; 12:28 AM; 5 pounds, 10 ounces.
At the time, I had established a career as a marketing, advertising, and corporate writer. I was the Copy Commando, the writer called in when the concepts were complex, the clients were difficult, the deadline was tight, and the writing needed to be compelling and clear. I had command of the language, a store of words that I knew how to select, group, and craft into reader-friendly copy that explained forensic accounting or the mechanics of precision timepieces or the implications of digitized medical data.
I left the hospital with new words. Placental abruption was the term for the detachment of my placenta that had denied blood and oxygen to my baby. Strep A bacteria is the infection that attacks vital organs, is lethal to unborn babies, and that I could have contracted anywhere. Such precise scientific words explained what had happened but not why. I had done all the right things throughout my pregnancy, and even well before it, yet my baby died. Why? During those initial months, I didn’t understand the why of anything. Why was there traffic on the street when we left the hospital? Why were the bodegas along Jersey City’s Kennedy Boulevard open for business as usual the morning John and I rode in the limo behind the hearse? Why were people walking with purpose, like they had someplace to go, like life mattered?
I struggled to name things after I left the hospital: the thing to put my cereal in (bowl ) or for the long way outside the bedroom (hallway). I couldn’t comprehend that green means go and red means stop at intersections. I was a failure: a woman unable to keep my baby alive and a writer