Friday, February 5, 2010

The price of doubt

Last year in October, I was a passenger in a car accident. My sister was driving. I sat in the passenger seat and three of our four kids were in the back. We were stopped to make a left turn to pick up really really shitty food requested by my father. A man in a large truck speeding and simultaneously trying to go around us, slammed into the back of our car. I was 29 weeks pregnant. I spent the rest of the day and all night in the hospital being monitored. Lucy's heart rate dropped a few times, but stabilized. I spent that night away from Beatrice and Sam. It was the first time I didn't sleep in the same house with her. But I listened to Lucy's heartbeat all night. Like horse's racing, I was so terrified and comforted to have this time just with her. It was the first time in either of my pregnancies that the mortality of my children occurred to me. I cried off and on all night between whispering to her about the world, and telling her all the fairy tales I could remember.

From the pure adrenaline of car accident and morphing into Mother Bear, I didn't really recognize until I got home the next day that my collarbone hurt more than say a lot. I mean, it was broken. There wasn't much I could do. I saw an orthopedist who wouldn't x-ray the injury, which would have been more damaging to my pregnancy than just treating it as broken.

That car accident has haunted me since it happened. Firstly, it kicked off an incredibly difficult time in our lives. The collarbone, sitting on my ass, gaining weight, finding help to care for Bea, leading into Sam's father's death, and then three weeks later, Lucy's death. But mostly, it haunts me because I will always have that doubt. What would our life had been like if we hadn't made that left turn? What would have happened if some speeding jerk would have just been following the rules?

I will always live with that doubt. I try to accept the diagnosis that there is no reason for Lucy's death, but I find it nearly impossible. It doesn't jive with my scientific sense of the world. The effect of the accident was clear on the autopsy. Though the pathologists say it was not enough trauma to kill Lucy, we will never know the ways in which it contributed to her death or her suffering. That has remained my point in this case. I think of that Ray Bradbury story, The Sound of Thunder,  can we really measure the effect of one butterfly on the world? I can't help but think that a man speeding at speeds no faster than 40mph and ramming into us at a dead stop has something to do with Lucy's death. I doubt this cadre of doctors, lawyers and insurance people that say the car accident was beside the point. How could it be? And so I doubt their intentions. I doubt their conclusions.

How much is that worth? I ask the insurance lady.  
How much is doubt worth? How much is waking up everyday wondering what would have happened if your client would have just been following the rules worth?


After Lucy died, I received an email from a Facebook friend from high school. We had only recently friended each other. He is a high risk OB, and we played on the chess team together. He said he was available to answer any questions I had about Lucy's death. I sent him some theories about her death. And all of his answers were the same:

You just have to accept that there are no answers. 
Doctors will never quantify the what ifs. 
Doctors will never write a report with doubt in the margins. 
They may whisper it to you, but they will never write it. 
I cannot tell you the ways in which a car accident would have contributed to her death, because those weeks of her time in utero after the accident were unmeasured.
Doctors always go by facts and measurements.

And I want to scream that not having an answer for my daughter's death seems so medieval. What of Occum's Razor? What if the only difference between this pregnancy and Beatrice's pregnancy is a car accident? What of the most logical explanation being the one we go with?


This week I received an insulting settlement check from the insurance company. For 15 months, message after message was left. Lawyers were hired and fired. I faxed autopsy reports, told my story to random insurance people in different offices. I saw doctors. I emailed specialists for more information. I probed through details about my daughter that no one should read--the weight of her heart, and the percentage of her placenta functioning. As my friend said, no pathologist or doctor would speculate on the ways in which a car accident could have adversely affected my daughter in utero, or contributed to her death. I simply don't have the money to pay enough specialists to do that. For over a year, I have had this case hanging over our child's death. No one will say the car accident had any conclusive pathological evidence to contribute to Lucy's death, and yet it is the only thing different between the one pregnancy and the other. The doctors have said that the 8% placental infarction was not enough to cause her death, but what about contribute? What if it was the one extra push that caused her to lose nutrients? Why won't anyone agree that my doubt is founded?

When they finally offered me a settlement, I couldn't even believe they were talking about my case. They offered me $4,000 for the death of my baby, and not one penny of that was in the stress, doubt, death of my child column. They paid for someone to clean my house. They paid for my collarbone broken. They paid for my hospital stay and my husband missing work. But they didn't pay for any suffering of my Lucy. They didn't pay for insomnia They didn't pay for terror. And yet, settling isn't about money for me. I just want it done with, and so the check came with both relief and anger. I want the last of Lucy's unresolved death to be resolved, even if it is not at all representative of what I think this kind of gnawing doubt is worth. Even if it is unjust.

None of this has been fucking fair. 

Not her death. Not the car accident. Not the insurance companies. Not the grief. Not the losses. Not the absence of my daughter in this house. It is just money. Money that won't bring her back. Money that when broken down shows the tangible things we lost.

How much does doubt cost?
How much does grief cost?
How much does fear cost?
How much does stress cost?
How much does unbearable sadness cost?
How much does living with these questions for the rest of your life cost?


Almost everyday I see a woman in a Black Jetta speed down my street. It is a purely residential street, lots of kids and old people. Two small children strapped into car seats in the back. But she somehow manages to reach horrifying speeds (for our street) from one stop sign to the next. She sometimes blows right through the subsequent stop sign. And when I would see her from my front porch window, I had the urge to run, a la Garp, and catch her and tell her, "Somebody, speeding at 35 MPH, may have killed my daughter." A little dramatic, yes, but maybe, just maybe, if I stared in her eyes and explained to her, "You don't want to calculate the price of doubt every day."


  1. I think you answered it -- it's priceless. There is absolutely no price you could set, everything would seem too small. Everything, every possible amount. I'm sorry you have this hanging over your head -- I went through a few smaller permutations of this: (infection) what if I didn't visit that preschool? Or that one? (abruption) what if I didn't pick up Bella so much? or have the house completely sanded and repainted while pregnant? But you know, they just shook their heads. They've seen it all, they know these outcomes, there is nothing.

    Another blogger once felt that picking up her sick, 50+lb dog led to her premature labor of her son. I repeatedly told her (as did her doctors) that chances were she would have wound up where she is now, maybe with some dates changed: with a dead dog, and a dead son. sometimes things just happen.

    And on a side note, I cannot believe what victims have to go through legally/monetarily to get settlements. My parents were in a terrible head-on collision while sitting at a stop light and it took over three years, thousands of dollars and a number of lawyers just to get their medical bills paid by the asshole who was 30 miles over the speed limit who blew through a stop light.

  2. I've felt this way too. After Baby A died I was on modified bed rest - strict 2 hour periods where I had to lay down followed by a 1 hour period where I could get up and do things but no heavy lifting, no strenuous walking, etc. During that time, I didn't always lay down after an hour. I did take the laundry out of the washer. I walked up a steep driveway to a house we wanted to buy. For months after Baby B died, I thought, "I killed him. I did something that killed him. He threw a blood clot because I didn't lay down enough." I remember pulling the car over about 4 months after he died and sobbing about the stupid laundry. Even now, after the placenta was examined and the nice doctor (who cried on the phone with me) told me this wasn't my fault, nothing could be done, it was a 1 in a million chance and he FORBIDE me from blaming myself, I still do. It's the "what ifs" and they keep me up at night. I can't get find acceptance...

  3. I agree that your doubt is founded.

    No amount of money can make up for the grief, the lifelong sadness, and most of all, missing Lucy. And it wouldn't feel right to quantify these very important things with something so mundane as money anyway.

    I'm so sorry that the settlement check is stirring up so many upsetting emotions and I hope that soon you will primarily just feel relief that dealing with the insurance companies is over.


  4. All the BS from the insurances is like having to go through the same trauma over and over again. Sorry, you've had to endure this - I cannot imagine how hard it must've been.

    I probed through the details of the autopsy-report, too. Some numbers out of there will never leave my mind...

    Sending a hug...

  5. Im a new reader and I just could not read and not respond. Im so sorry for your loss. I cant imagine how horribly tragic this has been lingering over you for so long. I had a daughter die too but totally different circumstances and can not imagine having to relive it over and over to various insurance people, lawyers and so forth.

    I cant help but feel hatred towards the person that hit you. If they only knew the extent of the damage this has caused on several peoples lives.

    Sending you hugs and healing vibes mama.

  6. Reading and witnessing and shaking my head in bafflement and anger and sorrow. I am so sorry there are no answers- and mostly I am so sorry that you have to ask these questions at all.

    Love you so, Angie.

  7. I am sorry Angie. I understand, I have the same set of things - my mother had a heart attack the week before Gabe died.

    I wish things were different.

  8. I didn't know until a recent post that you had been dealing with this for so long. It is an extra burden for sure. You mentioned the insurance comp. etc. Does the driver know about this part (or does he just think it is about the collarbone)??? Maybe at least he will be a more conscientious driver.

    Sorry you couldnt get any answers. That seems to be par for this course. And that not knowing is stressful beyond belief.

    There are a few drivers like that on our block, with lots of kids around. They drive me crazy too. Maybe you can lobby the city for 'slow, children at play' signs or something. Or, just throw random objects into the street.

  9. I hope that this post is read by millions of people, who will then think about the possible consequences of being in too much of a hurry.

    Thinking of you, Angie.

  10. I just stumbled across this blog...and your post struck me deeply. All the what ifs in life drive me crazy. I lost my twin babies...and there are so many what ifs about that. SO many. In addition to the what if that surround meaningless loss of something so wanted... needed... adored, there is the additional loss that my eldest son experienced for a reason that no one saw. 2 and a half years ago...maybe a car hit him, maybe someone swerved at him, maybe his bike just broke in half for no one saw it...and so...there is no one to blame. Regardless of blame, the head injury that occurred stole his memory, his ability to learn, took away his quickness, and lowered his IQ. He will never again be the fantastic gymnast that soared through the air with promise and delight. No....he will never be that boy again. The loss is crushing to him...and I miss the person he once was while I get to know this new young man...a wonderful young man...but not the same boy we all knew. to calculate to understand it. If only.

  11. Priceless indeed. Abiding with yous sweet Angie.

  12. There is no value, nothing that could ever make it right or make it feel better. And the settlement they offered, ugh, makes me want to hit someone.
    I have a pretty certain cause of death for Caleb, a defect in the cord that while not fatal by itself probably allowed him to kink it or twist it and kill himself. But even knowing that, I still don't know why, you know? Why it was defective, why or how he kinked it, etc. I don't think there can ever really be an answerthat will make any of us feel better about what happened or give us any reason to believe that it couldn't happen again.
    I sometimes can't decide if knowing more or knowing less is better. Which scares the shit out of me.


  13. This is precisely why I am sitting on my hands for the moment in terms of a law suit against our hospital. We don't want money for her death as such, but we do want someone to take responsibility - eg those midwives in those final days who let us down - and we have the independant review of our case to say that is what happened. And the thing is, I know whatever amount a lawyer comes up with that we can claim for in our case, it will be insulting. As no amount could ever be right, or enough.
    We feel fairly certain that our story could have been very different. I replay it in my head over and over. Each time I called the hospital in labour and was told to stay home it came down to which midwife answered my calls in the labour ward. It came down to which one of them happened to be walking past the phone as it rang. Had another more kind/caring/compassionate/less-jaded midwife answered, they may have told me to come in, you know "better to be safe than sorry" and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't be here, reading and commenting on your blog right now. We had a window of about three days where she could have been saved. And those three days were spent at home waiting and trusting. So the what ifs and doubts just about kill me.
    Anger is going to rage inside me for a very, very long time. I can't see how in my case, I can ever let it go. And the same goes for you.
    I'm so sorry you are walking this path too, Angie. I'm so sorry Lucy isn't here.

  14. You know Angie- I read this and my first thought is the (bear with me) the water you and Sam and Bea ride- there are these moments of calm- or calmer moments- rather- and then turbulence, a wave- like the check coming- and you must ride that turbulent water until you reach a state of being less turbulent. In my silent meditations I wish for you calmer waters- the space between them - longer- so that you have time to catch your breath and you breathe and you can continue to breathe. I am sending you lots of love.

  15. The cost is way too high, there's no word for how high. The cost of a deceased child? The closest word I can think of for the price... "everything."

    "Why won't anyone agree that my doubt is founded?"

    It's totally founded. I am 100% certain I would also feel the accident contributed to my baby's death if that happened to me.

    That said, I will flippantly offer you this: we also got no reason for our baby's death after autopsy, placental and genetic studies, there was no apparent cord twisting, knotting, or wrapping at birth, and no infection or clotting disorders anywhere including anywhere in me. So even without the car accident, perhaps it still could have happened. We'll just never know.


    The insensitive insurance companies didn't offer any softening of the blow either.

    No medical, spiritual, accidental, religious, random, or wordly reason would ever be enough for me.

  16. This is some despairing arithmetic. I agree with Tash on the 'Priceless' business. There is certainly no amount large enough but, $4k?! Well, it just makes me want to smash someone's face in on your behalf.

    I'm sorry you've had to deal with all of this.

  17. I am so sorry you have to live with this doubt. I wish you could get the answers you deserve. I will never understand why insuranc companies and the law place such little value on a baby. I know there is no amount that would make things better for you but $4000 is just insulting.

  18. I know the price of doubt (for my son stillbirth was unexplained) and it is way too high to be paid in money. I blame myself, my doctor for not having detecting a problem, my husband, my mother... Add this to the price of doubt and the price of missing your child for the rest of your life.

  19. angie, no one should have to negotiate the insanity of legal settlement while grieving their child. it's just too much. i'm so sorry. your instincts aren't wrong. and the settlement check is insulting. i guess i would imagine this as just one more loss, among so many, to grieve, on the long slow path to acceptance, or whatever we want to call it.

    there are no answers. it is taking me so, so long to accept that. the doctors don't know anything - we are all just unlucky. that seems to be their final verdict. it blows. thinking of you. xo

  20. Wow, Angie - that car accident sounds super scary and traumatic. I mean, really. That is a major, huge, significant event in a pregnancy and it's hard to imagine that wouldn't have SOME kind of impact on a growing fetus. I would be wondering that myself for a long, long time. What's also frightening about this scenario is the randomness of it - you just happened to be there, at that place and time, and this particular driver struck you when it could've been anyone. I'm sorry you're living with lingering doubt. Totally understandable though. Fingers crossed hard for you in this pregnancy, dude. Keep an eye in the rearview mirror.

  21. oh gosh, Angie, I can't believe.
    There is no price.
    And having to deal with all these after Lucy has died... it is just insult upon injury.
    I am so sorry. ((hugs))

  22. Oh I would want to run out and shake that woman in your street.

    And I agree, your doubt is founded. And it sucks how insurance companies have to quantify everything. They will pay for seemingly meaningless things (someone to clean the house) but not for the things that rock you to your very core and change the direction of your life permanently (the loss of your daughter).
    Its a shitty, unfair situation, and I am sorry that all that fighting ended in an insulting check.

    Your daughter is priceless.

  23. Oh Angie, I can't imagine what you think when you see that check. It's ridiculous. I'm so, so sorry that you have to live with this frustration, sadness and the what ifs.


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