Triggers, Work, and Other Ramblings

It’s difficult to believe that nine weeks have passed since I delivered my baby. This means that my maternity/bereavement leave is nearly over. My job, as a registered dietitian and certified lactation counselor  for the WIC program is one I have been at for eight years now. 

I am fortunate (if one can say that this situation has any fortune to it) that my employer has allowed me to take 12 weeks off, as planned.  I fully expected to be told that I would only be allowed 6 weeks, just to recover from the birth.  But apparently, when someone’s baby dies, nobody wants to raise the issue. I’ve encountered other mothers, online and in my support group, who returned to work sooner, welcoming a much-needed distraction from grief, and a desire to find some sort of “normalcy.” I can see that. I have had a few fleeting moments of envisioning myself back at work. I then tell myself that once I have gone a full day without crying, I will be ready. That hasn’t happened yet. The no crying thing.

When I truly envision returning to work I begin to panic.  Last week I had a nightmare about going back. When/if I return to work I will be surrounded by triggers. Pregnant women. Babies. Happy families. Sisters. Constant reminders of what I have lost.

I have a coworker who is pregnant. She is due next month with a little boy. Eighteen days after I delivered my dead daughter she texted me asking for my address so she could invite me to her baby shower. I never responded. Her office is next to mine. After I returned from my first maternity leave, she said she could hear me pumping through the thin walls. How am I going to endure that sound when she returns in November?

There are two women in my building at work who delivered this spring. Healthy babies. Living babies.  One, a boy, born in March. Another, a girl, born in April, 4 weeks premature.

I will have clients who last saw me pregnant. They will say “You’re back! How’s your baby?” I know this because that’s what happened last time, when I had my live baby. I rehearsed this with my therapist 2 weeks ago. It was awkward and unrealistic. In the role-play I mumbled something along the lines of “my baby was stillborn.” I could say that my baby was “born still”, kind of the same idea. But is that clear? She was born still, unmoving, because she was dead. Does the general population know what stillborn even means?

I could say “I lost my baby.” But, I didn’t lose her like the red marmot windbreaker that my husband gave me for Christmas one year. I loved that jacket. I didn’t misplace her with my keys, running frantically around the house muttering “I’m going to be really late now.” And I didn’t lose her like the 20 lbs that slipped easily off my body after delivery.

I could say she was “born sleeping” but I feel like that is misleading. Though the image is lovely–it reminds me of that Christmas song, the one that sings “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” My daughter didn’t cry, her eyes were closed, like she was asleep. But her heart didn’t thump in her tiny chest circulating blood throughout her body. I didn’t hold her, tummy to breast, hearing her tiny little sighs while she slept. She never opened her eyes.  She didn’t wake up.

I could say, like many do, that “she was born an angel” or “I’m a mommy to an angel baby.” But I really don’t believe that to be true. If there are angels–and I would like to believe that there are–my human baby didn’t transform into a celestial being when her heart ceased beating.

I could say she “passed away” or “didn’t make it”.  But then there may be assumptions. People will wonder, did she die because she was premature? Was sick? From SIDS or suffocation? Shaken baby syndrome? I want it to be clear to people that she never took a breath. I’m unsure why this is important to me.

I once worked in a long-term care facility. The terminology used to announce death was “expired.” As in “Mrs. Jones expired last night.” But my beautiful baby isn’t a tub of yogurt gone bad. She isn’t the license plate tabs that we forgot to renew in the midst of our grief. She isn’t a credit card buried deep in a purse.

I feel frustrated that our culture doesn’t address death head on. I feel anxious (actually I feel sick at the thought) to delve back into the real world. I have no idea how to prepare for this.

 

When did you return to work after your loss? What words did you use to tell others what happened?

21 thoughts on “Triggers, Work, and Other Ramblings”

  1. I went back to work 6 weeks after losing Asher. It’s been almost 5 months and I still cry at some point every day. It’s hard to go back. ❤️ I said Asher was “born into Heaven”. But I tend to use the term born still. It’s hard to find what you feel is right. Best of luck!

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  2. I’m all to familiar with this line of thinking. I’m a RN and returned to work (at a private medical office) 12 weeks after Carter died. I did two things that sort of helped prior to my return. I wrote a brief letter explaining Carter’s life and death and made clear that while I may cry and breakdown, no one should feel like they can’t speak to me about my son. My office manager emailed it to all our patients. I’ve been back at work for 2 months now. The letter helped but I still get non-acknowledgment or insensitive platitudes. Second, I rehearsed and made a script for those surprise attacks when someone asked me about my son. I say, “Our son Carter was born early, in February, due to loss of oxygen in-utero. We had three beautiful days in the NICU with him before he passed away.” It’s become second nature now and it helps for those surprise attacks. Return to work is so hard. Lots of strength sent your way. Wishing your return is as gentle as it can be. Sending hugs.

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  3. Is it wrong that I got enraged about the baby shower invitation? I’d like to dismiss the invite as general cluelessness on your co-worker’s behalf, but, come on. Stillbirth is a huge fear of pregnant women; she should have known better, and practiced more sensitivity. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

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    1. Haha, no not wrong. That’s why I had to include it. I’m certain she meant no offense and likely just wanted to be sure that I wasn’t offended by not being invited. She can be a bit clueless and really, who discusses etiquette regarding stillbirth? Nobody has a freakin’ clue. Thank you for getting angry with me. 💔

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      1. I’ll be sending her a virtual hairy eyeball, don’t worry. 😒
        Please keep writing, by the way; so much of what you’ve said has resonated with me. I’m certain other mothers of stillborn babies (have I mentioned I hate that expression?) will also find solace in your words.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I returned to work 5 weeks later (part-time). Huge mistake. I’d take as long as possible. I cried every day for like 7 months.
    I usually say, “He died shortly after my emergency C-section. A knot in his cord cut off his oxygen and they didn’t get him out in time.” (It’s more complicated but this conveys the point.) You could say “He died right before he was born.” I find “died” to be the clearest word. I had a friend say “stillborn” and some people missed the point.
    Fuck that person who sent you the shower invite.
    Big hugs.

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  5. I wonder how can one not understand the feeling of losing a child.
    Time heals they say, but losing a child after birth or struggling to have one cannot be get over with, each day is a reminder of what we have lost.
    Love

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true. We never forget our babies. I don’t think people can understand unless it has actually happened. They can imagine but they cannot know. That’s why it is so important that we have this club or tribe. Whatever it is. Our hearts are shattered and nobody knows how that feels except those who also walk this earth with a shattered heart .

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  6. I have been lucky that I was able to take the whole of my maternity leave and eight months on, I have still not returned to work. I have also made the decison that I will not be returning and will hand my notice in later this month. I work as a dental receptionist in a busy dental school and work with staff, students and patients. Before I left, I was being asked so much about my pregnancy that it was starting to get annoying. I know that if I go back, I will be constantly faced with the same questions you are pondering yourself. I am very open about talking about Evalyn and although I know these questions will always come up, I am in a different head space now. I don’t want to go back to a work environment where the “sympathy head tilt” and “I’m so sorry to hear about your baby” is the first thing people say. For myself, I feel that so much has changed in my life that I want to change along with it and give myself new challenges. . . .

    As for what to say when people ask. I always say I have two children. If they enquire further I say something along the lines of “I have a son who’s five and I had a daughter who very sadly was stillborn but she is still a very big part of our lives.” Some people will get it. Some people will not. . . .

    I had the most amazing response from a stranger in a shopping queue the other day as she looked at my son and asked me the same question. I told her and she didn’t say “O I’m sorry”. She didn’t stand awkwardly or try and change the subject. She smiled!! She smiled and she said, “Ah how wonderful that you have been able to experience a mother’s love twice over.” This woman will never know how much her response warmed my heart. xxx

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    1. “Sympathy head-tilt”, yes, I’ve gotten that. Thank you so much for your insight, I do truly find it helpful to bounce these scenarios with other moms who have experienced it. That lady at the store, amazing. What a beautiful response. I’m going to remember that. I wonder what her story is? I wonder if she had a loss or had someone close to her who had a loss. It seems like she had experience with something to give her such insight.

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  7. I can’t believe your co-worker! It’s so shocking that she didn’t even think that might be a difficult thing for you or that no ones else said to her not to do that! I think that implies you would be better to send something round work about your little one and how you would like others to deal with it. I wrote an email explaining briefly what happened to Isobel and that I am happy to talk about her or show her pictures. I did find it helped people approach the topic with me. In your place of work I would also spell out that dealing with pregnancy and babies is going to be extremely difficult for you and that at times you may not be able to face some of your day to day duties.

    As for with strangers, I usually say my daughter died during labour. I do find died the best word to say as it’s so unambiguous. Sometimes I do say passed away but I actually do prefer died. Its stark and what happened to us was stark. xx

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    1. LanaSalt, thank you so much for your thoughts and insight. Yes, I agree, “died” is clear and straight forward. I really want to avoid the additional questions that could be posed around “stillbirth” like “what do you mean?” then having to use the dead word anyway. Better to rip it off like a Band-Aid. I like the idea of writing a letter to staff, that will probably be helpful. I didn’t even think of that. As for the coworker, I know. Somebody should write a book on ethics of baby loss (maybe they have and I just haven’t found it yet).

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      1. I don’t know if this is remotely helpful but I have what I wrote to colleagues on my phone so I’ll copy it below for you…

        I just wanted to tell people a little about Isobel and hopefully make it a little easier for everyone in knowing how to talk about our loss (if they choose to do so).

        We found out that the baby had passed away on 24th June after going to the hospital to get checked out because I hadn’t felt her move that morning. We’ve since found out the there were clots in the placenta that stopped the oxygen flowing to her over about six hours. She herself was perfectly developed and would have been absolutely fine even the day before she died. Labour was induced and our little girl was born on 26th June 2015 at 4:26am. We named her Isobel Olivia Salter. I always wanted a little girl so I was glad to find out that she was a girl! She was 7lbs2 and very long and skinny at 55cm with big hands and feet! She had Simon’s mouth and chin but my nose! We were able to spend precious time with her before having the funeral on the 30th June, which was her due date.

        I know it’s a very hard kind of loss to understand or to try to imagine if you haven’t experienced it. People often don’t know what to say. The reality is there is no right or wrong thing to say, so don’t worry! I do very much appreciate it when people are able to acknowledge our loss in some way although I understand if someone doesn’t feel comfortable doing so. I love getting to say or hear her name, for those who are comfortable enough to ask about her or mention her by name know that it’s a lovely gift for me. I have told Isobel’s story many times, if there is something you would like to know please do ask. If I ever get tearful, please understand that you haven’t upset me by reminding me about her, I am thinking about her constantly. It’s more that I am really touched you have acknowledged her absence and helped me keep her memory alive. I always wear waterproof mascara these days just in case!! I have lots of pictures of Isobel and like any proud mummy I enjoy showing her off, if you would like to see them just ask. I won’t offer as I know people can feel differently about the pictures. I am of course a little sensitive about pregnancy and baby topics of conversation but at the same time I want to be treated as normally as possible, and to celebrate for other people too, so it’s ok to have these conversations in front of me, if I need a wee break I will take one.

        Simon and I are determined that Isobel’s little life will leave a positive legacy. We have lots of plans for raising awareness of stillbirth, prevention strategies and support for families. This is our new favourite topic of conversation, feel free to ask me about it if you want to. Two of the charities, SANDS and Tommy’s, have really helped us. No doubt I’ll be fundraising in the future and begging you all for money!

        I’m looking forward to getting back to work and seeing everyone again, thank you for reading my ramble and for your support as I settle back in.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. The biggest mistake I did was returning to work sooner than planned. I could have availed the whole of 6 months maternity leave that I was entitled to, but my family & friends thought I need to ‘get back’ to ‘normal’ life & work could be a distraction. I regret that I felt for it. In my defense, I was vulnerable & I thought maybe, just maybe it might help me getting back to work. I shouldn’t have listened to them.
    Getting back wasn’t easier. Your co-pregnant colleagues are still on their maternity leave, and you’re back! You hear all about “Boy or girl?” “Wow, you are back,” “How’s your baby?”. I’ve written a post on this on my blog as well.
    Hope you have people at work who are sensible & understand in some way.
    Yes, I did fold my fist reading about the baby shower invite.

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