Fresh Start

I have been busy purging my office at work–recycling papers I no longer need and boxing up my personal items because….I GOT A NEW JOB! If you have been following for a while, you know that I have struggled with my post-loss return to work. And if you are a new reader, welcome! In a nutshell, I work with moms and their babies AND I have a sociopath for a boss. A new job is very, VERY good news for me. I start next Tuesday.

It’s a strange feeling to be packing up my office after 8 ½ years. When I started my job, I was beginning a new (second) career as a registered dietitian, My first career, as a special education teacher, was short-lived (three years). When I began my career at WIC, I was the youngest on staff, excited and enthusiastic to be making a difference in the lives of families. But now I am bitter and disenchanted; and definitely not the youngest.  Truth be told, I have been looking for a new job for several years, due to the sociopathic boss, but there are few opportunities in my community.  Be it fate, or God (doubtful) or some other force of nature, a new opportunity has landed in my lap. My new supervisor is the exact opposite of sociopathic. Plus, she’s a fellow “loss mama,” part of the DBC–the club nobody wants to be in with the highest dues ever.

I get to keep my benefits and pay rate as an employee of the same municipality I am currently employeed. My paycheck comes out of a different federal grant and not only do I get a new (better, shinier) boss, I also get a bigger office.  Like I said, it’s a good thing.

In other news, I’ve clocked 93 hours since my return.  In hour 92, it happened. The moment I have been dreading since my return to work: 

Client: You had your baby!

Me: Uh, she died.

Client: *shocked look* Oh my gawd, I’m so sorry.

Me: Thank you. All I can do is move forward.

Client: I’m not sure if you remember, I had a miscarriage at 12 weeks. How far along were you?

Me: On my due date. Her heart had stopped.

Client: Anyway, I’ve been running out of formula so I’ve been giving [10 month old infant] whole milk.

And then there was this other mom. Her baby was born on May 4th, 4 days before mine. An adorable girl. I think she was adorable.  I tried my best not to look directly at this baby, this reminder of what my youngest daughter isn’t. I hid behind the woman (girl?) I’m training to replace me.  I tried to focus on walking her through the ridiculous software program I won’t miss. I tried to block out the sounds of the baby. I tried to dissociate myself from the angst. And I did it. I made it through those two very difficult scenarios. I didn’t fall apart until 4:33 when I was safe in my car. 

Four more days.

What was the worst experience you had telling someone about your loss?

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Scattered Thoughts on Religion

Ever since my world crashed down around me nearly four months ago, I’ve spent a fair amount of time wondering about God. Does God exist? If so, where was God when my baby was dying? And why didn’t God save her? Is God punishing me? Does heaven exist? Is that where she is? Can she see me? Will I see her again? Does she know how much I love her? How much I miss her?

I recall the early days, the blackest of black days, the shades in our bedroom down 24/7. Me, curled in the fetal position in bed, clutching a small purple baby quilt the hospital gave us, repeating the mantra-like words that Jenny prays in the film Forrest Gump“Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here. Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here. Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here.” The emotional pain was so intense it crept into my heart, literally, and I felt as though somebody were wringing my heart like a wet washcloth. I finally understood the true meaning of the phrase broken heart.

The minister from my Unitarian Universalist church visited our home after our daughter died.  I recall asking him if I was being punished by God, and this man, whom I do not know well at all, said “a punishment for what? Why would God punish you?” Although I shrugged noncommittally, in my head I was thinking: punishment for abandoning my Christian faith,  for yelling at my 3 year old,  for resenting my pregnancy, for not fully appreciating all that my husband does for me…

I had a laundry list of sins deserving this pain. If something this horrific had happened to me, surely I did something to deserve it.

In the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Jewish rabbi Harold Kushner explores some of the universal questions that humans ask when tragedy strikes. I’ll admit, despite the recommendation that I read this book and the amazing reviews online, I had a difficult time trudging through it.  There is one particular passage that angered me. Kushner presents a hypothetical scenario in which an infant is born with a congenital heart defect. He outlines two possibilities for the child’s life: “If he were to die shortly after birth, his parents would go home saddened and depressed, wondering what might have been. But then they would begin to make the effort to put the loss behind them and look to the future.” He then goes on to paint a different outcome, in which the baby is saved by the advances of modern medicine, survives, and makes a life for himself until, at the age of 35, he dies. Kushner writes: “Now his death causes more than a few days of sadness. It is a shattering tragedy for his wife and children, and a profoundly saddening event for all the other people in his life.”

Let me repeat that: “now his death causes more than a few days of sadness.” A few days. I am on day one hundred eleven. 111 days. Of sadness. Of despair. Of crying. Of “shattering tragedy.” It is not only my husband and myself who have been affected. Our living daughter, our parents, my husband’s siblings and our friends and family have all been affected by the death of this tiny life.  It doesn’t feel right to tell a holy man to F-off.

Many people have offered prayers for me. I’ll take them. If prayers are futile, no harm done. But maybe, just maybe, there is an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent deity somewhere “listening” to prayers. Who am I to say? As to what these believers pray for, or how prayer works, I do not have an answer.  I recently was fortunate enough to get a new job, an exciting opportunity, to which the details are not suited for this post. I was sharing this news with a woman I know, who practices the Muslim faith, and she raised her arms in the air, looked to the sky, and sang praises to the God she worships. I guess? But why would God grant me a new job and not save my baby girl? It just doesn’t make sense.

My Christian upbringing implores me to believe in God, an afterlife, a heaven. But I am selfishly, on a daily basis, asking The Universe/ God/ Divine Spirit/ Fate/ myself:

Why did this happen to me?”

“Why did this happen to me?”

“Why did this happen to me?

 

Regardless of your religion, faith, or belief system, I would love to know what you believe regarding your beloved who has passed.  Do you pray? If so, for what do you pray? How, if at all, do you make sense of the nonsensical tragedy you are enduring?

 

Try Again

Confession: I used to be one of those ANNOYING people who questioned the family planning decisions of other people. If a couple was engaged, I would make no qualms in asking if they were planning to have children. Married–Why no kids yet? (Ironic considering my husband and I were married for 4 years before deciding we were ready to take the baby-making plunge). Only one child–when are you having the next? (Also ironic as I am an only child). Only girls–Aren’t you going to try for a boy? Only boys–Don’t you want a girl? Close spacing or really far spacing–Wow! That must have been a surprise! I cringe as I write this.

After I had no fertility challenges in conceiving my daughters, even going so far as to plan for an exact month of delivery both times, I would scoff when others complained about school start dates, the season of their child’s birthday, being 8 months pregnant in the heat of the summer, or the spacing of their children. In my head I would always think: “They should have planned THAT better!”

I’m going to stop right here and say: If I ever hurt you with my ignorance, I am truly sorry.

It was during my second pregnancy that I became irritated by these inquisitions. People asked whether my pregnancy was planned and if it would be my last baby. I may have been asked these questions during my first pregnancy but I don’t recall.

And then my baby ceased to breathe–but she didn’t cease to exist.

Last week, somebody said to me “I hope you’ll try again.” Tears sprang to my eyes. Try again?

Try (from Merriam-Webster): 1:  to make an attempt at: Try to conceive a baby; Try to deliver a living baby; Try not to kill a baby in-utero; Try for two living children

In the years that followed the birth of my first child, I never recall anybody asking “Will you try again for another baby?” The question was “Do you think you will have another child?” But now, it seems that the rest of the world has dismissed my youngest child as a failed attempt and that in order to remedy this failure, my husband and I should try again.

The death of my baby isn’t a tryout for a sports team. Her urn on my dresser doesn’t represent an F grade on a math exam. This isn’t the same as Rachel and Ross trying again after their “break.” A person tries to make bread or to play a piano piece without error; these are examples of attempting something after not succeeding.

IF (a BIG IF) my husband and I decide to become pregnant again, I don’t view it as trying. It’s not an attempt to replace our child who did not stay. Another pregnancy would be adding a third child to our family. This is difficult to wrap my head around because I only wanted two children. And I have two children. Therefore, I should be done having babies. And yet it’s not the same. Because my girls will not play together. My oldest will not play peek-a-boo with her baby sister. Or dress her in the white dress she so wanted to. My youngest will not copy her big sister and follow her constantly until she (the eldest) becomes irritated. They won’t pick berries from the bushes in our yard or swing on the swing-set together. They won’t build sand castles or wade in the surf. As hormonal teens, they won’t borrow each other’s clothes and makeup or fight over stupid sister stuff. They won’t be in each other’s weddings or hold each other’s babies. They won’t call each other with worry about their aging parents. None of this will happen between my two daughters because one of my daughters is dead.

Unless somebody shares their struggles, hopes, dreams, and personal life story with us, we have NO IDEA what they are enduring or why they are making the choices they are making (if choices at all). I know people who have purposely chosen not to have children. I know people who have struggled with fertility, crushed each month at the sight of ANOTHER negative pregnancy test. I know people who have chosen to have just one very loved child. I know people who have one child but wanted more, it just didn’t happen. I know people who have experienced the loss of a child and just could not bear to risk that heartache again. I know people who have adopted a child (the reasons vast and unique to each family).

If I could eliminate this proverb from our culture, I would rewrite it to say something like this:

If the plans and dreams in your mind and your heart result in the unexpected, it is okay to rewrite your future. You are still successful.

What’s the most off-putting or hurtful question you have heard regarding family planning? How have you rewritten your future story after your loss?

 100 Days and Stream of Consciousness

100 days. I have survived a nightmare for 100 days. 100 days ago I learned my baby’s heart stopped while mine did not. I have cried for 100 consecutive days.  100 days ago I thought I would cease to exist. But I didn’t. I haven’t. Yet.

And 365 days ago (or thereabouts) my baby was conceived (at home, not in a fertility clinic). TMI? I’d apologize for making you feel uncomfortable but I’m going to be uncomfortable every single day for the rest of my life.  For, like, 264 days or something like that (math isn’t my strength) my baby grew, safely housed within me. Then 100 days ago she died (well, probably 102 days ago).

The other day I mentioned to someone (while sobbing into their shoulder) that I fear this experience will make me a bitter person. She misunderstood and thought I said better person. No. I can’t imagine I’m a better person. I’m most certainly bitter.

I’ve started back to work–easing in with 4 hours per day. So far I’ve clocked 36 hours. I haven’t walked out. Yet. Though I’ve wanted to.  This morning I had a meeting with my supervisor and the human resources manager. My supervisor likes to pretend she cares about people. But she doesn’t. She cares about herself and her reputation. I could see an obvious relief on her face when I reassured her that I will be “ready” to resume my regular hours next week. I don’t know if that is actually true. Will I ever be ready?

On my way out of the building at noon, I ran into my intern from last summer, coming for an interview. We stopped to chat. I studied her face. I couldn’t tell if she knew. 

“I’m not sure if you heard, I lost my baby.” (Geeze, there it is…lost…where did she go? Off with my red Marmot jacket?)

“Yes, I didn’t want to say anything unless you did. I’m really sorry about that.”

Better to lay it out there. Otherwise it’s just the obviously uncomfortable elephant in the room.

Back in July, my husband and I met with a perinatologist. I won’t go into all the boring medical details, only to say that I FINALLY connected with her last week by phone. (She’s a big-shot CEO at the hospital, I think she just consults with Maternal-Fetal Medicine to keep her license current). Final verdict: massive fetomaternal hemorrhage (FMH). Which is what was initially suspected but now it’s official. As to what caused it? They have no idea. As this doctor said “I’d expect this type of outcome had you been abusing large amounts of cocaine….” (In case you’re wondering, I’m not a coke addict).  I’ll  direct you over to fellow “Loss Mama” Vanessa for the details on this very rare medical condition. I can’t say it better than her: FMH truly can go to hell.

I fired my first therapist and am now on my second. Anyway, this new one has been treating me for trauma using a technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). We’ve had four sessions so far. Last week I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if it was working. She pulled out her handwritten notes and studied my scale ratings. “Well, at your first session, your distress level was a 10 and last time you were at a 6 so that proves it’s helping.” How does she know it’s the EMDR helping and not the passage of time?

This Thursday is DBC (Dead Baby Club). That isn’t really what it’s called. Obviously. I still have a handful of people who I haven’t scared away. People I knew before my loss who aren’t in the DBC. But now that I’m in the DBC I feel most comfortable around other people who are surviving. I’m only 100 days in.  Some of them have been DBC members for years. I can’t even fathom how I will feel next week let alone in months or years. Or decades.

So I’ve survived 100 days. In the next 100 days I will resume my full-time working hours. My daughter will start pre-kindergarten. Leaves will begin to change color and fall from the trees. I will be participating in a fundraising walk in October for National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. We’ll go to my favorite fall fair (no rides, just agriculture and hippies). We’ll head to Nashville for a wedding. My daughter will finalize her Halloween costume (Rapunzel? Pony? Will keep you posted). We’ll begin to think about winter because here, where we are in New England, we could potentially get snow in early November. And we’ll pack for our trip to Florida because 100 days from now takes us right to Thanksgiving. 

100 days.

Perspective

Today a woman, 40+ weeks pregnant, remarked to me that her first child weighed 10+ pounds and she delivered vaginally. She then went on to explain how painful it was and how she hopes that her next baby won’t weigh that much.

I jumped out of my chair and slapped her across the face, screaming:

“DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS MORE PAINFUL? DELIVERING A DEAD BABY!”.

You’re right, I didn’t really do that. But I wanted to.

Dear Boss From Hell

*Disclaimer: I may be reading too much (nah, no such thing) chickydoodles as I have slipped in some profanity (not much, don’t worry).

Dear Boss from Hell:

When you asked  me how my first day back went and I said “okay”, that was a lie. Here’s what I wish I could have said to you:

  1. I find it completely unrealistic that you expected me to jump right back into taking WIC appointments. I know this comes from a truly selfish place in your soul (wait….do you have one?). The excuses of being “short-staffed” due to “staff resignation and vacations” means NOTHING to me. I don’t give a rat’s ass that you are stressed out about how full the schedule is. FIGURE IT OUT. Today should have been purely about me transitioning back in–reacquainting myself with my office, my computer, checking my email, looking at the fuck-up of a job you did on the medical formula prescription log, and reviewing my high risk participants. Basically, you should have just pretended that I wasn’t there. Yes, I realize that would mean that you would need to see clients. SUCK IT UP. You have three living children to go home to.
  2. When you said that you wanted my transition back to work to be “as smooth as possible”, was that you pretending to care? At the time you said it, I thought that you were being sincere. I realized how insincere you actually were a mere hour later. Expecting me to take an appointment with a postpartum mom and her newborn on my first day back to work after delivering my dead baby was cruel. To respond with “there’s nobody else to take them” and “you want me to take that appointment?” was cruel and unprofessional.
  3. When you say “I can’t imagine how hard this must be,” that is a lie. You CAN imagine but you choose not to. Whereas most people choose not to imagine how hard my situation is because it is absolutely horrific, I believe that you choose not to imagine because you don’t know what empathy is. Let me explain it to you. Empathy is when you try to understand someone else’s situation from their perspective, the so-called “walk a mile in their shoes.” I would not expect you to say “I understand how you feel.” In fact I would find that insulting because in fact, you cannot understand how I feel unless you have purposefully become pregnant, carried a baby for 40 weeks, been told that baby died, then pushed her out of your body. You cannot begin to understand unless an urn containing your baby’s ashes sits on your dresser (or her body is buried underground). You cannot understand unless your breasts have leaked milk with no baby to feed. However, you can imagine. You can close your eyes and remember your own pregnancies, labor, and postpartum period. Now picture your precious baby without a beating heart, silent, cold, dead. Imagine planning a funeral for your baby. Imagine writing an obituary for a life that never had a chance to live outside your body. Imagine explaining to your living child that there isn’t going to be a baby sister after all.  I have never experienced the death of a parent but I have experienced what it is like to have parents, I have experienced grief, and I have watched my parents plan memorial services and “make arrangements” for their own parents, therefore I can imagine what this might feel like. I will not know what it feels like until it happens.
  4. Expecting me to come up with an appropriate schedule for the future is unrealistic. I take each moment as it comes. In the beginning it was literally moment by moment. Then hour by hour. Then chunks of a few hours. Then one day at a time. Now I can take maybe three consecutive days at a time and imagine how that will go. I do not know how I will feel on August 10th, 18th, or 21st. Asking me to work a full 8 hour day is also unrealistic at this time. One thing I never understood before my baby’s death is how exhausting grief is. Part of it is the crying; crying takes a lot of energy. Part of it is the sleepless nights. Tossing and turning, thinking about how I’m supposed to have a crib next to the bed with a baby in the crib. I’m supposed to be sleeping because in a few hours I’ll be up nursing. Everything I do takes a tremendous amount of energy. I have a difficult time focusing because in the back of my head is a voice reminding me that I am the mother of a dead baby.  You say you need to know my hours so you can schedule clients. How about this: schedule yourself for clients and if I feel “okay” (because “okay” is as good as it gets these days), then I will see those clients. You don’t know how lucky you are that I have returned to this job.

I am fortunate to work in a building with other people who are empathetic. Although most have not experienced the devastating loss of a baby, they can imagine (there’s that empathy again) how difficult it is for me to return to the workplace where I will inevitably encounter pregnant women and their babies. I welcomed hugs, kind words, flowers and chocolate from co-workers (friends) this morning. I am proud that I stayed for the entire four hours I was scheduled to be there today. And I plan to return tomorrow. But since I can only envision chunks of 3 days at a time, I cannot say whether I will be there on Monday.

Sincerely,

Your Employee who Birthed a Stillborn Baby 12 weeks and 3 days ago