On Friendship 

ACT 1

Today a coworker, let’s call her Fran, came into work with her newborn. I saw her down the hall showing him off to two other coworkers. I quickly slipped into my office and closed the door. No way was I going to handle that well. Later, a friend told me that Fran had been looking for me specifically. Eek.

The thing is, I feel like Fran should know better. She’s the one who wanted my address so she could send me an invitation to her baby shower. (Clue #1: no response to the text). She’s also someone who rescued me from taking baby appointments during the 22 days I worked at WIC post-loss. (Clue #2: me bawling in my office after seeing a baby). Later, this afternoon I noticed an envelope in the box on my office door. Thinking it was from someone else, I opened it. A thank you card. With a  photo collage postcard of her living baby. Pre-loss, I magneted photo cards like this onto our fridge.   Uh-uh. No way. I tried to pawn off the card on my living daughter but she had her own choice words to say about that baby. What the hell am I supposed to do with this card?

ACT 2

Six weeks after my loss, a friend, let’s call her Holly, phoned to tell me she is pregnant. (A rough way to receive such news, as I desperately held back tears while congratulating her). And even though I have known this woman for nine years, and even though she was one of the first people to reach out to me in my grief and offer her support, I have drawn back from her. I have stopped responding to her texts. I have neglected to return her phone calls. Last week I had a meeting in the building where she works and I couldn’t bring myself to stop by her office. 

Fran and Holly didn’t dump in or say hurtful platitudes. All they did was get pregnant and deliver (or expect to deliver) a living baby. However, I selfishly don’t want anything to do with either of these people. I don’t want to see them or talk to them and I CERTAINLY don’t want to see their babies.  This is incredibly unfair to both of them. 

Then again, it is incredibly astronomically unfair that my baby died.


In the midst of your grief, did you lose friends as a result of circumstance? Were the friendships eventually mended?


 

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The Ring Theory 

When tragedy hits, people often don’t know what to say or do. Some grief-stricken individuals will reassure others that saying something is better than saying nothing. I don’t agree with this, although I can understand the good intentions behind it. I think what people mean when they say “It’s better to say something, even the wrong thing, than nothing at all” is that they wish for others to acknowledge their loss, they wish for their loved one to be remembered and they don’t want that awkward “elephant in the room” feeling. However, saying the wrong thing can be devastating, even going so far as to destroy relationships. One of the best resources on this topic that I have found is this one. To summarize the ring theory “in a nutshell”: comfort in, dump out. When I apply this theory to my own situation, I place myself in the middle. Directly around me is my husband and living daughter. Surrounding them, our parents, then close friends and family, and so-on. The most important part of the theory is this:

“The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring. Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.”

I had a few people “dump in” on me, but only once did it affect me enough to destroy a relationship.

A pregnant friend (and my hired home birth midwife) disclosed to me that she had been having panic attacks since my delivery. She told me that her partner, the father of her baby, was asking her to cease communicating with me as he was concerned that the stress of my situation was affecting their baby. She was having panic attacks? My daughter died. She died. In my body. My “friend” also told me that she was grieving for my baby. She was grieving for my baby? Yes, it was valid for her to feel this way (I realize this now). BUT it was absolutely NOT ok for her to “dump in” on me.

I felt guilty. If something happened to her baby, it would be my fault. I had ruined her life by delivering a stillborn baby. I had caused her undue stress. Her stress was going to harm her baby and it would be my fault.  These are the irrational thoughts that consume someone who is grieving.

And I felt (still feel) angry. Extremely angry. Like, irrationally angry.

Crazy angry.

Our communication ended, along with our friendship.

Before our friendship ended, this is what she told me: “So much love to you, my friend. I’m holding you all in my heart every moment and I will walk with you as you put one foot in front of the other. {{{hug}}}”

That was a lie. A promise she could not keep.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.


Did you ever experience someone “dumping in” on you during your grief? How did you handle it? Did it affect your relationship?


 

Parenting After Loss

I was a mother before I became a bereaved mother. I recall in my early post-loss days, one mother, who had lost her firstborn and then went on to have a second child, commenting that it must be much more heartbreaking for me, having a living child first then losing my second-born.  I’m not sure about that. I  only have personal experience on losing my second, but my (unprofessional, inexperienced) opinion is that losing a baby sucks, period.

These are just a few observations that may be a bit unique to someone who had a living child/children prior to their loss.

On Being a Big Sister:

A seems to think that being a “big sister” is a milestone, something that all girls get to be someday (despite pointing out examples of people she knows who aren’t big sisters). This has produced comments through the years like: “that’s the big sister box,” (referring to a box of too-big clothes stored in the top of my closet) and “when I’m a big sister, I will put the pacifier in the baby’s mouth.” This obviously raises the question of whether or not she is now a big sister. We certainly count Baby C as a member of our family. I refer to her as my youngest daughter. But it’s not as simple as that. After all, A isn’t putting pacifiers in mouths, singing songs to Baby C, or keeping her entertained in the backseat of the car. Even now, she begins sentences with “When I’m a big sister…”

And then there’s the fact that A never ‘met’ her sister. Although we spent nine long months preparing her to be a big sister, she never saw that tiny baby she was looking forward to meeting. I feel like this has made the entire experience very abstract for her.

On Explaining Death:

After Baby C died, my husband and I were faced with the task of explaining there wouldn’t be a baby living with us after all. A’s only previous experience with death involved Nemo, her classroom Betta Fish. Everything I read about explaining death to children detailed being very blunt and honest. So I was. But for days after, A would ask when the doctors would fix Baby C so she could come home.

And 10 weeks later: “If a people dies you don’t grow and grow anymore, you just die and you don’t have your birthday anymore.” (Birthdays are a HUGE deal).

On Mama Guilt:

In the earliest days, I felt TONS of guilt that I wasn’t able to pull myself out of bed for my living daughter. Mother’s Day was 6 days after I delivered, and I spent the ENTIRE day curled up in bed crying. I’m hoping this isn’t a memory that sticks in my child’s head

I often worry that A will become damaged from my grief. It cannot be healthy for a child to continually witness her mother crying.

On Triggers:

Having a living child meant that, once I was able to remove myself from my dark bedroom, I was expelled into the world, no longer able to hide myself away from tiny babies and pregnant bellies. There were many tears held back in the middle of Target, parks, birthday parties, beaches, daycare, and Story Land. One day at my daughter’s gymnastics lesson, a mom was hiding in the corner breastfeeding and I started to cry. For that one specific example, I must have twenty more.

Audio books.  Junie B. Jones. This one that my daughter LOVES but makes me cry every.single.time. I asked her why she loves it so much. Her response? “Because I love babies so SO much!”

On Empathy:

One night I was crying, not just the streaming tears crying–it was the all-out loud sobbing crying. A gave me one of her dolls to cuddle and when my husband asked me what was wrong, she said “she wants Baby C,” something I had not explicitly said to her. She wiped my tears and patted my face. It was the most amazing thing to witness a 4 year old express such empathy for another human. I’m not sure that can be taught.

On Being “Thankful More Than Thankful Has Ever Been Thanked”:

I often gaze at A in absolute awe. She’s alive. I lay my hand on her chest to feel the rise and fall. I listen close to hear her breathe. I kiss her temple. How? How could I deliver one amazing child, alive, and yet my sweet baby was cruelly jerked away from my loving arms? But in the midst of “why me” “it’s not fair” and “F-you, Universe,” I  truly am “thankful to the nth degree” (credit: Angela Miller–and if you haven’t read her writings, DO IT NOW!)

 

What insights have you found in parenting after loss? Is there anything you find to be unique about parenting your living child? Or, if your loss was your first-born, what do you think is unique about your story?

One Year Ago

I wrote this post last week but wanted to obtain permission from the people I referenced prior to posting, hence the delay.

Sept 6, 2017

One year ago today, I was scrolling through Facebook. I’m not even sure how I saw this particular Facebook post from a local photographer. She had posted a picture of a heartbroken mother, face buried in encircled arms over a tiny coffin. The text read:

“I know this page is known for being filled with gushing happiness and precious newborn goodness, and I love when people at the grocery store come up to me and say they subscribe to my page because the chubby babies always make their days…….but I feel like I need to share a little piece of the other side of my work, my non-profit project– Born To Fly. Not because I want to spread sadness, but because this mother wants a certain message spread loud and clear. And if you’re like me, it will make you hug your children a little tighter. My dear friend had to do something on Sunday that no mother should ever have to do. She buried her perfect, beautiful newborn daughter. I can’t even put into words the type of pain that was written all over her face that day, but this photo speaks a thousand words to me. It speaks deep sadness, but it also speaks a louder message….cherish.your.children.  Cherish every day you have with them. Cherish the good, the hard, and even the ugly of motherhood. Hug your babies a little tighter….if for nobody else, do it for my friend.”

I remember reading that message, looking at that picture, and thinking of my own children. My daughter, 3 years old, at the time, and the new, sesame seed-sized life growing inside me. Tears fell as I wrote this comment:

I don’t know you, but my heart breaks for you.  There is no word to describe a parent who loses a child. Sending healing thoughts to you and your loved ones. Your pictures are beautiful.

Who knew that 35 weeks later, I would find myself in the same devastating circumstance? Who knew that 35 weeks later that very same amazing photographer would enter my hospital room to capture my own tragic loss? She told me about a woman who had also experienced the heartbreak of a full-term stillbirth. Another mom who was surviving this nightmare. On May 10th, two days after I, myself, became a bereaved mother, this other mom reached out to me. Not until today did I make the connection that she was the same mother I offered condolences to one year ago.

I don’t know what, if anything, this means. Maybe it means nothing. Or maybe it means be nice to other people. Or we’re all connected. Or don’t take anything for granted. Or maybe it’s a reminder that we never know what the future holds.

Or that we are all vulnerable to heartbreak.

 

Neglected Tragedy

I’ve always been a fairly anxious person. I’m a type-A over-thinker, rarely taking risks. I thoroughly weigh both sides of a decision and research topics thoroughly.  During my first pregnancy I did a lot of reading. A lot. I know many mothers do so I’m uncertain if the amount of reading and research I did was “normal.” Regardless, there was me and Google at all hours of the day and night reading about group B strep, gestational diabetes, cesarean sections, inductions, vacuum extractions, forceps extractions, vaccines, vitamin K, and antibiotics in labor. I researched car seat safety, cribs and crib mattresses, toxins in disposable diapers, bed-sharing, baby gates, child safety products and daycares. I bought cordless blinds for the nursery. Once my daughter was rolling over, I moved her changing mat to the floor and removed her heavy dresser from her nursery. I breastfed for an atypical length of time. I kept her rear-facing in her car seat beyond the age of 3 years. Even now, at age 4, I won’t leave my daughter in the bathtub alone for more than 30 seconds. We don’t own guns. Every winter, my husband rolls his eyes when I give him the repeat lecture about puffy winter coats in the car seat. And years ago, when my husband and I were house hunting, I insisted that we not even consider a home with a swimming pool.

I’m not paranoid. I’m cautious. I’m careful.

And as I’ve said before, I took every precaution during both of my pregnancies.

As a society we are talking about a lot of important issues. We talk about not leaving children alone in hot cars. We talk about vaccinating. We talk about safe sleep. We talk about anchoring furniture to walls. We talk about baby gates. We talk about car seat safety. As a result, change is happening. Deaths and injuries are declining and I think this is amazing. For example, since the launch of the Back to Sleep Campaign in 1994, the rate of SIDS in the United States has decreased by 50%.

But we aren’t talking about stillbirth. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls this a neglected tragedy.

Annually, on average, in the United States:

Number of children who die from strangulation from window blind cords: 11

Number of children who die from furniture and televisions falling on them: 26

Number of children who die as a result of being left in a hot car: 37

Number of children who die from influenza: 37-171

Number of children who die from choking on food: 73

Number of babies who drown in bathtubs: 87

Number of children who die from accidental falls: 140

Number of people who die from listeriosis: 260

Number of children who die from accidental poisoning: 730

Number of people who die from toxoplasmosis: 750

Number of children who die from guns: 1,300

Number of sleep-related infant deaths: 4,000

Number of children under age 12 who die in car accidents: 9,000

Number of stillbirths (28+weeks gestation): 11,260

My point isn’t to minimize the seriousness of senseless tragedies. One dead child is one too many.  I HATE reading stories about children left in hot cars. Or dying in car accidents. Or from unsafe sleeping conditions. I hate it. And I hope you hate it too. But I also want you to hate the neglected tragedy of stillbirth. I want you to hate the fact that, worldwide, 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year. I want you to hate that stillbirth rates in the United Kingdom, France, and Austria are the worst among developed nations. I want you to hate that the stillbirth rate in the United States has not changed in the past 50 years. I want you to hate that the stillbirth rate for African-American women is DOUBLE than for women of other races. I want you to hate that the United States doesn’t value stillbirth research.

I want you to hate this neglected tragedy.