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?

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

Ch-Ch-Changes

There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were. —Dwight D. Eisenhower

Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the phrase bereaved mother. Unlike some, who become mother and bereaved mother simultaneously, my experience was subsequent–my eldest daughter made me a mother first and then my second daughter made me a bereaved mother. A co-worker recently made a comment on my Facebook page “Hope to see you soon…really miss your humor.” I thought to myself: Who am I now? Do I still have a sense of humor? How has becoming a bereaved mother changed my identity?

When I became a mother four years ago it was life-changing. My birth experience, while not exactly what I had planned, was empowering. I cherished every moment of my maternity leave–waking in the dark summer night, nursing my baby, listening to the frogs, owls, and our neighbors’ new puppy. Yes, I was tired (exhausted). Yes, my days were filled with loads of laundry, explosive diaper changes, and lots of spit up. But I loved nursing my baby. I loved watching her sleep. I loved adorning her in beautiful summer dresses (we had many outfit changes, you know, because of the explosive diapers and the spit up).

Delivering my second daughter was also life-changing and empowering.  And devastating. When I heard those words “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat,” I immediately thought, I want a C-section. This was not offered to me and I was told that it was better for me to deliver naturally. My brain knew this but my heart, my heart could not comprehend how I was going to do what was being asked of me. Since surgery was off the table, I decided I wanted whatever medication they would give me. Upon admission, my nurses hooked up my saline lock and administered Stadol to alleviate some of my discomfort. By the time the anesthesiologist came to my room several hours later, it was too late to get any additional medication. After 24 minutes of pushing, there she was, all 7 lb 2 oz of beautiful baby girl. I had a new word to describe myself. I would continue to be woman, daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, aunt, and mother. Now I was also bereaved mother.

Commonly referred to as “the club”, I have seen many variations: Bereaved Mothers’ Club; Loss Mama Club; The Club Nobody Wants to Join; and others which include fathers and tease out specifics between miscarriage to stillbirth to losing an adult child.

I recently observed two women–years out from their losses–commiserate about a constant feeling of absence. They spoke of a need to continue having babies because of this hole, this knowledge that a child is missing from their family. Always missing yet irreplaceable. And then it hit me:

I will be a bereaved mother for the REST OF MY LIFE.

This is part of me, part of who I am and I am powerless to change it.

A great comfort to me is knowing that I am not alone. There are others who have gone before me (and unfortunately, more will follow). This is a disturbing thought–to gain comfort as a result of other parents’ heartache–though I have been told that it is “normal.” I get more comfort from my support group than my therapist. I now belong to a multitude of “loss” and “grief” Facebook pages. I love reading all of your blogs. And after watching the movie Jackie, I wanted–needed–to know who else has survived this tragedy of child-loss.

Legendary Jackie Kennedy suffered a stillbirth, a miscarriage, and the death of Baby Patrick at two days old.  The singer Annie Lennox delivered  a stillborn son, Daniel. Gladys Presley delivered twin boys–one stillborn (Jesse) and one living (Elvis). Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower lost a son, Doud “Ikky” to scarlet fever when he was just 3 years old. Mary, became a bereaved mother when her only son, Jesus, was publicly executed at the age of 33 years.

My own grandmother (who died before I was born) was a “Loss Mama.” My mom rarely speaks of an infant brother who passed away at 7 weeks of age in 1955. After my own experience, she told me it was the only time she ever saw her daddy cry. Two of my mom’s aunts were pregnant that summer and my grandma was trying to be happy for her sister and sister-in-law while her own baby boy was in the ground. “My poor mother,” said my own mom, “my poor daughter.”

What in your life has changed the most since the loss of your beloved? Have people in your life made comments on how you are a different person now? Do you view the changes as positive, negative, both, or neither? What do you call your “club”?

35 Songs for a Grieving Parent

“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.” ~Maya Angelou

I’ve been moving rapidly through the Stages of Grief and what better way to commiserate than to turn up the music and cry (or scream or throw things or sob into pillows, well I think you have the general idea).  My current favorite is #29 below, “Stars” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. This really speaks to what my heart is feeling right now. If you are so inclined to listen to a truly gorgeous version, click here

I would love, love, love to know what songs are resonating with you as you journey through your own personal hell (I mean grief). Please comment below. 

  1.  A Falling Through–Ray LaMontagne
  2. All of the Stars–Ed Sheeran
  3. Angel–Sarah McLachlan
  4. Ave Maria–Beyonce
  5. Beam Me Up–P!nk
  6. Dancing in the Sky–Dani and Lizzy
  7. Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play That Part–Ryan Adams
  8. Emma’s Lullaby–Kenzie Nimmo
  9. Far Away–Nickelback
  10. Fly–Celine Dion
  11. Fly Away–Amy Lynn
  12. Godspeed (Sweet Dreams)–Dixie Chicks
  13. Gone Too Soon–Simple Plan
  14. Held–Natalie Grant
  15. I Want You Here–Plum
  16. I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song)–Selah
  17. I Will Follow You Into the Dark–Death Cab for Cutie
  18. I Will Follow You Into the Dark (Cover)–Jasmine Thompson
  19. I Will Not Say Goodbye–Danny Gokey
  20. I’ll Be There–Escape Club
  21. If I Die Young–The Band Perry
  22. Let It Be–The Beatles
  23. Lullaby–Dixie Chicks
  24. Not Right Now–Jason Gray
  25. One More Day–Rocket Club
  26. Safe & Sound–Taylor Swift with The Civil Wars
  27. See You Again–Carrie Underwood
  28. Smallest Wingless–Craig Cardiff
  29. Stars–Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
  30. Still–Gerrit Hofsink
  31. To Where You Are–Josh Groban
  32. Waiting on an Angel–Ben Harper
  33. When a Heart Breaks–Ben Rector
  34. When You Come Back Down–Nickel Creek
  35. Winter Song–Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson

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?

Fetal Heart Rate: Not Detected

I killed my baby. Not directly, not intentionally, but my inactions caused her death. Apparently I have left the “Anger” stage (for now) and have delved right into the “Bargaining” stage.

My first inclination that something wasn’t right was on my 37th birthday. I was 37 weeks and 4 days. It was a Friday night.  My husband and I were laying on the futon mattress on the floor in our daughter’s room. We were trying to get her to lay down but she was too busy playing. “I’m not feeling the baby move much,” I remarked to my husband. I had a busy day at work and hadn’t been paying close attention to whether or not she had been moving. He reassured me that the baby was fine, that there probably just wasn’t much room in there. I got up to get some cold water and lay on my left side. Was that movement? I texted my midwife. (You can read more about my midwife here). She wrote back “Babies have less room to move as they get bigger. It is not uncommon for there to be gradual decrease in the strength of their movements. But it shouldn’t be abrupt and the frequency should not decrease…If there is a noticeable decrease in movement, you may want to go in for an ultrasound to check things out. You could wait until tomorrow or you could go in tonight depending on how concerned you are. What does your gut say?”

My gut said we should go in–better to be safe than sorry. But that’s not what I did. I didn’t go in for an ultrasound. I wanted to believe that my baby was moving, that she was okay. My husband kept saying “I’m sure she’s fine.” And I wanted to believe him.

My second inclination came four days later.  My midwife came over for a prenatal appointment and I distinctly remember her moving the Doppler around on my belly, finding a heartbeat and, pausing, she said “I guess that’s her heartbeat?” But was it my baby’s heartbeat or was it mine?

One week later, my husband became sick. Very sick. He stayed home from work for two days, and that says a lot, he doesn’t miss work. I was concerned as he had a few of these episodes prior and I thought perhaps it was his gallbladder or appendix. On Saturday morning I insisted that we have things checked out. I’ll spare you the details, only to say that he was admitted to the hospital overnight for observation and is presently fine. This is only important to mention because while I was fretting about my husband and caring for my living child, my baby was dying inside my body.

I requested my records from my midwife and they arrived in the mail today. There it is, in her scratchy printing (because she still hand writes her charts even though everyone else in the world is using i-pads and smartphones):

5/8/17

Fetal Heart Rate: Not detected.

Baby suspected dead at 9:30 am. Baby confirmed dead by ultrasound around 11 am

Apparently normal, healthy baby had died at least two days prior. Mother thought she was still feeling the baby move. Absent FHT [fetal heart tones] at normal prenatal visit on 5/8/17 was the first indication of fetal demise.

Stillborn–known dead

 

If only I had….

How have you managed any guilt you feel from your grieving experience?

The Dresser

My first daughter was born in May 2013. I had planned it that way, so that I could have the summer off for maternity leave. It was perfect (other than the fact that we don’t have air conditioning in our house and it was a bit humid that summer). My husband has a more relaxed schedule in the summer and that year he was able to work mostly from home, calling in for conference calls as needed, with the occasional trip into the office. It worked well, he would put our girl in the Boba and water the garden while I snagged a nap.

So when we finally decided to take the plunge and have our second child, I wanted another spring baby. We became pregnant in August with an expected arrival for the beginning of May. Having our second child at the same time as our first was perfect–another summer maternity leave, and another girl, to boot. We didn’t need much–I had kept everything from my first daughter “just in case.” I did end up purchasing an infant wrap to use in addition to the more structured carrier we already had. My cloth diapers were a bit tired so I mailed them off to a seamstress to have the elastic replaced. We received a few gifts–a blanket that my mom’s cousin cross-stitched; a pink and white polka-dotted dress from one of my husband’s colleagues; a yellow duck “lovey” from friends; and a Target gift card from my coworkers. We purchased a dresser to house our layette.

We didn’t have a nursery for this baby. I had asked my daughter if she wanted to move her bedroom downstairs and give her upstairs room to the baby but she said “maybe when I’m 5,” so we kept her room as is, down the hall from ours, and set up the crib in the corner of our large master bedroom and the dresser across the way.  On April 9th, when I was 35 weeks and 6 days, my almost-4-year-old and I found the tiny baby clothes and blankets in a dusty box in the garage. I washed them all and she helped me fold them and put them away. We hung up the dresses on hangers.  She especially loved a white dress that she had worn as a baby. “When the baby comes, I’m going to dress her in this bootiful dress and these cute socks and this pink headband.” She declared. And everyday she would open the drawers and peek inside to make sure the socks and headband were there and the dress was still hanging in the closet.

But then our baby died and my daughter did not get to dress her baby sister in that outfit.

On June 25th, 6 weeks and 6 days after the worst day of my life, I sobbed as I packed up all those clothes. The tiny socks. The soft cotton onesies. The patterned cloth diapers. The beautiful dresses. I felt like I was packing up my broken heart. What I didn’t pack away were the gifts meant for this baby–the cross-stitched blanket; the polka-dotted dress; the yellow duck. And the white dress, pink headband, and tiny socks that her older sister selected for her first outfit. Along with a memory box from the hospital,–with tiny footprints inked inside– and my daughter’s ashes, it’s all I have left.

 

What physical memories have you held onto? What have you let go?