Christmas Conundrum

The conundrum being this: how do I include my absent (dead) baby in my holiday traditions? One of the nagging topics in my head has been honoring Corva at Christmas. Obviously, I do not have a living 7 ½ month old baby in my home to open gifts (or have her older sister open gifts for her). Initially I thought I would purchase gifts for Corva from Santa. Then I vetoed that idea–what would we do with the gifts? Somehow, I needed to be able to give gifts to someone in honor of Corva.

My parents never honored St. Nicholas DayThat is, Santa came to our house only on Christmas Eve, December 24th. However, I did have a childhood friend who had a St. Nick visit on December 5th, and it was a tradition during my husband’s childhood, so hey, why not? (Coincidentally? Both my childhood friend and my husband were raised in Catholic homes. Is this a Catholic tradition?)

This year St. Nick came to our house on December 5th (in actuality, a hungover mommy awoke sometime around 1 am on December 6th and pulled the gift bag from the spare room closet). There were small gifts in the bag: chapstick, fruit snacks, Christmas socks. And a card:

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Several days later, I sought out the Salvation Army table at my local mall and found this tag, for a baby girl, 8 months old. Just about the same age Corva would be, had she lived.

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This evening, my living daughter and I went to TJ Maxx and acquired our loot:
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I hope that I am instilling something good in my living daughter, not something desperate and depressing, though I often wonder. I will add to this gift, but I am satisfied that Astoria was able to come with me to choose some toys and books for this baby–toys and books that she would have chosen for her baby sister.


How do you honor your deceased loved one during the winter holiday season? If you are newly bereaved, has it been a struggle to identify new traditions for your family?

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Grief and the Holidays

In the weeks leading up to the winter holiday season, I saw social media posts and blog posts on “surviving grief during the holidays.” Other “loss moms” hosted “live chats”. But I had no idea how the holidays would hit me. After all, I have minimal memories with Corva. Perhaps that is what makes baby-loss such a different type of loss. One year ago, I was 18 weeks pregnant. I didn’t yet know if we would have a baby boy or another girl (although Astoria desperately wanted a sister and vowed that a brother would go to the dungeon!) While pregnant, I shopped, wrapped, and assembled an ice castle! I dreamt of what the holiday season would be for our family one year later. I certainly never imagined that I would be grieving the death of my precious baby.

Honestly, I was rooting for skipping Christmas this year. It’s just too painful to think about what “should have been”. But Astoria is at such an age where Christmas is so magical and she is so excited. I don’t believe I have ever put my tree up this early in the season.

Christmas looks a bit different for me this year. I spent a good amount of time attempting to create a holiday photo card on Shutterfly the other day. But feeling neither merry nor happy, I couldn’t come up with a good phrase for the card. I was going to say something about peace, but I’m not feeling very peaceful either. So then I just said, fuck it.

But we have a tree. And plans to bake cookies for Santa. My daughter wears a Santa hat and skips around the house singing “Jingle Bells.” So this is Christmas 2017.


How have holidays changed for you in your post-grief life?

Not Ready to Make Nice

The other morning, as my daughter and I were heading down the garage steps to get into the Jeep, she stopped abruptly and plopped herself on the top step, crying. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “You stepped on me!” she wailed. I did? I didn’t think I was anywhere near her but perhaps I did step on the heel of her shoe. I didn’t argue with her because her perception was that I had hurt her, even if in my mind I wasn’t near her at all. Instead, I sat down next to her and gathered her in my arms. “I am so sorry, I did not mean to hurt you. Will you forgive me?” And then it occurred to me: “Do you know what forgive means?”

These are my most candid moments as a parent–the ones where I really have to stop and think about something in order to carefully explain it in 4-year-old terms. What does it mean to forgive?

I explained that when we forgive someone, we still love them even if they hurt us.

Okay, it’s not the most complete definition, but it was the best I could devise on the spot with minimal coffee.

But really, forgiveness is much more complex. For me, related to the death of my baby, forgiveness is muddled with anger, betrayal, sadness, and guilt. I’m angry with my midwife, I’m angry with myself, I’m angry with the universe.

FORGIVENESS:

“A conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”

Wow. How does a person even start? To forgive my midwife. To forgive myself. To forgive the situation that nobody can change. 

Why does it matter? Why can’t I live the rest of my life harboring this guilt, anger, and bitterness? Advice about forgiveness abounds. We hear it from psychologists, poets, religious leaders and our mothers.


But all of these feel-good sunshiny quotes I found online–I say “Eff you.”

My baby died.

My heart hurts.

I just cannot make myself forgive that easily.

I’m still mad as hell.


Is there anyone you haven’t been able to forgive? Have any of you been able to forgive someone without receiving an apology? Has anyone received an apology but still wasn’t able to forgive that person?

Never Safe

Thanksgiving brings some bittersweet memories. Twice, now, I have been pregnant at Thanksgiving time. In 2012, I was 14 weeks pregnant; my husband and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house, my in-laws flying in from Ohio. In 2016 I was 16 weeks pregnant, my husband, daughter and myself flew to Ohio; I puked for the first time on an airplane on our return trip. Both times we announced our pregnancy to family–we were ‘safe’, into the second trimester.

Recently, I saw a post on social media regarding a pregnant woman going past her due date.  The context of the post was over concern that by going past her due date, the baby was in danger of dying. I don’t want to write a blog post on the science of stillbirth risk and gestational age, or the risk of neonatal death to prematurity. Not today, anyway. My personal experience is that my first daughter was born crying and breathing past her due date (41 weeks 1 day according to one due date, 40 weeks 5 days according to the other due date). My second daughter was born silent on her due date, though testing indicated that she likely passed at 39 weeks 5 days. No, today, I want to address the fact that as parents, we are never safe from child loss. Never.

The Coleman family lost their little girl Heidi, just a toddler, drowned in a pond in 1976. 

This mother lost her 12-year-old son while he was playing in a rainstorm. 

Carol Kearns lost her  her 7-year-old daughter to a rogue wave on the Oregon Coast (now I understand my mom’s paranoia). 

Twenty 6 and 7-year-old children lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Anne Frank was 15 years old, her sister Margot, 19, when they died of typhus in a German concentration camp, leaving their father bereaved.

My uncle lost his only daughter when she was 29, due to seizure (my aunt had passed prior, narrowly escaping the heartbreak of becoming a bereaved parent).

Sixteen years ago this month, a college friend was killed in a drunk-driving crash. She was 20 years old.

The point being, there is no safe window. It’s not once you reach the second trimester of pregnancy. It’s not once the baby is delivered, red and crying. It’s not after the baby reaches 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year. It isn’t at age 18 or 21 or 35. These stories ignite the anxious fire in the pit of my stomach.

The fragility of life has never been so apparent to me than it is now.


 

F#@!

*WARNING: POTENTIALLY OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE 

I’ve never been much for swearing but I’ve noticed that since Corva died, I’ve been much more willing to let a fuck fly from my mouth. Usually under my breath and never in front of my living daughter, but still….

I wonder if this stems from anger? Grief? Or just the realization that after one delivers a dead baby, bad language is futile.

How the fuck did this happen?

What the fuck? My baby died.

Why the fuck?

Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. 

Dear Friend

I know I am living–surviving really–your worst nightmare. You know, the one when your baby dies; when the doctor looks you in the eye and confirms what your gut is already screaming “there is no heartbeat.”  That’s what they say, typically, because saying “your baby is dead” sounds callous, though it is the truth.

But your baby didn’t die. You’re not living the nightmare called child loss. Your baby is snuggled on your chest, bum in the air, drowsy from nursing. Your baby is waking you, like clock-work, at 2:00 am every 24 hours. Your baby is dozing in your wrap while you read a book with your older child.

I couldn’t go to your baby shower. I couldn’t watch you unwrap gifts in your pregnancy glory, listen to the guests ooh and aah over all the tiny clothes. Once you had him, I couldn’t hold him. I don’t want to hold your baby–the last baby I held was my own, the one who never opened her eyes, whose tiny hand never clutched my finger. I cannot listen to you complain about sleepless nights or sore nipples, or returning to work after maternity leave. What I wouldn’t give to have those problems. Instead, I’m on Day 180 of crying.

So even though you’ve done nothing, you’ve done everything. You did what I could not do. You had a baby and you were able to bring your baby home, alive. And that is why our friendship will never be the same again. I did not want to change. I did not choose for my baby to die.

This is just me, surviving.

The Walking Volcano

I was about a month old, and living near Seattle, when Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980. In the two months prior to that major eruption, the volcano was active; earthquakes and small eruptions occurred. The mountain was preparing itself for a major explosion.

October has been a difficult month for me, which I didn’t expect. I thought by this time– twenty-five weeks post-delivery–I would be well on my way toward healing. Instead, I feel more discouraged than ever. My anger has become significantly worse and I feel like a walking volcano, ready to erupt. Like Mount St. Helens, I have warning signs, little earthquakes and small explosions happening.

In the checkout line at the grocery store: a sign requesting money for breast cancer research. Boom. What about stillbirth research?

Picking up my anti-depressant prescription refill: tiny pink breast cancer ribbon on the cap. Boom. WHAT ABOUT STILLBIRTH RESEARCH?

At a remembrance walk for infant loss: everyone else with massive teams and me with just my living daughter. Boom. Where are all my friends?

Same remembrance walk: Christian prayer opener. Boom. Eff God.

At a birthday party for my daughter’s classmate: TWO mothers who delivered living babies this past spring. Boom. My baby should be here too.

Infant Loss Awareness Month: My 40-week stillbirth gets lumped in with a 6 week miscarriage. Boom. It’s not comparable.

Reading information about kick-counting and movement monitoring. Boom. I failed my baby. My midwife failed my baby and me.

Knowing my living daughter doesn’t really ‘count’ her sister as a sister.  Boom. Knowing she can’t, it’s not real to her. 

Thinking back to one year ago: nausea, vomiting, misery. Boom. All for nothing. ?

Not talking to friends for weeks because one is pregnant and one has a living baby. Boom. Knowing that our friendships are over because my baby died.

Reliving my entire pregnancy and every decision I made/didn’t make. Boom. Seeing my baby’s urn on my dresser. Boom.

I wonder when/if “the big one” will hit. Will I one day explode? Will I go off the deep end?


How has anger affected your grief process? Have you found healthy ways to manage and process your anger?