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?

Everybody Gets a Baby! (Not You.)

Us bereaved moms, we are more difficult to identify…but our eyes, they are filled with a despairing grief….And always invisible to the naked eye is her shattered heart.

“Look at that cute baby!” squealed my four-year old. We were at the grocery store.  Looking around, I noticed SO MANY babies. Everywhere I go, I see babies– not only at the grocery store, they also dominate parks, restaurants,  and Target. Their chubby legs teeter around at birthday parties and their parents clog up my Facebook feed with adorable pictures, captioned with milestones my youngest daughter will never experience.  Even G-D Daniel Tiger has a baby sister.  In my daughter’s preschool class alone, three classmates got baby siblings this spring.  In the past two weeks, my daughter and I have visited goat kids and encountered baby ducks in a parking lot. Literally, everybody has a baby.

Ok, I know not literally. It just feels that way to me, because I don’t have my baby.  One day, while watching a mom strap her infant into the carseat, I mused aloud “why does everybody get a baby except for us?”  Since my daughter was with me, she occasionally will repeat this sad phrase–”Why did everyone gotted a baby be-cept for us?”

One can identify a baby easily, even though they are small. The tiny ones are tucked inside car seat carries or strapped to a parent’s chest. Sometimes they are swaddled in a blanket and passed around to other cooing adults. Older ones are in strollers or sitting up in shopping carts, waving and babbling. Even the mom who doesn’t have her baby with her–who was able to sneak away to Target by herself–even she is identifiable. She is the one leaking milk through her shirt, the one with spit-up on her shoulder.  Her hair is unkempt, her makeup not done, barring a little lipstick. She is the one comparing breast milk storage bags and debating which pacifier to purchase.  Her tired eyes glance enviously at me, holding my Starbucks and casually strolling kid-free. What she doesn’t know is that I am on “maternity leave.” A maternity leave without a baby.

Us bereaved moms, we are more difficult to identify. We may still have the unkempt hair and makeup-free face, but our eyes, they are filled with a despairing grief, the delicate skin beneath them dry from rivers of tears. Our mouths may be perpetually turned down or frozen in an anguished wail. If you look closely at this mom, her hair has more white strands than it did prior to her baby’s death. Depending on when she lost her baby, she, too, may have heavy breasts leaking milk that her baby will never drink. What you cannot see are her stretch marks, proof that her body once held a baby.  And always invisible to the naked eye is her shattered heart.

Sometimes it feels like the universe, in Oprah-like fashion, is shrieking “You get a baby! You get a baby! Everybody gets a baby! (Not you).”  Last night as I was laying with my daughter at bedtime, she pondered “Why did everyone gotted a baby be-cept for us?”  I don’t know, sweetheart, I don’t know.

Do you have a pity party for yourself when you see others’ babies? What coping strategies have you found helpful?

Lost Dreams

…I am furious that I do not have memories of my daughter, for when a baby dies, it is dreams that are lost…

 

“I don’t think most people truly understand how much is lost when a baby dies. You don’t just lose a baby, you lose the 1 and 2 and 10 and 16-year-old she would have become. You lose Christmas mornings and loose teeth and the first days of school. You just lose it all.” 

– Stephanie Page Cole

Anger. It’s one of Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief.

Until recently I hadn’t considered how anger and grief intertwined. When my paternal grandma died, the day before her 95th birthday, I was sad but I didn’t feel angry. She had a wonderful and fulfilled life–married to her husband until he passed 21 years prior. She raised two sons, taught for 40 years, and spent time with her 3 grandchildren in her retirement years.  Two years later my maternal grandpa died. He was 86 years old and had suffered from dementia for several years prior to his death.  He had a long life, raised 6 children, worked incredibly hard, and in his later years spent quality time with 12 grandchildren. I felt sad but almost relieved that he was no longer suffering. I wasn’t angry. I have wonderful memories of these grandparents.

But when my baby, my 2nd daughter, died inside my body, when I experienced contractions, nausea and exhaustion while pushing her out, I became furious. Not immediately but weeks later. After the shock and numbness dissipated.

I am filled with rage.

I am angry that when, at 37 weeks, I noticed decreased movement, but convinced myself she was moving normally and didn’t seek medical attention.

I am angry that I was skeptical of the safety of ultrasounds and did not have any in the third trimester.

I am angry that I endured a pregnancy of nausea and vomiting, heartburn, sleep deprived nights, and uncomfortable-ness only to have my baby die.

I am angry that if I were destined to lose my daughter it didn’t happen at 9 weeks, 12 weeks, 18 weeks or 26 weeks. Anything but 40 weeks.

I am angry that I said things like “I’m never doing this again,” “thank goodness this is the last time I’ll ever be pregnant”  and “there won’t be any trying for a boy.”

I am angry that my careful child spacing failed–that my living daughter will either be an only child or not, but she will not sing to, read to, or play with a sibling who is four years younger than her.

I am angry with my body for betraying me and my baby.

I am angry that I failed to keep my baby safe–perhaps the most important job a mother has.

And I am furious that I do not have memories of my daughter, for when a baby dies, it is dreams that are lost.

We’ll go to the beach with a 2 month old and 4-year-old. I’ll have my summer maternity leave with my baby. At Thanksgiving we’ll need to bring two car seats on the plane. Next summer we should visit my parents, the girls will be one year and five years. We’ll go to Disney World when the girls are five and nine. The girls will have each other to play with and color with. Eventually they can have the two downstairs bedrooms. Or will the want to share a room? We should remodel the downstairs bathroom so they have space for hair dryers and makeup…

Lost dreams, lost life. Not just the loss of my baby’s life, the loss of my family, the loss of my dreams for all of us.

What short-term and long-term dreams were lost when your baby died?

1 in 160

She is not snuggled in the Boba wrap I purchased off of a Facebook swap and sell in the parking lot of TJ Maxx. 

One in one hundred sixty. That is how many babies are stillborn in the United States each year. That is 0.00625%. That is 23,600 hearts that stop beating prior to birth. That is 23,600 grieving moms. Per year.

I didn’t know any of this until my second daughter became that statistic. It never crossed my mind in the 40 weeks I carried her in my body that she wouldn’t survive. Stillbirth–the death of a baby in utero beyond 20 weeks gestation–that is something that happens to other families–not mine. After all, I’m a college-educated woman. I don’t smoke or use drugs. I abstain from alcohol while pregnant. I took vitamins before I got pregnant and continued taking them throughout my pregnancy.  I don’t have diabetes or high blood pressure. I had already delivered one healthy child. I planned my pregnancy, this baby was wanted. And surely if a baby is wanted by her family then she should live.

There are a lot of things that really stink about one’s baby dying. There’s the obvious one–my baby is not here with me. She is not snuggled in the Boba wrap I purchased off of a Facebook swap and sell in the parking lot of TJ Maxx. Then there are agonizing questions like should we bury our baby or have her cremated? If she is cremated do we keep her or scatter her? What can a person really say at a memorial service for a baby who never took a breath? How can I possibly write my daughter’s obituary? These are the pieces of infant loss that scream in one’s head. But there are also whispers, quiet reminders of this living nightmare. Silent tears when a Pampers commercial comes on. Watching other moms cuddle their (living) babies. Toting 40 weeks of baby weight without a baby to show for it. Feelings of phantom movement inside my belly. Turning maternity leave into bereavement leave.

One thing that surprised me was how common stillbirth is. Yes, it’s only one out of one hundred sixty births per year. But that is 23,600 hearts that stop beating prior to birth. That is 23,600 grieving moms. Per year. I have had a number of people share with me that it happened to someone they know. Their mom. Their sister. Their aunt. Their friend. Themselves. In sharing this with me, I realize that I am not alone. And if this has happened to you, please know that you are not alone either.

Ten days after I delivered, I attended a local support group for parents who have lost an infant. A week later I received a card in the mail from the only other mom who attended that night. I will leave you with this excerpt from her note “I wanted to remind you that I am still standing and I know many women who are also still standing–not necessarily because it was easy or because we wanted to–but because it is the only choice we have. And it is worth it.”

Are you and your baby a 1 in 160 statistic? Do you blog to heal? I would love to hear from you.