5 Things I’m Not Since My Baby Died

“1 in 4”: I couldn’t find a reliable credible source as to where this statistic comes from. The Pregnancy Loss Directory claims the “1 in 4” statistic applies to pregnancy loss at any gestation while this article asserts it is only for miscarriage (without defining the weeks of miscarriage, though commonly it is a loss before week 20). Regardless, I’m not 1 in 4. I’ve even found the name of this blog to be misleading, 1/160 refers to the statistics of stillbirth (intrauterine fetal death after 20 weeks gestation) in the United States (other countries categorize stillbirth at varying gestations). Our best guess is that Corva died around 39+5 due to a massive fetomaternal hemorrhage (FMH). According to this study, a woman has a 1 in 775 chance of a 39 week stillbirth. It’s thought that FMH may not be as rare, occurring in every 1-3 per 1,000 births (~1 in 500 births).

A Mother to an Angel: I don’t believe Corva “grew wings” when she died and transformed into an angel. I don’t assert to be an expert on religion and I don’t practice the Christian religion. However, if one does subscribe to Christianity, note that the Bible is clear that angels and humans are different entities and humans do not become angels when they die. This isn’t to say I am offended by angels. A friend of mine, who years ago had a 2nd trimester loss, sent me this figurine iaicixhzhw6ixysvykuv__51534.1549715191 and sent Astoria a Vermont Teddy Bear dressed like an angel. I also don’t care if other people believe their baby is now an angel and I’m not offended nor do I argue with people about if their baby is an angel.

“Over it”–even 21 months later: I think about my dead baby everyday. To those who respond with “ew, get over it already,” I challenge you to go a day without thinking about one of your children. Just push them right out of your head and your heart. Don’t give them a second thought. Impossible, isn’t it? This isn’t to say that I cry everyday, although lately I’ve had quite a few tears. And it isn’t to say that I ONLY think about Corva. Of course I have other things to think about. But she’s always there.

Replacing my baby: Here I am in the 3rd trimester, mere weeks away from delivery (although it still seems like months). The truth is, if Corva had lived I wouldn’t be pregnant right now–she was to be our last child. Pregnancy after loss is….complex. I find that I can’t succinctly put into words what tumbles in my heart. There is no reconciliation for wanting my dead baby to be here and also desperately wanting this baby to be born alive and to continue living for many many years.

Ungrateful: I know from first hand experience that life can change in an instant. I don’t take that for granted. I thank the universe every single day that Astoria’s heart continues to beat. In the middle of the night when she’s crawling in bed, between my husband and me, I don’t care (too much) that her feet inevitably end up in my face because she’s ALIVE. I put my hand on her chest and feel the rise and fall and I am SO THANKFUL. Every time I feel my baby kick, I say a silent prayer of thanks that this one hasn’t died. So while the world may look at me and judge me for my anger or my grief, know that I AM grateful for what I have. As Angela Miller says, “You better believe any bereaved parent in the world could school you in the art of being thankful.”


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Support Groups

One of the first things I did after the birth and death of Corva, was seek out support. I wanted to know–no I needed to know–that there were others surviving this nightmare. The hospital had given me contact information for a local support group, but I actually knew of the group’s existence prior to my loss. As a WIC nutritionist,  I referred clients to the group, not frequently, but often enough considering the 1 in 4 statistic.  I didn’t really know what the group did though.

The support group in my area specific to baby loss welcomes bereaved parents who have lost a baby at any gestational age, and after birth up until age one.  They meet monthly. The first meeting post loss arrived ten days after Corva’s delivery. I went, though it was the same day that earlier, in my grief stricken state, I left my purse in a friend’s car and it was stolen (the purse, not the car). So it had been an exhausting day, complete with a panic attack and a police report. There was one person at the group that night–Elisha–and I found immediate comfort from her. She sat with me for over an hour and for that I am forever grateful.

After that initial meeting, I attended four more meetings. I also went with several other moms to get coffee, attended a butterfly release and a social dinner out.  In October I attended a remembrance walk for infant loss awareness month.

Then I started to feel angry and frustrated.

First there was the prayer. Now, I’m not a stranger to prayer; after all I pray everyday, to a God  I ambiguously believe in, that I will die before my eldest daughter. At this walk in October, a board member of the support group, we’ll call her Jenny, said some touching words then invited her husband to say a prayer before the walk. This fueled so much anger within me.

Then I started reflecting on the stories. I’m not saying that my loss is worse or greater or more painful than anyone else’s. I only say the following because I cannot relate to these losses. Each month at support group, we went around the circle, saying our name and “as much of your story as you wish to share.” I got so tired of hearing those stories. (All names have been changed). There was Ashley, one of the leaders, who portrays her loss as further along than it actually was. Jenny, who lost her daughter with congenital defects at 19 weeks. Shaina, who delivered prematurely due to complications of preeclampsia at 23 weeks but whose son lived for 10 days. Tara who experienced an ectopic pregnancy in the first trimester. And Elisha who lost her beautiful twins at 20 weeks due to an infection.

And then there is me. Me, who carried my beautiful wanted baby for 40 weeks. Me, who had no complications during that time. Me, whose baby was healthy and growing (until she wasn’t). Me, whose baby lived only inside me, who did not get any sort of acknowledgment of life.

Elisha was the mother who was present at my first meeting. She was the one who was there for me, the one I connected with by default. On that unusually hot day in May, she was the one who watched my tears fall, who listened without judgement. She was the one who demonstrated survival.

Elisha’s story is complex–and it’s not mine to share. And, although, I am thrilled that she is carrying a successful pregnancy, it hurts to no end that she is due May 5, 2018–almost exactly one year (May 8, 2017) after my due date for Corva. I just can’t bring myself to watch her growing belly each month at a support group for infant loss.

So I stopped going.


Tell me about your in-person support groups.

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?

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. 

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?

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?

 

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?