Remember Your Strength 

Capture Your Grief Day 3: Meaningful Mantra

#CaptureYourGrief2017 #WhatHealsYou

My friend, Amanda, gifted me with this gorgeous bracelet, made at Saucy Jewelry. Engraved inside: “Remember Your Strength”. That’s been my mantra since I got it. I wear it everyday. And when things feel too difficult, I touch my bracelet, close my eyes, and tell myself “Remember Your Strength. Corva Florence.”

What’s your mantra? Do you have an ‘anchor’ to ground you? 

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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?


 

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.

 

 Fresh Start

I have been busy purging my office at work–recycling papers I no longer need and boxing up my personal items because….I GOT A NEW JOB! If you have been following for a while, you know that I have struggled with my post-loss return to work. And if you are a new reader, welcome! In a nutshell, I work with moms and their babies AND I have a sociopath for a boss. A new job is very, VERY good news for me. I start next Tuesday.

It’s a strange feeling to be packing up my office after 8 ½ years. When I started my job, I was beginning a new (second) career as a registered dietitian, My first career, as a special education teacher, was short-lived (three years). When I began my career at WIC, I was the youngest on staff, excited and enthusiastic to be making a difference in the lives of families. But now I am bitter and disenchanted; and definitely not the youngest.  Truth be told, I have been looking for a new job for several years, due to the sociopathic boss, but there are few opportunities in my community.  Be it fate, or God (doubtful) or some other force of nature, a new opportunity has landed in my lap. My new supervisor is the exact opposite of sociopathic. Plus, she’s a fellow “loss mama,” part of the DBC–the club nobody wants to be in with the highest dues ever.

I get to keep my benefits and pay rate as an employee of the same municipality I am currently employeed. My paycheck comes out of a different federal grant and not only do I get a new (better, shinier) boss, I also get a bigger office.  Like I said, it’s a good thing.

In other news, I’ve clocked 93 hours since my return.  In hour 92, it happened. The moment I have been dreading since my return to work: 

Client: You had your baby!

Me: Uh, she died.

Client: *shocked look* Oh my gawd, I’m so sorry.

Me: Thank you. All I can do is move forward.

Client: I’m not sure if you remember, I had a miscarriage at 12 weeks. How far along were you?

Me: On my due date. Her heart had stopped.

Client: Anyway, I’ve been running out of formula so I’ve been giving [10 month old infant] whole milk.

And then there was this other mom. Her baby was born on May 4th, 4 days before mine. An adorable girl. I think she was adorable.  I tried my best not to look directly at this baby, this reminder of what my youngest daughter isn’t. I hid behind the woman (girl?) I’m training to replace me.  I tried to focus on walking her through the ridiculous software program I won’t miss. I tried to block out the sounds of the baby. I tried to dissociate myself from the angst. And I did it. I made it through those two very difficult scenarios. I didn’t fall apart until 4:33 when I was safe in my car. 

Four more days.

What was the worst experience you had telling someone about your loss?

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?

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