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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Neglected Tragedy

I’ve always been a fairly anxious person. I’m a type-A over-thinker, rarely taking risks. I thoroughly weigh both sides of a decision and research topics thoroughly.  During my first pregnancy I did a lot of reading. A lot. I know many mothers do so I’m uncertain if the amount of reading and research I did was “normal.” Regardless, there was me and Google at all hours of the day and night reading about group B strep, gestational diabetes, cesarean sections, inductions, vacuum extractions, forceps extractions, vaccines, vitamin K, and antibiotics in labor. I researched car seat safety, cribs and crib mattresses, toxins in disposable diapers, bed-sharing, baby gates, child safety products and daycares. I bought cordless blinds for the nursery. Once my daughter was rolling over, I moved her changing mat to the floor and removed her heavy dresser from her nursery. I breastfed for an atypical length of time. I kept her rear-facing in her car seat beyond the age of 3 years. Even now, at age 4, I won’t leave my daughter in the bathtub alone for more than 30 seconds. We don’t own guns. Every winter, my husband rolls his eyes when I give him the repeat lecture about puffy winter coats in the car seat. And years ago, when my husband and I were house hunting, I insisted that we not even consider a home with a swimming pool.

I’m not paranoid. I’m cautious. I’m careful.

And as I’ve said before, I took every precaution during both of my pregnancies.

As a society we are talking about a lot of important issues. We talk about not leaving children alone in hot cars. We talk about vaccinating. We talk about safe sleep. We talk about anchoring furniture to walls. We talk about baby gates. We talk about car seat safety. As a result, change is happening. Deaths and injuries are declining and I think this is amazing. For example, since the launch of the Back to Sleep Campaign in 1994, the rate of SIDS in the United States has decreased by 50%.

But we aren’t talking about stillbirth. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls this a neglected tragedy.

Annually, on average, in the United States:

Number of children who die from strangulation from window blind cords: 11

Number of children who die from furniture and televisions falling on them: 26

Number of children who die as a result of being left in a hot car: 37

Number of children who die from influenza: 37-171

Number of children who die from choking on food: 73

Number of babies who drown in bathtubs: 87

Number of children who die from accidental falls: 140

Number of people who die from listeriosis: 260

Number of children who die from accidental poisoning: 730

Number of people who die from toxoplasmosis: 750

Number of children who die from guns: 1,300

Number of sleep-related infant deaths: 4,000

Number of children under age 12 who die in car accidents: 9,000

Number of stillbirths (28+weeks gestation): 11,260

My point isn’t to minimize the seriousness of senseless tragedies. One dead child is one too many.  I HATE reading stories about children left in hot cars. Or dying in car accidents. Or from unsafe sleeping conditions. I hate it. And I hope you hate it too. But I also want you to hate the neglected tragedy of stillbirth. I want you to hate the fact that, worldwide, 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year. I want you to hate that stillbirth rates in the United Kingdom, France, and Austria are the worst among developed nations. I want you to hate that the stillbirth rate in the United States has not changed in the past 50 years. I want you to hate that the stillbirth rate for African-American women is DOUBLE than for women of other races. I want you to hate that the United States doesn’t value stillbirth research.

I want you to hate this neglected tragedy.

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