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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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.


 

Would She?

It has been six months; six months since I delivered my unbreathing baby. I can’t help but constantly think how my life would be different had she lived. She would still be nursing (likely–I nursed A for….awhile). Would she tug my hair while nursing? Would she like avocado? What would she think of a cup? Would she be rolling across the living room rug? Army crawling? Would she watch my hands carefully as I signed “more”, “cat”, “mama”, “daddy”, “sister”? Would her eyes twinkle with interest while her older sister showed her pictures in a book? Would she have used a pacifier?

How would I be filling my days? Would I be at home with C, occupied with cloth diaper-washing and trips to the library and park, attempting to squeeze in a nap before having to pick-up A from pre-k? Or would I be working? Would I be in this new job? Or would I have stuck with my old job? Would I be trying to work full-time while parenting a baby and a four-year-old? Would I be pulling my hair out, exhausted, not realizing how fortunate I was to have two living children? If I wasn’t working, would money be tight? Would I be budgeting carefully for the holidays?

I never had a chance to live this imagined life. I remember, in the initial shock of the first few days, commenting to my midwife “….but I had plans…” I remember her, gently asking “what kind of plans?”. Even then I remember thinking: What a dumb question. What kind of plans? What does she mean what kind of plans?

When a woman is pregnant (and my midwife was pregnant with her 4th child), she makes plans. When those plans are buried and cremated with her baby, the ashes turn into what-ifs? and would-(s)hes?.

What if she lived? Would she look like her sister?

Does she know she is loved?


What what-ifs? and would-(s)hes? replay through your mind?

BeFunky Collage

(My oldest daughter, A, Oct-Dec 2013–5 months-7 months)

 

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.

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? 

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.