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.

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Marking Time

Monday January 8, 2018  is an odd sort of coincidental date of triggering thoughts and feelings. First, it is a Monday, marking 35 weeks since Corva was delivered. Second, this 8th of January marks 8 months since the birth of my youngest daughter.

Although Corva was born on her due date, technically she was inside me for 38 weeks. This means that in three weeks, on Monday January 29 (or, likely, Saturday January 27th), Corva will have been dead for as long as she was alive

This weekend was particularly difficult for me. With the days lining up precisely as they did in May 2017, I was reminded on Friday January 5th that Friday May 5th was my last day of work. And on Saturday January 6th I remembered that on Saturday May 6th I insisted that my husband go to urgent care after days of illness and severe abdominal pain. On Sunday January 7th I remembered that on Sunday May 7th I picked my husband up from the hospital after his night spent in observation,  conscious of the fact that the very next day was my due date, oblivious to the fact that my daughter had likely already passed away. Last night I recalled that 8 months ago, I fell asleep cuddling with my then-3-year old only to awaken in the night with labor pains. I wasn’t concerned only excited. Was she moving? I don’t recall, though now I can say, likely not; testing indicates Corva likely passed a couple days prior to birth.

This is how I mark time now. By Mondays and 8ths. And I wonder if it will always be this way.



Woke up and wished that I was dead
With an aching in my head
I lay motionless in bed
I thought of you and where you’d gone
And let the world spin madly on.


 

Living in Darkness

The sun rose at 4:18 am on Monday May 8, 2017. I awoke several hours later, though I’m not certain of the exact time. I was in labor, excited to meet my baby girl, oblivious to the fact that her heart had already stopped.  And although Corva was born at 3:24 PM it was the darkest moment of my life. Ever. On that spring day,  in the drizzly mid-afternoon, I was submerged into my own winter solstice. The sun set three hours and seventeen minutes after delivery, the world’s darkness emulating my own.

Sun standing still. The winter solstice occurs today, December 21 at 11:27 AM. It is the shortest day of the year where I live, which makes it the darkest–only 8 hours and 47 minutes of daylight.  This morning the sun rose at 7:09 AM and tonight it will set at 3:57 PM. But tomorrow the daylight extends by six seconds. And the next day by eleven seconds. And the next day by sixteen seconds. Bit by bit, the days lengthen, the sun burns later into the evening hours.


I have been living in darkness for 32 weeks now. In the very beginning, those darkest of days, I couldn’t even imagine light. I couldn’t fathom how I would survive such pain. But, gradually, light re-enters my life. It isn’t very much light– a candle as opposed to floodlights–and yet I am beginning to feel a little bit of hope. Some days.


And in 20 weeks, on Tuesday, May 8, 2018 there will be 14 hours and 35 minutes of daylight, reaching toward the summer solstice. 


I still believe in summer days.

The seasons always change
And life will find a way.

I Miss Me

Tonight, at the dinner table, my husband, told me that Holly had her baby (2nd boy). I couldn’t even respond. I didn’t ask what his name is or how much he weighs. I didn’t ask anything. And it’s not because I wish her baby would die. It’s not that. It’s that I am so incredibly sad that my baby is missing from me.


Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend,  we took Astoria to Magic Kingdom. In the middle of Adventureland, a woman was screaming her child’s name, stretching her neck in an unnatural way, her eyes were frantic, her voice was panicky. I almost started crying.


One day I was attempting to explain the story–Christmas version–of Jesus to Astoria Unfortunately, I couldn’t get past the name Jesus as she kept chanting “Jesus Beezus, Beezus, Jesus.” (We’ve been reading quite a bit of Ramona lately).


At gymnastics practice, a girl slammed her fingers in the door leading from the parent observation room into the gym. The scream silenced the buzz of the observation room. I had a difficult time holding my tears back.


Astoria is recovering from pink eye. Last night I went to the pharmacy to pick up her prescription. The pharmacist asked if she was the only child in the house. Yes. Then he went on to explain that when there are babies in the home, infected with pink eye from school-aged siblings, that’s the bigger concern. Well, at least Corva can’t get pinkeye, I thought to myself wryly.


A few weeks ago, my husband had beers with Holly’s husband. The next morning he remarked “Holly says she misses you.”

And I thought: me too. I miss me too.

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.


 

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?

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?