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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Grief and the Holidays

In the weeks leading up to the winter holiday season, I saw social media posts and blog posts on “surviving grief during the holidays.” Other “loss moms” hosted “live chats”. But I had no idea how the holidays would hit me. After all, I have minimal memories with Corva. Perhaps that is what makes baby-loss such a different type of loss. One year ago, I was 18 weeks pregnant. I didn’t yet know if we would have a baby boy or another girl (although Astoria desperately wanted a sister and vowed that a brother would go to the dungeon!) While pregnant, I shopped, wrapped, and assembled an ice castle! I dreamt of what the holiday season would be for our family one year later. I certainly never imagined that I would be grieving the death of my precious baby.

Honestly, I was rooting for skipping Christmas this year. It’s just too painful to think about what “should have been”. But Astoria is at such an age where Christmas is so magical and she is so excited. I don’t believe I have ever put my tree up this early in the season.

Christmas looks a bit different for me this year. I spent a good amount of time attempting to create a holiday photo card on Shutterfly the other day. But feeling neither merry nor happy, I couldn’t come up with a good phrase for the card. I was going to say something about peace, but I’m not feeling very peaceful either. So then I just said, fuck it.

But we have a tree. And plans to bake cookies for Santa. My daughter wears a Santa hat and skips around the house singing “Jingle Bells.” So this is Christmas 2017.


How have holidays changed for you in your post-grief life?

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.

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?

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? 

The Ring Theory 

When tragedy hits, people often don’t know what to say or do. Some grief-stricken individuals will reassure others that saying something is better than saying nothing. I don’t agree with this, although I can understand the good intentions behind it. I think what people mean when they say “It’s better to say something, even the wrong thing, than nothing at all” is that they wish for others to acknowledge their loss, they wish for their loved one to be remembered and they don’t want that awkward “elephant in the room” feeling. However, saying the wrong thing can be devastating, even going so far as to destroy relationships. One of the best resources on this topic that I have found is this one. To summarize the ring theory “in a nutshell”: comfort in, dump out. When I apply this theory to my own situation, I place myself in the middle. Directly around me is my husband and living daughter. Surrounding them, our parents, then close friends and family, and so-on. The most important part of the theory is this:

“The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring. Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.”

I had a few people “dump in” on me, but only once did it affect me enough to destroy a relationship.

A pregnant friend (and my hired home birth midwife) disclosed to me that she had been having panic attacks since my delivery. She told me that her partner, the father of her baby, was asking her to cease communicating with me as he was concerned that the stress of my situation was affecting their baby. She was having panic attacks? My daughter died. She died. In my body. My “friend” also told me that she was grieving for my baby. She was grieving for my baby? Yes, it was valid for her to feel this way (I realize this now). BUT it was absolutely NOT ok for her to “dump in” on me.

I felt guilty. If something happened to her baby, it would be my fault. I had ruined her life by delivering a stillborn baby. I had caused her undue stress. Her stress was going to harm her baby and it would be my fault.  These are the irrational thoughts that consume someone who is grieving.

And I felt (still feel) angry. Extremely angry. Like, irrationally angry.

Crazy angry.

Our communication ended, along with our friendship.

Before our friendship ended, this is what she told me: “So much love to you, my friend. I’m holding you all in my heart every moment and I will walk with you as you put one foot in front of the other. {{{hug}}}”

That was a lie. A promise she could not keep.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.


Did you ever experience someone “dumping in” on you during your grief? How did you handle it? Did it affect your relationship?