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”?

Fetal Heart Rate: Not Detected

I killed my baby. Not directly, not intentionally, but my inactions caused her death. Apparently I have left the “Anger” stage (for now) and have delved right into the “Bargaining” stage.

My first inclination that something wasn’t right was on my 37th birthday. I was 37 weeks and 4 days. It was a Friday night.  My husband and I were laying on the futon mattress on the floor in our daughter’s room. We were trying to get her to lay down but she was too busy playing. “I’m not feeling the baby move much,” I remarked to my husband. I had a busy day at work and hadn’t been paying close attention to whether or not she had been moving. He reassured me that the baby was fine, that there probably just wasn’t much room in there. I got up to get some cold water and lay on my left side. Was that movement? I texted my midwife. (You can read more about my midwife here). She wrote back “Babies have less room to move as they get bigger. It is not uncommon for there to be gradual decrease in the strength of their movements. But it shouldn’t be abrupt and the frequency should not decrease…If there is a noticeable decrease in movement, you may want to go in for an ultrasound to check things out. You could wait until tomorrow or you could go in tonight depending on how concerned you are. What does your gut say?”

My gut said we should go in–better to be safe than sorry. But that’s not what I did. I didn’t go in for an ultrasound. I wanted to believe that my baby was moving, that she was okay. My husband kept saying “I’m sure she’s fine.” And I wanted to believe him.

My second inclination came four days later.  My midwife came over for a prenatal appointment and I distinctly remember her moving the Doppler around on my belly, finding a heartbeat and, pausing, she said “I guess that’s her heartbeat?” But was it my baby’s heartbeat or was it mine?

One week later, my husband became sick. Very sick. He stayed home from work for two days, and that says a lot, he doesn’t miss work. I was concerned as he had a few of these episodes prior and I thought perhaps it was his gallbladder or appendix. On Saturday morning I insisted that we have things checked out. I’ll spare you the details, only to say that he was admitted to the hospital overnight for observation and is presently fine. This is only important to mention because while I was fretting about my husband and caring for my living child, my baby was dying inside my body.

I requested my records from my midwife and they arrived in the mail today. There it is, in her scratchy printing (because she still hand writes her charts even though everyone else in the world is using i-pads and smartphones):

5/8/17

Fetal Heart Rate: Not detected.

Baby suspected dead at 9:30 am. Baby confirmed dead by ultrasound around 11 am

Apparently normal, healthy baby had died at least two days prior. Mother thought she was still feeling the baby move. Absent FHT [fetal heart tones] at normal prenatal visit on 5/8/17 was the first indication of fetal demise.

Stillborn–known dead

 

If only I had….

How have you managed any guilt you feel from your grieving experience?

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?

Everybody Gets a Baby! (Not You.)

Us bereaved moms, we are more difficult to identify…but our eyes, they are filled with a despairing grief….And always invisible to the naked eye is her shattered heart.

“Look at that cute baby!” squealed my four-year old. We were at the grocery store.  Looking around, I noticed SO MANY babies. Everywhere I go, I see babies– not only at the grocery store, they also dominate parks, restaurants,  and Target. Their chubby legs teeter around at birthday parties and their parents clog up my Facebook feed with adorable pictures, captioned with milestones my youngest daughter will never experience.  Even G-D Daniel Tiger has a baby sister.  In my daughter’s preschool class alone, three classmates got baby siblings this spring.  In the past two weeks, my daughter and I have visited goat kids and encountered baby ducks in a parking lot. Literally, everybody has a baby.

Ok, I know not literally. It just feels that way to me, because I don’t have my baby.  One day, while watching a mom strap her infant into the carseat, I mused aloud “why does everybody get a baby except for us?”  Since my daughter was with me, she occasionally will repeat this sad phrase–”Why did everyone gotted a baby be-cept for us?”

One can identify a baby easily, even though they are small. The tiny ones are tucked inside car seat carries or strapped to a parent’s chest. Sometimes they are swaddled in a blanket and passed around to other cooing adults. Older ones are in strollers or sitting up in shopping carts, waving and babbling. Even the mom who doesn’t have her baby with her–who was able to sneak away to Target by herself–even she is identifiable. She is the one leaking milk through her shirt, the one with spit-up on her shoulder.  Her hair is unkempt, her makeup not done, barring a little lipstick. She is the one comparing breast milk storage bags and debating which pacifier to purchase.  Her tired eyes glance enviously at me, holding my Starbucks and casually strolling kid-free. What she doesn’t know is that I am on “maternity leave.” A maternity leave without a baby.

Us bereaved moms, we are more difficult to identify. We may still have the unkempt hair and makeup-free face, but our eyes, they are filled with a despairing grief, the delicate skin beneath them dry from rivers of tears. Our mouths may be perpetually turned down or frozen in an anguished wail. If you look closely at this mom, her hair has more white strands than it did prior to her baby’s death. Depending on when she lost her baby, she, too, may have heavy breasts leaking milk that her baby will never drink. What you cannot see are her stretch marks, proof that her body once held a baby.  And always invisible to the naked eye is her shattered heart.

Sometimes it feels like the universe, in Oprah-like fashion, is shrieking “You get a baby! You get a baby! Everybody gets a baby! (Not you).”  Last night as I was laying with my daughter at bedtime, she pondered “Why did everyone gotted a baby be-cept for us?”  I don’t know, sweetheart, I don’t know.

Do you have a pity party for yourself when you see others’ babies? What coping strategies have you found helpful?

When Anger Festers

I am enraged that you said death may have been the best outcome for my baby. That perhaps if she had lived she would have been cursed with medical problems and lifelong disabilities.

I had a midwife. I say had because I no longer need her services. I am no longer pregnant. She was actually more than a midwife, she was a friend. I say was because after I delivered my second daughter I began to feel angry and hateful toward her.  Let’s call this midwife Laura for the sake of anonymity. Laura is a CPM. She assists moms in home birth deliveries. That’s right, I planned to deliver my baby at home.

My first pregnancy was also a planned home birth with Laura but I ended up delivering at a hospital. I was of the belief model that pregnancy, labor, and delivery are normal conditions and that a low-risk woman (me) need not see an obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn). Ob-gyns are trained surgeons who look for problems, administer interventions, and before you know it, they are cutting you open to deliver your baby. I wanted to deliver at home, amongst my own germs, in a birthing tub with only my husband and two midwives. But as it was, I ended up laboring for three days at home, my blood pressure rose, and Laura recommended that we transport to Hospital X where I had an epidural and delivered my healthy daughter with the assistance of a family physician and a resident.  Laura stayed with me to advocate for the skeleton requests of my birth plan and to fill in my pregnancy history.

When I became pregnant the second time, I knew I was pregnant. I did not take a pregnancy test, I just knew. This baby was planned. I hemmed and hawed over what I wanted this delivery to be like. I reflected back on my first experience. We had been lucky, we had a good outcome despite a difficult labor. Seeds of doubt floated through my mind.  Why did Laura wait for my blood pressure to get so high before recommending transport? Why didn’t I express my desire to go the hospital sooner? What was the least risky path for this pregnancy, labor, and delivery?

I told my husband I wished to deliver at Hospital A with a group of Certified Nurse Midwives.   My first daughter was born at Hospital X, about 12 miles and 25 minutes from our home, and although I didn’t end up with unnecessary interventions, I felt Hospital X was too risky. Hospital A had a good reputation for accommodating all sorts of birth plans, plus they had a labor tub. But Hospital A was about 35 miles and 50 minutes from our home, through curvy backroads and small rural towns. Being due in May meant we wouldn’t be traversing winter conditions on the way to delivery. But my husband felt uncomfortable with the plan and since I really didn’t want to deliver at Hospital X, we settled on another planned home birth, even though my gut told me not to.

I was 17 weeks along when I first met with Laura for this pregnancy. In all, we met seven times. Our appointments lasted two hours or more. In general, I was satisfied with the prenatal care I received. Each appointment began with talking—we’d start with general chit-chat and move on to relevant topics–my past birth experience and my hopes for this one. At each visit Laura would check my blood pressure and use her Doppler to listen to my baby’s heart. I had two risk factors: Advanced Maternal Age (AMA) and a body mass index (BMI) of 31.8 which put me in the obese category.   At my first prenatal visit–the one at 17 weeks–I specifically asked Laura if either was contraindicated for home birth. She assured me that I was still a good candidate to deliver at home.

The seventh visit, the morning of May 8th, Laura came to my home and her Doppler could not find my baby’s heartbeat. That was the day I transported to Hospital A to deliver my dead child.

was not angry with Laura right away. I was grateful, in shock, numb. She advocated for me in the hospital, requesting a CNM rather than the ob-gyn on call. She stayed with my husband and me as we held our dead daughter’s body. She cried with us. She came to my home, she held my hand, she let me cry huge, wet tears of grief all over her shirt. She organized meals and visits with friends. She came to my daughter’s small memorial service and shared kind words. Something bothered me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

I wrote my daughter’s obituary. Despite a horrific experience, the hospital midwife and delivery nurse were amazing and my husband and I wished to acknowledge them in the obituary. After I finished writing, I asked my mother-in-law to proofread it. “What about Laura?” she asked. And so, I included a thank you to Laura in the obituary. Afterall, she had overseen my prenatal care, helped me through contractions and squeezed my hand as I pushed my baby out of my body. But as time moved on, the anger and hatred built.

A letter I cannot send.

I am angry. Furious. This anger isn’t logical or deserved. But it is true.

First, I am mad that you, as the midwife I hired, failed me. I am angry that you didn’t demand I go to the hospital when I reported decreased fetal movement and that you didn’t review kick-counting with me.

I am livid that you are pregnant. You already have THREE children. Plus you didn’t even plan this pregnancy and you aren’t even married to the father of this child. My husband and I planned our pregnancy, a May delivery. We had hopes and dreams, we prepared our daughter for her role as a big sister. Our baby was wanted, she was already loved so much.

I am irate that your unplanned baby survived when you fell down your steps. I never experienced any trauma but my baby died. I am angry that you made the correct choice to go to the hospital to be checked and I did not.

I am enraged that you said death may have been the best outcome for my baby. That perhaps if she had lived she would have been cursed with medical problems and lifelong disabilities. And when I expressed uncertainty about another pregnancy, you told me I could simply adopt or foster children to complete my family…

Illogical, I know, this rage–it makes no sense at all. Yet it is how I feel.

As you grieved the loss of your baby, who, if anyone, did you feel anger toward?