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?

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?

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?

1 in 160

She is not snuggled in the Boba wrap I purchased off of a Facebook swap and sell in the parking lot of TJ Maxx. 

One in one hundred sixty. That is how many babies are stillborn in the United States each year. That is 0.00625%. That is 23,600 hearts that stop beating prior to birth. That is 23,600 grieving moms. Per year.

I didn’t know any of this until my second daughter became that statistic. It never crossed my mind in the 40 weeks I carried her in my body that she wouldn’t survive. Stillbirth–the death of a baby in utero beyond 20 weeks gestation–that is something that happens to other families–not mine. After all, I’m a college-educated woman. I don’t smoke or use drugs. I abstain from alcohol while pregnant. I took vitamins before I got pregnant and continued taking them throughout my pregnancy.  I don’t have diabetes or high blood pressure. I had already delivered one healthy child. I planned my pregnancy, this baby was wanted. And surely if a baby is wanted by her family then she should live.

There are a lot of things that really stink about one’s baby dying. There’s the obvious one–my baby is not here with me. She is not snuggled in the Boba wrap I purchased off of a Facebook swap and sell in the parking lot of TJ Maxx. Then there are agonizing questions like should we bury our baby or have her cremated? If she is cremated do we keep her or scatter her? What can a person really say at a memorial service for a baby who never took a breath? How can I possibly write my daughter’s obituary? These are the pieces of infant loss that scream in one’s head. But there are also whispers, quiet reminders of this living nightmare. Silent tears when a Pampers commercial comes on. Watching other moms cuddle their (living) babies. Toting 40 weeks of baby weight without a baby to show for it. Feelings of phantom movement inside my belly. Turning maternity leave into bereavement leave.

One thing that surprised me was how common stillbirth is. Yes, it’s only one out of one hundred sixty births per year. But that is 23,600 hearts that stop beating prior to birth. That is 23,600 grieving moms. Per year. I have had a number of people share with me that it happened to someone they know. Their mom. Their sister. Their aunt. Their friend. Themselves. In sharing this with me, I realize that I am not alone. And if this has happened to you, please know that you are not alone either.

Ten days after I delivered, I attended a local support group for parents who have lost an infant. A week later I received a card in the mail from the only other mom who attended that night. I will leave you with this excerpt from her note “I wanted to remind you that I am still standing and I know many women who are also still standing–not necessarily because it was easy or because we wanted to–but because it is the only choice we have. And it is worth it.”

Are you and your baby a 1 in 160 statistic? Do you blog to heal? I would love to hear from you.