Approaching May

I had anticipated that May 2018 would be rough but April surprised me. The end of the month brought me back to one year prior–36 weeks pregnant, 37 weeks pregnant, 38 weeks pregnant. Tomorrow marks the Monday that last year I was 39 weeks pregnant.  Spring is my absolute most favorite season. I wanted both of my children to have spring birthdays–it’s the season of new life, of hope, of growth.

Last summer I had to “unfollow” another loss mom. She’s had a long and heartbreaking journey through fertility treatments, 2nd trimester loss of twins, and eventual adoption. She and her husband adopted an embryo last summer and her due date was May 5th. Yes I was happy for her, no I couldn’t bring myself to continue going to my support group and watch her growing belly, knowing that her timeline would follow mine from one year ago. Too painful. I found out that she delivered her healthy baby girl via C-Section last Thursday. So happy for her. So sad for me.

Yesterday I found myself at a “Baby Fair” (no, they weren’t selling babies, it’s one of those indoor yard sales where people set up tables and try to sell off their used kids’ clothes, books, and toys–they’re very popular around here). I was there to scope out toys and books for my oldest. I hate picking through used clothes at those type of sales. No luck finding any Shopkins but I did manage to pick up a slew of Magic Tree House books for a bargain.  It’s getting easier to see babies although there’s always a bit of an ache in my heart for what I should have but don’t. I ran into another loss mom from my abandoned support group. This is a mom I actually like very much, who I feel actually gets my pain. She lost her son, Malcolm 3 ½ years ago at 39 weeks. Since then, she’s gone on to have twin boys who are now a bit over 2 years. I remarked that my one year is approaching and that I don’t know what to do. We don’t have a grave. I’m not planning to go to work that day but my husband has to give a final exam and I’m hoping to send my oldest daughter to school. It will be a Tuesday this year. I don’t want to have a party for my dead baby. I know some people do that, and that’s fine if it works for them. I can’t imagine saying Happy Birthday. A happy birthday would be one here on earth with her family. I’ve thought about making the 50 minute drive to the hospital where I delivered. Then what? I’ve thought about having flowers delivered to the nurses on the labor and delivery ward. I’ve thought about curling up in bed for the day.

This coming week will be difficult. One year ago I was at the very end of my pregnancy, ready to meet my baby. It was this week a year ago when my husband became very sick, one year ago this Saturday when he was admitted for observation at the local hospital. And that is likely when Corva died. As I lay down with Astoria, I fell asleep only to awake at midnight and throw up violently (I’d been sick the entire pregnancy). I often wonder if that is the moment life left her little body. On Sunday Astoria and I picked my husband up from the hospital and on Monday May 8, 2017 I awoke in labor, having no idea my baby had already died.

It’s spring again, one year later. The snow has melted. The birds are singing. My friend’s goat delivered two healthy babies last night. But all I can think about is what I don’t have. My hope is gone.

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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?

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?

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(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.

CYG Day 25: Indestructible Heart

I once had a job, not long ago, working directly with pregnant and postpartum moms, and their children. Occasionally, my coworker, who frequently combed the obituaries, would bring in to work a tattered clipping for a baby or small child. “One of ours,” she’d say. My coworkers and I would huddle in our meeting space trying to fathom what could have happened. Sometimes, I could identify what likely happened: “Oh, that baby was a 24 weeker,” or “heart defect.” (I followed all the high risk cases). Occasionally, a staff member would offer up that the mother had risk factors for SIDS. Or there had been a house fire or car accident.  Other times we just didn’t have a clue.

I would think (and sometimes say aloud), If my child died, I would die too,* or be admitted to a mental hospital.

But when my child’s heart stopped, mine kept on beating, though the physical ache was real. Checking in to a mental hospital would only separate me from my husband and living daughter; it wouldn’t bring back my baby.

Worldwide, across cultures, people endure unfathomable tragedies. They survive, and they build meaningful and joyful lives despite trauma.  This is resilience. In Option B Sandberg and Grant discuss the three P’s (coined by Martin Sligman) which prevent someone from reclaiming their life after trauma.

Personalization: Self-blame. It’s my fault that my baby died. If only I had paid closer attention to her movements. If only I had sought more ultrasounds.

Pervasiveness: When tragedy infiltrates into every aspect of our life. I failed to keep my baby alive, therefore I’m not a good mom to my living child. I’m not a good wife. I’m not a good employee. I’m not a good friend.

Permanence: Feeling as though the severity of the trauma will never end. I am never going to feel better. For the rest of my living days, I will always be the mother of a dead baby and there is nothing I can do to change that fact.

I am still working on the three Ps. I’m not certain that my heart is truly indestructible. It feels quite shattered, actually.

*When I say I thought I would die, I’m not referring to suicide. I’m referring to the belief that I would stop existing if my child died. If you are contemplating suicide, please know that there is help available. For countries outside the United States, click here.


What do you think about the three P’s? Have you built resilience? Is your heart indestructible?