Therapy: Part 1

In most Western countries, our healthcare focuses on the physical–we comply with the recommendations for annual physical exams, biannual dental cleanings, and yearly eye exams.

But we neglect our mental health. The times I’ve sought counseling were for a specific purpose and usually the event was abrupt, leaving me little time to thoroughly investigate who might be a good “mental health match” for me.

My husband is the one who found our first counselor post-loss. Because he was aware of my history of depression, and concerned about the effect of our baby’s death on our marriage,  he sought recommendations from coworker and found Meryl (not her real name). Meryl has a PhD in clinical psychology from Ohio University. She completed a predoctoral internship at Harvard. (Impressive). Her website maintains that she has been in practice for twenty years and specializes in stress/trauma and PTSD, anxiety and depression, and women’s issues.

Our first session with Meryl was June 8, a bit over 4 weeks post-loss but exactly one month from the death, delivery, and birth of my youngest daughter. (The delay in securing an appointment sooner, having to do with the fact that Meryl practices part-time and also had been on vacation). Meryl had been briefed on the trauma, yet she was clearly uncomfortable with the topic. She wasn’t familiar with the language around pregnancy loss, she never used our baby’s name, and at times, she seemed to be looking my way for direction on how to counsel me.  She couldn’t seem to identify what I needed (and I certainly didn’t know).  Her ideas about helping me ease back to work were ridiculous.  My husband and I met with Meryl twice as a couple and I met with her three times individually, then never called her back. Meryl didn’t bill insurance so we paid upwards of $200 (USD) per counseling session.

Now what?

Several people had recommended that I seek a therapist certified in a type of  treatment called EMDR . I searched on the Psychology Today website and another therapist-search site specific to the state I live in. I found this process to be frustrating. On the Psychology Today website I could filter by town/zip code, insurance, treatment modality (cognitive behavior therapy, EMDR, trauma-focused, hypnotherapy–among others) and issue (grief, depression, trauma and PTSD, women’s issues–among others). I WISH there was one titled “perinatal loss”. Even a quick google search “perinatal loss stillbirth name of state” got me nothing. So I went with trauma/PTSD and grief.

That’s how I found Mindi, my second therapist. Her credentials weren’t as impressive as Meryl’s, but at this point I had little faith in credentials. Mindi is an LCSW with an additional credential in EMDR therapy from Boston University. She has been practicing as a therapist for over ten years. And great news–she did bill my insurance and my copay per session was $6 and some odd-cents (USD).

I had high hopes for Mindi. Our first session was 9 weeks post-loss and it seemed like she was going to be the counselor to help me move through this.  We met for a total of eight sessions, our final session ending a little over 18 weeks post-loss. Five of the eight sessions involved EMDR therapy. And then I felt like I had run out of things to talk about. We’d covered the initial trauma of the loss, my transition to my new job, parenting a living child post-loss, triggers, some coping mechanisms and tools….what else was there? Plus, there were the sad pitying puppy-dog eyes and pouty lip that frequently dawned Mindi’s face when I shared a particularly heart-breaking thought. While the EMDR seemed to help (I think?) initially, I couldn’t foresee myself doing much more of it. (EMDR involves reliving the trauma). So we concluded our counseling with the understanding that I could call for a future appointment if needed. (I won’t call her). (One of the interesting things about Mindi’s location was that her office was upstairs from a bridal boutique. Everytime I went, I wondered if someone seeking counseling post-divorce would find this to be a trigger).

Am I better? Well, I suppose I am better than I was on May 9th. Am I well? Cured? No longer in need of therapy? I don’t know. I still cry daily. But maybe this is how it will be for the rest of my life. The most difficult thing about counseling for me, as an introvert, is expressing myself verbally. This was one clear advantage of the EMDR therapy.  I didn’t need to explain anything to my therapist. She didn’t need to have my life story or know every detail of the trauma. By default, the modality of EMDR took care of it. What would therapy for introverts look like? I think a written journal, email sessions, better yet–here’s the link to my blog–read it and know everything I’m thinking, then help me.

I knew I couldn’t be the only person with this frustration, so I decided to complete an informal poll.


Did you try therapy? What was great? What was awful?

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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? 

Remembering Babies, Gone Too Soon

Capture Your Grief Day 1: Sunrise Blessing

In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan declared October Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, saying “When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes.”

Like other awareness campaigns (think “pink” for breast cancer, “purple” for Alzheimer’s and “red” for HIV/AIDS), the PAIL community uses a blue and pink ribbon as a symbol to heighten awareness. Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day (October 15th) is recognized in the U.S., as well as five additional countries.

In his speech, Reagan highlighted 3 goals: recognition of baby loss, information for parents, and resources for parents. However, something vital is missing: raising awareness to the public. Before I was a statistic I was only peripherally aware of PAIL Month. Sure, I’d seen blue and pink ribbons on Facebook profiles, but I didn’t truly understand. Now I am that parent. I frequently remind others in the loss community that “people are uncomfortable with death, but they are exponentially uncomfortable with dead babies.”  The death of a baby is shocking and unanticipated–babies are not supposed to die.

If you are someone who has experienced the loss of a baby, I challenge you to speak up in a way that feels right to you. This could be using a Facebook profile frame for PAIL month, writing a note to a friend, speaking up during a conversation about loss, or commenting on a Facebook post. And if you haven’t personally experienced the loss of a baby, you know someone who has, even if you don’t (yet) know who in your life that person is. So if they bring it up, be ready.

On October 14th, I will be walking in the 2017 Empty Arms Remembrance Walk for my Baby C and all babies gone too soon. I would encourage everyone to check this site to find a local event to offer your support.

If nobody speaks up, then nobody knows.


Before your loss, how aware were you of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month/Day. How, if at all, will you commemorate your baby this month?

On Friendship 

ACT 1

Today a coworker, let’s call her Fran, came into work with her newborn. I saw her down the hall showing him off to two other coworkers. I quickly slipped into my office and closed the door. No way was I going to handle that well. Later, a friend told me that Fran had been looking for me specifically. Eek.

The thing is, I feel like Fran should know better. She’s the one who wanted my address so she could send me an invitation to her baby shower. (Clue #1: no response to the text). She’s also someone who rescued me from taking baby appointments during the 22 days I worked at WIC post-loss. (Clue #2: me bawling in my office after seeing a baby). Later, this afternoon I noticed an envelope in the box on my office door. Thinking it was from someone else, I opened it. A thank you card. With a  photo collage postcard of her living baby. Pre-loss, I magneted photo cards like this onto our fridge.   Uh-uh. No way. I tried to pawn off the card on my living daughter but she had her own choice words to say about that baby. What the hell am I supposed to do with this card?

ACT 2

Six weeks after my loss, a friend, let’s call her Holly, phoned to tell me she is pregnant. (A rough way to receive such news, as I desperately held back tears while congratulating her). And even though I have known this woman for nine years, and even though she was one of the first people to reach out to me in my grief and offer her support, I have drawn back from her. I have stopped responding to her texts. I have neglected to return her phone calls. Last week I had a meeting in the building where she works and I couldn’t bring myself to stop by her office. 

Fran and Holly didn’t dump in or say hurtful platitudes. All they did was get pregnant and deliver (or expect to deliver) a living baby. However, I selfishly don’t want anything to do with either of these people. I don’t want to see them or talk to them and I CERTAINLY don’t want to see their babies.  This is incredibly unfair to both of them. 

Then again, it is incredibly astronomically unfair that my baby died.


In the midst of your grief, did you lose friends as a result of circumstance? Were the friendships eventually mended?


 

Try Again

Confession: I used to be one of those ANNOYING people who questioned the family planning decisions of other people. If a couple was engaged, I would make no qualms in asking if they were planning to have children. Married–Why no kids yet? (Ironic considering my husband and I were married for 4 years before deciding we were ready to take the baby-making plunge). Only one child–when are you having the next? (Also ironic as I am an only child). Only girls–Aren’t you going to try for a boy? Only boys–Don’t you want a girl? Close spacing or really far spacing–Wow! That must have been a surprise! I cringe as I write this.

After I had no fertility challenges in conceiving my daughters, even going so far as to plan for an exact month of delivery both times, I would scoff when others complained about school start dates, the season of their child’s birthday, being 8 months pregnant in the heat of the summer, or the spacing of their children. In my head I would always think: “They should have planned THAT better!”

I’m going to stop right here and say: If I ever hurt you with my ignorance, I am truly sorry.

It was during my second pregnancy that I became irritated by these inquisitions. People asked whether my pregnancy was planned and if it would be my last baby. I may have been asked these questions during my first pregnancy but I don’t recall.

And then my baby ceased to breathe–but she didn’t cease to exist.

Last week, somebody said to me “I hope you’ll try again.” Tears sprang to my eyes. Try again?

Try (from Merriam-Webster): 1:  to make an attempt at: Try to conceive a baby; Try to deliver a living baby; Try not to kill a baby in-utero; Try for two living children

In the years that followed the birth of my first child, I never recall anybody asking “Will you try again for another baby?” The question was “Do you think you will have another child?” But now, it seems that the rest of the world has dismissed my youngest child as a failed attempt and that in order to remedy this failure, my husband and I should try again.

The death of my baby isn’t a tryout for a sports team. Her urn on my dresser doesn’t represent an F grade on a math exam. This isn’t the same as Rachel and Ross trying again after their “break.” A person tries to make bread or to play a piano piece without error; these are examples of attempting something after not succeeding.

IF (a BIG IF) my husband and I decide to become pregnant again, I don’t view it as trying. It’s not an attempt to replace our child who did not stay. Another pregnancy would be adding a third child to our family. This is difficult to wrap my head around because I only wanted two children. And I have two children. Therefore, I should be done having babies. And yet it’s not the same. Because my girls will not play together. My oldest will not play peek-a-boo with her baby sister. Or dress her in the white dress she so wanted to. My youngest will not copy her big sister and follow her constantly until she (the eldest) becomes irritated. They won’t pick berries from the bushes in our yard or swing on the swing-set together. They won’t build sand castles or wade in the surf. As hormonal teens, they won’t borrow each other’s clothes and makeup or fight over stupid sister stuff. They won’t be in each other’s weddings or hold each other’s babies. They won’t call each other with worry about their aging parents. None of this will happen between my two daughters because one of my daughters is dead.

Unless somebody shares their struggles, hopes, dreams, and personal life story with us, we have NO IDEA what they are enduring or why they are making the choices they are making (if choices at all). I know people who have purposely chosen not to have children. I know people who have struggled with fertility, crushed each month at the sight of ANOTHER negative pregnancy test. I know people who have chosen to have just one very loved child. I know people who have one child but wanted more, it just didn’t happen. I know people who have experienced the loss of a child and just could not bear to risk that heartache again. I know people who have adopted a child (the reasons vast and unique to each family).

If I could eliminate this proverb from our culture, I would rewrite it to say something like this:

If the plans and dreams in your mind and your heart result in the unexpected, it is okay to rewrite your future. You are still successful.

What’s the most off-putting or hurtful question you have heard regarding family planning? How have you rewritten your future story after your loss?

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”?

Say My Name (Alternate Title: Blogging Ethics)

You may have noticed that my blog is anonymous. I haven’t posted any personal pictures nor used the names of myself or my family members.

I’ve noticed that yours isn’t anonymous. You post pictures of yourself, your baby, your living children. You post pictures of urns and gravesites. You share your name, your child(ren)’s name(s). Some of you beautiful readers are grieving other family members or older children. You, also, post personal pictures and names. Details that outline exactly who you are in this complicated world.

When I decided to start a blog (having never blogged before), I wanted it to be somewhat of a “public journal.” I didn’t want to have to edit my story for other people. I didn’t want friends and family to read my personal thoughts and judge me (but somehow felt ok if strangers read my personal thoughts and judged me??). It’s impossible to tell my story without involving others–my husband and my daughters are part of my story. My midwife is part of my story. My friends and coworkers are part of my story. How can I respect others’ privacy while blogging about them? I truly do not wish to hurt anyone’s feelings and I know if certain people found my blog, feelings would be hurt.

As it is, if a friend or family member ran across my blog they could probably guess it was written by me. I have included actualities in my blog–the date of my delivery, my profession and place of employment, my general geographical location, the fact that I have a 4 year old daughter born in May, just to name a few.

In some ways, staying anonymous is probably “safe.” On the other hand, it would be amazing to share more. If you are a “loss mama”, you know the healing affects of saying/writing/using your “angel baby’s” “lost baby’s” “dead baby’s” name. We write it in the sand at the beach. Set up memorial foundations in his name. We hang stockings and sign Christmas cards with her name.  We display his name in our home, along with pictures, blankets, and urns. Some moms get commemorative jewelry with their baby’s name or initials on it. We name stars after our sweet ones and make donations in our baby’s honor. We give the name of our baby when ordering a coffee (I haven’t tried this yet but definitely plan to!). Whatever chance we get, we speak that beautiful name.

And no,  Juliet, I don’t believe “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo and Sarah does not convey the story. Names are important. My husband and I had a difficult time coming up with names for both our daughters, we wanted their names to be perfect, to have meaning. And they are. Both our daughters have perfectly gorgeous names that I would love to share with all of you.

 

As a blogger, what challenges have you experienced with judgement from friends and family?

How have you been able to respect others’ privacy without compromising your own story?

What about respect for your baby/loved one who has passed?