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?

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?

Triggers, Work, and Other Ramblings

It’s difficult to believe that nine weeks have passed since I delivered my baby. This means that my maternity/bereavement leave is nearly over. My job, as a registered dietitian and certified lactation counselor  for the WIC program is one I have been at for eight years now. 

I am fortunate (if one can say that this situation has any fortune to it) that my employer has allowed me to take 12 weeks off, as planned.  I fully expected to be told that I would only be allowed 6 weeks, just to recover from the birth.  But apparently, when someone’s baby dies, nobody wants to raise the issue. I’ve encountered other mothers, online and in my support group, who returned to work sooner, welcoming a much-needed distraction from grief, and a desire to find some sort of “normalcy.” I can see that. I have had a few fleeting moments of envisioning myself back at work. I then tell myself that once I have gone a full day without crying, I will be ready. That hasn’t happened yet. The no crying thing.

When I truly envision returning to work I begin to panic.  Last week I had a nightmare about going back. When/if I return to work I will be surrounded by triggers. Pregnant women. Babies. Happy families. Sisters. Constant reminders of what I have lost.

I have a coworker who is pregnant. She is due next month with a little boy. Eighteen days after I delivered my dead daughter she texted me asking for my address so she could invite me to her baby shower. I never responded. Her office is next to mine. After I returned from my first maternity leave, she said she could hear me pumping through the thin walls. How am I going to endure that sound when she returns in November?

There are two women in my building at work who delivered this spring. Healthy babies. Living babies.  One, a boy, born in March. Another, a girl, born in April, 4 weeks premature.

I will have clients who last saw me pregnant. They will say “You’re back! How’s your baby?” I know this because that’s what happened last time, when I had my live baby. I rehearsed this with my therapist 2 weeks ago. It was awkward and unrealistic. In the role-play I mumbled something along the lines of “my baby was stillborn.” I could say that my baby was “born still”, kind of the same idea. But is that clear? She was born still, unmoving, because she was dead. Does the general population know what stillborn even means?

I could say “I lost my baby.” But, I didn’t lose her like the red marmot windbreaker that my husband gave me for Christmas one year. I loved that jacket. I didn’t misplace her with my keys, running frantically around the house muttering “I’m going to be really late now.” And I didn’t lose her like the 20 lbs that slipped easily off my body after delivery.

I could say she was “born sleeping” but I feel like that is misleading. Though the image is lovely–it reminds me of that Christmas song, the one that sings “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.” My daughter didn’t cry, her eyes were closed, like she was asleep. But her heart didn’t thump in her tiny chest circulating blood throughout her body. I didn’t hold her, tummy to breast, hearing her tiny little sighs while she slept. She never opened her eyes.  She didn’t wake up.

I could say, like many do, that “she was born an angel” or “I’m a mommy to an angel baby.” But I really don’t believe that to be true. If there are angels–and I would like to believe that there are–my human baby didn’t transform into a celestial being when her heart ceased beating.

I could say she “passed away” or “didn’t make it”.  But then there may be assumptions. People will wonder, did she die because she was premature? Was sick? From SIDS or suffocation? Shaken baby syndrome? I want it to be clear to people that she never took a breath. I’m unsure why this is important to me.

I once worked in a long-term care facility. The terminology used to announce death was “expired.” As in “Mrs. Jones expired last night.” But my beautiful baby isn’t a tub of yogurt gone bad. She isn’t the license plate tabs that we forgot to renew in the midst of our grief. She isn’t a credit card buried deep in a purse.

I feel frustrated that our culture doesn’t address death head on. I feel anxious (actually I feel sick at the thought) to delve back into the real world. I have no idea how to prepare for this.

 

When did you return to work after your loss? What words did you use to tell others what happened?

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?

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?

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?