Day 29: Reflect

I not only posted my #CapturingYourGrief here on my blog, but I also posted on facebook- much shorter versions of what I wrote here.  It was fun trying to sum up each post in a few lines, but I also felt it was a little risky.  Here on my blog,the people who read are choosing to do so, for the most part- understanding that they are going to read a post about grief and babyloss.  When people friended me on facebook they didn’t necessarily sign up for a daily post about babyloss.  I was terrified of being viewed as wah-wah- someone who is throwing herself a pity party, seeking for attention (babylossmamma wrote about it well here).  But I also wanted to take advantage of this month and use it as a time to educate my family, my friends and my coworkers what babyloss looks like.  Yes, it’s been 8 months, but I’m still sad. Sad in new and different ways, sad in ugly ways, sad in ways I”m not particularly proud of.

I also felt vulnerable, posting all these inner feelings- what if no one liked them, what if no one commented.  How many “likes” would I need to feel heard?  If the likes died off as the month progressed was I turning into the wah-wah I feared I’d become?

I’m glad I have posted more publicly on facebook.  I got the support I needed- I had people reach out to me, when perhaps they wouldn’t have otherwise.  I knew people were reading because they’d pick up on little things, like correcting me, commenting “you ARE a mom” when I used “was” in my post.  And as I had brunch with a nurse colleague from the hospital today, she congratulated me on my posts and the good work they were doing in educating our peers.  I was once a midwife quite unfamiliar with the grief of babyloss and would have been thankful to be so informed; my hope is my friends, those in the field, can take what I’ve shared and help guide them in caring for others who have suffered babyloss.

And had I not shared on facebook, I wouldn’t have had brunch today with said friend and would not have received these gifts (at least not today..perhaps some other day). I am thankful for that.

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Frozen

On a cold night in January I made Chris take me to see a movie in the theater. I was feeling badly- my mood was really low, which was not uncommon. When you’re told that the baby you’re carrying, your first child, a strongly desired baby, will likely die because her kidneys are broken, making low fluid and causing her lungs to be really small, sometimes your mood gets low. In was one of those days and I just couldn’t shake it. Chris asked me what would make me feel better and I told him going to the movies. It was a good idea too even in our hopeful times. Our baby’s death was not a certainty. It was possible she could live and if she did she would be medically complicated needing lots of care. If she survived, a night out at the movies would be impossible, so might as well do it while we could.

“Frozen. I want to see Frozen,” I told him.

“Are you sure?” he asked me. “There are likely going to be lots of kids there.”

I was sure- I wanted a movie that wasn’t real and I’ve always been a fan of kid movies. So after a near miss (the first movie theater we went to had lost power), Chris and I found ourselves walking carefully across an icy parking lot to the theater. He held my arm the elbow as I maneuvered my thirty two week belly around.

“I can’t fall!” I said to Chris almost jokingly. “We’re not monitoring!”

In pregnancy, if you fall, especially in the third trimester, it’s standard to be seen in the hospital for some monitoring of the baby afterwards- to make sure there are no contractions or signs of a placental abruption. We had had to make some difficult decisions regarding monitoring of our baby. With no fluid, there was a great risk for stillbirth. The baby’s heart rate could be monitored for signs of distress, but it’s an inexact science and most stillbirths in these circumstances happen practically in an instant. We had the option of being admitted from the diagnosis at 27 weeks and monitored 24/7 or we could do weekly (or any other chosen interval) monitoring or we could do no monitoring. Choosing monitoring meant we were willing to have an emergent c-section- potentially affecting my future fertility- and allowing our baby to be born prematurely. We made a highly researched and educated decision (met with many specialists) that our baby had the best chance of life if she was born after 34 weeks. We chose no monitoring until then, recognizing if she had distress before then we would lose her. Upon admission we would take no chances and I would be admitted for 24/7 monitoring. So at 32 weeks, if I fell, I would have to decide whether I’d want to break that plan and be monitored, risking early delivery if there was distress. On the flip side, if there was distress, we wouldn’t know about it and my baby could die inside me.

“No falling!” Chris assured me as he gripped my arm tighter. The ground glistened with black ice. We slipped and slided with several close calls but made it safely into the theater. I watched Frozen and was delighted.

When Mabel died, my family came for her services. I found a little joy in the innocence that was my niece. At 3 years old, she was rightly obsessed with Frozen. She would sing, somewhat unintelligibly and very much off key, the words to “Let it go” and dance around the living room. She built her very first snowman (a big deal for a kid who has only grown up in southern California) and named it “Snowloff.” In the weeks that followed, long after my little niece left, I found myself saving “Let it go” to my playlist. I’d sing along to the lyrics in my somewhat unintelligible and very much off key voice:

“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see

Be the good girl you always have to be

Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know!”

A perfect anthem for my grief.

This week I went clothes shopping. A secondary gain since my daughter died (I hate that term- is there a better one? An unintended benefit?) is that I’ve lost some weight. Extra time on my hands and needing an outlet for my anger and grief has brought me down below my pre-pregnancy weight. I know I am fortunate that this happened this time- in the past I’ve been a very emotional eater and gained when I was down. Now I’ve found that I don’t fit into my clothes. So I finally put the hopes of a future pregnancy aside and decided to invest into some clothes that fit. I needed to look somewhat professional in pants that weren’t super baggy. A quick trip to Kohl’s and I found some duds that fit the bill. As I was headed to the check out, a sweater caught my eye. I had wandered past the juniors department and just kept staring at this one sweater. I went up a size, figuring the juniors sizes would be ridiculously small and tried it on in front of the mirror. I was smitten.

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I like warm hugs

Chris rolled his eyes when I showed it to him at home. He said “o-kaa-ay” in that two tone mild sarcasm when I put it on to wear it out to the movies (now with no baby, we have the freedom to do so whenever we want). But I told him in the car how when I wear this sweater I think of Mabel- pregnant with her skating across the theater parking lot, my niece singing it before we went to Mabel’s wake and the lyrics of it’s main song that was the anthem to my grief. He held my hand proudly in the theater afterwards.

Mabel has her carrots, but she also has Frozen. I know I’m not alone in these comforts- there are Hugo’s stars and Gideon blue.

Do you have something you wear that makes you think of your baby?  

How’s-the-baby season

“How’s the baby?”

I was asked twice today. I am now seeing patients for their annuals who saw me this time last year, when I had a baby bump. I dreaded this time. I made the sign for this time. Months ago I couldn’t imagine the pain I would feel as people eagerly asked about the baby.

“She died shortly after birth.”

I can say the words effortlessly now. I don’t get flustered. It’s the awkward silence that follows after the requisite and heartfelt “I’m sorry”s that I don’t know what to do with. I fill it with short sentences like,

“We knew she was sick, but hoped it would have been different.”

“It’s been a difficult year.”

“I’m here, so that’s good.”

I’ve been asked a number of times about the baby, but those comments have been spread out over days or weeks. Two in one morning made me realize I’ve now hit the how’s-the-baby season.

I was just getting to the point where I wondered if I should take down my sign. I sometimes found the comments disrupting to the visit- I never minded them (I always appreciate someone who has something to say about my baby), it sometimes just didn’t flow- I felt like I had forced the info on them with the sign. I’ve had several patients come back in after their visitor or call me later, seeing the sign as they left. I feel like I can answer questions about “the baby’ more easily. I was thinking that this easiness with the question was an indication that I could do without the sign. But today has shown me…not yet. I’ll probably take the sign down either in the new year or at the one year mark, because when else do I take it down? I’m ready and not ready all at once.

“How’s the baby?”

Part of me wants to respond, “She’s dead, thanks!” But I don’t think people would quite get my dark humor there.

How do you react to questions about your baby? Has it gotten easier? Harder?

Day 27: Express

36+2

Today I have been without Mabel more days than I had been with her. For 36 weeks an 1 day she was safe. Despite the low fluid, my body nourished her, grew her and comforted her. All her needs were met and she wanted for nothing. She was safe. She didn’t need kidneys or lungs- my placenta did all their work for her. Her clubbed feet fit nice and snugly in my uterus. The holes in her heart made no difference- just added to the flow. Her extra chromosome was invisible inside me. I would have kept her in longer if I could. A few days before labor I asked if we could push out my induction for two more weeks and was thrilled and relieved when my high risk doctor and midwives thought it was a good plan. Mabel thought differently. She decided at 36 weeks that she her time inside me was up. I like to think that had she stayed inside longer, she might have died or had such distress I would need a c-section, and so she chose to come on her own so that I could meet her alive and have the vaginal birth I had hoped her.

last photo of me, pregnant at 36 weeks and 1 day, moments before Mabel and I became two separate beings.

last photo of me, pregnant at 36 weeks and 1 day, moments before Mabel and I became two separate beings.

Today is 36 weeks and 2 days since that day. She has been out longer than she has been in. In a few more days she’ll have been buried, in the dark of the earth, longer than she had been snuggled in the dark of my womb.

Her memory fades with time. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that she was real- that this really happened. Holy sh*t, I had a baby. I was a mother. My daughter died. I don’t remember what it felt like to be big and pregnant except for the random phantom kicks I still get. They are sparse and an awkward reminder because my baby had no fluid, so she wasn’t the biggest kicker. My pregnancy almost feels invalidated by her death. No one will ask me about my experiences when they are pregnant for the first time. No one will seek my advice. No one will ask for baby clothes hand me downs. And then they’ll have their babies and I ‘ll be even more useless, because though I had a baby I know nothing of parenting a live child- unless of course someone wants advice about taking their baby off life support.  I know a few things about that.

I thought I would do something to mark the day I turned 36 weeks and 1 day without Mabel, but the day came and went. It feels like my due date felt- an end to something that I don’t want to end.

Today I’m sad that the time I will be without my daughter will continue to grow longer and longer but my time with my daughter will forever be shorter.

#CaptureYourGrief

Day 26: Healing Ritual

I have lots of healing to do.  Too much anger and bitterness.  I work with my therapist several times a month on such things.  Before pregnancy I worked with her on my anxiety and some compulsions I had and then in pregnancy she worked with me on my fear of miscarriage and stillbirth and the anxiety around the unknown and poor prognosis my baby was given.  Sometimes we simply did talk therapy and sometimes she worked with me on techniques to deal with my anxiety.  What do you do when your anxiety is justified?  In pregnancy, mine was.  We worked on distraction- it was the best tool I had when things got bad.

There is no set ritual I have, especially nothing I haven’t already mentioned- exercise, puppy, puzzles, etc.  My ritual differs everyday.  My ritual is distraction.

Today my distraction was a book group outing to the farm.  One of our members moved to a quiet corner of the state and we visited her new house (old farm house) and met her new husband and acquired furry family.

#CaptureYourGrief

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Day 25: Mother Earth

The prompt said to plant something, as an act of remembrance, allowing our children’s memory to grow over time.  But it’s October where I live, which translates into a cool New England autumn- not exactly planting season.  I have planted a garden in my backyard, a little plot that bears her name, filled will colorful flowers by our white fence.  I dug up, tilled and planted a veggie garden in my grief, another piece of land that will forever remind me of my daughter.

Since it’s saturday- our usual Mabel’s visiting day- when I picked up some flowers on the way home from work, I grabbed two bouquets.  When we arrived at the cemetery, we placed the colorful bunch of mini roses by Mabel’s grave and then wandered around the cemetery with the other bouquet- this one an orange one, the color of carrots.  We sought out headstones with specific dates- short intervals, or sometimes just one date.  Often it was one name carved in a stone meant for three that caught our eyes.  We were looking for children.  When we found such tombstones, we placed a stem of roses- a gift from Mabel to them.  Though it may not be planting anything, we remembered them today- acknowledging their short lives, giving them a gift from mother earth, letting them know that they are remembered.

#CaptureYourGrief

Mabel's roses

Mabel’s roses

One name on a headstone meant for three.  Her parents outlived her.

One name on a headstone meant for three. Her parents outlived her.

So many kids, so young

So many kids, so young

I know this child... sort of.  I say her name every day when I counsel patients about cord blood banking.  Her parents started a nonprofit in her name to benefit those who need stem cells

I know this child… sort of. I say her name every day when I counsel patients about cord blood banking. Her parents started a nonprofit in her name to benefit those who need stem cells

Mabel's neighbor, a three day old baby.  Sad that she's here too, but grateful Mabel has company.

Mabel’s neighbor, a three day old baby. Sad that she’s here too, but grateful Mabel has company.

The kids graves often stand apart for all their beautiful decorations

The kids graves often stand apart for all their beautiful decorations

A child clearly very remembered by friends and family.  Thought she could use one more person thinking of her

A child clearly very remembered by friends and family. Thought she could use one more person thinking of her

This one stood out- Mabel too had congenital heart defects, though it was her kidney/lung combo that limited her life.

This one stood out- Mabel too had congenital heart defects, though it was her kidney/lung combo that limited her life.

Only one date on this stone, like Mabel's.

Only one date on this stone, like Mabel’s.