Do you have kids

“Do you have kids?”

I’ve been ready for this question. As a midwife, who chitchats a lot during exams, I’ve been on the receiving end of the questions many times. I remembered being pregnant and thinking how excited I was to finally be able to say yes! Obviously there were many things I was excited about, but having the experience of pregnancy, of birth and of raising kids gave me yet another thing I could relate to my patients about.

When we learned Mabel’s kidneys weren’t working, making her fluid low and affecting her lung development, we were told she might die. I remember asking my midwife, “What do I say if she dies and someone asks me if I have kids???” I couldn’t imagine a more distressing question, but here I am living it. I had one hairdresser and one patient ask me so far. I’ve actually been surprised I don’t get asked more, but I attribute that to the sign I put up about Mabel for patients to read. My responses so far have been “None living,”  which didn’t feel good, nor did it get a good response and “I had a daughter,” which felt okay and got a much better response.

So when I was asked this hallmark question again, I was ready to try a different answer, one inspired by what another bereaved mom uses in these kind of situations.

“I had a daughter but she died shortly after birth.”

“Oh.”

The tone in the room changed. The patient was pregnant and not dealing well with the physical discomforts of the third trimester. When I met her the last visit, I suggested she reframe her thoughts on pregnancy because she had three more months to go and, no, I would not induce her 27 weeks because she was tired. I also had to let her know that by not doing her diabetes screening, she was risking the life of her child. “If you have gestational diabetes and we don’t know it and your sugars are uncontrolled, you could have a stillbirth.” I was exasperated already with what I perceived as her lack of gratitude.

And when we broached the topic of the diabetes test again, which she still hadn’t done, she changed the subject and asked me about kids.

In my head when talking about the diabetes test, I wanted to scream “you don’t know how lucky you are! You don’t understand how precious that life inside of you is! Why would you risk it just because you heard the glucola tastes gross??” But I didn’t. I calmly explained to her the repercussions of refusing the test. And when she asked about my kids, she got more than she was intending. It took all my effort to not say “Listen, my baby died and I would have done anything to keep her safe. Can’t you please just do the test so I can just know that your baby won’t die because you had undiagnosed gestational diabetes?” But I didn’t

I simply said, “I did my diabetes test.” I looked at her with raised eyebrows, my facing telling her that I would only ask her to do what I have done myself.

I’m hoping she does her glucose test. If Mabel can help her see the light, then I’m glad she was brought into conversation. I know this woman has her own struggles, I just wish the glucose test wasn’t one of them.

What’s your response to this question?  What kind of reactions have you gotten?

Aching arms

My arms are aching. In the seven months since Mabel died I have not felt any urge or desire to hold a baby. When an opportunity has presented itself, I have felt panic. I’ve talked with my therapist about what exactly I am afraid of and I’m not totally sure. I’ve been afraid of how I will feel is the closest answer I have. I’m afraid I will cry and be sent back emotionally to the early days and I’ll never recover. I’m afraid I won’t cry and by not doing so would be doing a disservice to Mabel. I’m afraid I’ll really enjoy the feeling, again not honoring Mabel. I feel like holding a baby is a betrayal to my dead daughter.

Mabel was the last baby I’ve held. If and when I hold another baby, I won’t be able to make that statement. Now it’s been seven months and so it’s become a thing you know? If I held a baby soon after my loss, I wouldn’t be thinking much of it.

When I was talking with my sister she asked me “What is a baby to you?” She was asking how old a kid has to be for me to not see them as a baby. At the time I had answered “three.” At three, they are little people, talking with personalities. Though that is not totally true for me anymore. Sometimes seeing a three year old is hard, watching a mom parent her in a way I will never parent Mabel. In that way, all kids can be hard, depending on who they are and my mood.  And sometimes they can be easy.  I’ve held a five year old and cuddled. I’ve held a two year old who did not want to say goodbye to me. These were both ok times of my choosing and they felt good.

Last month, I walked into an exam room and my patient held her one year old daughter on her lap. When she saw me walk in, trailed by the doctor who was shadowing me, she moved to put her daughter down. The stroller was just a few feet away, but I saw her struggle trying to juggle the baby and maneuvering in a paper gown. In another world (like in the “before”) I would have stepped forward to help her put her child into the stroller. Instead I stepped back, as far as I could while remaining professional, terrified she was going to hand me the baby. I reassured myself if she did reach out or ask for help, I could defer to the doc that was with me, but the panic I felt stayed with me to this day. I’m not ready to hold a baby, but when I am, I want it to be planned and my own choice.

Lately I’ve been feeling a strong desire to hold a baby, but there is no baby I want to hold. I want to hold my baby. I want so badly to feel that bottom heavy weight of a newborn, to be overheated by the sticky sweet sweat of a sleeping six month old on my chest. I used to love holding babies- I was a natural, comfortable with their little bodies- and I miss that. How do I balance thee feelings- wanting something to fill my arms but only wanting that something to be my own baby?

Have you held a baby since your loss? How did you feel? If you’ve lost someone other than a baby, do you have any parallels? 

Hallelujah

Out to dinner with friends this past weekend, a piano player filled the room with oldies like Elton John and Simon & Garfunkel. It was a bar restaurant in the town next door. Chris and I live in a sleepy suburb, where Italian restaurants abound, but little is to be found for nightlife. So on this Friday night, we met up with some friends in a more bustling town that offered several places to chose from. We ended up at Jake’s- a hopping martini bar, with a front room for a nice dinner and a back room for local bands. On this night we dinner diners were treated to the musical musings of a man, a piano and a microphone. His style of music and song choices reminded me of a musician Chris and I heard at a little tavern in Mystic, CT, while we were checking out wedding venues. We sat in the bar saying we both loved the seaport and decided then, that was where we wanted to get married. We ate our dinner contentedly listening to a guitar player singing songs that I loved. At the end of the night we got his card and a few months later hired him to play at our after party in that very tavern.

I found myself singing along quietly to the piano player, while juggling conversation and nachos all at once. I paused when I heard the familiar notes of our wedding song, “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley. I checked out for a moment and lost myself in the lyrics.

“You reminiscing back to your wedding day?” asked my friend who recognized the song.

“Well, yeah. But it’s also the song we played to Mabel.”

After Mabel died, Chris and I asked for time alone to say our final goodbye to our daughter. We both were falling asleep after being up all night into the next day, so when everyone left the room, we say on the sofa, taking turns holding her lifeless body that was quickly growing cold as I played the one song I had on my phone – “Hallelujah.”

Oh, my baby.

At the end of the song, I got up and gave the pianist a darn good tip.

 

 

This post was inspired by a thought provoking post on one of my message boards (thanks Carole!).  Do you have a song that reminds you of your lost one?  

A tattoo is worth a thousand words

“Do you always take so many pictures?” Her question didn’t have any judgment in it. It was the kind said to get conversation flowing. While seated on the cushioned table, a sort of hybrid between the kind in a doctor’s office and the ones in a massage studio, I sat with my left foot splayed out and my phone in hand documenting each part of the tattoo process.

She knew a little bit of our story. Chris and I had come three months before to discuss getting matching tattoos for Mabel. We brought some inspiration with us and I thought it was important for her to know the meaning behind the tattoos. “We had a baby in February and she died shortly after birth, “ I told her then. “We used to call her the Karate Carrot, when I was pregnant with her, so that’s why we want a carrot tattoo.”

Now, seated in the studio, I hammed it up for the camera, instructing Chris on which angles I wanted and then grabbed the phone from him so I could see and take some of my own.   Chris rolled his eyes and shook his head while keeping a little smile on his face, in that way he does that lets me know that he thinks I’m silly but that my silliness is endearing too. So when she asked if I always take a lot of pictures, I felt a need to explain.

Of the two of us, Chris rarely takes photos. I’m usually the one making him smile and telling him “Now take one of me, like this!” as I posed in some ridiculous way in front of a landmark. We have a nicer camera, but it’s an effort to remember it and when I want to document the more mundane moments of everyday living, I usually grab what I have- my cell phone. The only exception to this habit was this past year, when I shied away from the camera.

“We found out our daughter had Down Syndrome when I was 13 weeks pregnant,” I told the tattoo artist. “And there is a high chance of stillbirth with Down Syndrome, so in the beginning I didn’t take a lot of photos because I thought if I lost the pregnancy, the photos might make me sad. Then later we found out she had some birth defects and the doctors had no idea whether she’d live or not. We wouldn’t know until she was born. So my reluctance to take photos got worse. But now that we’ve been through it, now that we’ve lost her, I am so sad I don’t have more photos of me pregnant. They were part of her story. So now whenever I do anything related to her, I try to take lots of photos to make up for it.”

She nodded in understanding, as she dipped her ink needles, changing the color from green to orange. There was no pause in the conversation, no awkward “I’m sorry”s, no weak platitudes. A simple nod of understanding as she went on creating the life long tribute to my daughter on my ankle.

***

I chose my ankle because I wanted something I could easily show or hide, depending on the circumstance.  It’s also by the foot, reminding me of Mabel’s clubbed feet.  Chris chose the side of his chest, where the kidneys meet the lungs, reminding him of the organs that made her existence so short, but so special.

Do you carry anything with you to remind you of your baby or one that you’ve lost?  If you were to get a tattoo (or if you have one) what would you do to symbolize your little one?

The studio had much to keep us entertained.

The studio had much to keep us entertained.

Some of the decor in the studio

Some of the decor in the studio

Some of the decor in the studio

Some of the decor in the studio

Some of the decor in the studio

Some of the decor in the studio

The design.  The top images were inspirations we brought in, including a carved a carrot given to us by friends and a temporary tattoo chris gave me for mother's day.

The design. The top images were inspirations we brought in, including a carved a carrot given to us by friends and a temporary tattoo chris gave me for mother’s day.

Before

Before. Please disregard the bug bites.

transposing the image

transposing the image

Deciding whether I like the placement

Deciding whether I like the placement

IMG_4225

It kinda hurts!

It kinda hurts!

such a ham!

such a ham!

Chris's turn next

Chris’s turn next

Needlework

Needlework

IMG_4258

Showing off the new tat

Showing off the new tat

Finished!

Finished!

Finished!

Finished!

 

My own second chance

“You got married?” I’ve been getting this question a lot lately. I got married two years ago and my name was officially changed, both personally and professionally, within a few months. Anyone who has changed their name understands the pain in the butt it is to do so. Being a medical professional there are additional hoops I had to jump through. Nursing license, midwifery license, midwifery certification, state drug license, national drug license, insurance companies, labs slips, stationary, etc. To change my name professionally was kind of a big deal, but I love my husband, I intend to stay married to him forever and I wanted to be one person with one last name. The first year I found it reasonable for people to be confused or surprised by the name change. I don’t know why in this second year some of my patients are finally recognizing that I have a new name. But it’s happening. Almost daily.

“Yep. I got married two years ago actually. The name change has been kind of slow.”

“Congratulations! Did you have a baby too?” She asked pleasantly.

“Yes.” My heart pounded n that familiar way when someone seems to know I had a baby but doesn’t know she died.

“Congrats too! I heard from some people at the hospital.” She worked at the same place I did, but in a different part.

This was my chance. I vowed the next time this happened I would say something. I had to do it. But how? I panicked. I sat there as the silence dragged on, until it was getting awkward. It was my turn to say something, but I hadn’t come up with the words because nothing seemed natural; I couldn’t think of words that would help the conversation flow. Perhaps because introducing a baby’s death into a seemingly happy exchange will alter everything.

“Thank you,” I finally said and then moved on to reviewing her medical history.

All through the visit I was kicking myself for doing it again- not owning up to my loss. I’ve learned I have to try saying things different ways and gage the reactions before I know what works. I continued on with her history and exam and at the end left the room while she got dressed.

Once I was in my office, I could take a minute and think. The visit wasn’t over yet; I still had my chance. I walked back in the exam room and gave her the prescription.

“I wanted to thank you for asking about my baby,” I said. “Because you were so kind to ask, I wanted to let you know that she died. I always like it when people ask about her.”

And just like that I did it. It was easy, the words came and she responded appropriately. I liked that I could do it at the end of the visit, so the repertoire we had built wasn’t derailed. The visit could still be about her and I could still tell the truth.

 

Another baby’s funeral

When I entered the church I was hit with the scent of my childhood Sunday mornings. The familiar incense, only found in catholic churches, surrounded me. It was a small building, about twelve rows of wooden benches lined each side of a center aisle leading to a marble altar placed centrally on the pulpit. I slipped into a pew a few rows from the back, nearest the exit so that I could escape easily if I needed to. The last time I had been in a church was for a friend’s wedding; this time I was surrounded by strangers, dressed in dark and demure clothing, appropriate for a memorial mass for a baby.

photo 1 (18)

I was worried about how I would feel going to the service. Would I cry? I thought as I drove to the church. Would I seem emotionless and heartless? I found those original thoughts laughable as tears stung my eyes, the moment the first note of the organ music began. Now I worried I would seem overly dramatic as the tears continued to flow, before any words were even said. I’m not a quiet crier, with a snotty nose that needs constant blowing. I paced my breathing trying to keep my emotion discreet, telling myself I could always step out to the foyer if I needed to.

I pictured myself grabbing my purse and finding refuge in the entryway. The woman who had greeted me on the way in would look up and ask what was wrong. I would apologize for my theatrics, saying how I too had lost a baby and this was simply bringing up too much emotion.

I did not escape to the foyer. Instead I looked up and saw a few rows ahead of me a woman, about fifteen years my senior, holding a tissue to her face. She was crying almost as hard as I was. Seeing this woman unabashedly letting her tears flow reminded me that I was at a funeral! It’s okay to be sad! A baby died! Having a partner in overt sadness gave me the strength I needed to be present through the rest of the mass. I’m unsure who this woman was- I imagined her as an aunt, maybe one without kids of her own, who treated the bereaved mom like she was her own child. Or perhaps she was simply someone who felt deeply, had a particularly strong sense of empathy. She did me a favor that day: her tears gave me permission to shed my own openly.

I listened to the familiar chants and prayers of a Catholic mass, cautiously looking around, eying those surrounding me. Up ahead was a set of three young women- college friends of the mom, I imagined. They were dressed nicely in black dresses with colorful sweaters, a combination that seemed appropriate for a dark service on a bright sunny day. Their hair was carefully arranged and makeup done nicely- their attention to their appearance made me think how much they respected and cared for the parents. The woman in the pew ahead of me had placed her purse next to her on the bench. It sat with the top open, exposing its contents. My eyes were drawn to the keys, which had a small key chain with the faded school photo of a nine year-old girl. I became fixated on that key chain photo, thinking how the bereaved mom would not have one of those for her baby, how I would not have one of those for Mabel.

I was at that service to remember the little girl who entered this world silently a few days before, but I couldn’t be there without thinking of Mabel too. Had I remained loyal to the Catholic faith, this is the kind of service we would have had for my baby. I could see the mom in the front pew and watched her emotions through the mass. I was transported back to the first days after Mabel died- the anticipation of her wake and burial, the family surrounding me at all hours, the engorged breasts announcing to the world that there had been a baby. It was hard.

The priest gave a nice sermon about death and mercy- explaining that we were not asking for mercy in the forgiveness of sins sense for the deceased, but instead we were asking for mercy for ourselves, asking for compassion as we mourned what we lost.

After the mass was over the crowd, which was sizeable for a weekday morning, slowly filed out behind the grieving family, ending in a receiving line. As I waited my turn, I watched a few women who were dressed in scrubs. The bereaved mom was a clinician in a local medical clinic and I could tell these were women who worked with her. It warmed my heart to see them present and wiping away tears. I wanted to approach them and tell them a tiny bit of my story- that I’m a provider who lost a baby too and that returning to work was hard. I wanted to tell them that I thought it was so wonderful they were here and to please, please continue to watch out for the mom. Don’t let her return to work to soon. And when she’s ready, protect her. She’ll look better than she feels. Even months out, her baby will be on her mind and she’ll face constant reminders with her patients. Don’t forget. I played these words in my mind, but never got the nerve to say something. I didn’t want to bring my story into her day. But I know that her coworkers were there for her that day and by that alone, I know they’ll be there for her later on too.

While waiting in line, a woman asked if I were a friend of the mom’s or the dad’s. I said I knew the mom. She introduced herself as the mom’s aunt and asked how I knew the mom. This was a bit awkward for me as I met the mom through this blog and to explain it felt a little clumsy.

“We’re sort of internet friends,” I said inelegantly. “I lost a baby too and I write a blog about it. We found each other that way. I’m a nurse midwife, so we’re both in the field.” My voice was shaky, betraying the nervousness I felt bringing my baby’s story into another baby’s special day.

“I’m a nurse too,” she said and noted how she knew the baby’s whole story from the beginning.   We nodded at each other, sharing the understanding that fellow nurses have.

When I finally made it to the receiving line, I met the dad, who had his daughter’s little hat tucked into his pocket, creating a very special striped accent to his dark suit. The mom and I exchanged hugs and all I could think about was her poor chest- all that hugging when milk is trying to come in. At the end of the line I spoke with her mom. My standard introduction was “Hi, I’m Meghan. I’m a new friend of the mom’s. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Her mom grabbed me by the arms and said, “Meghan? The blog Meghan?”

I smiled and nodded.

“Oh I am so glad to meet you. And I’m so sorry about your loss too. I saw the page you wrote about Clara, it was lovely.” I suggested she look at the comments because there was a whole lot of love coming to her family from all over. “I am just so happy you guys have found each other- wait, no. I mean, I’m so sorry you both lost your babies, but…”

And I interrupted her, reassuring “Yes, me too.” There should be a word for the weird sense of camaraderie the babylost have- we are so happy to have each other, but wish we never knew one another, that none of us ever gained membership to this awful and special club, that our babies had lived.

I left the church feeling strangely good. It was a weird day- it seemed too sunny and warm for a funeral mass. Perhaps I was colored by my own story, having buried Mabel in the cold snow, but it just seemed so surreal that I spent the past hour sobbing in the dim church only to leave with the bright sun warming my bare arms through the bright green leaves on the trees.

Have you been to a funeral since your lost? What was it like for you?

Walks in honor of Mabel

One year ago this month, Chris and I learned that our unborn child would have Down Syndrome.  We accepted her with that news and all that the diagnosis would bring.   We loved her when we saw that she’d have clubbed feet.  We loved her when we discovered her kidneys weren’t working.  We loved her when they told us her lungs might be too small.  We loved her even though we knew we might lose her.  And we loved her when we said good bye after six short hours with her.
To honor her, we are taking part in two walks that are very important to us: The Buddy Walk supporting the CT Down Syndrome Congress on September 27 and Footprints on Our Heart Walk supporting Hope After Loss, my local bereavement group for perinatal loss (which has been so very helpful) on October 5th.  Please consider donating or joining us in either or both of the walks as a way to support us in the joy that was our daughter and the sorrow we have in her loss.
Buddy Walk:
(we are joining team Jenna’s Journey-  headed by five year old Jenna, who has Down Syndrome and who I helped bring into this world!)
and
Footprints on Our Hearts Walk by Hope After Loss