I’m no expert.

“Oh that’s a baby baby!” the stranger said in the parking lot. He was walking by the car with his kids in tow as I pulled Felix out of his car seat,
“How old?” he asked.
“three weeks,” I replied.
“Is he your first?”
“My second.”
“Oh, you’re an expert, then!” The whole exchange took place in the few seconds that passed as he walked by my car, but his parting remark stung just a bit.
No. I’m no expert. My first baby died. I should be an expert but I’m not.
I’m realizing that there may be few interactions involving my son that will be without the subtext of Mabel.

How has your loss pervaded common interactions in everyday life?

Parenting a dead child

On Wednesday I went to see Mabel. It was July 15, exactly seventeen months after she died. In the first year after her death I would visit her grave every week- almost always on the weekend, bearing flowers as a gift. Some days, especially early on I would spend a fair amount of time there. I started reading her a book. I’d sit and journal when the weather was nice. I’d always say the same things “I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here” and sing the lines of the wook well known in our community “I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Going once a week was both a comfort and a stress. I had to see my baby-gave me a sense of purpose especially on those long empty weekends, let me feel like I was mothering her in a way. Though I’d sometimes feel stress if I had a full weekend and had to figure out time to visit and time to pick up flowers. Mostly though, it was a comforting routine.

I told myself that once her first birthday came around, I’d give myself a break- go when felt like it. I’m a creature of habit, though, with high expectations of myself so I also silently promised I’d go at least once a month. I’d go on the 15th bearing my usual flowers. And I do. The script is still same. The same emotions bubble up, a bit fuzzier around the edges, but still there.

I have mixed feelings on my routine. I love going and if it’s been a while I start to feel a gnawing- some anxiety even- an emptiness I have to fill with a visit. I seem overall satisfied with the once a month schedule. But at the same time I feel guilty. I should want to go more. I shouldn’t have to have a schedule, a day to remind me to visit. Honestly, I think about visiting a lot. The cemetery is five minutes from my house- a quick detour on the way home from work or errands. Yet, I don’t visit as often as I think of visiting. In the past few months my life got very busy and full- at times very stressful. An extra visit to the cemetery felt like one more thing to add on to a packed schedule. And I didn’t want to rush the visits- I wanted to give her time, be genuine with her.

At times I feel like a bad mom. I mentally gave myself permission to not visit weekly to help me with stress, but in some ways it also gave me stress. I know that the number of visits doesn’t not validate my mom status or quantify my love and grief for her- but its complicated. It’s hard parenting a dead child and still remain in the world of the living.

How often do you “visit” your child? Has that changed over time?

I made a lady cry

Yesterday I took Muppet and Felix out for a walk. We have a path in our town (that connects to several nearby towns) converted from a railroad track to a walking path- perfect for a stroll, a bike ride or a jog. I went there frequently after Mabel died because they plowed two legs of it in the winter, so it was one of the few places I could get out and get some fresh air safely. I met many friends there for walks as the air warmed. I remember my achey pelvis after the first few walks. It’s also a place where I would eventually take Muppet when we first got her. I guess it’s a place where I take my babies- whether they be dead and I take them in memory or whther they be furbabies. Yesterday I took my first living baby along with my furbaby.

We had a nice walk, with some interaction based mainly around muppet. She’s such stinkin’ cute puppy, its hard for her not to attract attention. I kept Felix well covered by a blanket over the stroller so no one would really see him and spread their germy germs to his fragile immune system. As we neared the end of our walk, a friendly woman walking alone approached and asked politely if she could pet my dog. She got right down on the ground with Muppet and gave her all sorts of puppy-loving. Muppet makes friends easily and loves just about anyone who will pet her.

After a few minutes of pets and belly rubs, she asked, again politely, if she could see the baby. I lifted the blanket and she was just awed by his small size.

“Yeah, he’s 10 days old. This is our first trip out.”

“My, look at you- a baby AND a puppy!! Wow! Is he your first?” she asked innocently.

“My second,” I answered with a smile.

“So does he have a brother or sister at home?” It often amazes me how many ways this question can be worded but my answer can be very different depending on the wording. So far I try to answer honestly and answer the question how its asked- though I’ve learned sometimes it makes me feel like I’m lying by omission- but it seems the right way for now. The same question can be phrased in many ways- is your first a boy or a girl? How old is your first? Do you have a son or a daughter? How many kids do you have? So many variations Presented with the question worded this way by the woman on the path, I felt the need to explain.

“He had a sister, but she died last year.”

The friendly, almost unctuous smile quickly melted into a deep expression of sorrow. Tears immediately filled her eyes and she began to cry a bit in front of me.

“Oh, I am so so sorry,” she said- and her empathy was genuine. She seemed at a loss for words for a bit and kept muttering apologies over and over. I smiled in a way that I hoped appeared gracious and resisted the urge to comfort her with “it’s ok,” when we all know its not ok at all.

“Thank you” I said softly in a tone trying to comfort her.

“It…just …makes you…think about…what’s important. The things we stress about…Oh gosh,” she stammered through tears.

I was kind of in awe about this woman’s outward display of emotion. She exuded joy with my puppy and now sadness hearing about Mabel. In some ways it seemed a bit over the top from a stranger, but in other ways it seemed so genuine.

I decided to comfort her a bit with words that I have already learned seem to make people feel better.

“Yes, so we are especially grateful for him.”

We soon parted ways, but I was reminded of the many times I was asked in pregnancy about whether it was my first or not. Some of those innocent conversations led to the admission that my first baby died. Awkwardness still followed, like it did before I was visibly pregnant, but my large belly and now the little human in front of me gave me an out. I can now comment on how fortunate/grateful/happy I am to have Felix.

This is all true- but a part of me cringes saying this as well. It implies a happy ending, that I’m no longer sad because I have a new baby (not true); that I’m less sad now that I have a new baby (both true and not true). The idea that having another baby makes everything better. When my only child died, I was so hopeful for another, thinking it would make things easier- and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. But it doesn’t change the fact that my baby died. I didn’t know when or if I’d get pregnant and if I’d stay pregnant and if that baby would be free of life limiting birth defects. What I needed to know then was that I’d be okay no matter what happened- whether I was fortunate to have a rainbow or not. We all know that not every story ends in a rainbow, and I feel like I want the world to know that too.

Not your typical Father’s Day….

*SENSITIVE*

I thought I knew what I was going to post here last sunday.  Father’s day- an important day in our house.  Chris did such a good job with Mother’s Day, that I wanted to make sure his Father’s day would be just as good.  He woke up to several presents.  Muppet gave him a card and a treat stick so that her favorite dad could keep giving her treats (she’s such a puppy!).

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The pea (our nickname for the little one on the inside) gave him Jimmy Fallon’s book “Your first word will be dada.”

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And Mabel and I gave him a massage gift certificate, as a reward for his 100 mi Best Buddies bike ride and half iron man done recently.

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We then went on to run a local road race.  We ran it last year, and in many of the years previously.  It’s a fun run, 5miles, passing along the water in Connecticut, with lots of onlookers and cheerleaders, ending in a festival.  And running a race this far pregnant was awesome- so much enthusiasm and cheering from the crowd.

At one point a woman cheered us on from her balcony and I looked up and smiled.  A moment later she said “Hi Mabel!”  I did a double take- confused, wondering if I knew this woman.  Then I realized she was talking to the people across the street with their dog.  I stopped and asked the people if their dog was named Mabel.

“Yes! How do you know Mabel?” they asked me.

“I don’t.  Mabel was my daughter’s name,” I replied as I pat their dog and then moved on.

Chris finished in about 45 minutes and I chugged a long in a jog/walk pace, finishing in about 75 minutes.  I’ll have you know, at 36weeks and 6days, I was not the last one to finish!  I finished 1439 out of 1460 :).

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Of note, I had discussed this race with my midwives beforehand and got clearance to do it if I stayed hydrated- note the water bottle in hand.

 

Chris and I post-race selfie

Chris and I post-race selfie

I was a little inspired by the woman who ran a marathon at 39 weeks a few years ago and then went into labor- half joking that maybe it’ll do it for me (half joking because I was far from ready for labor and a baby- lots more logistical and emotional work to do beforehand).

We spent the rest of the day doing errands and house things.  I was somewhat limited because of the extreme soreness I had doing all that jogging (still with the pubic bone pain this time around).  I was having some mild pressure contractions- not painful- like I had had a week before, though I thought nothing of it because I figured I was still a little dehydrated from the race and they weren’t painful.  After a dinner of Chicago pizza (literally from Chicago- a gift from Chris I had been saving.  Deep dish Giordano’s pizza shipped frozen for my birthday) and an hour or two of tv we went to bed and I fell asleep.

Then this happened:

http://www.myrecordjournal.com/news/latestnews/7424113-129/cheshire-mother-delivers-baby-unexpectedly-at-home.html

At some point I’ll take a minute to write down the whole birth story in my own words.  It was so fast, I’m still processing it all.  I am extremely grateful that all turned out well.

So I’d like to take a moment to introduce:

Felix Odom Constantino
Born 6/22/25 at 2am
At home, on the toilet, into the hands of his mother! (By accident after a VERY fast labor)

7lbs 3oz, 20inches

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Mothers of Louise

http://www.buzzfeed.com/krishrach/a-mom-shared-the-annoying-things-said-about-her-daughter-wit

I am a “mother of Louise.” A silent one, perhaps, because I only experienced such comments while pregnant (and yes, I really did), knowingly carrying a child with Down Syndrome.  The comments are real and I’m sure would have kept flowing.  I understand people often have good intentions at heart (as they do when they try to comfort babyloss moms- it’s surprising how much crossover there is there), but words are powerful.  These corrections are not meant to shame anyone who has said an unwittingly hurtful comment, they are meant to educate.  I’m sure I have and still do say hurtful things unknowingly and as hard as it may be to hear that I’ve done so, I will try to appreciate anyone who tries to educate me.

This mom makes me proud.

How old is YOUR baby?

“How old is your first?”  another question that keeps coming up.  This time (at the dog park again- I take my furbaby there almost daily) it was from an older woman making very nice small talk.  I know her only as Luna’s mom.  Luna is an older, somewhat toothless dog that has an affinity for puppies.  Luna and her mom are regulars, as Muppet and I have become.  It’s funny because our talk usually centers around our dogs or the weather, but on that day it ventured into family life.

“She would have been fourte…fifteen months,” I stumbled.  She was so appropriately sympathetic- not ignoring the odd tense I used, responding how hard this pregnancy must be.  I think the responses from the slightly older generation have often been most gentle- I’m unsure if it’s a maturity thing or a generational thing.

But I was horrified.  I can tell you exactly how old my puppy is, but I stumbled over the age of my daughter.  I was brought back to a month after Mabel was born and the seamstress asked how old the baby was, after spying my post-baby pooch and first asking incorrectly if I was pregnant.  I stumbled then too and was horrified that I could say off the tip of my tongue how many weeks old my baby would have been.  On this day at the dog park, I was thrown right back there, making me feel like a bad mom.  I know I am not- and it was just a passing feeling, one that was totally self imposed, but do you ever feel that way?  How old would your baby have been?

The same question over and over.

We stood in the middle of the dog park watching our dogs romp and run.  She commented on how cute Muppet was- not an unusual thing.  Muppet is surprisingly well loved among the regulars at the dog park.  I guess not too surprising- she’s a lover of people and dogs alike.  Playful, soft to the touch, recognizable.  Even a quasi-celebrity after she survived a near attack by another dog, which was photo documented on the park’s facebook page.  Muppet was doing her typical zoomies around the park, trying to get other dogs to engage in a game of chase.

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“Is this your first?” she asked me, nodding at my big belly.

“My second,” I smiled politely.

“Oh good!” she said, relieved, as she watched my puppy and her boundlesss energy.

I didn’t think much of the comment until  not a few minutes later, in a different spot, I had basically the same conversation with another woman.

“Oh, good,” she commented when learning this was not my first baby.

Perhaps I’m over-analyzing but, do they feel better about my crazy energetic puppy because she is supposedly used to having another kid in the home?  What if I told them there was no other child in the home?  I wasn’t angry, just perplexed about their responses.   I know, I’m extremely sensitive in general to that seemingly harmless question.  But what do you think they meant by their responses?

Earlier that day I was at bootcamp and was paired up with a woman I had seen before but don’t think I’d even spoken with.  After introducing ourselves, she asked it this was my first. I shook my head with a small smile.

“What else do you have at home- boys, girls?”  she asked pleasantly.

I relied on my standard response. “I had a daughter,” I said simply.  Usually that’s the end of the conversation- I often think people either don’t pick up on the past tense or do, but don’t know how to respond.  Or perhaps because I don’t elaborate, they think I’m unfriendly.  But this woman surprised me.

“So you have this one and your angel in heaven?”  My face lit up with a mixture of surprise and happiness.  She not only got the reference but actually acknowledged it!  It doesn’t matter that I don’t envision Mabel that way; it just matters that she understood the meaning behind those four words.  She understood that I was trying to tell her that I had a baby and she died -in a gentle way- to give her an out, killing the conversation.  But she made my day by really hearing what I said and not being afraid to respond.

I looked at her and gave her a real smile, nodding and saying “yes.” This time I was the one who didn’t know how to respond.  I tried to convey in my eyes and grin, how grateful I was for her simple comment.

By the end of the class she offered to give me a baby carrier she was trying to give to a good home.  It was almost like having a mommy friend.  So that’s what it feels like!

It certainly beats the “make sure they go to bed at the same time!” piece of advice I was given by a fellow bootcamper, after she asked it it was my first.  People so very much want to relate to you when you’re pregnant.  I didn’t have the heart to tell this other woman that my daughter was eternally sleeping, so I I just nodded and tried to seem receptive to her advice.  Really I was just speechless- I often look back at these moments and wonder how I would have felt if I responded differently.  I am proud that I can reflect on these interactions thinking about how  would have felt and not necessarily pondering how I would have made the other person feel by announcing my daughter’s death.   Clearly I still have concerns, or it would simply roll off my tongue- “my first child died.”  But instead I’m subtler, hinting, without being ether obvious or lying.  In the moment I might still be protecting others from the horror that is child death, but now I can analyze the interaction later really just wondering if I had the best response for me. 

How have your responses to these type of questions changed over time?  Are you able to think of yourself as the most important person in the conversation? Do you still struggle worrying about how others feel when mentioning your loss?

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