Ikea, revisited

Remember that time I was in line at Ikea? I saw someone I knew with her two young kids and I couldn’t bring myself to say hello- her with her two living, breathing children; me with only the memory of my dead one.

I saw her again.  At our local walk to remember.  I was there to remember my Mabel.  She was there to remember her first child, born still.

Oh, the stories untold.

Lunch date

They sat at the table next to us.  We were on a lunch date, me and Chris.  They were on a lunch date, mom and daughter.  Mom had the brussels sprout salad, daughter had the fried calamari, scrunching her face at the pieces with tentacles.  “Is that octopus?” she asked.  They both had fish for the main course. We left before they ordered dessert.  “Sociology,” the mom said. “No, he texted me! He said psychology!” The daughter corrected.  She was in high school. They had an easy banter between them, not “best friends” but clearly mom and daughter.

I know Mabel and I would never had had such a lunch date, nor easy banter with big words like sociology or psychology.  She would never had lightheartedly mentioned texting.  Yet I was envious of them.  In a different world, fifteen years from now, I could have been taking Mabel out for our own kind of lunch date. She would have been so proud to be out with her mom in a fancy restaurant, ordering from a grown up menu.  She would likely have squealed at the tentacled pieces of calamari and ordered the fried food over the vegetables.

An unexpected reminder of what will not be.

Damned if I do….

October 2013- that was the last I had seen her.  I knew because that was the date on the last note I had written.

You had a baby! Congratulations!

Thank you, I smiled warmly.

So much has happened since I was here last!

Yes- a lot has happened. The emphasis in my words hinted at a hidden story…

Well now you really know what it’s like, huh? she jested, referencing my my former life as a midwife who hadn’t given birth, who didn’t have kids yet.

My heart beat a little faster and my head spun a little- it was the shadow of a feeling I used to know very well, in the early days.  I used to tense up- heart racing, palms sweating, chest tightening- when someone would ask “How’s the baby?” or “Do you have kids?” It’s a feeling of fear, grief, sadness, anger all mixed up, when asked a question I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.  It was a feeling of anticipation- wondering how the other person would react, how to tell of my daughter without making the situation overly awkward.

Now the situation has changed. The tense feeling has softened.  She didn’t ask if he was my first.  There was no question to respond to.  It was all assumption.  The only way she could know the whole story was if I volunteered the information, something I have yet to master in a way that feels good. I wanted to say. I sure do! Two kids since I’ve seen you last! But doing so would only lead to follow up questions- how old is your first... I’d share that she had died and the requisite polite words or unhelpful platitudes would come. And it would feel like I’m fishing for sympathy.

I chose the path of least resistance-maybe not an outright lie but a lie of omission almost. It didn’t feel great.

Not telling the whole story felt wrong, telling the whole story felt wrong.  Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

what do you do?

 

Holiday Season Grieving

This is my third holiday season that I will be grieving my daughter, but my first without her.

Two years ago in mid December I was 27 weeks pregnant with my first child, when the doctors told me my baby would probably die.  She was found to have low fluid, a result of non functioning kidneys, which would cause underdeveloped lungs. It was just a week or so away from Christmas and we had all sorts of plans to celebrate happily pregnant with our very wanted baby. I was numb, in a haze of anticipatory grief, and so we just powered through- continuing our plans.  We got a tree, saw family, went to church.  These holiday activities were so very painful.  I tried to put on a happy face, but many of the festivities ended in tears. It was a very dark holiday.

Last year, my first holiday after my daughter died, I opted out.  It felt too painful to go through the motions again with a false smile. We did not put up a tree, we did not see family, we did not go to church.  We instead chose a small holiday- me, my husband and our puppy.  Mabel was there too.  We hung three stockings, Mommy, Daddy and Mabel.  We received many carrot ornaments from friends and family, which felt good. It was still a dark holiday but I was learning how to find some light in it.

This year, we are opting in.  We are seeing family. Four stockings are hung- Mommy, Daddy, Mabel and Felix.  We got a tree. This year we will cut a branch off the tree- a very noticeable one.  I want people to look at the tree and think, something’s missing.  It’s not right. Not complete. Because someone is missing.  My family is not complete. We will take that branch and bring it to her grave, so that Mabel can have a little bit of our Christmas too.  This holiday will still be dark, but this year I am trying to find the light.

image

My body cries…

As part of my new part time job, I do outreach on pregnancy and infant loss.  The non profit I work for has three main areas of focus- support, offering peer led support groups for those who have lost a pregnancy or infant, burial/cremation financial assistance, for those who need financial help to lay their child to rest and outreach and education, for medical professionals and other interested parties learning about perinatal loss.  The outreach is my favorite part of my job. I love being a teacher.  I’ve done lots of teaching in the midwifery world, mostly clinically educating student midwives.  I even daydream that someday I’ll give all this up and go back to school to become a elementary or high school teacher.  The outreach I do for the non profit allows me to be a teacher.
Recently I was doing a three hour presentation to another organization, training them about perinatal bereavement.  I spent the time talking about grief and how to be a good caregiver, how to “be with” the bereaved.  We did some interactive activities, watched some video clips and had a parent panel. At the end of the presentation, after I had shared my story as part of the parent panel, I looked down at my shirt and noticed a dark stain.
I had leaked.
I had pumped a few minutes before we started and have not needed breast pads in a few months.  I was slightly embarrassed at first, but then figured I was among women (though I forgot at the time I was being videotaped!)
I have been mulling over this event again and again and can’t help but smile, knowing my baby and my  body are still so intertwined.  I can now speak of Mabel without tears, but my body still cries for her.

Same question, different reactions….

I feel like my posts about Mabel lately are somewhat repetitive.  They all center around the seemingly inevitable question of “is he your first?” I write about it because I’m finding that the question leads to so many different outcomes.

I awkwardly made my way into the shop door, pushing the stroller with one hand carrying a bag and the carseat base with the other.  As I waited in the office of the autobody shop, I cooed at Felix and made silly faces.  The shop owner asked “Is he your first?”
“My second ,” I said with a smile that I like to think comes off as peaceful.
“Oh yeah? How old’s your first.”
“She would have been almost two, but she died.” My tone was calm and warm.
“Oh, I”m sorry.” He should have stopped there, but sometimes people just don’t know when to shut up. “So he’s really you first?”
No, stupid, I just told you.  He is my SECOND. My first baby- my daughter- my Mabel- she died.  Her death does not negate her existence. If your mother died, it doesn’t mean you never had a mother.  
“He is my first living child.”
ugh.
I sat on the floor of an apartment we rent out as a handyman made a repair on the door.  He had done some work for me in the past- a couple things over the past few years, so I had seen him very sporadically.  He helped with a messy bathroom repair a bit over two years ago- it was messy in the literal sense as well as the figurative sense- with lots of fighting with the upstairs unit owner whose toilet overflowed causing water damage in my unit’s bathroom.  The owner had given me a hard time and finally quite nastily snapped at me “I’m having ankle surgery in a few days, I don”t have time for this!”  At the time I was newly pregnant with Mabel, but we thought I was miscarrying and I so badly wanted to snap back “Well I’m miscarrying a very wanted baby and I don’t have time for you!”  But I didn’t.  This handyman was doing the work on the bathroom and so he is intertwined in my memory of that time.
When I was letting him in the door, he say me juggling to hold Felix and find my keys in my pocket and offered to hold the baby. I let him easily. We chitchatted a bit as he made the easy repair.  He was asking about Felix and to continue to small talk I asked if he had kids- a question I ask with nervousness, reminded of how hard that question has been for me.  But I asked because I was totally prepared for an answer about dead children.  I could handle it.
“No,” he said ” And it’s too late for that.  I dont want to be a grandfather to any kids-” suggesting he thought he was too old . His parents had him in their 40s and he would want to be a younger father.  I sensed a bit of sadness in him, though I wasn’t in a position to address it.
“And he’s your first, right?”
“My second,” again that peaceful smile crossed my lips.
“Oh I didn’t know you had another!  How old?”
“She would have been almost two, but she died last year.”
“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry.  I’m sorry I asked!”
“Thank you- and it’s ok.  I like talking about her.”
“Well I bet she would have made a really awesome big sister.”
I smiled at that.  The first time I heard those words.  My heart swelled. “Yes. Yes she would.”