To the lady in the Home Depot parking lot…

To the lady in the Home Depot parking lot, the lady who came out her car screaming, arms flailing, so eager to assign me the blame for the fender bender:  What you don’t know is I don’t really care.  As I looked at your pinched face, with eyes hidden behind sunglasses, all I could think was, “there are worse things in this world, lady.  My baby died, what’s a little dent mean to me?”

To my chiropractor, when you said I looked good today- better than I had looked last week:  What you don’t know is, my look changes day by day, minute by minute.  I cringed when you said it because what I was hearing was, “you look good, you must be done grieving. Hooray! Now we can all get back to normal life.”   I am not done grieving; I will never be.  There is no normal life, just different life.

To the woman in my exercise class who I introduced myself to and gave me a stone face and flat response:  What you don’t know is this was the first time since my daughter died that I took initiative to say hello and seeing your lack of interest was discouraging.  But then I thought, “She must be having a bad day.  Maybe her baby died too.”  That’s where my mind goes because losing my child is my everything.  I can’t think of anything else.

To my family member who acts surprised when I answer the question, “how are you?” with a dejected sounding “alright:”  What you don’t know is how hard that question is for me to answer.  I don’t ever feel like I will ever be able to reply with a simple “good” and mean it.  Because I’m sad.  Everyday I’m sad.

To the woman walking on the bike path with her teenaged son with Down Syndrome:  What you don’t know is I wasn’t staring rudely at your child.  I was looking longingly at him, trying to picture what my Mabel would have looked like at his age.

May brings…

May will be hard.  I have been working hard to figure out how to re-integrate myself into daily life and I fear May will bring back to the beginning.  It might break me.

May brings work.

I’m scheduled to go back to work in May.  When I originally set the date as May 1, it seemed so far away. It felt a little like pinning the tail on the donkey.  I closed my eyes and just pointed at a date.  I knew I had no idea how I’d feel at that time, but I figured I might feel readier.  I suppose I felt some sense of self-imposed expectation. I would have been going back around then if I had a baby at home.  I often feel guilty because it makes sense to want to stay at home with a baby, working on bonding and breastfeeding.  But I don’t have a baby at home.  Sometimes I feel like I should be going back to work much sooner because there’s no little person keeping me at home.

I pushed back the start date by two weeks.  Again, I picked the date blindly.  I just don’t know how I’m going to feel.  Perhaps the anticipation is the worst part?  I don’t know.  When I return to work, I do know this.  I need to go slower.  Probably slower than I even think.

May brings babies.

I have two family members who are due in May, my sister and a cousin . This is going to hurt.  It’s something I should be looking forward to. I don’t know how I will be told about their births.  I dread it.  These children will be celebrated by my family, over and over again.  As much as I will love these babies, I am not in the mood for celebrating.  These children will forever be reminders of Mabel.  In years to come they will be the age she should have been.  It pains me that I can’t share the joy right now.  I have chosen a career and a lifestyle that usually celebrates these events, so being so dark is foreign to me.  Why did my baby have to die when these babies live?  Why are they fortunate to have two babies and I none?  Why my baby?  What did I do?  How is this fair?  (please please don’t think I want anything to happen to these babies.  I just wish things turned out differently for mine)

May brings Mother’s Day.

There is already a video going around facebook entitled “world’s toughest job.”  I watched it unaware that it was a tribute to mothers- working as a chef/accountant/manager 24hrs/day, 7 days a week, on your feet with no breaks, unpaid.  It’s the toughest job in the world.  You know what’s tougher?  Wanting that job and being rejected.  Choosing the moment your baby will die.  Watching others bring home a baby from the hospital while you don’t.  Burying your daughter.  When that video got to the part where they announce that this near impossible to fulfill job description turns out to be the lifestyle of a mother, I shut it off.  Chris was watching with me and was silent.  I think he was caught off guard too.  This is the start of what the next weeks will bring, constant reminders of the upcoming day.

Let me be clear- I love and appreciate my mother and the work she did raising five kids.  Mother’s Day is about her too.  I have always valued the day- I even used to send cards to other people in addition to my mother- my godmother, my grandmother, my friend’s mother who was like a second mother to me.  I get the day.  But this was supposed to be my first Mother’s Day.

Yes, many people tell me “But you are a mother.”  Yes I am a mother but I have no child to hold and make me feel that way.  According to Wikipedia a mother is “is a woman who has raised a child, given birth to a child, and/or supplied the egg which in union with a sperm grew into a child. ” I am a mother by definition- I have supplied the egg and given birth.  When do I get to raise her?

 

“The After” the first hours after Mabel died

I don’t remember too much after I gave up Mabel.  My nurse wheeled me up to my room.  I had a few options of where to go.  I could go to a gyn floor where they send most people who have losses.  There are no babies there.  I could return to the room I had spent the last couple weeks in.  Labor came on suddenly and I had two weeks of stuff sitting up there.  I could even go home- my midwife offered me close follow up.  In the end I opted to return to my room with all my belongings.  It felt easier.  I remember when real labor started I freaked out a little because we had so much stuff.  Chris had asked me days before, what do we do with all this stuff when I’m in labor.  We had pillows, blankets, clothes, exercise stuff, computers, books, board games among other things.  It would have taken Chris multiple trips to the car to clear it all.  I told him it would be easy- either I’d be rushed down for an emergency c-section in which case we’d leave our stuff there.  Or I’d be induced as scheduled in which case he could bring stuff home the days before.  I hadn’t counted on labor starting spontaneously.

In reflecting on my experience so far, I find I often felt compelled to be the ideal patient.  Prenatally I tried not to call my midwives for things.  In the hospital I put took myself on and off the monitor.  After Mabel died I gave her up sooner than I think I should have.  I’m a midwife and so felt some self-imposed pressure to excel at whatever the task at hand was.  I still feel that way- that I should be an ideal griever.  It clouds my thoughts as I make plans to return to work- wouldn’t an ideal midwife be able to return to work by now?

So when asking where I’d like to go for my postpartum recovery I opted to return to my room.  It just seemed easiest.  The idea of transporting all our stuff seemed like too much work and I was embarrassed by all the stuff we had accumulated in my room.  Returning to that room had an additional benefit- I was returning to nurses I knew.

As I was wheeled back onto that floor I saw several familiar faces who looked at me sympathetically and told me they were sorry.  I remember thinking that these women saw me all during my pregnancy while I worked there and cared for me in the past two weeks- and they didn’t even get a chance to meet Mabel.  Twenty-four hours before, I was complaining to these women that my calves hurt so much from climbing the stairs in that section of the hospital (an exercise break involving 28 flights of stairs).  They would watch me trudge down the hall with the monitors on my protruding belly to grab towels.  They chased my baby with the monitors so they could continuously see her heartbeat.  They helped me eat all the gifted candy I received so that my hips didn’t grow as much as my belly did.  These women saw me at my most worry free time in pregnancy, when I felt unburdened and could actually enjoy being pregnant.  And not one of them got to meet Mabel.  I left the floor with a baby in my belly and returned with a sagging belly and empty arms.

Once we got to my room, Chris and I simply climbed into the narrow hospital bed together and fell asleep.  We recently bought a king bed at home, which I especially enjoyed because I’m a hot sleeper and need my space.  For the first time in I can’t remember when, I was wanted Chris to be beside me as I slept.  We settled into that small space curled up next to each other in a fog of disbelief and fell asleep.

We probably could have slept straight through the night, but my sister and brother were arriving later that night and I had told my parents to bring them.  I’m not sure why.  I guess it seemed logical at the time.  We woke around nine at night to have pizza with them.  I remember thinking it was surreal to be there, smiling with my three-year old niece, hours after my own baby died.  I don’t think I cried.  They all left shortly after we were done eating.  Chris retreated to his cot and I popped an ambien- the ambien I was supposed to take while I was in early labor, but never did.  We slept through the night.  If I dreamt, I don’t remember about what.

I was woken to my cell phone ringing at 8 am on the dot.  It was AmEx calling to alert me to credit card fraud.  I remember the representative said that someone bought flights in Europe overnight with my card.  He apologized because though it happened hours ago, policy doesn’t allow them to call until 8am.  When I was awoken by the call, I took the phone with me to the bathroom because, having just had a baby, I was bleeding.  He asked me if I still had my credit card in my possession.  There I sat at 8am on a Sunday morning, hours after holding the body of my dead daughter, on a toilet, bleeding- and thinking how am I going to get to my wallet in the other room?  I didn’t want to wake Chris and I didn’t think to call AmEx back.  Why I even answered the phone in the first place, I don’t know.

That morning I ordered breakfast- French toast and bacon, which I nibbled on.  I remember because when my midwife came in, she said she was glad to see at least I had some protein on my plate.  I wondered why it mattered, because why would I need protein- my baby was dead.  She did the job I was too familiar with- reviewed discharge instructions and talked of birth control.  We talked about when I wanted to try again, another surreal conversation to have twenty-four hours after we decided to let my baby die peacefully.

We had several other visitors in the morning.  The birth certificate lady, a woman I know well from our crisscrossing paths when I did postpartum rounds.  She got married only a few months after me, so we shared wedding excitement together.  I remember when she saw me in the hallway, noticing my pregnant belly for the first time.  She came to visit me while I was admitted prenatally.  I always thought the first time she’d be seeing me professionally would be a happier time.

A doctor from our pediatrician’s office came by.  He expressed his condolences and told us they’d be happy to help with any future concerns, like reviewing our daughter’s autopsy when it came in.  I remember thinking, how nice he’s visiting us- he had never met us and here he is talking to us with no baby to examine.

Our day nurse came to complete the final discharge tasks and we were free to go.  I walked out, running into one of the doctors in my practice.  That’s the nature of being a patient on the floor you work on, lots of familiar faces.  When I was first admitted back in December, I came out of my room and at the computer station was a doctor from another practice.  I saw her do a double take, realizing who I was.  Though we only know each other from superficial chats in the charting room, I almost wanted to tell her what was going on because she was an obstetrician.  All I would have to say is that I have oligohydramnios at 27 weeks and she’d understand in an instance the gravity of the situation.  I know she learned the situation not long after.  She had asked her colleague, my old midwife and friend who I was seeing up until I was became pregnant, if she knew why I was admitted.  I happened to have talked to that midwife during my weekend admission.  She had called just to check up on me, knowing I was struggling with worry after the Down Syndrome diagnosis.  I thought she was calling because she had heard the more serious news, but it was mere coincidence.  I was glad she was able to tell her colleagues- I wanted people to know.  I wanted their understanding and their sympathy.  I wanted everyone in the OB department to know because it was such a unique and terrifying situation.  I felt like I just kept living out my worst fears.  The reaction of my colleagues validated my feelings.

So I stood there in the hallway, talking for a few minutes to my doctor colleague.  I remembered that I had a bag that belonged to our fellow midwife and gave it to the doctor to return for me.  It all seemed so surreal.  I look back and think I was playing a role- the role of a newly bereaved mother.  I didn’t know how to act; I was numb.  We left the floor and got into our car.  I don’t think we spoke much on the way home.

Maybe Baby

I started a pinterest board once I was publically pregnant.  I pinned cribs I liked and resources for Down Syndrome.  I hadn’t announced on social media that my baby had Down Syndrome, but I wasn’t hiding it either.  If people followed my boards and saw that I was pinning things regarding Down Syndrome, they could make the connection.  I didn’t announce because I didn’t want pity.  I wanted it to be just another thing, like my baby’s gender or hair color.  I was ok with sympathy for the worry that the diagnosis brought, but not pity.  I named this pinterest board “Maybe Baby.”  I like the way it rhymed and it described how I maybe would buy these things for my baby.  A little part of me was also trying not to jinx the pregnancy.  With a higher risk for loss, I didn’t want to make assumptions.

When I was in the hospital in the last weeks of my pregnancy I changed the name of that board.  “Maybe Baby” sounded too realistic.  Maybe I would have a baby, maybe not.  It wasn’t how the name was intended but it felt too much like tempting fate.  I changed the name to simply “Baby Baby.”

I am still in shock about how so many of the things I worried about and cried over came true.  As a midwife I was terrified about stillbirth and loss; my pregnancy turned out to have a high risk of stillbirth and I ended up with a loss.  When someone told me they were pregnant, I cried in private saying to Chris- “they’re going to have two babies and I’m going to have none.”  I would tell people about my baby’s Down Syndrome so that I could tell them that there was a high risk of loss.  I named a board “Maybe Baby” and it turned out to be a good description of my pregnancy.

I am a very rational person but there is still a little voice that tells me- you worried too much.  This is what happens when you worry too much, your worries come true. You predicted your future with pinterest.

The Babyloss Grieving Handbook

When I was staring down those first days home alone, without family, without Chris, I was starving for advice to help me get through the days.  I wanted a handbook- this is how you do it.  This is how you occupy your time. This is how you go on.  Turns out, there is no such handbook.  Now that I’m two months in and don’t dread every way in the way I used to, I can reflect a little on what has helped me.

Visits and dates with friends-  They add structure.  Something to get out of bed for.  Some of these dates I show pictures and talk a lot about Mabel.  Some of these dates we barely mention her.  I’ve looked at houses with people.  I’ve folded a friend’s laundry.  I’ve cleaned my kitchen with a friend’s help.  Anything to fill that baby-shaped space.

Writing– I write here.  I write more than I post because some of it needs to be censored.  Too raw.  Too angry.  Too hurtful.  I write on a message board for babyloss parents.  I write thank you notes.  Knowing people are reading my words help keep Mabel’s memory alive for me.

Internet– for the good and the bad.  I’ve found some support sites which have been helpful.  Social media can be a good distraction, but with caution.  I’ve had to unfollow a lot of people on facebook because seeing their beautiful children or their growing bellies hurts too much, reminding me of what is missing in my life.  Chris recommended early on that I keep my laptop downstairs, which would force me to physically get out of bed each day if I wanted to surf or to write.

Exercise– at first I walked.  It was slow as my pelvic bones were returning to their normal position.  Then I added yoga (11 days).  And modified bootcamp (2.5 weeks).  The I started mixing in some light jogging (4 weeks).  Exercise gives some structure to the day- especially if it’s a class.  I now exercise just about every day.  I try to sign up for morning classes so they give me something to get out of bed for.

TV and music– there’s no such thing as too much Friday Night Lights (though there are some “baby” storylines in it).  In the absence of TV, when I need something to fill the quiet of the house but I can’t pay much attention to it, music will do.  Sometimes I wonder what did we ever do without Pandora or Spotify.  A friend made me a cd after I crowdsurfed pick-me-up songs on FB.  And there is the radio.  I find NPR especially helpful, hearing people talking.  It’s distracting and makes the house really feel like someone is there.

Games– surprisingly my smartphone has helped me through some bad spells.  I play a few games like scramble and bejeweled.  When I’m upset and crying and need to stop (like if I have guests downstairs or am about to go into a party), I play a game of scramble.  It works.  Calms me down.  Focuses my attention elsewhere.

Projects- I have a list of these, though the list stays relatively long.  Finding motivation is the hard part.  So I pick small projects or chores even- Cleaning one room of the house. Watering plants.  Laundry. Helping a friend with a photo collage for a bridal shower.  Mending Chris’s pants.  When the weather gets nicer, I’m sure yardwork and gardening might play a role.

Thank yous– My therapist was happy to hear that I was writing thank yous to my care providers- those who nursed, midwifed or doctored me during my pregnancy and Mabel’s birth and short life.  This not only takes up time, but it’s a nice reflection on what I remember fondly and what I value in my experience.  Reminds me that there are things to be grateful for.  I’ve been procrastinating about finishing them, only because I really enjoy writing them and want this project to last and last.

Plan a trip– After leaving an ultrasound a few weeks before I went into the hospital, the weight of what it would mean to have a baby requiring dialysis really hit Chris and I.  There was a possibility we would never leave our home for vacation for years.  We briefly entertained the idea of doing a quick weekend trip away before I was admitted, but logistics were too hard to make it happen.  So we said to each other as we walked to the car, if our baby doesn’t live, we should go away.  I knew I’d need a vacation from my grief.  And if the worst did happen, a trip would give me something to look forward to, even superficially.  So Chris and I are planned a long weekend in Florida.  I also planned a trip to California- to spend time with friends and see my sister and her family.  Finding flights, booking hotels, planning activities fills the time.

Make something that honors your baby– the first few days after Mabel came and went, I made a scrapbook.  I displayed it at her wake so that the many people whom I wanted to show her to could see her and see her story.  I’ve shown that scrapbook to many people since.  I’m now working on a few other projects, which I will reveal later.  If you buried your baby, plan her gravestone.  Plan a memorial if you haven’t had one already.  If you have a picture, make a baby announcement- send her picture to whoever you choose.

To those who have experienced the loss of a baby, what has helped you?

All “the things” of the past day.

I went to the cemetery yesterday.  My aunt was in town and she was unable to attend Mabel’s services so I brought her to Mabel’s grave.  When we arrived I noticed that someone had placed some flowers at her marker.  We go to see Mabel every Saturday and leave her flowers.  This weekend we were away and so missed our usual outing.  We each have a picture of her marker on our phones so we looked at them on Saturday.  And then yesterday I walk up to her grave and see someone had thought of her too.  I’m unsure who it was -feel free to take credit if it was you!  What a nice thing to walk up to.  Not too many people know where her grave is- it could have been some of my local family, the one friend I’ve shown or someone from far away who sent flowers?  Or it could have been a stranger.  Someone visiting their loved one’s grave who saw a new marker of a baby with week-old flowers beside it?  Well whoever you are, family, friend or stranger, thank you.  It’s a kind hearted thing to bring my baby flowers.

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We walked around the cemetery for a bit and looked at other graves.  I was seeing what others have done to adorn graves- some small gardens, some ornaments, some flowers.  I also found some graves of some babies as well.  Just two headstones over lies a baby.  I held back tears as we found more little ones throughout the cemetery.  It’s a comforting thing to know that Mabel has friends.

I went to a local support group last night too.  I had been to two other meetings with this group, but this one was different.  There were more people and I felt comforted there.  We stayed over the end time and all hugged when we left.  It’s a group for people who have had pregnancy or neonatal loss.  All the stories are different, but it’s amazing how many of the same feelings and experiences are present.  The stories I heard are the stories of others, so they are not for me to share.  The most memorable moment for me was when another woman heard my story and realized that she had read my blog.  And hearing her talk, I realized I had read her story too.  It’s a beautiful thing to put a face to a story.

Today I got a massage and the place I go is right next to both a Carter’s and Motherhood store.  I have been there once since I buried my daughter, but I guess I had forgotten.  The massage therapist said I looked tired and I responded that it had been a rough couple of months.  The therapist was a new one and as he held my chart he said, “So you just had a baby?”  After I confirmed and he congratulated me, I lay down and all during the massage I couldn’t stop thinking about whether I should have told him my baby died.  It’s a sad thing to be constantly reminded of what I’ve lost.

Driving home, I was listening to one of my audiobooks (yes, I’m a big nerd)- one about a high school kid on a rowing team.  The narrator described his feeling after losing a race.  When you are so close to something that you can practically taste it, you want that something more than ever.  It becomes all you can think about, all you desire.  It’s a validating thing to hear my feelings verbalized.  

Childbirth classes

The front desk on Labor and Birth is often a social place.  If there is not much happening people often gather around there to chat.  I was standing by the desk with a group of nurses and one of them who runs her own childbirth education business was talking about how her classes are booking up way in advance.  I referred many of my patients to her because I think she does the best job- she is a nurse on the labor floor in the hospital that my patients will birth at.  She not only knows labor but she knows how it is at our hospital.  So I asked her when she was booking until, thinking I was asking under the guise of guiding my patients when to contact her.  She looked at me and said “When are you due?”  Apparently I wasn’t as subtle as I thought.  I was 17 weeks and due in March.  She was already booking up her classes for those due in February.  She instructed me to contact her soon, so she could get me into a class.  I told her I needed to wait a bit.  I spoke vaguely about “issues” with the pregnancy and so I’m not ready to book yet.  I was still worried about loss.  I had been open about my pregnancy and even the Down Syndrome diagnosis to anyone who asked, but I liked to tell people on my own terms.  I just didn’t feel right saying it and my fears right then and there.  Besides, many on Labor and Birth knew any I figured word had gotten around.

I wanted to do childbirth classes even as a midwife because I wanted the full experience.  I wanted my husband to get the education.  And I wanted to learn how to let go and be a patient, not my own midwife.  I hesitated booking anything in case I miscarried or had a stillbirth.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to do a group class, surrounded by pregnant women happy in their carefree pregnancies, ignorant of all the awful that can happen.  I also knew that I wanted to be induced at 39 weeks to avoid any further risk of stillbirth, so laboring at home was not going to be an option.  I also felt a little weird about being in a class with my patients.  I felt like I would always have my guard up because I’d want to look professional.  I thought patients might think it weird too and not be totally open because their midwife was watching.

I eventually emailed the nurse to tell her I wanted childbirth classes but I was hesitant about a group class.  I spoke mainly of being in a class with patients and my concerns around that.  She pushed me to do a group class and so I relented.  Not long after she saw me on the labor floor and actually apologized.  She said she didn’t know that I had a difficult diagnosis and wouldn’t have pushed so hard for group glasses had she known.  I appreciated her sincerity and understanding, but at that point I had actually come around to the benefits of a group class.

Then I was diagnosed with the olighydramnios.  I contacted her again asking, in light of recent events, would she do a private class for me and Chris.  I didn’t go into detail because I assumed she knew.  I had recently been admitted in the hospital I work at.  I had visitors from the labor floor.  I assumed my situation was public knowledge- and I was ok with that.  She agreed easily to a private class.  When we finally had our class in January, she again apologized that she didn’t know I had been admitted.  I told her the whole story and our upcoming plan for admission, so she could cater her class to our situation.  I would not be laboring at home. I’d be tethered to a monitor.  I was likely going to be induced. I could end up with an emergent c-section.

I’m glad I at least had the experience of childbirth classes.  There were many things I was robbed of, including the group class I decided I wanted.  But at least I had something.

I realized that my hospital and care providers do a really good job of protecting my privacy.  It is our job as midwives and providers to protect our patients’ privacy.  We take that responsibility very seriously.  I had to be very specific if I wanted them to share my situation with people I care about and who care about me.  Yes, I wanted them to know.  I wanted them to know while I was pregnant, what my baby and I were facing.  It was part of the story.  It was the start of my urgency for people to know her, to validate her, to keep her in their memory.  The more they knew the longer she would live in their minds.