Friday Night Firepit

A Friday night firepit.  Something of a tradition among our friends.  Summer time has rolled in and in the absence of other plans, someone in the friend group will often suggest a night around the fire.  This Friday night firepit was at our good friends’ house- they got married two weeks ago and invited us over to help make a dent in some of their leftover beer and wine.

We sat around the fire and made small talk- the world cup, their recent honeymoon in Paris, the location of the cricket we were hearing.  As the fire sparked, I sat on one of the comfy patio chairs.  It was familiar to me- it used to sit at my parent’s old house.  When they moved, we got a U-haul and schlepped all the furniture they weren’t bringing with them down to our neck of the woods and distributed some of it among friends.  These friends have the patio set, a large hutch and an upright piano.  Moving a piano isn’t easy, but Chris and this friend made it happen.  I was very impressed.

As I sat I this familiar comfy chair, their five year old came up and snuggled with me.  She is super sweet and we have always gotten along.  When they moved into this new house I bought her and her brother housewarming gifts (books) along with their parents.  I remember in my pregnancy coming over one night and she sat on my lap.  After a hour or so, she looked at me and said “Do you have a baby in your belly?’  We all smiled and laughed at how cute an observation it was.  She and her dad came and visited Chris and I in the hospital one night and again a few weeks after Mabel died.  In the house, she looked at one of the photos we had of her framed by our doorway- “is this your baby that died?” she asked with an innocence that only a kid could have.

I like this kid.  I’m good with her.  Heck, I’m good with kids in general.  I’ve been babysitting since I was 11.  I was a child development major in college.  I worked at summer camps all through college.  Once my friends started having kids, I would show them how to swaddle and hold their babies with confidence.  I have even been called the baby whisperer.  So the unfairness of having a child and her being ripped away from me hurts all the more.  Because I would have been great with my kid.

At the firepit, she snuggled up to me and rambled on about a story involving Mrs. Redleaf- the tree in her back yard.  At one point, during a break in the story I pulled up my phone to show her a photo of a turtle I had seen in my yard a few days before.  Her seven-year old brother came over and looked too.  Drawn to the screen, as kids are these days, we spent a few minutes scrolling through my photos pausing to look at other pictures of animals I had.  In between we passed some photos of carrots.  “Why do you have so many carrots on your phone?” her brother asked.

“Remember how I had a baby and she died?” They both nodded.  “Well, we used to call her our Karate Carrot.  Carrot was her nickname.  I have all the carrots because I’m sad and I miss her.”  They accepted my explanation easily and we soon put the photo down and went back to the firepit.  I heard more of the story of Mrs. Redleaf and we ate pizza.

Towards the end of the night when the little girl was curled up on my lap, she said that I was her mom now.  She even called out to her own mother and said she wanted to go home with us, “because you don’t have any kids.  Your baby died, so I want to be your kid.”

Sigh.  Kids- they just say the right thing sometimes.

Puppies & Rainbows vs Doom & Gloom

I arrived at work and my first patient was early, already in an exam room waiting for me.  I put down my things and quickly went to see her. Afterwards I took a minute and reviewed my schedule for the rest of the day- something I usually do first thing, but I didn’t want to keep my patient waiting.  I saw that my next patient was coming in for a procedure.  Our new scheduling system told me only that and I was curious what procedure, so I opened the chart and discovered I’d be inserting an IUD (intrauterine device- a form of long acting birth control).  I also saw that she was eight weeks postpartum.  By the time I figured this out, I had already seen her walk past my office, toting a baby carrier, following my assistant.

I can do this, I thought.  Compartmentalize.

Even when I ask to see gyns only, some of my gyns are pregnant.  Even when I ask to see no postpartum, some of my patients are postpartum.  It’s the nature of our business; there is a lot of overlap.

I saw the patient, did my initial spiel of risks/benefits.  I had to leave the room to look something up before getting started on the procedure and while I sat at my desk for that minute, I burst into tears.  I had just sat across from this woman, living the life I was supposed to live, her eight-week baby making noises just feet from me.  She was the me that I was not, the me I wanted to be, the me with the take home baby.  It took all my energy to stay focused on the woman and not look at the baby.  I did not coo.  I was not cheery.  I probably appeared annoyed and grumpy to the patient.   Little did she know…

But how am I supposed to be when I was faced with a newborn before I was ready to be?  And to have to act professionally.  In an ideal world I would just say, have her reschedule- but that’s not fair to the patient.  If I’m at work, my goal is to do what’s best for the woman I care for, which means my own mental well-being may be sacrificed.  I knew this coming back- just the mere act of returning to work personified it.

I survived.  I know this is a lesson in You Will Go On 101.  But as this spot-on article says… so what?  I survived but I’m still sad.  Sadder than I was before I saw that woman with her baby.  I survived, but my baby’s still dead.

There were moments of reprieve too.  I think I’ve made it clear that my life is not all puppies and rainbows.  But it’s not all doom and gloom too.  I recognize the good moments.

“When do you turn forty?” I asked one patient trying to figure out if I should order a mammogram this year or next year. “In February,” she responded.  My ears perked up- February is my birth month.  And Mabel’s.  I couldn’t help myself.  “Oh, when in February?”  “The 15th,” she says.  “That’s my daughter’s birthday!”  I said smiling and that was that.  There was no pause trying to figure out whether to use the present or past tense.  The sentence just spilled out of my mouth.  No follow up question, which I was actually glad about.  I don’t want people to think I’m fishing- purposely trying to get people to ask about my daughter.  But I also want those moments of normal mommyhood.  To feel what it would have been like for a split second, if she had lived.

And my final patient of the day was one that I was close to, someone I enjoyed.  When I entered the room, I could tell instantly she had read the sign.  She looked at me with sad eyes and asked if it was ok if she could give me a hug.  We spent the next few minutes talking about my daughter.  She asked what had happened, if it was ok for her to ask.  I told her that I love talking about my daughter.  I told her about how we knew she had Down Syndrome early on, the relief that came with the first essentially normal ultrasounds, the despair following the oligohydramnios diagnosis, the kidney problems, the lung problems and her short life.  God, I love telling her story.  The lovely woman cried for me and for Mabel.  She told me I looked like I was doing well, with almost surprise in her voice.  So I told her how I had cried earlier that day.  I have my moments.  As our time talking about me was wrapping up, she ended with a usually cringe-worthy saying.  She said “I don’t know if you are religious at all, but everything happens for a reason.  God has a plan…”  and a few other words that would make other fellow grievers gasp.  BUT it was ok.  She had proven herself- she was kind and compassionate.  I think those words were going to help her find some peace regarding my daughter’s death.  I didn’t correct her, nor did I agree with her.  I just smiled and returned the attention to her- to help her with her visit.

A New York Weekend

I’ve been trying to plan things- put events, even small ones, on the calendar so I have something to look forward to.  This past weekend our plan was to go to NYC.  Chris had recently seen a comedy show there with a bachelor party, which he said was fun, so I wanted to go to it too.  It seemed fitting, one of those things that we could do because we don’t have a baby.  Who brings a baby to a comedy club?  Don’t worry, no one.

I hesitate to write about doing things I wouldn’t be able to do with a baby for fear that people will either think “how lucky she is- she gets to do that!” or “See, she’s ok, she’s making the best of her circumstances.”  When really I would give anything to be stuck at home with a baby, wishing I could go to a comedy club.  I don’t consider it a benefit of babyloss.  There are no benefits of babyloss.  It is my consolation prize.  How does the saying go?  What do they call the person who comes in second place? First loser.  Yup.

So we planned a whole trip around the comedy club.  Booked a hotel.  Went in early and walked the High Line- an old raised railroad track made into a public garden walk in the heart of the city.  Went to a nice French restaurant for dinner.  Had two glasses of wine.  Shopped 18 miles of books at a famous bookstore.  Saw Comedy show.

In the morning we planned to go a tour of the Hasidic Jewish Community.  Might seem a little offbeat, but it has been something I’ve wanted to do since I first heard about it.  It gets good reviews and I think it would be fascinating to learn about this entire other culture that lives side by side with us.  Sadly the tour guide was sick (or some other medical emergency that I found out about through many emails, texts and phone calls), so no tour.  The Jews would have to wait.

Instead we went down to Ground Zero to check out the memorial and maybe see the museum.  The wait for the  museum was two hours so we just explored the memorial and people watched.  We saw a troop of chemical responders march by in some sort of uniformed training.  A security guard reprimanded someone for resting their map on the memorial.  We marveled at the clothing choices people made, trying to guess which ones were foreigners.  I watched as a stranger took a photo of a little girl who looked like she was dressed in some sort of traditional southeast Asian costume- Nepalese, perhaps? and then give her a piece of candy for cooperation.  I too was mesmerized by the little girls brightly colored tunic, pants and head scarf, but felt too awkward to take a photo.  Two especially tall and long limbed people walked past us and I told Chris that I thought they had Marfan’s Syndrome.  I saw two teenaged girls unknowingly wearing the same hipster American flag sweater.

As we sat on the stone bench, I thought about the first name I saw on the memorial.  The monument consists of two large stone squares with a dropped pool in the center.  Water poured down the side into the pool, the bottom of which was perhaps twenty feet below us.  In the stone blocks lining the pool was carved the names of people who perished.  Hundreds and hundreds of names.  The first one I walked up to said:

photo (15)

I was struck by how sad it was.  I tried to think about what it must have felt like to be in the towers after the planes crashed into them.  I thought about what it must feel like to be the husband of Patricia Ann Cimaroli Massari and father to her unborn child.  The iconic image of the falling man came to mind and I had to distract myself.  What must it have been like to choose facing flames or jumping?  I thought only momentarily, because it was just too sad, too horrific.  There is no comparing grief- each circumstance is different- but my own thoughts of, it’s too sad I don’t want to think about it, made me wonder if some people had the same thoughts about my circumstance.  No one likes to think about people dying, let alone a baby.  Even me.  The difference is, I have to, everyday.  The same way those who lost a love one in the 9/11 attacks think about their loss, everyday.  They are such different losses, and I am not saying one is bigger than the other, nor are they even comparable.  But what we do share is the events life handed to us.

How do some people figure it out?

It’s like it never happened, like she never was here.  I see one patient after another and we talk of their exercise routine.  I ask about their sex life.  We discuss their vaginal discharge.  I am transported back to a year ago, when I was actually pregnant, but didn’t know it yet.  My life hadn’t changed.  I went to work each day and helped women figure out their birth control and navigate through abnormal pap smears.  Fastforward to right now and when I’m at work, and it is the same.  There is a sign with my daughter’s photo and her life summed up in a short paragraph, but otherwise, no difference.  I sit across from these women and for a moment I am distracted, thinking of their lives instead of mine.  They don’t ask, because the visit is about them (as it should be).

At lunch time I say to one of my nurses who has been especially helpful in the past few months, “maybe I should take the sign down?”  She asks why.  “Because no one says anything, so it feels a little pointless.”  We decide to keep it up longer, at least until I start seeing OB patients.

Then I am seeing my last patient of the day- a young woman who I have never met before.  As we say our introductions and I ask how I can help her, she pauses and says, “I just want to express my condolences…” and says a few more kind words.  She read the sign.  I was so resigned to the fact that though my daughter’s absence is a constant presence for me, it might not belong in the workplace that I became a little teary eyed when she spoke her words.

I raised my eyes from her chart and looked at her.  “You are the first person to say something all day.  Thank you.  That is so kind.”

I know people don’t know see the sign.  Others don’t what to say and I don’t blame them.  I used to not know either.  But then every now and then I have an interaction like this one.  It amazes me how some people can figure it out.  Is it something they are born with, this deep-rooted compassion and fearlessness to say something?  Was it taught to her as a child, raised by parents who showed her the grace in saying something, anything?  Has she learned her empathy the hard way, having lost something or someone she loved?

She came to me in a dream

She came to me in a dream last night.  I’ve known many bereaved mothers who have hoped to dream of their children.  I think what we want is for our child to appear and let us know everything will be alright- for them and for us- to be reminded of their faces in 3-d, not just flat glossy photos.  I’ve had several dreams about my Mabel.  They are quick, never lasting long enough.  One where she was alive and I was nursing her.  One where I traded her in for another baby.  And then last night.

We were in the hospital, the NICU, and I could take her home.  My younger sister was in a wheelchair with her in her arms, both of them being wheeled towards the exit.  I put my face down close to Mabel’s and she smiled and reached out to grab at my hair.  I smiled because I could take her home.  We were going home, all together, as a family.

This might be the kind of dream others like me hope for.  I could read into it and claim all sorts of messages.  But truth is, I didn’t like dreaming of her.  This one was a good one; I was happy!  So very happy I could take her home.  But then I woke up to reality- that life where she did not ever meet my sister, where she didn’t smile or reach out, where I did not take her home.

These dreams just leave me sad.  The only interpretation I can give is that my dreams play out my anxieties and my emotions throughout the night- sometimes they are fantasy, sometimes reality based.  I dreamed I got to take her home, because that’s what I think about all day- I wish I could have taken her home.

Two Bunnies  

As I have written before, some days are better than others.  A couple weeks ago I had a good day and wrote this at the end of it.  Today was neither good nor bad, it just was.  On the bad days I need to be reminded of how I feel on the good days, but on those days there’s no way I can let hope sink in.  So it’s today, on a day that simply was, I post this, to remind me that some days are actually good.  Some days I have hope.


As we sit outside on our patio, we watch two little bunnies prance around our yard.  Whenever I see two animals together, I joke that they’re married- a reference to the character, Milton, in the movie Office Space who mumbles about watching two squirrels in the tree that are married.  Chris sees the bunnies and says, “I don’t think they’re married, though.  I think they’re brother and sister.”  We watch for many minutes as they essentially play chase.  The slightly bigger and in my estimation older one hops quickly ahead and the smaller, younger one bounds after him.   They figure eight all over our yard, at one point playing cat-and-mouse around an old stump on the grassy hill.  We talk about them, laughing at their chase and talk to them.  Their ears prick up, so they can hear us, but they don’t bounce away.  I’m amazed at how near they come to us.  It’s delightful to watch.

I smile as I think of a conversation I had earlier that day with a friend and fellow babyloss mom.  We were talking about signs and hopes for future children.  For her seeing two butterflies gave her hope.  I remember in the beginning of my pregnancy, after Mabel’s Down Syndrome diagnosis, as I was running in our neighborhood, I consumed by thoughts of miscarriage and stillbirth.  I was saying to myself over and over again, “stay baby stay,” willing the forming life inside me to stay put.   Then I saw two deer in a neighbor’s yard.  I’m not really one much for signs, but I remember thinking that it’s got to be a good sign.  Seeing two deer- two.  One for me and one for my baby.  Staying together.  A song that was giving me comfort at that time was the Indigo Girls’ Power of Two.  Seeing the two deer gave me hope.  And my baby did stay through my pregnancy.

Now as I sit, almost giggling at their antics, I hope the two bunnies are a sign.  Siblings, like Chris said.  We watch them move from a game of chase onto a game of hid and go seek.  One bunny runs down the hill and a few seconds later the other comes looking.  I try to tell the seeker that the hider is over there.  I point and call to him.  His ears pick up again and he looks at me.  Then he hops over to the garden- Mabel’s garden- in pursuit of his sister.  Bunnies like carrots.

I look great because my baby died

“You look great!” I heard it at bootcamp from an acquaintance.  She had seen me a few times before.  I don’t know if she knows I had a baby recently.  I don’t know if she knows my baby died.  She is the friend of a friend’s sister (who knows my story), so it’s possible.  I don’t know if she was commenting simply on how I looked compared to a few weeks ago, on how I looked for someone who had recently had a baby or trying to say something nice to someone who recently buried her baby.  For her, my response was easy.  I smiled, said a quick thank you and continued with my goblet lunges.

Now that I’m back to work I’ve heard it many times.  It’s always wonderful to hear people saying nice things about your appearance, especially after a body-changing event like having a baby.  But it’s a weird compliment right now.  Yes, I am thinner than I was pre-pregnancy, finally putting me at my first healthy BMI in 6 years.  I am in really good shape- I’ve had a lot of time to exercise, but I’ve always been an exerciser.  What’s changed is my appetite.  I hadn’t been eating all that much and so my weight dropped.  My appetite is low because I’m grieving.  I look “great” because my baby died.  If I had a living baby, I would not look this way.  I wouldn’t have the time or energy to exercise as much and I’d probably be making even poorer food choices that I do now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased with how I look and the compliments are wonderful and welcome.  It’s just another example of how even the nicest thing someone could say, can still have a shadow of darkness for me.  Everything is a reminder.

How’s your son?

“How’s your son?” I asked her over the phone, after I answered her questions.

“He’s good!”

“He was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, right?”  I remember seeing her postpartum, standing by the warmer in the NICU.  She had declined prenatal testing because it wouldn’t have changed how she felt about the pregnancy.  When her baby was born, the pediatricians thought he had several characteristics of a baby with Down Syndrome, so he was in the NICU for evaluation.  She was a bit unbelieving at first, not ready to fully accept the diagnosis until the test results were in.  I knew they’d both be fine.  She came from a lovely extended family that took care of each other.  That baby was lucky, I had thought.  No one rejoices at the diagnosis of Down Syndrome, but I knew that baby was going to be loved on so much.


“Did you know, I had a baby with Down Syndrome?  She didn’t make it though.”  I was able to say the words easily.

“Oh no! I’m so sorry!  You were able to make it to term?”

“Yeah- thirty-six weeks.  She was born in February.”

“Oh no, what happened?”

I explained that we knew she had Down Syndrome since 13 weeks but continued on.  I told her about the kidney problems and the low fluid making her lungs underdeveloped.  Ultimately she died because her lungs were too small.  She told me how sorry she was and that she’d pray for me.  She marveled at how she felt like she’s hearing about so many more people having babies with Down Syndrome. I told her I thought a lot about her and her son throughout my pregnancy.  The emotions I had in the beginning- grieving the diagnosis at first- and then the preparations I did.  I told her how amazed I was that she did all that while having a brand new baby.

“How is your son?” I asked, knowing that 50% of children with Down Syndrome have heart defects and many have other birth defects and later health problems.

“He’s good! He’s got nothing major- just low muscle tone. He’s teaching himself to crawl,” she described her one year-old’s slightly delayed progress.

I asked who her pediatrician was. “Is he in Birth to Three?” referring to the early childhood support program in our state.

“Yup!  They have therapists that go to the day care and to the home.”

I told her about the Down Syndrome Comprehensive Clinic, and she took the information eagerly.  I told her I was glad her son was doing so well.  She thanked me and said she’d be keeping me in her prayers.

I felt good about it all.  We shared something special.  I wish I could have been the woman on the other end of the phone- the one whose baby lived- but I nonetheless felt good.

Back to work…the early days

My first two weeks of work I spent sitting behind a computer.  I was deciphering the barely legible scrawl the doctors used to document their patients histories.  Does that say cataracts or contacts? Ah hah, no one ever documented her hernia surgery.  Let me compile a list of all her abnormal pap smears.  I passed the hours wading through piles of charts, turning written word into organized script tucked securely into the network of electronic medical records.  Some charts were like walking through a museum- flipping through pages as much as fifty years old, seeing how charting has changed over time, reading as a young woman turns into an adult having babies and going through menopause.  I took a few patient phone calls.  Only one patient’s commented, saying matter-of-factly, but sincerely, “I heard what happened and I’m sorry,” before moving on to her question.  It was a perfect phone encounter.

I spent a day following one of the docs around.  I could help him with charting and it allowed me exposure to patients without any responsibility.  I could see how they reacted.  I ended up seeing a few patients on my own.  I was unprepared mentally- the plan was just to observe, but these ones happened to be mine and it felt silly to let someone else see them.  I made it through the visits.  Mostly, though, I sat staring at a computer screen, typing or mindlessly scanning.  I got bored.  This must be what an office job feels like, I thought.  It was good because I had little responsibility as I adjusted to being out of the house in the real world.  By the end of the second week, of working only 2 or 3 days each week, I was ready to move on.  I could see how overwhelmed my coworkers were and I felt like I was delaying the inevitable.  It was time to see patients.

I opened up my schedule for appointments and asked the staff to give me extra time with patients.  I’m slower charting because I’m out of practice and I wanted a little leeway in case patients asked or I became emotional.  A full load of patients is also stressful- running late, remembering everything- I’m still learning how to handle stress again.  I asked to see gyn patients only.  Having spent a day observing, I knew I wasn’t ready to see OB patients yet.

My first day of being a “real” midwife- as in one with a schedule, seeing patients- was, well, good.  I felt like the kind of midwife I wanted to be- spending all sorts of time with my patients, exploring each of their issues and writing really good notes.  I left work feeling good.  I feel guilty having such a light schedule- like I’m not pulling my weight, but at the end of the day I had a nice talk with one of the doctors I work with that reassured me.  I told her how my day went and she said “Good.  We have to keep you feeling like that.”

That was day one of scheduled patients- I left satisfied.  Today was day two and I left feeling less satisfied.  I saw patients bringing in their small kids and women who found themselves unexpectedly pregnant at their annual.  I was faced with reminders of what I lost around every corner.  I found myself having to counsel someone about whether they want testing for Down Syndrome.  I thought I wasn’t doing OB yet?

Take it slow, they all say.  But reality is- my workplace is suffering.  People are overworked; patients are having trouble getting timely appointments.  Staffing is changing, which is affecting schedules.  And the call schedule is made months in advance.  I’m being asked whether I should be on the call schedule in September.  I don’t know how I’m going to feel- I just started seeing gyn patients.  I want to scream I HAVE NO IDEA!

Right now, I’m tempted to say I hate my job.  That’s not totally true- I just hate the circumstances.  I hate that it’s summer, our busiest time and I’m disappointing everyone. I hate that I’m making everyone else’s job harder.  I hate that our staffing is changing, which makes me feel pressured to resume a normal schedule.  I hate that I dread going to work.  I hate that I sound like a whiner.  I hate that I’m not meeting expectations- those of others or my own.  I hate that my baby died and life just seems to go on.

The Road Race

As we lined up at the starting line, we agreed to meet in front of the ice cream store after the race.  I had already told Chris and our friend that I’m slow.  Last year I had my personal best- I ran the annual five mile road race at my 5-k time.  This year, I was back to some of the goals I had set when I rant he race for the very first time.

A few years ago I took up running, out of laziness.  The extra five minute drive to the gyms sometimes killed my motivation.  Running was simpler: I could do it anytime, anyplace.  So I made a goal, I trained for an annual five-mile race in a nearby town, a distance I had never run before.  So several times a week, I went out and slowly upped my mileage.  Three months later I was ready.

I had three goals for the race: finish without stopping, finish in under an hour and beat Chris.  Chris decided to run the race too, but had only been running twice in the months beforehand.  I had been training several days a week for the past three months and I felt I deserved to be faster!  Race time came and I completed all three goals.  I ran the race a few more times in the following years.  Chris did too, but he became a lot faster.  Last year I ran my personal best- a 9:30mile.

This year, I haven’t been running so much.  I ran regularly while pregnant up to 25 weeks and then became quite uncomfortable.  I ran once more at 28 weeks and again at 31 weeks, but couldn’t do it anymore, partly for physical reasons and partly for emotional reasons.  I resumed “running” at 4 weeks postpartum- intervals of jogging and walking, eventually working myself up to my normal three-mile route.  But I was slow.  Some days I was as slow as I was at 31 weeks pregnant.  I’ve been doing more bootcamp than running, which plays a big role.  And my pelvis still isn’t the same.  It still hurts when I run.

So I ran the race at much slower pace than last year.  And even as I huffed and puffed, surrounded by good people-watching, bands playing on the sidelines and pretty scenery, I could not escape my daily obsession: my baby is dead.  Every step of the way, I was reminded that I was slow because I had been pregnant… but I have no baby.  I tried to push those thoughts aside and focus on running, but I was either constantly passing or being passed by women and men pushing strollers.  I should have been pushing a stroller during this race…. but my baby died.  I thought back to the last race I ran- a turkey trot on Thanksgiving.  I was pregnant then… what do I have to show for it now?  As I took each step I tried to remember what it felt like to run while pregnant.  And then I remembered- a burning pain in my symphasis and an uncomfortable pressure on my tailbone remind me.  Though not as strong as in pregnancy, I still had the similar pelvic pain brought on by running.  My body won’t forget the baby it grew, held and pushed out.  My mind and my body just won’t let go of the memory of Mabel, even for a minute.  I became frustrated at myself – can’t I get through just one thing, without being reminded of what I have lost?

After the race, Chris and I found a tall shady tree to lie under, staring up at the leaves.  I asked Chris what he was thinking about.  “Trees are weird.  They grow green leaves, they fall off and grow back again.”  And then he asked me what I was thinking about “pregnancy,” I responded.  “I asked you because I forget what normal people think about.”

I forget what normal people think about.