Fur Babies

I always said I wasn’t responsible enough for a dog until I proved myself with a baby- coming straight home everyday after work, arranging daycare, having a small creature totally reliant on me. When Mabel died and I made connections in the babyloss world, especially with those who had no living children, I learned many of them had “fur babies.” They poured their built up love and caring into an animal that they had or brought home after they lost their babies. At first I didn’t want one- my baby died and replacing her with an animal was not going to make it any better.  In fact, getting a dog would make her death more real. I wouldn’t have minded it as a temporary thing- caring for a snuggly puppy in the first months of my grief, while home alone, but I would want to give it up when I returned to work.  The idea of doing all I should have been doing (rushing home from work, middle of the night awakenings) for a dog instead of a baby seemed too painful.  But as the months rolled by and the house remained empty and quiet, I started to have second thoughts.

Chris has always been a dog lover. He’ll the get on the floor and wrestle with your dog. He knows how to talk to them and make them stay or sit. It’s almost as fun watching him play with dogs as it is watching him play with kids (he’s a natural there too). He would have been happy getting a dog a long time ago- I was the hold up. So he was thrilled when I suggested we start looking.

I was picky. The biggest requirement was that we get a dog that didn’t shed. I shed plenty of hair and have trouble keeping the house clean with just me- I didn’t want to have to be vacuuming every day or find stray dog hair in my food. I also was partial to smaller dogs, but Chris preferred bigger dogs, so we agreed on medium sized. Plus we want one that’s friendly, active and good with kids (I do hope to have more in the future). I loved the idea of a rescue dog (I feel almost morally dictated to get one) but with all my pickiness, a rescue was seeming less likely. Chris researched and found a local breeder of Golden Doodles and I was completely won over by their teddy bear appearance (if you want to be distracted by cuteness, look up golden doodles on pinterest). We began the process.

The breeder had a litter of medium sized dogs due in the end of July and so we signed ourselves up. A month of waiting for the pups to be born, then another month of waiting to meet and pick out our pup and a last month of waiting to take her home. Our Muppet has been three months in the making. In the last few weeks I would often comment “this must be what it’s like to be excitedly waiting for a baby to be born,” rather than wanting to stay pregnant and avoid the inevitable day, learning whether your baby would live or die.

Now we have a newborn pup at home and are living the lifestyle of newborn pup parents- frequent potty trips, sleeping poorly at night awoken by the cries of a pup in the crate next to our bed and showing her off proudly to anyone who will look.

Do you have a fur baby? Where have you put all your pent up love after your loss?

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Part of the club

As I hurried back to the group from a quick bathroom trip, I took a shortcut through the pavilion.  Weaving my way through the picnic tables, I paused momentarily to let another person pass.  A woman with a kind smile took the opportunity to say hello.

“This is Easton.  He decided it was too hot to walk.” She introduced me to her son, who looked about 11 and had the classic features of Down Syndrome.  I sympathized with the kid, because the forecasted temperate 70 degree day soon morphed into a hot 82 degrees.

“Hi Easton,” I said.  “I’m Meghan.  Today is a big day for you, huh?”  He smiled and nodded in response, proud of the day, the day of the annual Buddy Walk, a fundraiser for our states Down Syndrome Congress, the day where he is center of attention, celebrated in a way he should be everyday.

Easton’s mom looked at me and asked, “Are you a mom too?”

I was wearing a light green shirt that announced my membership in team “Jenna’s Journey,” supporting a little girl who I had the privilege to help bring into this world six years earlier, surprising her parents with a Down Syndrome diagnosis at birth.  I had also run into another patient who had a huge team walking for her son, another boy who surprised his family at birth with features consistent with Down Syndrome.  Both these families rallied support for their children, creating teams with t-shirts and raising money. Having been distracted by the live, in person children with Down Syndrome that surrounded me, I was caught of guard, by this woman’s question.

“Yes,” I said confidently, realizing that I too was a mom to a child with Down Syndrome.

“How old is yours?” She said smiling, happy to know we were both members of the same club.

“She died shortly after birth.”

Her face didn’t fall, revealing the typical horror at the mention of a dead baby.  Instead, I saw a shadow of sadness cross her; she was sad because she knew what I was truly missing out on, the joy of raising a child with Down Syndrome.  We exchanged a few more words before I departed to rejoin my team.  I left her, with a little extra gratitude for opportunity to parent her son and she left me, with the reminder that I too belonged. I am a mom of a child with Down Syndrome.  I got to be part of the club!

 

It was the highlight of my day.

 

Where do you fit in?  What new memberships have you gained in your loss?

 

Puppy Clothes

I stood in Petco staring at the wall of dog clothes. So many options to dress up your dog. There was a time when I would have thought these clothes to be quite silly, but now as I stared at them, a few weeks before my puppy would come home, I had mixed emotions.

“I’m going to dress our puppy up!” I warned Chris.

I looked at the racks of outfits, so very similar to the racks of clothes in a baby store and was wistful.   When I was pregnant I went into a Carter’s once. I looked around for gender-neutral outfits and was sort of surprised at the lack.   On one side of the store were the girl clothes and the other the boy clothes. Since we didn’t we didn’t know whether we were having a boy or a girl, I wanted to see what was out there. The entire girl section was essentially out, with too much pink and lace, but I found an outfit or two in the boys section that could go either way. I held up a gray striped onesie with a monkey on it, snapped a photo and sent it to Chris. I then put it back on the rack and walked out because my baby had Down Syndrome and I was afraid I was going to lose her. I didn’t want to jinx anything by actually buying an outfit. In my entire pregnancy, I bought only one outfit for Mabel . We called it a “coming home” outfit because it sounded less morbid than burial clothes and at the time, there was a theoretical chance she would be coming home.

I never got to shop for baby clothes for my daughter. I bought no toys and very few supplies (all purchased before we learned of her low fluid and its potentially fatal consequences). As I stood in front of the doggie clothes, I was excited in a way to relive what I should have experienced in my pregnancy- buying clothes for the wee one we would be bringing home. I also felt sad, reminded of the everyday baby preparing events I missed out on. It was bittersweet.

What (if anything) did you miss out on in pregnancy or afterwards?

True empathy

When I saw her name on my schedule, I knew it would be one of my visits that would run over the allotted time. Sometimes fifteen minutes isn’t enough to do everything- get a full history, address any problems, order tests, do an exam and just get caught up on her life. We had spoken on the phone not long after I returned to work. She was the first person I told about Mabel without being asked.

“You know, I had a baby with Down Syndrome too,” I had told her over the phone. At the time I had given her a brief version of what happened because she was one of those people who are kind down to her bones and because she too had a child with Down Syndrome. Our circumstances were different- one with a prenatal diagnosis, one with a birth diagnosis, one whose baby lived, one whose baby died. On this day, I got to see her in person.

Before starting the exam, we chatted and she showed me a photo of her son. I’m often shown photos of people’s kids and those moments are so bitter for me. What they don’t realize they are doing is saying “look what I have and you don’t!” It feels shoved in my face. But I try to smile and say an encouraging word before quickly changing the subject.

But with this patient it was different. I took the phone from her and really looked at this child, with my old eyes- the ones that found something cute in every baby (and with this one it was easy). She mentioned she was doing our local buddy walk and I said excitedly that I’d be there too.

“And how are you doing?” she asked- really wanting to know.

“I’m trying. It’s hard,” I answered honestly and then reached into my pocket for my phone. “Do you want to see some photos?”

She oohed and ahhed over the photos in the most perfect way, comment on her hair, asking more details about what happened. “Were you with her when she died?”

“Yes, she died in my arms. I was grateful for that.”

It amazes how such simple interactions can just warm me from within. “Where you with her when she died?” What a question. It meant she was trying to picture it- that’s true empathy. She was familiar with the NICU as many parents of children with Down Syndrome are. She knew the meaning of getting heart wrenching news at birth. She knew what it was like to be given the unexpected.

Has there been someone in your life who has shown true empathy?  What would true empathy look like to you?

 

 

The Muppet Puppy

and then one day, there was a puppy. her name was Muppet. she was easily mistaken for a teddy bear. her puppy parents loved her very much.

 

muppet puppy love

muppet puppy love

proud puppy parents

proud puppy parents

wait, I'm confused.  where's the puppy? all I see are teddy bears.

wait, I’m confused. where’s the puppy? all I see are teddy bears.

we tuckered the poor Muppet puppy out on hr first day.  must. stay. awake.

we tuckered the poor Muppet puppy out on hr first day. must. stay. awake.

the training starts early. #hotsauce

the training starts early. #hotsauce

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?