Bravery

Sometimes I need to be reminded that I’ve done some hard things. I have survived. I am brave. I am brave because….

I hung up the phone, the news of a Down Syndrome diagnosis for my baby still ringing fresh in my ears. I took a deep breath, basked in a moment of acceptance and relief, and then continued on my day, keeping my personal life and professional life separate. I continued seeing my patients that day, all pregnant with healthy babies, all while holding my news secret.

I said yes.  Yes to a baby with special needs.

I walked into the CT Down Syndrome Congress annual conference, scared but trying to keep an open mind to learn all I could about what life is like parenting a child with Down Syndrome.

I left the hospital with a likely life limiting diagnosis for my baby, choosing minimal fetal monitoring until the baby had any hope of survival, knowing that I was choosing to preserve my fertility over heroic measures for a baby that would likely die, knowing that I might forever struggle with guilt if she was stillborn before the set date we were willing to intervene.

I told the doctors to take out the vent and held my baby as she died.

I held my lifeless baby.

I handed my baby to the nurse, never to hold her again.

I left the hospital empty handed.

I continued to live life.

I went to my first support group, though I cried tears of fear in the hallway before going in.

I went back to work and told hundreds of people, “my baby died,” and continued to care for them with a smile.

I chose a new career path.

I talk about my baby to strangers, to try to break the silence.

I try to ask for what I need.

I had had another baby despite crippling anxiety that I might lose him too.

I’ve been to baby showers.

I’ve held babies.

I write about my feelings here, for all to see.

Why are you brave?

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There’s nothing in there.

“You got anything in there?”

A hand laid on my belly, with a knowing smile.

“Any more babies?”

Since when is my fertility anyone else’s business?  I know that these comments were either well intentioned or just causal banter, but their intention still hurt.  The askers know about Mabel, which in my mind should have made them more sensitive.

I have held on to some of the baby weight.  I could make excuses for why- but they’re irrelevant.  Either you’re calling me chubby (insult) or you’re assuming I can just have babies whenever I want (ignorance). Either way, the comments make me feel like a failure. I’m failing at losing weight and I’m failing at getting pregnant.  I’m only 10lbs overweight but my abs are non existent thanks to two babies in a short time.  Though since I have only one visible baby, I feel like my body is a mismatch. I also would love to be pregnant- but I don’t think it’s going to come easy.  And since I’m still nursing, my body hasn’t given any signs that it’s ready for another pregnancy.

Hearing these comments makes me realize people want another one for me (so do I), but it feels like expectation, pressure.  It’s the reason that I didn’t tell anyone about being pregnant with Felix until 12 weeks- I didn’t want to disappoint them if I miscarried.  I know I have no control over it- but my disappointment was going to be enough.  I couldn’t handle anyone else’s.  The same applies here.  I worry that I won’t be able to have anymore- I’ve learned there are no guarantees- and my own self imposed pressure is more than I can handle.  Please don’t give me anyone else’s.

“No.”

“There’s nothing in there.”

“I wish.”

A rogue wave

As a midwife, my colleagues and I usually meet once a month to discuss protocols, clinical issues and patient care.  I enjoy these meetings because it’s rare that we actually see each other in person.  I’m in an office with maybe one or two other midwives or docs on any given day, but even then we are all busy seeing patients, often working through our lunch hour.  It’s a pleasure to spend some time face to face with my coworkers- even if it’s entirely work focused.

Recently our monthly meeting has been cancelled or rescheduled for all sorts of logistical reasons, so when we had our first one in several months earlier this week, I was looking forward to it…even though it’s at 7am.  The hour long meeting flew by and I was leaving the hospital, where our meeting is held, in a good mood.

Until I walked out the main entrance.

Sitting there as I was leaving was a woman with a newborn carrier waiting for her ride home.  My heart clenched and I was thrown backward in time. Here I was, leaving the hospital, empty handed once again.

So much has happened since that first time I left the hospital without my baby.  I returned many times- for meetings, to visit staff and friends. I even finally had the chance to leave the hospital with an actual living breathing newborn. But it had been a while since I’d been back at the hospital and it’s amazing how even though it’s been two and a half years since I said goodbye to my Mabel, like a rogue wave in a quiet sea, the grief can still hit hard out of nowhere.

I don’t spend much time actively grieving these days. I often feel that my other job- working for Hope After Loss, the non profit that supports the pregnancy and infant loss community, is my way of grieving. I get to speak of my daughter often and empathize deeply when I’m speaking new a new loss mom or dad.  What I realized earlier this week at the hospital is that though I may be honoring Mabel in my role at Hope, I still compartmentalize my feelings.  It’s protective.  Grief is hard work.

Seeing this mom and her newborn, I was reminded I still have work to do.

I miss her, my baby Mabel.