Jessica’s mom

On mother’s day, I went to visit my daughter.  I took Felix with me, which I don’t often do, simply because it’s a pain in the butt to get him in and out of the car seat.  But since the weather’s warmer and it was a special day, we went together.  It was super cute to see him dance around her headstone, jumping and running in pure toddler fashion. Felix loved playing with the pinwheels I had brought her for Easter.

But the best part was just as I was walking up to her grave, another woman, maybe 10-15 years older than me walked up to the grave in front of hers.  As I held Felix in my arms, I asked “Are you Jessica’s mom?”

I had always felt comforted by the graves in front of and behind Mabel.  Behind her was a woman who died older and I pictured her as a grandma figure for Mabel.  In front of her lie baby Jessica, who lived for 3 days. A playmate for Mabel, someone to show her the ropes, hold her hand. I told Jessica’s mom this.

We talked for several minutes. I learned that Jessica was born at full term, with an infection from which she simply could not recover.  She has two older siblings and two younger siblings.  Jessica’s mom likes to visit her grave alone, as do I.  I shared a bit of Mabel’s story with her- how we knew she would be sick, but we were hopeful. I said how hard it must have been to lose Jessica suddenly, without warning after a full term pregnancy.  She reminisced about the time after she lost Jessica and how her two living children gave her a reason to get out of bed.  I spoke of how hard it was losing my first.  It was validating in a way- losing your first child is a special kind of pain (not that it’s any worse than losing a second, or third…it’s a unique  pain that makes you mother- an invisible one, because the public cannot see the baby that made you a mom).  It’s funny how we both tried to make our losses seem less painful than the other’s- the suddenness of her loss, the pain of me having no living children with mine.  We bonded over how difficult it is to answer how many children we have. I even mentioned how I had wrote about Jessica in this blog.  I asked how old she would be- 17, graduating from high school.  She told me of seeing her nieces and nephews the same age reaching milestones and the pang it leaves in her heart.  Oh, to know I am not the only one! To know it will always hurt a little… even 17 years later…and that’s normal for our babyloss clan.

I wanted to tell her that I sometimes left a flower for baby Jessica, that I often looked at her headstone, that her daughter proximity to my daughter made me feel less alone.  I think she understood without me saying so, as is so common in our clan.

 

Have you bonded with any babyloss strangers?

G3

In the OBGYN world we describe a woman’s pregnancy history in terms of G’s and P’s.  There is an alpha numeric code that tells the story- “GTPAL.”

G stands for gravida. It’s the number of times a woman has physically been pregnant.

T is for term- the number of term pregnancies a woman has had.  Any baby born at 37weeks or after counts here.

P is for preterm births, those babies born after 20 weeks but before 37 weeks.

A is for abortion. This is a medical term, not a political one.  Medically we call any end of pregnancy before 20 weeks an abortion.  It may be spontaneous, aka a miscarriage. It may be elective, aka a termination.  A also includes ectopic pregnancies.

L is for living children.  No further explanation needed.

To make it even more confusing we shorten the the GTPAL to G_P_ _ _ _.  In this instance G still stands for gravida and P stands for para- para meaning the number of births (term or preterm). It might be better to explain by example:

A woman who has had one term living child with no other pregnancies would be a G1P1001 versus a woman who has had one living preterm child would be a G1P0101 versus a woman who has had one miscarriage and no other pregnancies would be a G1P0010.

It can be used to describe a pregnant woman too.  My friend who is pregnant for the first time is expecting twins.  She is currently a G1P0000.  When she has the babies, if she has them at term (fingers crossed) she would be a G1P1002.

Make sense?

So why does this matter?

As of late, I have recently added a new G to my history.

After Mabel I became a G1P0100.

After Felix I became a G2P1101.

I am now a G3P1111.

My loss story continues.  I’m having a very early miscarriage.  So early I barely became attached. But it has still stolen the breath out of me.  Did I take five pregnancy tests just to be sure? Did I figure out my due date? Sure did. Think about maternity leave? Toss around baby names in my mind? Imagine telling Felix he’d be a big brother? Dream of a living sibling for me son? Did I get excited? You bet. So when it turned out to be just a shadow of a pregnancy, a whisper of something I’ve been wanting and trying for since Felix was born, I grieved. I am still grieving. I feel broken in so many ways, untrusting of my body, unsure of my ability to be happy.  I know I will find my way out of this darkness- I have crawled out of deeper holes.  But in the meantime, I will mourn my little whisper…

 

 

Mabel’s 3rd Birthday

Mabel’s third birthday came and went last month.  I sent out a little reminder a few days before and the day of- sharing the #3goodthings invitation in honor of her birthday.

Dear Friends and Family,

As Mabel’s third birthday approaches, we invite you to join us in #3GoodThings. It is a practice in both gratitude and doing good.

#3GoodThings
1. Reflect on your day or life and find 3 good things that happened or you have done.
2. Write them down (and share them if you feel brave!)
3. Reflect on your part in each of them

February 15th

“you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade.” -This is Us

 

If nothing else it’s a practice of gratitude.  Last year I received a painful response from a family member and so this year, I kept my invite list small, trying to temper my expectations.

I received many heartfelt messages and even some gifts.  I Mabel’s birthday was the day after valentines day and in addition to a card and donation my parents sent, they also send two valentines cards- one addressed to Felix and one addressed to Mabel.  To see her name on an envelope means so much.  I received some beautiful carrot paraphanelia from people near and far (even from people I barely know!).  And so I guess I was especially hurt when two close family members didn’t recognize the day.  Birthdays are always a big deal in my family- we sent presents or cards, we make sure to call.  I gave it a few days just in case their lives were crazy and they would respond later, but no dice.  I just want Mabel to be valued as much as the other children in the family.  I think she’s just as important and I thought others did too.  I also was a little surprised by the lack of recognition from many other close people in my life.  I have heard over and over from other loss friends that the responses from others diminish over time- so I was expecting that.  I guess I just didn’t realize how quickly and by how much the responses would decline.

Things I’ve learned from Mabel’s 3rd Birthday:

Keep my expectations low. Perhaps I’ll have none whatsoever next year.  I know I have to guide people in how I want them to respond, but I thought I did that by my emails. Next year I might keep things more private.

Appreciate the good.  I’m also learning to try to appreciate the responses I did get and not focus on what I felt was missing.  This is a harder lesson to learn, but I will try!

Practice Gratitude. And in reflecting on her birthday, I am wondering if it’s time again to take a moment each day and reflect on #3goodthings- something I did in the early days of my grieving Mabel.  I might need another lesson in the practice of gratitude.

_______

My #3GoodThings from Mabel’s 3rd birthday:

Email written February 15, 2017:
Today we bravely share our #3GoodThings in memory of Mabel. We have many things to be grateful for and we chose to use use our good fortune to give to others.
1. On one of Felix’s last day of his last day care, I overheard one of his favorite teachers talking about making small gift bags of toiletries for the homeless.  This began our first good thing.  We brought her a bunch of supplies to use for her project.
2. We donated to Hope After Loss, an organization that has helped us through the hardest times and continues to help us keep Mabel’s memory alive
3. We have supported Planned Parenthood in memory of Mabel.  Though our family’s decision was to continue a difficult pregnancy, we appreciate that we had a choice to do so.  Planned parenthood supports men and women in many ways; providing choice is just one of them.

Mommy friends

I wrote this back in September, but never published.  Better late than never!

Over the summer I joined a stroller boot camp. We met once or twice a week in a park in my town and an instructor led us in a mix of cardio and strength training. Everyone had a stroller with one or two kids and the exercises often involved the stroller or a song. Even when the exercise had nothing to do with the stroller, it was a place where a crying baby is met with knowing glances and understanding.

I did lots of bootcamp classes when I was pregnant with Mabel and continued after she died into my pregnancy with Felix.  I was able to return to a few before they changed their pricing and class structure making it no longer feasible for me to stay a member. Plus with a kids who didnt sleep, my fatigue was making it very hard to find the time or motivation to make it a regular thing.

When I learned of the stroller boot camp- I was thrilled. I didn’t have to worry about childcare. There was a class that met on my day off, so I didnt have to choose between exercise and sleep or worry about childcare.  I thought that since it was in my own town maybe I could even make some mommy friends!

The first class was fine- it was a little weird because since Felix had a fever I showed up sans baby and stroller.  During our warm up we would circle up and introduce ourselves while we lunged and squatted.  The instructor was very nice and super chatty.  A pregnant woman was there who was about 35 weeks and pushing a stroller with a toddler.  She was talking with the instructor about how she hoped this exercise would help her go early.  I chimed in “I ran a road race when I was 37 weeks with my second and he came that night, so you never know!” It’s a fun fact that I hoped would start some conversation. It was well received and talked a tiny bit more until it was time for a new exercise.

The next class we were all lined up after the warm up for an exercise behind the strollers. As we worked, the instructor stood in front of us asking questions, engaging with different people in the group. “How long have you lived in this town?”… “what made you move here?”… then she looked at me. “Who’s watching your older child, Meghan?”

I was caught a bit off guard and I must have shown it in my face because before I could formulate an answer, the instructor felt she had to explain. “You said last week that Felix was your second… so is you older child in day care or at home or….?

It was weird being asked that question, but not unmanageable. I was trying to think of how to best answer without making it awkward. It was also weird to be asked that question with so many people listening.

Finally I said simply, “she died.”

I was ready for the usual response- the i’m so sorry- and honestly was kind of shocked when I didn’t get it.

I got nothing.

The instructor literally was looking directly at me when I responded and she quickly turned away from me and asked another of the women in the class a question.

Nothing.

No acknowledgement, No awkward response. No well meaning but painful platitude. Nothing.

I think it was the worst possible response I have ever gotten. I know that she didn’t know what to do or say and I understand that it was not at all the answer she was expecting. I don’t think it was even in the realm of possibilities for her.  A part of me felt sorry for her- sorry that I couldn’t give her a warning, that she was forced to deal with the unexpected response in front of an audience.

But I was also a little frustrated and mad.  By not acknowledging what I had said gave me important impression: Talking about my dead daughter was not welcome here. I understand that the group is made up of moms and no one wants to have to think of how it would feel to lose one of their babies, but it’s my reality.  I can’t talk about so many of the common mom things without at least referencing the fact that I gave birth to another child.  It is interwoven with my every day existence. It is one of the things that defines me- it’s just as important that people know that I am a midwife as it is for them to know I am the mother of two children.

From that class on I accepted that I was not there to make mommy friends, I was there to get exercise.  The fact that the interaction was witnessed by most of the class also gave the class the impression that my dead daughter shouldn’t be talked about. But how can I make friends if people don’t know about Mabel? Argh. Another loss- the loss of “normal” parenting and friend making.

I was able to make a connection with one woman towards the end of the classes. She and I used the same midwives and those who choose the midwives I go to tend to be a self selecting group of people- likeminded in many ways.  Once I learned that I (perhaps a little biasedly) liked her instantly. We talked for a bit about birth and our midwives; it was nice.  What normal friend making must be like. Sadly it was in the second to last class and so nothing more ever grew from there.  I suppose it was good practice.

How do you make new friends after loss?

Another thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving morning.

We are off to our traditional Thanksgiving celebration later today and I have mixed feelings. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday- food, drink, family.  But now, like every holiday, I face the day with a little cloud over my head. The holiday has gotten easier after I lost Mabel- every year I still feel her absence but I can carry it with me and still enjoy the time with family.  This year I anticipate things to be a bit harder.  There are some new babies in the family who will be joining us. I know I have come a long way- I have Felix to fill my arms; I have returned to work caring rather effortlessly for pregnant women and new moms; I am able to really see those babies born at the same time as Mabel as real adorable little people and not simply triggers.

But….

The babies.  I know today I will see lots of cooing and holding warm wriggly little humans, outpourings of love from family. All so very deserved. I think I can safely say I truly understand how precious little babies are. I have taken that into my heart in an even greater way after having Felix.  Understanding what a gift it is to have a living breathing child to hold and watch grow up.  Watching Felix grow from a baby to a toddler occasionally reminds me all that I missed with Mabel.  For the most part, I am so very grateful.  Grateful to have the opportunity to parent a living child.  But I am also still sad- sad to have missed that opportunity with Mabel.

Since Mabel will be my forever baby- my memories of her as a five pound chunker curled on my chest-newer babies can be a reminder of her.  Reminder that she did not come to Thanksgiving, that most of my family never even met her, that she might not seem as real to them as Felix or any new baby entering the family.

I tried to go through some of Felix’s old clothes to bring down to one of these babies- as Felix was gifted many hand me downs.  It was a struggle to part with any of them. I pulled out some- ones that I know had been hand me downs- but most I couldn’t bear to let go of.  Going through the clothes I grew super emotional, realizing how lucky I was to have had a baby to fit in them- holding up newborn, then 0-3 month, then 3-6 month outfits. The ache was so strong for my other baby that only wore two outfits ever.  So I pulled out a few onesies- most of the clothes were the wrong season/size anyways- and that’s what I’ll bring.  I hope they understand why I can’t be more generous.  I need to hold on to the rest- they are a reminder of Mabel, a symbol of how grateful I am to have Felix and a beacon of hope that someday, if I would ever be so lucky again, I might have another baby to wear them.

In the meantime, I pack up the cheesecake, mac n cheese, some eggnog and a few onesie hand me downs in anticipation of our family gathering.  My ears have tiny carrot earrings and my feet have my carrot socks.  I’m wearing a sweater- one that my husband dislikes for its gaudiness- one with Olaf the snowman from Frozen decked in sequins. But his carrot nose is a tribute, literally close to my heart.  I am adorned with my Mabel armor, so that my forever baby can join us this Thanksgiving.

My three P’s of grief survival

This week I had the honor of being the guest speaker at a local hospital’s night of remembrance- an event they put on for those who lost babies. It was a beautiful ceremony, with music, poetry and a touching sand ceremony. Here is my speech:

____

Meghanol is Program Director for Hope After Loss, the Connecticut based non profit that supports the pregnancy and infant loss community. She is also a practicing nurse midwife in the greater New Haven area. But today she is here as Mabel’s mom.

____

I was 27 weeks pregnant with my first child when the doctors told me my baby was going to die. I was thrown into a state of shock and disbelief. I had already had my share of grieving this pregnancy- I survived a threatened miscarriage early on and at 13 weeks an unexpected Down Syndrome diagnosis caused me to grieve the loss of the child I thought I would have and work on accepting the child I was given.

And then at 27 weeks, my baby had no fluid, meaning her kidneys were damaged and lungs would be severely underdeveloped. I was told my baby would be unlikely to survive after birth, let alone pregnancy. Two months later, I gave birth to my daughter, Mabel, a 5 pound 5 ounce feisty little girl, who gifted us six sweet hours with her.
Though I can speak her story now, with a smile of pride, I struggled hard with sorrow and grief from the moment we learned she would be very sick. I was constantly looking for answers on how to do this- how to simply go on. I eventually found my way, and now two and half years later, I want to share three things I have learned help me with my grief. These are my three “P”s of grief survival.

Patience.

Practicing gratitude.

Perspective.

 

Patience

“Do you have kids?” was a question I dreaded from the time I learned my daughter would not survive. I tried out many different responses and I had to be PATIENT with myself as I learned which ones worked.

None living.

I had a daughter.

I had a daughter who died after birth.

Some answers produced a look of horror on the askers face, others were too subtle, resulting in awkward follow up questions and others still shut the conversation down completely.

Finally I settled on:

“I had a daughter but she died.” And following the requisite “I’m so sorry” I learned to say. “Thank you. And thank you for asking. I really like talking about her.”

This response took years of trial and error. Be PATIENT, Meghan. I had to figure out what felt best for me- what made me feel like I was being honest, but also protecting my daughter’s memory and keeping the conversation alive. It was arduous work at times. And just like with my grief, I had to be PATIENT with myself. Sometimes my responses were clumsy and ugly, leaving everyone feeling awkward. But with time I got better. You too will learn how and when and if you share your children with the outside world. The answer might change over time or with your audience. Just be PATIENT.

Practicing Gratitude

Not long after learning about Mabel’s prognosis, I was struck by a quote I saw floating around on facebook.

“The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.”

I had been wallowing in a state of “life is unfair” and couldn’t figure out how to move forward. This phrase gave me some guidance. Instead of focusing on the things others took for granted- healthy pregnancies, being among pregnant women without jealousy, assumption that they would be taking a baby home and I tried to remind myself of the things I was GRATEFUL for- the opportunity to simply be pregnant, my own good health, an amazing OB team, an active baby. It was my first shot at the PRACTICE OF GRATITUDE during an extremely hard time. It didn’t take away the hurt of carrying a dying child, but it helped me find something to cling to while I felt like I was drowning in grief.

Later, after my daughter died, when the sadness started getting overwhelming, I participated in a challenge, forcing myself to find 3 good things every day and sharing my GRATITUDE about them on facebook.

I was even able to take other people’s comments and reframe them under that GRATITUDE lens. Shortly after Mabel died, a very good friend told me of his grandmother’s stillbirth experience- how the baby was rushed away before she could even see him. “At least you got to hold her,” he said to me meant as words of comfort. This was the first of many “at leasts” I heard. It took time, but I was eventually able to reframe such comments. “I’m GRATEFUL you got to hold her,” was what he meant. And I am GRATEFUL.

Perspective

After my daughter died, I felt like there were pregnant women and babies everywhere. I was in Ikea, trying my hardest to be a normal person, when I saw a woman I knew. She had a baby in a carrier on her chest and held a toddler by the hand. It hurt to see someone with everything I ever wanted right in front of me and I felt mad and jealous that other people have it so easy. I could only see her from the PERSPECTIVE of a baby loss mom.

A few months later, I attended my first walk to remember with Hope After Loss. As I worked my way through the crowd, I saw that same woman with her two young children. We were in the same club. I was there to remember my Mabel, and she was there to remember her firstborn, a daughter she lost to stillbirth. I gained greater PERSPECTIVE in that moment. Just like me, many others carry invisible burdens.

So my dear friends, I present to you what I have learned. Be PATIENT with yourself as you learn how to navigate your new normal. The path is not easy, nor one would have chosen, but it belongs to you and your baby. PRACTICE GRATITUDE- of the little things and of the great things. Find what’s good, and it will be a lifeline in your sorrow. Gain PERSPECTIVE. Remember, you are the one in four. Though you are now a member of a club your never wanted to be in, you’ll find the fellow baby loss, once they reveal themselves, among the most compassionate and supportive people you have ever met.

There is nothing that will take away the pain of losing a baby, nothing that will fix your grief… and there shouldn’t be. But there are ways to make the path we walk a little gentler. It is not moving on, leaving grief behind. It is moving forward, learning how to walk side by side with grief. Because we can never forget our babies. They are etched on our hearts, burned in our memory, our constant companions- silent but speaking volumes.

so I’m not perfect…

I was out for a run with Muppet and came across a lemonade stand- some neighborhood kids raising money for cancer. I was running by at just the right time, with several families approaching the stand. When the kids asked if I wanted lemonade, I regretfully said I didn’t have any money, but I’ll try to come back when I was done with my run.  Just as I was about to take off, I saw you there. My smile brightened with recognition- a fellow professional in my field and a someone who chose my practice for care.  You have a son a few years older than Felix and I was reminded seeing you there that you live in my town! Since I”m not attending births and you work in a different practice, I haven’t seen you in a while- in the past I crossed paths with other OB professionals on the labor floor, a place I don’t often visit these days. Seeing you with your son, gave me pause. We should be friends, I thought.

I stopped and chatted with you, saying hi to your husband and letting your son pet Muppet.  I learned your son had some developmental delays, something I hadn’t known before.  I straight up blurted out- “I need local mommy friends,” a truth so prevalent lately. I find it a little hard to make mommy friends easily… something I’ll elaborate in another post…but since you’re in my professional community, I’m pretty sure you know my story. You know I’ve lost a baby.

You given me your number and tell me how you have a good group of local moms who get together every now and then. You warn me that the moment you say you’re in the OB field, everyone likes to tell you their birth story.  I laugh in total understanding. You roll your eyes and we talk briefly about yours- how you tried so very very hard for a vaginal birth but it just wasn’t in the cards despite everyone’s best efforts. I could see how frustrated you could get hearing other’s stories especially when you felt frustrated with your own. It’s like hearing how someone has a beautiful birth when yours was traumatic. It hurts a little.

And then I blurted out something I wish I hadn’t.  “Well did you hear about Felix’s birth story? How I didn’t make it to the hospital?” You smiled and laughed a little, telling me how you read it in the paper.

I realized shortly after I said it, that I did exactly what you had just said was hard. I told you my birth story. I’m sorry.

I wanted to tell you, that I often blurt out Felix’s story because I can’t so very easily with Mabel’s because no one likes a story that ends with a baby dying. Blurting out his story makes me feel a bit like a normal person. I wanted to tell you that Felix’s birth story is a tribute to Mabel, because there is no way he would have come so fast had he not been my second child. I wanted to tell you that when I learned your son had some delays, I felt a small kinship with you because Mabel would have had delays too and I imagine parenting a child with special needs is especially hard, but it’s just what you do, isn’t it? I wanted to tell you I shared Felix’s story with you because I assumed you knew about Mabel.

In that brief exchange we had, I am reminded that I am not perfect and sometimes says things I wish I hadn’t. It was a good reminder that others do the same and to give them a little leeway.

Have you ever said something you regretted? Do you hold yourself to a high standard of always saying the right thing?