Dear pregnant friend,

Dear friend who is pregnant,

I know I have not been a very good friend lately. I realize that by all outward appearances I’m doing well. I see pregnant patients in the office, smile and chat as I put my hands on their growing bellies, listen to them complain about the discomforts of pregnancy or their difficult social lives.  I hold babies and even go to baby showers. I have my own wiggly, squirmy, whirlwind of a living child to fill my arms now. I am living and doing a pretty good job of it too.

It has been 936 days since I held my first baby as she took her last breath. It may seem like a long time, and in many ways it is. Yet, I am still grieving. I have my triggers. One of the hardest hurdles for me is welcoming pregnancies of my friends and relatives in the way that I wish I could. I was once the first person everyone told they were pregnant. As the requisite midwife and true lover of babies, I was the natural early confidante. I miss that person. I long to be her- the one who would squeal in delight and ask a dozen questions about how you were feeling. That all changed when I learned my baby would die. Learning of new pregnancies scares me and brings up some unresolved grief, mostly in the form of anger and jealousy. I am angry that most pregnancies produce healthy living children but first didn’t. I’m angry that most women naturally expect to bring their baby home from the hospital, but I don’t. I’m angry that my daughter died.

When I see you, friend, with your pregnant belly, I am reminded how easy pregnancy can be (and should be!) for most people.  I am jealous. I am jealous that you are likely carrying a healthy child. If you fell pregnant easily or quickly, I am jealous that it didn’t take much work.  I am jealous that you are having your second or third child- because for me, my second is seen as my first.  And my hoped for third child fills the role of second child. I am reminded that I will always be seeking one more- to fill that Mabel shaped hole in my life that can never be filled. I am worried my life will never feel complete… I can only hope that it will simply feel enough.

So my pregnant friend, I want you to know that I have distanced myself. We once talked frequently and spent time together, but I have seem to drop off the face of the earth. I have done it intentionally, to protect myself and to protect our friendship. I worry that that by being constantly exposed to your pregnancy, all my dark ugly grief feelings will surface and I’ll spiral out of control. So for now, I have put space between us.

I want you to know that I miss you. I miss the the quick chats and long evenings spent on your couch. I want you to know I am happy for you…just sad for me, and those two feelings can exist in the same world. I want you to know that I hope your baby arrives safely and I will love him/her even from a distance.  I want you to know that I know this distance might not be the best way to deal with my feelings, but it feels necessary at the moment. I am hard at work trying to figure out how to overcome it… support groups, therapy, and mental toil.

My pregnant friend, please be patient with me as I continue to figure out how to navigate this crazy world in which my baby has died. 936 days later and I’m still learning.

Meghan

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?

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.

Wouldn’t it be great if it did

I finished ” When Breath Becomes Air” not too long ago. The book is memoir by my friend Paul.  Paul was sick- diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at age 36.  He and his wife Lucy were debating whether or not to have a child, knowing that his time with her might be brief. Paul wanted to leave Lucy with a piece of him- a child they had always planned on having.  Lucy worried that having a child would make his death more painful.

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” replied Paul.

******

There was a time when I wished none of it had ever happened.  The joy of becoming pregnant followed by shock of learning our baby had Down Syndrome and then the high risk of loss.  The gradual acceptance and even excitement that followed only to have that taken away, when we were learned she would likely die due to birth defects.  The magnitude of grief I felt after she died was overwhelming. I thought I was protecting myself by trying not to bond too much while pregnant with a baby with a life limiting diagnosis. I thought my grief would be manageable because I knew ahead of time.  I felt like there was an expectation (self imposed?) that I shouldn’t be that sad because I knew ahead of time.

When I was in my darkest times, I sometimes wished it never had happened. I would have never felt the pain. I would have just continued to live my life, innocent of such sadness, happily married, practicing midwifery.

But then there would have been no Mabel.

Now that my baby has been gone for over two years, I can see things a bit differently.  Oh yes, it hurt to lose my child- one that I had hoped for, one that I had said “yes” to under difficult circumstances.  But that pain was evidence to the great love I had.  Yes, Lord Tennyson, it is  better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.

 

Mattresses

I was listening to a podcast while I walked the dog this morning (yes, I know, I’m a nerd and I own it).  The podcast was about mattresses… why there are so many mattress stores and why they are always clustered together.  (#nerdentertainment) At one point it described a mattress ad explaining how buying the wrong mattress can be an 8 year mistake because it’s recommended you replace your mattress every 8 years (by whom? I don’t know).  Made me think about when we bought our mattress.

I remember the day in early december.  Chris and I were at the mattress store buying two for a trundle bed we purchased for the nursery.  The nursery seemed too big for just one baby so we figured a trundle for guests (and kids when older) would fill the space nicely.  I was 26 weeks pregnant, though it might have been hard to tell behind a big winter coat.  After picking out the mattresses we came for, Chris asked me if I wanted to test out some king-sized ones.  He knew I had been wanting one for a long time and now we had the space for it.  I jumped at the chance.  We literally lay on one that was too hard, then too soft and the middle one was just right. Our family was growing and I thought it was the perfect chance to expand our bed. When the salesman rung us up, we added a bed frame and mattress cover. He said the cover protects against all things- spills included.  “What about water-breaking” I half-joked.

A week later, I learned just how not-funny my line had been.  A week later, we learned my water would likely never break, or at least I wouldn’t know when it did because there was such little fluid around my baby.  A week later we were in the hospital, on a snowy weekend, learning the sad fate of our baby.  A week later we had to call on some friends to go snowblow our driveway and wait for the delivery guys to come deliver the mattress meant for a grwoing family.  A week later I arrived home to that mattress, the one bought for Mabel that she didn’t get to use.

The podcast made me realize I will easily know when my 8 years are up for my mattress.  The mattress is as old as Mabel would have been.

Mabel came to dinner

I made a grand entrance, practically somersaulting onto the patio as I lost my balance and landed on my side. I cradled Felix in my arms and ended up underneath him, cushioning the fall. He cried, startled from the sudden loss of balance but was easily soothed.  We were at a friend’s birthday party at a restaurant that hosts kid friendly happy hours on the patio on Sundays, picked so that it could be a family friendly event. The weather was beautiful as we sipped cocktails and let the kids roam by the planters.  I sat with Chris and Felix and made small talk with some of the other party guests- including the birthday girl’s parents. We knew a couple people well, but most of the guests were new to us, including the parents.  As I held a squirmy baby in my lap, the common question came up- “Is he your first?” the father of the birthday girl asked.

My husband was the first to respond.  I’ve answered the question many times but I haven’t had the chances to witness my husband answer.

“He’s our second.  We had a daughter, but she died after birth.”

“I am so sorry,” the father responded, easily. “I know what it’s like to lose a child and it’s never easy. I’m so sorry.”

It was perfect.  But of course it was- he was a bereaved parent. I had known he lost his son.  When Mabel died, his daughter and I shared some moments of understanding. We talked about how even simple small talk can be daunting when someone close to you dies.  I had to get used to the “do you have kids” and “is he your first?”  She had to get used to “do you have siblings?”  These questions can make it hard to make friends or even date easily.  Or perhaps they are great screening questions- a litmus test to see if people would be comfortable cavorting with the bereaved.

Later at the party, as the food came, I heard my cousin’s voice from across the table.

“Meghan, look! Carrots!” She offered up a small plate for me to see two carrots accompanying someone’s meal.

“Awww, look. Mabel came to dinner,” I said, easily, happily.  Smiling I took one of the carrots offered and crunched.

“How did carrots become her symbol?” asked another party goer- the birthday girl’s sister. After I told her the story, she saw my necklace and pointed it out. “Oh wow! Your necklace is a carrot too.” Though I didn’t know her well, she had known about Mabel through her sister.  And she asked easily, bringing Mabel into the conversation without hesitation. Because she knows too what it’s like to be bereaved.

And just like that, my baby was at the party.  She was the center of attention, she wasn’t ignored.  She was just there.  May all my social outings be so easy.