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.

The pregnancy-baby plots

In the weeks after Mabel died, when Chris went back to work, it was still the dark cold winter and I was deep in my grief and shock. I spent a lot of time on the couch, watching tv. We don’t have cable- we rely on internet tv to get our fix- netflicks, hulu, hbo go, etc. I needed a show that would enrapture me. I got a few recommendations for Friday Night Lights- which did the job. I liked it a lot…except for the five separate pregnancy/baby plots! I was able to muddle through that but became careful of any future shows I committed to. Sometimes it was easy, sometimes less so. A friend recommended Sons of Anarchy- a show about a motorcycle gang. Seemed safe. Opening episode featured a preterm birth of a drug-addicted baby with severe heart defects- given a 10% survival rate. Guess what? Baby lived. I did not continue to watch that show. For my book group we watched the Noah movie in the theaters (yes, I know it’s a book group, but we alternate books and movies). I had to leave the movie early when a character goes into labor, crying because she doesn’t want her baby to be born, worried about it’s imminent death after birth. Watching Scandal, the political drama, I thought I was safe until the presidents wife decided to have a baby as a savvy political move (and got pregnant just like that, no less!)

I became sensitive to pregnancy/baby plots. Now almost 11 months later, I’ve lightened up a bit. I can watch some of these scenarios without a huge emotional reaction. But I can still be surprised. I guess, when it’s the shows that I don’t expect a baby plot that irk me now. I’m not overcome by sadness, just a bothered, annoyed. Most recently it has been Homeland. I’m catching up on past seasons and couldn’t imagine a baby in this fast paced, anti-terrorism show. So when a surprise pregnancy hit the scene, I was a little ticked off.

I guess that’s what shows are trying to do- hit you with the unexpected. I’m learning to accept- and I’m still watching Homeland, but I get to be annoyed, right?

How do you feel about baby plots in shows/movies/books?

Alumnae Magazine

Back in July I received an email from my class rep from my alumni magazine. At the end of each magazine, there are class notes, where people write in and tell a tidbit about themselves. It’s organized by year and every month it’s the first section I turn to, to see if I recognize any names. I’ve never written in myself. I weird felt- like I had one chance to do so, because otherwise who wants to be reading the same names over and over. The paragraphs are filled with my overachieving classmates and their marriages, their children, their lawyer or doctor jobs, their start ups, their amazing trips around the world. In the midsts of all the humble brags I love finding morsels about people doing less typical things. I am mostly annoyed by what I read, yet still am drawn to it.

This summer an email appeared in my inbox aimed at those of us who lived in our freshman dorm. It was a smart tactic- I certainly gave it more thought since I was asked rather than just volunteering info.

What are you up to these days?  Whatever you want to share is welcome. Although family and work news is always great, I (and your fellow ’02ers) would also enjoy hearing about hobbies, travel, get-togethers with other ’02ers, and commentary on 30-something life. It doesn’t have to be written in third-person or otherwise edited/print-ready either; that will be done by me and a series of copy editors following me, so feel free to hit reply and send me a quick note!

When I first read it, I thought “Hah! Family and work is what 30-something life is often about!” It is for me, at least. The request came at just the right time. I spoke to Chris and he was supportive so I replied:

I am currently living in Connecticut and working in the New Haven area as a nurse-midwife.  This year my husband and I welcomed our first child, Mabel. We knew she would be born sick, but we remained hopeful.  She lived for six precious hours after birth.  Lately I spend my free time blogging about my grief in hopes of advocating for others who have also experienced baby loss and hoping to increase awareness for bereaved parents.  

My class rep responded so appropriately with the right kind of “I’m so sorry” and asking if my blog was public so she could read it.   She said they don’t usually publish websites, but she’ll see if the editors would in this case.

So this month I opened up my magazine and found my name in bold among the wedding and baby announcements of my doctor and lawyer classmates. I was four months younger in my grief when I wrote it, just starting to feel the desire to speak up- really speak up- about my grief. I was nervous, thinking I’d be perceived as a Debbie downer or attention seeker. At the same time, I was angry at the injustice of the social pressure I felt to not share about the birth of my daughter which was followed quickly by her death. I had the same right to share baby with my classmates too! So now, with many months of speaking up under my belt, I’m so glad I to took the risk.

Have you taken any risks that paid off? Any that didn’t?

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Grieving expectations

I came home and Chris was in the middle of watching an episode of Walking Dead. We watched the first two seasons together, but then I somehow fell off- sometimes the intensity of the show got me a little too worked up. When we first started watching it, I couldn’t watch it when it was dark out of alone, that’s how much it creeped me out. Now Chris is a season and a half ahead of me, which is okay because we each have our own shows we watch when the other is not there. Having exhausted Friday night Lights early into my grief, I now am captivated by Scandal. I watch while on the elliptical.

This night I was working late, doing some evening hours in my office. When I came home he was in the middle of the episode, so we watched the rest together. There was a scene with two women and a baby. One asked the other “were there children?” trying to ascertain if she lost any family in the zombie outbreak. She nodded and then turned away from the woman who was holding the baby. A few moments later, after a messy spit up, the first woman practically thrusted the baby into the second woman’s reluctant arms so she could clean up. She held the baby at bay at first, but then brought her closer and cuddled her in a pool of tears. The first woman came back to witness the second woman’s grief and healing.

The scene angered me. I should be pleased that the show recognized the difficulty in baby loss and how a babyloss mother might feel in the presence of a small child- and I am pleased. I’m angered because I feel like that’s what’s expected of me. Of course, holding babies will be hard, but I should do it, have a good cry and then all will be well. I’ll hold babies again, no problem.

I think it tapped into feelings of guilt and shame I have about not wanting to hold babies. Technically I did hold one, but there are other babies I feel I need to hold (and if I dig deep emotionally, I want to want to hold them- does that make sense? Is that too many “wants?”). Family babies. The holidays are fast approaching and they are causing me so much anxiety. Holidays when I was supposed to have my baby. Holidays where there will be other family babies. This scene tapped right into my anxiety and self-consciousness around what is expected of me. Just hold the baby. Have a good cry. Have your emotional meltdown- you’ll feel better after. I imagine them thinking. (who is “them?” everyone! Family, friends, colleagues, everyone.) Well, I don’t want to. I’m not ready.

I am constantly told that there is no right way to grieve. But then why do I feel like I’m doing wrong after watching that scene?

Do you feel like you’re not living up to grieving expectations?

Day 3- Before

Before….. I’d hold babies without a second thought.  I’d yearn to hold them. I was a natural!  Before my my arms were forever tattooed with the mark of my dead daughter.

Holding my baby as I felt the life slip from her has changed me.  Holding my baby, feeling her weight change, get heavier as her skin fell from warm to cold and feeling her weight shift, the muscle tone no longer able support her limp body, has colored my experience of holding babies now.

Before… I held babies.

 

Day 3- Before

Day 3- Before

 

#captureyourgrief

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? 

My anger

I’m angry. My therapist seems to think so and I can’t disagree.

I see you lady, the one with the baby stroller. It’s the hippest kind- the one that looks almost space-aged, lightweight and modern. It’s the type that celebrities push their newborns around in, appearing on the pages on People and US Weekly and so I know it cost a pretty penny. I shouldn’t be surprised because we are in a swanky shopping plaza in a well-to-do town. I’m with my husband, joining him at a burger place near his work. You are with a friend, likely meeting up for a rare outing out of the house. I see your proud smile, the one that tells me you know others are looking at you and your stroller, thinking “oh look! A new baby!” You smile as if having a live baby is some sort of accomplishment. Well, guess what? Try having a dead baby. Now that’s something to be proud of.

(I know, I know.  Maybe she did have a dead baby and this is her first live one. In which case, she should be proud. Or maybe she struggled with years of infertility. Or maybe her baby has a severe heart defect and will need surgery. Or maybe she just made a perfect healthy baby.)

I see you too, small SUV. You’re driving in front of me with one of those yellow placards in the window. “Baby on Board” it reads, screaming at all the other cars around, admonishing them to drive more safely and be more careful because there is a baby in that car. How long do you get to keep that yellow sign up? You and your oversized stature were purchased so that there’d be more room for a baby and all the accouterment that comes in tow. Heaven forbid the owners stick to a simple sedan for the diaper bag, the space-aged stroller and the portable breast pump. The type of car already announced that motherhood was inside, why must you rub it in my face with the yellow sign as well? I hate you car and I hate you placard.

(I know, I know.  People can drive what they want and perhaps the sign was a gift, needing to be displayed so the giver felt satisfied. Maybe the SUV is needed for the three kids they have, or to deliver groceries to soup kitchens, or to tote the special needs stroller which is bigger and bulkier. Or maybe it’s all part of what a new mom had been excitedly waiting to do- drive a “mom” car with a baby on board placard.)

I heard about you, woman I know who just had her third baby. I didn’t know you were even pregnant, because our worlds haven’t crossed since the death of my daughter. But I know now, having heard the news from a friend who saw it on her facebook feed. And congrats to you for doing something I could not… produce a baby that would live… three times over. I know you are just one of many who have more than one baby- I see them every day in my workplace. And I know I have no idea whether it was planned, whether it was difficult or whether you have had any struggles. But congrats to you, for making it look so darn easy to pop out a baby who breathes. Congrats.

(I know, I know.  Maybe this pregnancy was physically and emotionally difficult. Maybe her husband left her. Maybe the baby has Down Syndrome. Maybe she struggled for years with infertility. Maybe she doesn’t know how she is going to balance three kids with a demanding job. Or maybe she is simply thrilled that her family is now complete.)

My anger is unfair, I know. But life is unfair, so I get to be angry.

 

Are you angry?  What are you angry about?  What gets you angry?