I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t do it.

We were out to brunch at our local spot.  I had Felix dressed in one of my favorite outfits. “Little brother” the onesie read.  I have three shirts that say this telling phrase.  One from a long distance friend who hold Mabel close in her heart.  Another from a kind patient. A third I bought, unable to resist.  He’s outgrown two of them and the third he practically busting the seams, but I’m reluctant to let it go.  I proudly dressed him in it that morning.

The waitress cooed at him and he flirted back.  “Little brother!” she read his shirt. “Where’s your sister?” she continued and looked at me.

I sat with a dumb smile plastered to my face- mouth partially open, waiting for the words to come.

I couldn’t do it.

She’s dead. She died. She’s gone.  I couldn’t find the right words.  I’ve said it dozen of times; I’ve gotten quite good at it, actually.  But in the bustle and noise of the restaurant, with the smiling waitress making fast chit chat, I just couldn’t do it.

Whether she sensed my hesitation or assumed I didn’t hear, she moved on to the next bit of chatter.

I couldn’t do it.  I’m sorry, my baby, I didn’t know how to tell her about you.  I’m sorry, Mabel.

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Grief exposed

It was the end of my day and I walked my last patient up to the front desk. “She needs an appointment in 4 weeks,” I told my secretary.   As she searched the schedule, the patient tapped me gently on the arm.

“And how’s your little one?” she asked, continuing some of the friendly banter we had started in the exam room. She remembered that I had been pregnant the last time I saw her.

I am so prepared for this question. I’ve answered it time and time again. I’ve come to terms with the fact that people will ask- a lot of people, because I have a lot of patients who saw me pregnant. Probably hundreds of them. Some know what happened and some don’t. I no longer get emotional or shut down when asked. I have my go-to words that fill the once awkward space the question leaves.

But this time was different. I had an audience. I am usually asked about my baby when it’s just me and the patient in the exam room. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked in front of others who know and here I was, with the patient, sweetly asking in about my daughter with my front desk staff there to witness. I felt self-conscious.

“I have sad news about the baby. She died last year,” I told the patient. She was kind- gave me a quick hug and expressed genuine condolences. And then I quickly moved on and brought the conversation back to the future appointment for the patient.

It was a little different than what I usually do in privacy with the patient. If it’s someone like this patient I usually give a little more space for them to react and leave room for conversation if it happens. I think it helps me and it helps the patient. But this time I felt almost embarrassed that my staff had to watch this awkward interaction, perhaps thinking about how awful it must be to get this question over and over. Part of me is glad they witnessed- people getting a little window into the ongoing grief I have, but another part of me is so very shy about it. I can open up about the raw grief I have more easily in the privacy of an exam room, but not while being watched.

Have you had this question asked in a group setting? How have you reacted?

White roses

“Wow! those are beautiful flowers!” exclaimed the lady checking me out at the grocery store.  I too was surprised that such a gorgeous bouquet was sold at my local shop.

“Yeah, I couldn’t help myself,” I admitted.  As I walked by the flower shelf I was immediately drawn to the simply arranged bouquet of white roses.  Perfect for such a little baby, I thought.

“Sometimes you just have to treat yourself,” she responded.

“Oh, they’re for someone else, but I still couldn’t resist.”

How can I help, but indulge my baby?

How do you indulge your lost loved one?

 

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Thanksgiving

My Nana died when I was 14. She gave me a suede brown shirt the year before she died. She taught me how to play poker. And she made the best eggs-on-a-raft (a toad in a hole, to others). She also hosted Thanksgiving for years and years. One holiday, the event was big enough that we divided up into two tables. Someone had the bright idea to have a lottery system; rather than dividing up into the sensible kids and adult tables, we all drew numbers, with most landing at the dining room table and a few unlucky souls ending up at the less desirable kitchen table. I scored a seat at the main table, but a great aunt was stuck in the kitchen. As we prepped and got ready for our seats, my dad pleaded and bribed me to swap seats with my elder relative. Little stinker that I was, I stubbornly refused. I must have seemed like an incorrigible kid, but really I just wanted to sit at the same table as my Nana. I would have sat in the kitchen easily if she was seated there too.

When my Nana got sick with cancer, she moved in with her daughter, my aunt, who took over Thanksgiving that year and has since hosted.

Today is a day when we are supposed to be outwardly thankful, announcing our gratitude frequently and publicly. I have spent the past nine months working hard on finding gratitude on a daily basis- today I’m taking a break. It’s not that I’m not grateful-I have so much to be thankful for- health, family, friends, work- but I’m feeling rather melancholy. I woke up thinking of my Nana. I made myself an egg on a raft in her memory.

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Mabel is of course on my mind. This time last year I was pictured attending the next year’s Thanksgiving with a baby. She’d be wearing little leg braces for her clubbed feet and would be still working on eating solid foods. I was optimistic, but realistic. Today, after some debate, I will attend my family’s Thanksgiving. It will be hard, as I go through the motions of living out the next holiday without my baby.

Every action today is a reminder that my baby is not here. I will go be with relatives whose lives have moved on while mine has stood still. I’ve debated skipping to simply avoid the pain, the memories and the reminders- but there are some things I have to face and it’s time. If it’s too much, I’ll simply leave. For now I’ll focus on the good food in my near future. I look forward to the carrots my mom makes every year.

My therapist said it best as we said our goodbyes last week- I hope you have the best Thanksgiving you can.

What is Thanksgiving like for you today?

How’s-the-baby season

“How’s the baby?”

I was asked twice today. I am now seeing patients for their annuals who saw me this time last year, when I had a baby bump. I dreaded this time. I made the sign for this time. Months ago I couldn’t imagine the pain I would feel as people eagerly asked about the baby.

“She died shortly after birth.”

I can say the words effortlessly now. I don’t get flustered. It’s the awkward silence that follows after the requisite and heartfelt “I’m sorry”s that I don’t know what to do with. I fill it with short sentences like,

“We knew she was sick, but hoped it would have been different.”

“It’s been a difficult year.”

“I’m here, so that’s good.”

I’ve been asked a number of times about the baby, but those comments have been spread out over days or weeks. Two in one morning made me realize I’ve now hit the how’s-the-baby season.

I was just getting to the point where I wondered if I should take down my sign. I sometimes found the comments disrupting to the visit- I never minded them (I always appreciate someone who has something to say about my baby), it sometimes just didn’t flow- I felt like I had forced the info on them with the sign. I’ve had several patients come back in after their visitor or call me later, seeing the sign as they left. I feel like I can answer questions about “the baby’ more easily. I was thinking that this easiness with the question was an indication that I could do without the sign. But today has shown me…not yet. I’ll probably take the sign down either in the new year or at the one year mark, because when else do I take it down? I’m ready and not ready all at once.

“How’s the baby?”

Part of me wants to respond, “She’s dead, thanks!” But I don’t think people would quite get my dark humor there.

How do you react to questions about your baby? Has it gotten easier? Harder?

The High Chair

I’ve always been a fan of yard sales. Apparently what you call them hints at where you were raised- yard sale, tag sales, garage sale. I have memories of going with my dad to yard sales- once excitedly finding a Mr. Potato Head! We would hit up the annual town fundraiser, sometimes filling up a garbage bag and paying by the pound. Out of college, I hit up craigslist and estate sales to help furnish our first apartment. The habit continued into grad school and even when I was making a decent salary in my first job, I still was drawn to the yard sales. I often would pick up furniture left out for free on the side of the road, so I am no stranger to other people’s discardings.

After we had our big ultrasounds- the anatomy scan and the heart ultrasound- the ones that told us Mabel didn’t have any of the typical birth defects tht often come with Down Syndrome, I finally felt comfortable enough to start buying some baby supplies. Chris tacked down some secondhand cloth diapers on Craigslist and we nabbed a bunch of those. We drove an hour to buy the carseat we wanted from another ad on Craigslist. We made a trip to try out rockers at Babies-R-Us. We started a registry on Amazon. But when Chris came home one day with a high chair he picked up off the side of the road in our well-to-do town, I couldn’t find my usual warmth for this secondhand find.

Chris was confused. “We’ll bleach it,” he said, knowing my affinity for the cleaning product might sway me. I had already narrowed down the high chair I wanted, looking at reviews and prices. I think in my head I wanted to pick out the high chair special, not get whatever we could find. I agreed to hang on to it, figuring I’d eventually sway him into getting a new one. Until we deep cleaned it, it sat in the basement.

A few weeks later we were given the news that we might not need that high chair. The low fluid diagnosis at 27 weeks did not bode well for our baby and so we absorbed the words of the doctors when they said she might die.  Her kidneys weren’t working and the resulting low fluid would make her lungs small- perhaps too small to support her.  We stopped buying baby supplies. I cancelled my baby shower. We hid our registry. The high chair got moved to the basement.

A few months later, Chris packed up all the baby stuff and hid they in the attic, so I wouldn’t see the painful reminders of my dead baby. The high chair, though, stayed in the basement, tucked deep into the utility room so I wouldn’t cross its path when I did laundry.

Chris and I had a day off this week and ended up using it to simply do housework we had been avoiding. One task we crossed off the list was bringing the big pile of clothes and housewares to Goodwill. I threw the highchair into the car. I wasn’t fond of it before, but now I resented it, a symbol of what I did not get to have. Chris relented and we schlepped everything off to Goodwill. After unloading the bags and boxes, the highchair was the last item he brought to the storefront. He returned to the car with it in hand.

“They don’t take baby stuff.”

So we still have the highchair. I know of a few places that will likely take it, but they will take some extra coordination and trips.   We might just find a dumpster and ditch it, which we both hate the idea of because it’s in fine shape and there are people who would gladly take it.

I now hate that high chair. It’s haunting me.

What haunts you?

Day 19: Give

“We are donating in memory of our daughter Mabel who had Down Syndrome.  She died when she was just a baby but had she had the chance to grow up, we are sure she would have loved these science projects.”

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I told Chris that today, we had to give- donate or do something nice for someone- in honor of Mabel. He suggested that we finally get around to donating to NPR, which is having a fundraising drive. It’s something we should do anyways, being the avid listeners we are, but I wanted to do something extra, something we want to do rather than something we should do. I went to one of Chris’s preferred charity websites- Donor’s Choose– where teachers post projects they want to fund and people contribute however much they want. I searched for any Down Syndrome related projects and found many. We found one we like and could complete the funding for. With a few clicks, Mrs. Hanson’s class now will have a science cart. Within moments we received a personal response:

“Chris, thank you so much for your amazing donation in memory of Mabel. What a special gift to our classroom you have provided, thank you! Your gift will be used daily by an amazing group of students”

#CaptureYourGrief
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