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.

Things I learned from Mabel’s second birthday

Don’t be afraid to ask for the support you need or want.  I dreaded last year’s birthday and was quite sad. This year I tried to think of something that would help me anticipate the day in better spirits. Throughout the year, people often send me photos of things they find with carrots, reminding me that they’re thinking of my baby. These little sentiments mean so very much to me, so I thought I’d see if I could concentrate them all in one day.

I am still vulnerable.  So. Very. Vulnerable. Yes, I may talk a lot about babyloss. In fact, I’ve made somewhat of a career out of it, with my nonprofit work and my midwifery interest in it.  However, I am still a grieving mom and a relatively new one at that. Two years is just a drop in the bucket. So I sam still sensitive to people’s remarks, or lack thereof. After some unanticipated and unwelcome commentary, I had a breakdown and found myself in a very dark place, thrown back to those early grieving days. It took some time to crawl out of that hole and even though I did, I was scarred.  The day was the slightest bit tainted.

I’m still figuring things out. Last year I encouraged random acts of kindness and had a little birthday party with cake. This year I asked for Carrot selfies and spent the day mostly by myself and had cake with just my husband.  I’m not sure what I’ll do in future years. But as I try things on, I’ll find what I like.

I miss my forever baby. Despite those early wishes, the world did not stop turning when my Mabel died. My life move forward too-my once empty arms are now filled and the constant ache has softened. But I still miss all five pounds, five ounces of my firstborn, chunky cheeks and all.

People are awesome. I asked and boy did I ever receive.  Dozens of people posted on facebook, on instagram, via email and text.  Others donated to Hope After Loss or St. Jude in her name. I was overwhelmed by the response.

Thank you- so very much.

Mabel’s First Birthday

One year ago today was the saddest day of my life. The day also brought joy- the birth of my first child, long awaited and very wanted- but that joy was overshadowed in the hours following her birth. I went from utter amazement that I had a baby and despite the odds stacked against her, she cried. She might live, I thought. My excitement lasted minutes, until Chris updated me from the NICU. Her lungs were too small. She would die. As I raced to wrap my mind around this outcome, known as a possibility for months, her condition deteriorated in the hours that lay ahead. The days I thought I had with her melted into just a few hours as the vent and oxygen failed to sustain her tiny body. We took away that pain, removing her from life support, after just six and a half hours of life. The warm solid baby that lay on my chest became heavy and cool, her skin turning from a light pink to a mottled purple, her lips deepening to a dark red. I held her until I could hold her no more and gave her up for the final time.

One year ago today my daughter was born. Today is her birthday. But today is her death day.

In my early days of grief, I envisioned such a different day. I would plan a birthday party- a large, kiddie birthday party, with hats, and cake and balloons. I would invite everyone who I would have had she lived and ask them to bring books to donate to a needy school or library in the area. I would write Mabel’s name in each of the books, so she would live on when others read her name. It would be a celebration of her life. I was inspired reading about another mother’s celebration of her baby taken too soon.

Holding that birthday party is part of that ideal grieving woman I often aspire to be, but feel like I fall so short of.

But I can’t have that birthday part for Mabel. I’m just too sad.

I’m sad that it’s even a decision I have to make- how to celebrate my dead baby’s birthday and death day. I’m sad that my baby died. I’m sad she suffered. I’m sad that I have suffered. I’m sad that I’m not where I thought I’d be in my grief at one year. I’m sad that she’s not here. I’m just so so sad.

No big party today for Mabel. No party hats. No book collection.

Today I plan to hide under the covers. I know I have so many people in my life who are supportive and thoughtful (many of whom have already graciously reached out) and their support is welcome. Today, though, I plan to turn off my phone and hide from social media and just be sad. It’s too overwhelming to be gracious and sad at the same time on this day.

As the day approached and I recognized I wouldn’t be making my dream birthday party happen for her, I made an alternative plan. I couldn’t face an in person celebration, but I wanted her recognized so I invited friends and families to a virtual one. I sent these invites out earlier in the week:

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In memory of our daughter on her first birthday we invite you to join us in doing a Random Act of Kindness.  Enclosed you’ll find a small notecard that you can leave behind, if you choose, when doing your Act of Kindness.

We would love to know what you do in memory of Mabel.  Please feel free to email us or post on social media.

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Feel free to join us in Mabel’ virtual birthday party. Or you could simply learn more about her here:

Happy Birthday, baby. I love you. I miss you. I wish you were here.

Letting myself have fun

A year ago I spent a friend’s birth trying to bowl with my very pregnant belly. It was one of the last hurrahs before going into the hospital. Chris and I joked around, standing back to back, me 32 weeks pregnant with Mabel, he with a bowling ball under his shirt. I bowled terribly, blaming the offset in my balance. Overall, I had fun.

This year that same friend’s birth rolled around and we found ourselves at the same bowling alley, reliving the same birthday celebration. With the holidays often interrupting many of our social schedules, it was nice to be among the larger group of friends again. As I sat down and put on my bowling shoes, with plates of every kind of fried food sitting before me, I decided I was going to have fun. Being in celebratory situations have often been difficult after my child died. Can I have fun? Will people think I am over Mabel? If I have fun, will I be forsaking her? As I pledged on one of babylossmamma’s posts, I am trying to let myself have fun, without too much guilt. It is a fine balance because I still worry that people will think I’m fine, I’m “healed” (I have another whole post in the making about what I think of that word), that I’ve moved on. My therapist asks me, what am I afraid will happen? The best answer I can come up with is that my support will go away. I still need lots of it. I struggle with anger, sadness, jealousy, hurt on a daily basis and need people to recognize that and cut me some slack sometimes. For the most part they have. I hope that can continue.

And of course, Mabel still came up that night amidst all the fun. A friend brought his girlfriend- someone I’ve simply met before but didn’t get to know. She was simply a ball full of pleasantness. Sweet and interested. We made lots of small talk. Since I was bowling remarkably well, I felt the need for her to understand it was a fluke- that last year, I was terrible. I blamed it on being big and pregnant, but secretly I’m usually not very good. We talked about where we were from, went to school, etc. And then she asked innocently, “so how many kids do you have?” My stomach dropped- but for such a different reason than it used to when asked this question. My baby died and I can say that now. I just felt so bad for her that I was about to drop this bomb on her, turning this lighthearted conversation into something inevitably sad.

“I had a baby last year and she died after birth. So none living at the moment.” I smile din the best way that I could- trying to show that yes, I’m sad, but I’m not going to go to pieces right at this moment.

She did all the right things, reaching out, touching my arm, saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

She was then at a loss for words and so as I often do, I tried to fill the space.

“It’s ok…. Wait, no, it’s not ok that she died, but it’s ok that you asked. Thank you.”

And then it was my turn to bowl. So despite all my fun, Mabel was still there, present and with me.

Do you let yourself have fun? Without guilt? How does it turn out?

Halloween

I enjoy a good costume; I always have. Every year for my birthday I have had a theme party, one involving costumes- Bowties & Moustaches, Mad Hatter, Cowboys & Ninjas. Halloween also provides a good outlet- I’ve been Curious George, an eggplant, a proctologist and Peter Pan in recent years. I wear a costume to work. Last year, while pregnant with Mabel, I threw on one of Chris’s shirts over my maternity jeans, grabbed my boots and my hat (from my most recent birthday party) and was a simple cowboy. At 22 weeks and in a men’s shirt, you couldn’t tell I was pregnant. I spiced up the costume with a very authentic looking moustache. I even brought moustaches for my staff to wear. My favorite was the 70-something year old doc also donning a fake moustache for the entire day. Patients gave an easy laugh when I entered the exam room. It was fun!

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This year, I wasn’t exactly in the holiday spirit. I wasn’t feeling playful, so I wore no costume. If I had thought enough ahead, I would have pulled together some sort of carrot costume. but I didn’t think of that until midway through the work day. It was hard for me to give up dressing up altogether. I did let a little bit of holiday seep in through my socks.

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We made plans to go to a friend’s house after work because they get lots of trick-or-treaters and we don’t get any on the road we live on. I wasn’t terribly excited to ooh and aah over the little kids dressed up, nor did I feel in the mood to celebrate. But I wanted to dress my pup up and Chris and I thought she could benefit from the socialization that came with constant ringing of the doorbell. And after taking Muppet out to numerous walks and festivals, I’ve learned she usually attracts lots of positive attention. It’s a decent substitute for the attention a baby gets- lots of oohing and ahhing. I figured the attention we’d get over her would balance out the reminders of what we lost.

Ready for the beach!

Ready for the beach!

Hot dog!

Hot dog!

School girl! (though, trust me, she's not that innocent)

School girl! (though, trust me, she’s not that innocent)

Overall, she got some attention, but not as much as I had hoped. I suppose children in costume and the promise of candy held more attraction than my dressed up pup. I was saddened when I saw kids in strollers because I was reminded of what I might have been doing if I had a living eight month old. Granted, she might have been too sick to go trick or treating, but I not only mourn the sick child I lost, but the dream of a healthy one too.

How was your Halloween?

Day 13: Season

It was a very snowy winter.  We had bought a snow blower in preparation and got good use out of it.  It seemed like the snow came pouring down every time I was admitted to the hospital.

We had bought a king sized bed- my dream!  I had always wanted one and when we moved into our house with big bedrooms and were expecting a new little person to share time in bed with us, the expense suddenly seemed less frivolous.  I had passed the two major ultrasounds, in my mind, the anatomy scan and the heart ultrasound, so I figured we were safe.  The king sized bed was one our first major baby purchases (from which we would benefit as well).  It was due to be delivered on sunday.  The thursday before I had my ultrasound which showed low fluid and i was hastily admitted to the hospital.  We spent that weekend safely tucked into the hospital room as the snow piled up on the roads.  We had to ask a friend to pull out our snow blower and plow our driveway so the bed delivery truck could make it in.

In the time off my work had graciously given me to adjust to Mabel’s devastatingly poor prognosis, I visited my family for the holidays.  My parents and brothers were up at our family ski house in New Hampshire.  While the Chris and the boys hit the slopes, I waddled around on snowshoes with my mother.  As the snow fell around me, I listened to the babble of the stream beside the trail and took some deep breaths.  It was the first time in those first treacherous weeks that I could really breathe.

Snowshoeing around Christmas.

Snowshoeing in New Hampshire.

When I was admitted again in February, the snow storms continued.  A major one hit on my birthday.  My parents had come down for the day and we were celebrating by getting some lunch from the carts.  In front of our hospital, dozens of food carts from local restaurants set up to cater to the hospital and university staff that seek them out ravenously every lunch time.  They make a killing selling $5 meals of every different kind of ethnic food- chinese, thai, ethiopian, italian, vietnamese, gourmet cheese, sushi, salads, bengali, mediterranean.  I was excited to bypass the hospital menu to get some good eats.  Chris and my dad went down in the heavy snow to seek out which carts braved the weather.  We had two choices- thai and thai.

The next day I used the 45 minutes I was allotted of the monitor to get some fresh, but frigid, air in the Healing Garden at our hospital- an our door space for admitted patients and visitors to step outside.  I never bought a maternity coat- just shoved my bump into the jackets I had.

A quick trip to the Healing Garden to take in all the snow.

A quick trip to the Healing Garden to take in all the snow.

When labor started, it had snowed recently and since Chris was spending his nights with me, our house upkeep was totally neglected.  I asked Chris to stop at home on his way from work to get the special blanket we had ordered for Mabel.  We hadn’t plowed the driveway from the most recent storms and so Chris had to wade through thigh deep snow up to our house to get it.  Mabel was born on a cold winter morning the next day.  Before being discharged, we had to ask our friends to snow blow our driveway again, so we could get home easily.

The snow remained on the ground during the next week as we planned her serviced.  We buried Mabel under a blanket of snow, white and pure.

THe Cemetery: We buried her under a blanker of snow.

The Cemetery: We buried her under a blanker of snow.

What season do I associate with my child?

Winter. Snowy snowy winter.
#CaptureYourGrief

 

Battle scars

I used to be a runner. I’ve written about it here, talking about how running became hard for me physically and emotionally at the end of pregnancy. I was proud of how far along I was when I went for my last run – 31 weeks. I would go for a run (ok, ok a very slow jog), usually before work 3-5 times per week, getting my 3 miles done in 35 minutes or so.

When I was hospitalized at 34 weeks, I had to be on the monitor 23 hours a day and wasn’t supposed to leave the hospital, so I was limited in my exercise ability. I settled for a mini-bootcamp with an exercise band and medicine ball I had gotten as gifts.

After Mabel was born, I knew I needed exercise. We commonly tell patients, no real exercise until 6 weeks postpartum. I used to tell my patients that they could do some light exercise, like walking, when their bleeding stopped. I did not take my own advice. I was doing yoga at 10 days postpartum and back at bootcamp (with modifications and accompanied by my midwife) at 2.5 weeks. I will now counsel patients differently.

But even before I started back at bootcamp, I would walk. Chris and I would hit up the local “rail trail” (and old railroad track converted into a paved path frequented by walkers and cyclists). It was winter and our area had been hit by an enormous amount of snowfall, so rather than brave the sidewalk-less streets in our country-living town, we would bundle up and head to the rail trail nearby. Our town plowed a mile and a half of it in the winter, so it was a safe place to walk and get fresh air. At first the walking was slow going, but as the days progressed, I could do more faster. I was limited mostly by my pelvis. There is a bone- the symphasis pubis- in the front part of the pelvis (the pubic bone in more common terms) that has a joint in it. In pregnancy, the body makes a hormone called relaxin, which, as its name implies, relaxes the joints in the body. Its main target is the pelvis, loosening the hinges to make more room for a baby to pass through. Many pregnant women speak of loose joints that sometimes can be painful and that’s due to the relaxin, which works on all the joints- not just the pelvis.

My body made plenty of relaxin. As pregnancy progressed, I would be sore after a run. I’d feel it in my pelvis, my symphasis mostly. I remember vowing the day after the Thanksgiving turkey trot we ran that I was done running- my pelvis ached! I’d need a little assistance getting off the couch and climbing stairs would smart. I’d ice, stretch and see the chiropractor, but nothing really helped. So eventually I gave up running and moved on to bootcamp. After Mabel was born and we were walking I felt that familiar burning, lingering pain in my symphasis. I wasn’t worried; it can take time to heal. I eventually worked myself up from walking to interval jogging to my usual three-mile stint at a slow pace. Week after week I’d keep at it, slow and steady as I regained my stamina. Though I gave it time, my pelvis seemed stationary in its healing process. I continued the stretching, ice and the chiropractor but found myself running less and going to bootcamp more. I think I’ve run once in the past two months.

I finally made an appointment with physical therapy to try to get some help, but part of me realizes that my jogging days might be over. I am well past a reasonable recovery time and have come to accept that this might be one of my battle scars. I was fortunate to never get a stretchmark in pregnancy- the only few I have developed on my breasts during the rapid and impressive engorgement I experienced a few days after birth. The shape of them have changed too. Other than that, I have few physical reminders that my body once bore a baby.

Part of me hates the loss of running due to my invisible battle wound on my pelvis, but part of me thinks of it fondly. Just like the milk that came in so insistently after Mabel was born, my painful pelvis is a reminder that though there is no baby, there was a baby.

What about you- what are your battle scars? Are they public or invisible? How do you feel about them?

 

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Today is a special day, a little girl named Calla was born two years ago today. I’ve never met her.  I didn’t know her mom or her dad or her two big brothers when she was born.  I only know them now because Calla Pearl was born sleeping.  Though I wish that weren’t the case and she were a lively two year old sapping her mom’s energy, I am grateful that I have met Calla’s mom and her family.  Today I tried to picture what I think she would have looked like as a two year old.  I base my vision on the precious photo her mom showed me and how her two older brothers look.  But I know she is and ever will be the baby born too soon and too silent.  I think of Calla being a friend to Mabel, showing her how to be a baby separated from her mother, in the way Calla’s mom is helping show me how to be a mother separated from her baby.

Happy Birthday, Calla Pearl.

Meghan was fun

When I turned 33 I had a Cowboys & Ninjas- themed birthday party.  Every year I would have some sort of theme party to celebrate turning one year older.  Previous themes included: 80s, Bowties & Moustaches, MadHatter and Pizza & Chocolate (I know, the last one was lame; it was the year I was planning my wedding and planning a big theme party just seemed like too much that year).  Throwing a good theme party takes some skill.  You need to pick a theme that is exciting enough that good photos will be shot but easy enough that most people can find something in their closet to wear. Cowboys & NInjas seemed to meet that criteria. I try to incentivize my guests by giving out prizes, which I tend to make up on the spot.  Some are obvious- like best bowtie and some are spontaneous- like best 90s costume worn to an 80s party.

Bowties & Moustaches

Bowties & Moustaches

MadHatter Party

As the host, there’s a lot of pressure to be in good costume for the party. My first instinct for Cowboys & Ninjas was to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, but the more I heard people talking about coming, the less cowboys I thought there would be, so I scrapped my green hoodie in search for something western. Creativity struck and I ordered some men’s underwear- the tighty whitie variety- and got my red and blue markers out to decorate.  I found a tan colored tank top, a cowboy hat and boots.  I made a guitar out of cardboard.  Soon I became the Naked Cowboy.

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It was a hit.  It took a lot of guts to prance around in just underwear and a tank top, but that’s the kind of person I was.  I liked being the center of attention, making people laugh.  I may or may not have made some new friends slightly uncomfortable, with my faux- near nudity.  We played the Wii, ate Ninja food (pizza, sushi, shumai) and Cowboy food (pigs in a blanket, cowboy dip) and prizes were awarded.  Best group costume (a set of four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles- far better than the costume I planned) and best Denim on Denim for the cowboy.

I was so carefree at that party. That was in the “before.”  I was fun, uninhibited, guiltless in my enjoyment.  I threw parties!  Now I live in the “after.”  Small talk is harder.  Smiling doesn’t come as easily.  I don’t want to be center of attention.  The idea of running around a party in such an outfit feels wrong.  I know this is all part of the grief journey, but it’s discouraging how long it takes.  I thought I’d be in a different place by now.  I know doing the job I do has complicated my journey and I try to remind myself that, but I’m struggling to find joy in my job again.   Every now and then I see glimpses of the old me- truly enjoying her self, finding satisfaction at work.  I can remember what she was like.

I miss the old Meghan.  She was fun.

Happy birthday to me!

Today is my birthday!   I’ve always been a big fan of birthdays.  I come from a family of birthday-celebrators.  I help run a small non-profit that brings birthdays to kids in need.  My career literally is centered around making birth-days.  I even like to catch babies on my birthday, because every time I do it’s like double the celebration.  Happy birthday to us!  Birthdays are kind of a big deal.

 

Every year I usually go all out and have myself a party- a theme party, with costumes and prizes.  Themes of recent years: Bowties & Moustaches, Mad Hatter, Pizza & Chocolate, Cowboys vs Ninjas.  I mean business.  This year’s theme: 34.  I’m 34+ weeks pregnant on my 34th birthday!   And still pregnant, at that.  Baby is still doing well (“embarrassingly well” in the words of one of my midwives).  I’m especially happy because, though I’m anxiously anticipating baby’s birthday- I didn’t want it to be today.  Soley because it’s too early.  I want this baby born at 37+ weeks, not 34+.  And so it is (at least for now).

 

My parents came down and joined my in the hospital for the day and Chris worked from home (aka the hospital), so he was around too.  We had lots of visitors, ate, played games, ate, opened presents, ate, talked to family on the phone and ATE.  Overall a success!  I even got a quick break from monitoring and visited my friends on the labor floor.

 

But I think today is better told in photos- so here it goes:

 

Upon my request, my midwife colleague brought me seltzer (a pregnancy craving).  Not the typical seltzer.  While out last night at a local bar restaurant, she asked the bartender to fill her empty ice tea bottle with some seltzer and limes- and viola! instant birthday present!

Upon my request, my midwife colleague brought me seltzer (a pregnancy craving). Not your typical seltzer. While out last night at a local bar restaurant, she asked the bartender to fill her empty ice tea bottle with some seltzer and limes- and viola! instant birthday present!

The same midwife gave me "Array," a card game mashup between dominoes and uno.  Fun!  WIll definitely play again.

The same midwife gave me “Array,” a card game mashup between dominoes and uno. Fun! WIll definitely play again.

Pizza Party! From the famous Frank Pepe's (as insisted by my dad)

Pizza Party! From the famous Frank Pepe’s (as insisted by my dad)

Literally, pizza party- me, chris, my parents and my cousin and her husband all crammed into my room.

Literally, pizza party- me, chris, my parents and my cousin and her husband all crammed into my room.

Yum.

Yum.

Ice cream cake!  (not shown: a cannoli cake brought by one of the docs I work with earlier that day, chocolate covered strawberries and cake pops from some old elementary school friends, six choloate bars from the seltzer-midwife and cupcakes from a grad school friend.  I'm telling you, we ATE)

Ice cream cake! (not shown: a cannoli cake brought by one of the docs I work with, chocolate covered strawberries and cake pops from some old elementary school friends, six chocolate bars from the seltzer-midwife and cupcakes from a grad school friend. I’m telling you, we ATE)

Gift from Chris- my very own medicine ball!  Plus new work out shoes, fun exercise clothes and crochet supplies.  He was worried that it might seem like he was sending the wrong message- giving your wife exercise stufff- but he's been listening to me .  I've been talking about how these were all things i wanted!  Look out- I might just have to do a few ball slams.

Gift from Chris- my very own medicine ball! Plus new work out shoes, fun exercise clothes and crochet supplies. He was worried that it might seem like he was sending the wrong message- giving your wife exercise stufff- but he’s been listening to me . I’ve been talking about how these were all things i wanted! Look out- I might just have to do a few ball slams.

 

I had so many well wishes via phone calls, texts, facebook messages and in person visits.  So much thanks to all of you for helping make this “unique” birthday a good one.