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?

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The same question over and over.

We stood in the middle of the dog park watching our dogs romp and run.  She commented on how cute Muppet was- not an unusual thing.  Muppet is surprisingly well loved among the regulars at the dog park.  I guess not too surprising- she’s a lover of people and dogs alike.  Playful, soft to the touch, recognizable.  Even a quasi-celebrity after she survived a near attack by another dog, which was photo documented on the park’s facebook page.  Muppet was doing her typical zoomies around the park, trying to get other dogs to engage in a game of chase.

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“Is this your first?” she asked me, nodding at my big belly.

“My second,” I smiled politely.

“Oh good!” she said, relieved, as she watched my puppy and her boundlesss energy.

I didn’t think much of the comment until  not a few minutes later, in a different spot, I had basically the same conversation with another woman.

“Oh, good,” she commented when learning this was not my first baby.

Perhaps I’m over-analyzing but, do they feel better about my crazy energetic puppy because she is supposedly used to having another kid in the home?  What if I told them there was no other child in the home?  I wasn’t angry, just perplexed about their responses.   I know, I’m extremely sensitive in general to that seemingly harmless question.  But what do you think they meant by their responses?

Earlier that day I was at bootcamp and was paired up with a woman I had seen before but don’t think I’d even spoken with.  After introducing ourselves, she asked it this was my first. I shook my head with a small smile.

“What else do you have at home- boys, girls?”  she asked pleasantly.

I relied on my standard response. “I had a daughter,” I said simply.  Usually that’s the end of the conversation- I often think people either don’t pick up on the past tense or do, but don’t know how to respond.  Or perhaps because I don’t elaborate, they think I’m unfriendly.  But this woman surprised me.

“So you have this one and your angel in heaven?”  My face lit up with a mixture of surprise and happiness.  She not only got the reference but actually acknowledged it!  It doesn’t matter that I don’t envision Mabel that way; it just matters that she understood the meaning behind those four words.  She understood that I was trying to tell her that I had a baby and she died -in a gentle way- to give her an out, killing the conversation.  But she made my day by really hearing what I said and not being afraid to respond.

I looked at her and gave her a real smile, nodding and saying “yes.” This time I was the one who didn’t know how to respond.  I tried to convey in my eyes and grin, how grateful I was for her simple comment.

By the end of the class she offered to give me a baby carrier she was trying to give to a good home.  It was almost like having a mommy friend.  So that’s what it feels like!

It certainly beats the “make sure they go to bed at the same time!” piece of advice I was given by a fellow bootcamper, after she asked it it was my first.  People so very much want to relate to you when you’re pregnant.  I didn’t have the heart to tell this other woman that my daughter was eternally sleeping, so I I just nodded and tried to seem receptive to her advice.  Really I was just speechless- I often look back at these moments and wonder how I would have felt if I responded differently.  I am proud that I can reflect on these interactions thinking about how  would have felt and not necessarily pondering how I would have made the other person feel by announcing my daughter’s death.   Clearly I still have concerns, or it would simply roll off my tongue- “my first child died.”  But instead I’m subtler, hinting, without being ether obvious or lying.  In the moment I might still be protecting others from the horror that is child death, but now I can analyze the interaction later really just wondering if I had the best response for me. 

How have your responses to these type of questions changed over time?  Are you able to think of yourself as the most important person in the conversation? Do you still struggle worrying about how others feel when mentioning your loss?

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Day 20: Breathe

“Step outside today and find a spot to sit or lay down on the ground. Switch off for a few minutes. Stare into the clouds and sky and notice your surroundings,” the prompt says today.  I left the house at 6am- it was dark.  I returned at 6:30p- it was dark.  There was no laying outside and remembering to breathe.

I breathed as I did sumo squat jumps and burpee after burpee at bootcamp.  I breathed as I found myself angry at something I saw on facebook- something that did not deserve my anger but received it in my mind anyways… because I’m not always in control of my feelings, justified or not.  I breathed as a a patient joked to me about wanting her tubes tied because her uterus worked too well- she’d be happy to donate it to someone!  I breathed when a coworker commented on how cute my new baby is- my puppy baby, that is, not my dead baby.  I breathed as an old friend reconnected with me and told me about the loss of her first child, something I had not known.

I took many breaths today, none of which were outside lying on the ground, staring at the sky.  But I breathed… as best I could throughout the small trials of my day.  And when it came to an end, after dinner was made and eaten, after the puppy peed on the floor, after lunch was packed for the next day, I finally did what the prompt wanted. I sat on the floor and lived in the moment.  The puppy came and plopped herself down on my lap and the light, warm weight of her body soothed me for a moment.  She weighs 7.8 lbs, roughly the size of a newborn.  She jumped from 4lbs to almost 8lbs in between vet visits, so I missed that magic 5lb 5oz, the weight of my daughter.  Perhaps it’s for the best, because as comforting as the Muppet puppy is, she is not my baby girl.  I will take her, though, for now, as a simple reminder to sit on the floor and breathe.

I’m not the only one who found breath and gratitude in their furry friends.  Seems a theme among the babylost.

#CaptureYourGrief

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A second chance to respond

She approached with a friendly smile. “Don’t you have a new baby?”

I was at bootcamp and the woman behind the words was familiar to me. I knew she had a little baby from an interaction I had with her a few months ago. I remembered her friendly face. In bootcamp we often have to pair up.   Many times I don’t know anyone in the class, so I look around to see who has a welcoming face. This woman had caught my eye.

The words caught in my throat. Six months after my daughter’s death I don’t get choked up when asked about her; I can say the words with out crying. But I get hung up on what to say, how to say it. I almost dread disappointing people when they ask such a simple question, one that deserves a simple answer. I pause awkwardly when asked, thinking how they have no idea the bomb I’m about to drop on them.

“I did… she died,” I replied after a too long silence.

“Oh,” her face fell and the easy smile that pegged her as a friendly workout partner disappeared. “Oh… I’m … I’m so sorry.”  Her brow wrinkled in a mix of concern and surprise and I watched as she walked away processing the information.

When the warm up was over, I found another partner and threw myself into my workout. I mulled over the short interaction in my head, sometimes thinking simply how surreal it was. This was my life now- killing conversations, saying my baby died. There was no other way to do it. The question was asked; the words had to be said.

At the end of the class, I stood, sopping with sweat, slurping my water bottler as I gathered my things to leave. She came up to me and got my attention. Her eyes glistened with tears held back and said in a wavering voice,

“I just wanted to say when I asked you earlier- I wanted to tell you that you look so strong. Even more so now that I know. I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you. Don’t be sorry for asking,” I said with a half smile. “It’s nice when people ask about her. She was real. It’s nice to talk about her.”

“I had a baby is November and that was my worst fear.”

“Me too…. I knew she was going to be sick, but I still hoped.”

“I just want you to know I’ll be thinking about you. About both of you.”

What a nice thing, to have a second chance. She handled the first interaction well, but she did even better with the second one. It was genuine. My first words caught her off guard, and she was decent. But she shined when she had some moments to herself and really process. If only everyone was gifted some time to reflect, perhaps kind words would flow more easily.