Mabel’s 3rd Birthday

Mabel’s third birthday came and went last month.  I sent out a little reminder a few days before and the day of- sharing the #3goodthings invitation in honor of her birthday.

Dear Friends and Family,

As Mabel’s third birthday approaches, we invite you to join us in #3GoodThings. It is a practice in both gratitude and doing good.

#3GoodThings
1. Reflect on your day or life and find 3 good things that happened or you have done.
2. Write them down (and share them if you feel brave!)
3. Reflect on your part in each of them

February 15th

“you took the sourest lemon that life has to offer and turned it into something resembling lemonade.” -This is Us

 

If nothing else it’s a practice of gratitude.  Last year I received a painful response from a family member and so this year, I kept my invite list small, trying to temper my expectations.

I received many heartfelt messages and even some gifts.  I Mabel’s birthday was the day after valentines day and in addition to a card and donation my parents sent, they also send two valentines cards- one addressed to Felix and one addressed to Mabel.  To see her name on an envelope means so much.  I received some beautiful carrot paraphanelia from people near and far (even from people I barely know!).  And so I guess I was especially hurt when two close family members didn’t recognize the day.  Birthdays are always a big deal in my family- we sent presents or cards, we make sure to call.  I gave it a few days just in case their lives were crazy and they would respond later, but no dice.  I just want Mabel to be valued as much as the other children in the family.  I think she’s just as important and I thought others did too.  I also was a little surprised by the lack of recognition from many other close people in my life.  I have heard over and over from other loss friends that the responses from others diminish over time- so I was expecting that.  I guess I just didn’t realize how quickly and by how much the responses would decline.

Things I’ve learned from Mabel’s 3rd Birthday:

Keep my expectations low. Perhaps I’ll have none whatsoever next year.  I know I have to guide people in how I want them to respond, but I thought I did that by my emails. Next year I might keep things more private.

Appreciate the good.  I’m also learning to try to appreciate the responses I did get and not focus on what I felt was missing.  This is a harder lesson to learn, but I will try!

Practice Gratitude. And in reflecting on her birthday, I am wondering if it’s time again to take a moment each day and reflect on #3goodthings- something I did in the early days of my grieving Mabel.  I might need another lesson in the practice of gratitude.

_______

My #3GoodThings from Mabel’s 3rd birthday:

Email written February 15, 2017:
Today we bravely share our #3GoodThings in memory of Mabel. We have many things to be grateful for and we chose to use use our good fortune to give to others.
1. On one of Felix’s last day of his last day care, I overheard one of his favorite teachers talking about making small gift bags of toiletries for the homeless.  This began our first good thing.  We brought her a bunch of supplies to use for her project.
2. We donated to Hope After Loss, an organization that has helped us through the hardest times and continues to help us keep Mabel’s memory alive
3. We have supported Planned Parenthood in memory of Mabel.  Though our family’s decision was to continue a difficult pregnancy, we appreciate that we had a choice to do so.  Planned parenthood supports men and women in many ways; providing choice is just one of them.
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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.

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?

Day 9: In Memory

“Is this new?” my acupuncturist asked looking at my tattoo as he placed tiny needles into my foot.

“Yes.”

“You  must really like carrots,” he said with a chuckle.

“It’s for my daughter.  When I was pregnant with her, we used to call her out little Karate Carrot.”

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I love that my memorial is subtle, requiring a little explanation.  I’m grateful that we came up with a nickname for her that stuck and is real-world enough that I get to see reminders of her from time to time.

***

“Why do you have a carrot necklace?” the daughter of my friend asked.

“I had a baby who died and we used to call her our Karate Carrot.”

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***

“What’s with the carrots?” the little boy asked.  We were seated around a large round table, drawing on small index cards.  Taken together they would fill up a mural in a Mother’s Day remembrance activity for the babylost.  He was drawing something for his little brothers, twins gone too soon.  Chris and I were each drawing carrots in our own way.

“We used to call our daughter Mabel our Karate Carrot.”

“Hah! That’s funny.  A carrot doing karate.”

I smiled.

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#CaptureYourGrief

 

 

 

While I was grieving

“Wow!” He was amazed at the vegetable plants I was showing him.   “When did you do all this?”

I was showing off my garden to my cousin-in-law as we waited for his wife to meet us for dinner. He’s good company, always polite and thoughtful, one of those people whose picture would be in Webster next to “nice guy.” He’s also a physician and so we often enjoy sharing medical stories we collect at work.

I pointed out each plant, telling him which ones we started from seed (the carrots, the basil and the tomatoes, though the latter two were gifted to us by a friend who started them from seeds) and which ones were seedling transplants (the rest- the squash, cauliflower, potatoes, peppers, onions and beans). I felt a little embarrassed because the squash plants were yellowed and scrawny. I would have removed them had not a huge yellow bulb been growing at the end of the dead-looking vine.

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Otherwise, it was a nice looking garden. It sat in a 8 x 12 foot patch, along our driveway, partially shaded by a tall, voluminous tree. Tall metal green posts lined it holding up black deer netting, giving the space an almost crib-like feel. Six rows of vegetables ran perpendicular to the driveway, each separated by rows of small rocks, cataloging the burgeoning plants.

I guided him around the corner of the garden to show him the side. The grass had a bit of a dip, putting the garden on the slightest slant. There on the side, piled on top of each other, were multiple fifty pound rocks stacked into a makeshift wall.  For three and four hour spurts, I used to sit in the dirt that would become my garden and dig with a spade, then a a shovel, then a pitchfork until I unearthed all the stones and mini-boulders that the Connecticut soil was secretly holding.  At the end of each day, the pile of rocks would grow and I had physical evidence of what I did each day.  My arms would ache, my back would by angry and my shoulders would spot a few new freckles as reminders of the hard labor I had put in.  It was a good mental distraction from the thoughts that consumed me at the time.

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“I dug them each up.”

I smiled as I saw him take in my handiwork.

“You dug them up? Yourself?”

“Mmmhmm.”

“When did you do all this?” he asked again.

“While I was grieving.”

We wandered over to my flower garden. Like many bereaved mothers I know, I have a spot in my backyard dedicated to my dead child. I had wanted to put a garden by the white decorative fence ever since we moved in a year ago, but didn’t know what I wanted there. Now a lilac bush, a gift from my midwives, sat in the center. Salvia, peonies and other perennials surrounded it with buckets of colorful annuals interspersed between them. A small hand painted sign marked the edge, announcing “Mabel’s Garden,” a Mother’s Day gift from Chris.

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“Wow! You did all this too? When?”

“While I was grieving…”

I visited the hospital

“I’m going to get three dozen,” I said to Chris as we drove to our favorite donut place. “It’s going to be a little pricey, but it’s for the people who took care of our baby.” He nodded in agreement.

We were on our way to the hospital, my first time back since Mabel. Each month after her death I had something big to do. March I had to be home by myself. April I was supposed to go back to work (I didn’t). May was mother’s day and the birth of two new babies in my family. June I actually went back to work. July I started seeing prenatal patients and saw my newly born nephew for the first time. Now it was August and my plan was to go to the hospital, to simply be there. To sit in each of the rooms I was with her- the room I was pregnant in, the room I labored in, the room I birthed her in, the room she lived in and the room she died in. Step one for getting back to being a full scope midwife.

I told Chris on the ride in that I was nervous. He patted my thigh, as he usually does when he’s trying to reassure me. “I’m nervous about how I’ll feel- sad, angry. But I’m also nervous that I won’t cry.” I felt like I was setting the stage for how things were supposed to be. I’m supposed to go to the hospital and feel all sad, have a good cry and then the scariness of the building would melt away and all would be well. But I’ve learned that there is no set way to grieve, so I didn’t know how I would react. I was afraid that if I didn’t cry people would think I’m better- I’m over her.

As we approached the hospital, I felt shaky, as the familiar tightness in my chest that I have come to know as anxiety, took hold. Slow breaths and Chris’s warm hand on mine, helped calm me. My ID wouldn’t let me into my normal parking garage, so I had to ask the car behind me to back up so I could do the same. The embarrassment acted as a little distraction as I found a spot on the street. We entered the children’s hospital through a large revolving door and I noticed a decoration at the center- a bunny made out of grass and two carrots laying next to it. Had I been able to park in my normal garage, we would have missed this display all together, going in a separate entrance. I took this as a good sign.

The Carrots in the revolving door

The Carrots in the revolving door

When the elevator doors opened on the fourth floor, I stepped into the hallway. I froze, unable to go forward and so I surrendered myself to my tears. When I finally was ready to go on, we passed professional photos on the wall of smiling children- all successful graduates of the NICU. Under their faces, was listed their gestational age and reason for needing intensive care. Brian- 27 weeks- omphalocele. Mara, Jenna and Samuel- 32 weeks- triplets. There was no photo of Mabel- 36 weeks- Down Syndrome, dysplastic kidneys and pulmonary hypoplasia.

I swiped into the Labor & Birth unit and passed more photos, this time of pregnant women and smiling babies. I remembered sitting in the charting room when I was 24 weeks pregnant. Another doctor was commenting to me about those photos, which were a new addition to the floor. “You know, we are a high risk hospital and many of our babies end up in the NICU. It’s not a good representation of our population, all these healthy, normal looking babies.” I was nodding in agreement, when her face froze, realizing what she had done. “Oh, I am so sorry. I wasn’t even thinking of you.” She knew my baby had Down Syndrome. I appreciated her honesty.

I walked by the photos, thinking again how Mabel’s face was absent. There wasn’t even a face like hers. As I approached the front desk, I was greeted with smiles from some of the nurses. One gave me a big hug and said “It’s going to be ok. It’s going to be good.” More tears found there way out. I embraced another nurse and thanked her for the cards she had sent. I had received countless cards after Mabel died, but she had been one of the few people to send a card when Mabel was diagnosed with low fluid. Once hugs were exchanged, I said “I brought donuts,” which brought laughter to the group.

After relinquishing one of the dozens of donuts, we headed to 469- my labor room. We closed the door and I burst into tears. The last time I had been in this room, Mabel was alive. I cried looking at the bed I knelt on through my contractions. I cried looking at the shower I tried in an attempt to ease the pains of labor. I looked at the infant warmer and imagined all the babies I had placed on it in the past. I tried to imagine doing it again- being a midwife in this room, hearing the satisfying cries of new life, helping a couple become a family. I cried at the thought of holding babies and being part of these happy moments. I cried at the thought of helping people have what I didn’t. “I hate it here,” I said to Chris. I pulled up the youtube video I had made and we started watching it on my phone. I wanted to remember some of the good things. As we watched, my tears dried up and we heard knocks on the door. One of the midwives I work with, one of my labor nurses for Mabel and one of my midwives joined us. They gathered around me and watched the rest of the video. I could hear sniffles and soon a box of tissues was found. I remained dry-eyed. The video makes me happy, though it makes others sad.

My labor room

My labor room

When it was done, I was ready to move on to the NICU. My midwife had checked to see if Caroline’s room was free. It’s the space families can use when they need a place for privacy. “It’s not always used for bad news,” the neonatologist had told us on the tour, when I had asked him where can we go if our baby is dying. Today the room had a sign taped to the front, saying “reserved for the XX family.” My midwife had checked and we could use it for a few moments while the family was out. I wondered what bad news the XX family was dealing with today.

The furniture had been rearranged. The space was small, 6 x 10 feet maybe and it had just enough room for a small couch and two chairs. Today the couch and chairs were reversed, each occupying the space the other had been in when we were there with Mabel. I didn’t like it, the furniture rearrangement, and I said so. Chris and I sat on the couch; it was the couch were we held Mabel as she died, the couch where I put her on my lap so I could see all of her for the first time.

Caroline's room

Caroline’s room

“I don’t feel her here,” I said.

“I can, a little,” Chris replied.

“I don’t.”

But I then went on to tell my midwife about the bunny and carrots in the revolving door. We talked about how my ID didn’t work and she said I can’t take it as a sign that I shouldn’t be back. She had a problem with hers not so long ago. That brought us into a conversation about work and me being back delivering babies. It’s a conversation I don’t like and I got a little upset, so it didn’t last long.

Not wanting to take any more time away from the XX family, we left Caroline’s room and found the charting room to drop off our second dozen. The elevators then took us to the maternal special care floor. Three nurses were working there, two of them had cared for me while I was in house. I dropped off the remaining dozen donuts and headed to 1038, my room on the floor.

This was the place I was happiest in pregnancy. Once I was admitted and survived my first twenty-four hours, I realized that my baby was likely going to born alive. She was safe here- monitoring all the time and the burden of worrying about her well being wasn’t mine. The room looked more spacious, without the weeks worth of belongings I had brought with me and without the cot they had brought in for Chris. Their was an empty plastic basinet against the wall, waiting to be filled by a new baby. My baby never saw a basinet like that one. She only knew the warmth of a NICU isolette and the warmth of my skin.

my maternal special care room.  I was happiest here.

my maternal special care room. I was happiest here.

I looked out the window and noted how it looks different in the summer. My last view from the point showed streets covered in snow. My midwife joined us as we were looking outside. She mentioned how in the parking lot below us she had recently seen a jazz band at the farmer’s market that sets up there on Saturdays. The parking lot was outside the city’s mental hospital and Chris commented on how it was an odd place for a farmer’s market. “Look at that sign!” I pointed to a white banner hung up on the wall of the mental hospital that lined the parking lot. It advertised the farmer’s market and had a picture of carrots on it. There she was again. I still couldn’t feel her there, but she was making herself known.

If you look closely, you can see carrots on the left side of the white sign on the building.

If you look closely, you can see carrots on the left side of the white sign on the building.

As we left the hospital, the elevator doors opened onto the third floor. Thinking it was my stop, I started to step out. I paused realizing quickly I was getting off prematurely, when I almost bumped into a young woman, a teenager in fact, crying right there in front of the doors. She saw us and walked away. A hour before, I was her. A woman standing in front of the elevator doors, delaying my journey to retrace the last days of my daughter. I had cried tears for the baby I had lost and the memories I was about to face. I saw her crying on the third floor- I’m unsure what kind of floor it is- and wondered whom she was crying for. I turned to Chris and said, “I’m not the only one who cries by the elevators.”