Jessica’s mom

On mother’s day, I went to visit my daughter.  I took Felix with me, which I don’t often do, simply because it’s a pain in the butt to get him in and out of the car seat.  But since the weather’s warmer and it was a special day, we went together.  It was super cute to see him dance around her headstone, jumping and running in pure toddler fashion. Felix loved playing with the pinwheels I had brought her for Easter.

But the best part was just as I was walking up to her grave, another woman, maybe 10-15 years older than me walked up to the grave in front of hers.  As I held Felix in my arms, I asked “Are you Jessica’s mom?”

I had always felt comforted by the graves in front of and behind Mabel.  Behind her was a woman who died older and I pictured her as a grandma figure for Mabel.  In front of her lie baby Jessica, who lived for 3 days. A playmate for Mabel, someone to show her the ropes, hold her hand. I told Jessica’s mom this.

We talked for several minutes. I learned that Jessica was born at full term, with an infection from which she simply could not recover.  She has two older siblings and two younger siblings.  Jessica’s mom likes to visit her grave alone, as do I.  I shared a bit of Mabel’s story with her- how we knew she would be sick, but we were hopeful. I said how hard it must have been to lose Jessica suddenly, without warning after a full term pregnancy.  She reminisced about the time after she lost Jessica and how her two living children gave her a reason to get out of bed.  I spoke of how hard it was losing my first.  It was validating in a way- losing your first child is a special kind of pain (not that it’s any worse than losing a second, or third…it’s a unique  pain that makes you mother- an invisible one, because the public cannot see the baby that made you a mom).  It’s funny how we both tried to make our losses seem less painful than the other’s- the suddenness of her loss, the pain of me having no living children with mine.  We bonded over how difficult it is to answer how many children we have. I even mentioned how I had wrote about Jessica in this blog.  I asked how old she would be- 17, graduating from high school.  She told me of seeing her nieces and nephews the same age reaching milestones and the pang it leaves in her heart.  Oh, to know I am not the only one! To know it will always hurt a little… even 17 years later…and that’s normal for our babyloss clan.

I wanted to tell her that I sometimes left a flower for baby Jessica, that I often looked at her headstone, that her daughter proximity to my daughter made me feel less alone.  I think she understood without me saying so, as is so common in our clan.

 

Have you bonded with any babyloss strangers?

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Parenting a dead child

On Wednesday I went to see Mabel. It was July 15, exactly seventeen months after she died. In the first year after her death I would visit her grave every week- almost always on the weekend, bearing flowers as a gift. Some days, especially early on I would spend a fair amount of time there. I started reading her a book. I’d sit and journal when the weather was nice. I’d always say the same things “I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here” and sing the lines of the wook well known in our community “I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Going once a week was both a comfort and a stress. I had to see my baby-gave me a sense of purpose especially on those long empty weekends, let me feel like I was mothering her in a way. Though I’d sometimes feel stress if I had a full weekend and had to figure out time to visit and time to pick up flowers. Mostly though, it was a comforting routine.

I told myself that once her first birthday came around, I’d give myself a break- go when felt like it. I’m a creature of habit, though, with high expectations of myself so I also silently promised I’d go at least once a month. I’d go on the 15th bearing my usual flowers. And I do. The script is still same. The same emotions bubble up, a bit fuzzier around the edges, but still there.

I have mixed feelings on my routine. I love going and if it’s been a while I start to feel a gnawing- some anxiety even- an emptiness I have to fill with a visit. I seem overall satisfied with the once a month schedule. But at the same time I feel guilty. I should want to go more. I shouldn’t have to have a schedule, a day to remind me to visit. Honestly, I think about visiting a lot. The cemetery is five minutes from my house- a quick detour on the way home from work or errands. Yet, I don’t visit as often as I think of visiting. In the past few months my life got very busy and full- at times very stressful. An extra visit to the cemetery felt like one more thing to add on to a packed schedule. And I didn’t want to rush the visits- I wanted to give her time, be genuine with her.

At times I feel like a bad mom. I mentally gave myself permission to not visit weekly to help me with stress, but in some ways it also gave me stress. I know that the number of visits doesn’t not validate my mom status or quantify my love and grief for her- but its complicated. It’s hard parenting a dead child and still remain in the world of the living.

How often do you “visit” your child? Has that changed over time?

Day 25: Mother Earth

The prompt said to plant something, as an act of remembrance, allowing our children’s memory to grow over time.  But it’s October where I live, which translates into a cool New England autumn- not exactly planting season.  I have planted a garden in my backyard, a little plot that bears her name, filled will colorful flowers by our white fence.  I dug up, tilled and planted a veggie garden in my grief, another piece of land that will forever remind me of my daughter.

Since it’s saturday- our usual Mabel’s visiting day- when I picked up some flowers on the way home from work, I grabbed two bouquets.  When we arrived at the cemetery, we placed the colorful bunch of mini roses by Mabel’s grave and then wandered around the cemetery with the other bouquet- this one an orange one, the color of carrots.  We sought out headstones with specific dates- short intervals, or sometimes just one date.  Often it was one name carved in a stone meant for three that caught our eyes.  We were looking for children.  When we found such tombstones, we placed a stem of roses- a gift from Mabel to them.  Though it may not be planting anything, we remembered them today- acknowledging their short lives, giving them a gift from mother earth, letting them know that they are remembered.

#CaptureYourGrief

Mabel's roses

Mabel’s roses

One name on a headstone meant for three.  Her parents outlived her.

One name on a headstone meant for three. Her parents outlived her.

So many kids, so young

So many kids, so young

I know this child... sort of.  I say her name every day when I counsel patients about cord blood banking.  Her parents started a nonprofit in her name to benefit those who need stem cells

I know this child… sort of. I say her name every day when I counsel patients about cord blood banking. Her parents started a nonprofit in her name to benefit those who need stem cells

Mabel's neighbor, a three day old baby.  Sad that she's here too, but grateful Mabel has company.

Mabel’s neighbor, a three day old baby. Sad that she’s here too, but grateful Mabel has company.

The kids graves often stand apart for all their beautiful decorations

The kids graves often stand apart for all their beautiful decorations

A child clearly very remembered by friends and family.  Thought she could use one more person thinking of her

A child clearly very remembered by friends and family. Thought she could use one more person thinking of her

This one stood out- Mabel too had congenital heart defects, though it was her kidney/lung combo that limited her life.

This one stood out- Mabel too had congenital heart defects, though it was her kidney/lung combo that limited her life.

Only one date on this stone, like Mabel's.

Only one date on this stone, like Mabel’s.

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

 

Day 7: Sacred Place

The only place I really feel her.  When her headstone was placed I finally felt at some peace.  I was so proud of the beautiful stone and engraving that I had plans of showing it off in a memorial service around the six month mark.  But that time came and went and I wasn’t ready to reveal.  I’ve been very open with Mabel’s photos and her story; I love sharing her in that way, but I”m strangely protective of her headstone.  I suppose because it’s my sacred place.

When visiting her grave this week, we had found someone had left her bubbles.  It amazes me that someone would look at her grave and place something so simple, but so meaningful.  Thank you.

#CaptureYourGrief

Day 7: Sacred Place

Day 7: Sacred Place

 

Mabel’s thoughts on where she is now

Buried in the dark earth, I blink my eyes.  It is dark and warm, familiar almost.  I take a deep breath in and feel my lungs expand.  I can breathe! I shuffle in my tight little cocoon, feeling my soft white bunny suit against my skin.  I check to make sure my friends- my two stuffed bunnies- are still with me and smile when I find them.

As I wipe the sleep from my eyes I realize what had awoken me.  I hear the mumblings of your voice.  Your voice is soft and muted, like it was when I was inside you.  I listen to your rhythmic singsong as you read to me- I love this story.  You said it was your favorite book as a kid and I can see why.  Truth is, I’m just happy to hear your voice.  I’m sad when you stop after a few chapters, wanting to know what happens next, but I know you’ll be back to read more.  Even though you’re silent now, I can feel the weight of you, like a heavy down comforter on a cold winter’s night, lying on the grass above me.

I remember when you first came- you cried and cried.  I tried to tell you I’m right here, but my words bounce off the cool earth above me.  They are nonsense anyways, just the coos and babbles of a newborn baby.  I want to tell you that I sleep a lot, really only waking when I hear your voice.  And I’m not alone- there’s a kind old grandma lady behind me and another baby in front of me.  It’s a slumber party!  We smile when we notice each other awake.  It’s nice here, reminds me of your womb.  I wish I could be on the outside with you, but it’s not so bad here.

Then I hear those words you always say when you’re about to leave.  “I love you Mabel. I wish you were here.” And with that, like a kiss good night, my eyes grow heavy and I’m asleep again, until the next time.