Damned if I do….

October 2013- that was the last I had seen her.  I knew because that was the date on the last note I had written.

You had a baby! Congratulations!

Thank you, I smiled warmly.

So much has happened since I was here last!

Yes- a lot has happened. The emphasis in my words hinted at a hidden story…

Well now you really know what it’s like, huh? she jested, referencing my my former life as a midwife who hadn’t given birth, who didn’t have kids yet.

My heart beat a little faster and my head spun a little- it was the shadow of a feeling I used to know very well, in the early days.  I used to tense up- heart racing, palms sweating, chest tightening- when someone would ask “How’s the baby?” or “Do you have kids?” It’s a feeling of fear, grief, sadness, anger all mixed up, when asked a question I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.  It was a feeling of anticipation- wondering how the other person would react, how to tell of my daughter without making the situation overly awkward.

Now the situation has changed. The tense feeling has softened.  She didn’t ask if he was my first.  There was no question to respond to.  It was all assumption.  The only way she could know the whole story was if I volunteered the information, something I have yet to master in a way that feels good. I wanted to say. I sure do! Two kids since I’ve seen you last! But doing so would only lead to follow up questions- how old is your first... I’d share that she had died and the requisite polite words or unhelpful platitudes would come. And it would feel like I’m fishing for sympathy.

I chose the path of least resistance-maybe not an outright lie but a lie of omission almost. It didn’t feel great.

Not telling the whole story felt wrong, telling the whole story felt wrong.  Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

what do you do?

 

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again with the birth story?

Can I tell you my birth story? Oh, I already did? Are you sick of hearing it? Can I tell it again?

I love telling my birth story with Felix. As a midwife, I enjoy birth stories in general and know how important they are to women. Shortly after graduating midwifery school, I took a weekend retreat to a place called Omega. I had just been broken up with and my life was in transition from student to real world. I needed a weekend to regroup. I signed up for a Kabalistic Healing workshop at the retreat center, quickly found it silly and ditched the workshop for yoga and tai chi sessions and general R&R. I was nervous for the meals because they were communal and I knew no one, but I found that conversation flowed easily once people learned I was a midwife. Everyone had a birth story- they told me the stories of the birth of their children, of their sister of their nieces and nephews, of their friends and neighbors. I was a hit in telling some of the birth stories of my patients (no identifying info revealed, of course)

So you can imagine my excitement and sense of fulfillment when I finally had one of my own to share. But I both did and didn’t have one to share. I love my birth story with Mabel- how I was in denial about labor, how I held her in as long as I could, how I pushed her out in just three pushes. But it’s not one I get to share often, because telling the story involves sharing that I got an epidural- something I would have otherwise hoped to avoid, but when I was in so much labor pain without the reward or incentive of a take home baby, I caved easily. I would love to share how I got the epidural when I was in transition but didn’t know it, that once I lay down after placement, I was fully dilated, that I didn’t feel a darn thing until her head was practically peeking out. But these are all details that I only want to share in the right context- that I was giving birth to a baby that would likely die. I want to be able to share my birth story with Mabel easily, but since her birth is wrapped up in her death, there isn’t a happy ending. All that pain for what? I feel like if I were to tell that story I would garner sympathy- and that’s not what I want. I simply want to be part of the club, the mother’s club, where we share our birth stories, laughing, bragging and bemoaning every detail. People don’t laugh or ask details when your baby dies.

Felix let me into that club. I was in labor for 15 min. I delivered him myself. At home. Over the toilet. Isn’t amazing?

So you may get sick of hearing me tell my birth story with Felix, because it’s two birth stories. He came fast- very fast- because he was my second. His sister paved the way so he could literally fly out. I get to tell it over and over because I don’t get to tell Mabel’s story as much.

Thank you nurses and midwives

This week is a big week in my healthcare world.  It is Nurses’ Appreciation Week and tuesday was International Day of the Midwife.  In honor of both celebrations, I wanted to thank my beloved nurses and midwives.

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Dear Nurses,

thank you for bringing some laughter into my triage room as we waited for the maternal fetal medicine doctor to come and give me terrible news.

Thank you for being the protector of my privacy- making sure I was ready for visitors in the midst of emotional turmoil.

Thank you for telling me about the “secret menu” the hospital offers where I can order quesadillas and pork bacon.

Thank you for sitting and chit chatting during my two week stay, keeping me sane and reminding me that things were happening beyond the fetal monitor I was trying not to watch.

Thank you for watching that fetal heart rate monitor so I could have the freedom just to be pregnant, knowing my baby was safe.

Thank you not commenting on how ridiculous i must have looked in in my sleeping outfit- it was just too hot to wear pants even though I knew you’d be coming in to readjust the monitor.

Thank you cheering me along in my in hospital exercise regimen.

Thank you agreeing to be my labor nurse, knowing my case would be emotionally hard and would likely sit in your memory for a long long time.

Thank you for taking photos of Mabel’s birth- not in your job description, but so meaningful to me.

Thank you for watching my baby in my stead, while she was whisked away to the NICU and I got my stitches.

Thank you for repeating everything the neonatologist said, right after he left because I could barely process it all.

Thank you for getting Mabel skin to skin with me for as long as humanely possible.

Thank you for the footprints, in ink and in clay, that turned out amazing, all done while she was on my chest.

Thank you for making sure she wasn’t in pain.

Thank you for taking out her breathing tube, gently, allowing me a first good glimpse of my daughter’s face free from medical equipment.

Thank you for taking photos, during her life and her death and in the after.

Thank you for feeding me, which I needed direly, but was unable to recognize myself.

Thank you for being present but unobtrusive.

Thank you taking her gently when I gave her up that very last time.

Thank you for giving me peace and solitude to sleep and to grieve in the hours after I gave her up.

Thank you for coming to her wake, taking me for walks, bringing me food in the aftermath.

Thank you for being part of it all and keeping her safe, in pregnancy, in labor and in the NICU.

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Dear midwives,

Thank you for all the extra care

Thank you each for calling and checking in when we got the news about Mabel’s Down Syndrome.

Thank you for letting me make tons of extra visits to help keep me sane.

Thank you for letting me use my appointments as mini therapy sessions

Thank you listening for a heartbeat first thing, so I knew she was still alive, before doing the rest of the visit

Thank you for having the hard conversations with me- the ones that were hard for me and hard for you.

Thank you for being honest, saying “I don’t know,” when I asked how I was supposed to return to midwifery if my baby died.

Thank you for giving me the few things I had hoped for- skin to skin, Chris cutting the cord and announcing gender (if he could figure it out!).

Thank you coming to meet her in the few hours she lived- so that you are part of the proof that she actually existed.

Thank you for her dress, an outfit given with love and purpose, the only outfit she worse outside her grave.

Thank you for eating wings with me, bringing me cabbage leaves for engorgement and looking at photos in the aftermath, reminding me that you are not only my midwives, but my friends.

Thank you for the donations you made in Mabel’s memory

Thank you for the lilac bush that you gave me because you know purple is my favorite.  It’s beginning to bloom right now.

Thank you for remembering dates- due dates and anniversaries.

Thank you for saying her name, easily and freely, just like she was any old living child.

Thank you for keeping her safe in my womb and alive in memory.

 

 

 

 

 

That same day

“has not had a period since birth of her son on February 15, 2014”

I read the last note I had written on the patient before I went in to see her.  I rarely am so specific in the dating- usually I’d say something along the lines of  “has not had a period since childbirth 5 months ago.”  Clearly the date had struck me.  I wrote it down mindfully, deliberately in the note.  I remember that visit.  I was seeing the patient in the same room actually and thought of how that was also Mabel’s birthday.  At the time all I could think of was how she had a baby to go home to and I did not.

On this day, many months later, a new thought crossed my mind when I re-read my note.  As I stared at her, all I could think of was how she had been on the labor floor at the same time as me.  She was there, down the hall, when I was wheeled from the NICU back to my labor room so that we could call our family in private and tell them our daughter was going to die soon.  As I said “it’s a girl!” in the same breath as “her time with us is short,” picturing the five pound wonder child I had just left on a warmer, tubes criss crossing her slowly bluing face and body, this woman was holding her baby on her chest, shushing those first newborn cries and excitedly cooing over her own little wonder.  Not long later I held my dead daughter as I struggled to keep my eyes open, having been up all night in labor, but not wanting admit I needed sleep for it meant saying good bye to my baby forever.  She probably struggled with fatigue as well, wondering how on earth she would be able to take care of her needy little one when she was just so tired.  I returned to a postpartum room, crawled into the hospital bed with my husband and slept, undisturbed in a quiet room.  She went down the hall, her attempted sleep punctuated by cries telling of a needed diaper change or feeding.  I walked out of the hospital with a box and she was wheeled out with a baby.

I write these words not out of bitterness and jealousy, as I would have many months ago, but out of fascination… that here we both were, face to face, our lives forever changed by the birth of our first children on that same fateful February day, in the same place, but how very very different our lives are now.

 

 

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.

Labor memory triggers

Someone recently commented on here mentioning the tv show House of Cards. I was immediately thrown back to the day I went into labor. Valentine’s Day 2014. I was in the hospital, patiently passing the final weeks of my pregnancy, enjoying each day under continuous monitoring until I hit 39 weeks, the planned time for induction. At 36 weeks I thought I had plenty of time. Chris and I planned a romantic date in the hospital- he was going to pick up sushi (cooked rolls for me) and we were going to watch House of Cards, which was released that day. While he was at work I was having cramps on and off all day and when I saw a little bloody show, I called him, suggesting he come right to the hospital after work. I was scared something was happening. But as the day progressed and nothing seemed to move forward, I called him again, telling him to go ahead with our plan- get the sushi, but stop at home first and pick up Mabel’s blanket- the special one I had ordered, just in case. (just in case she died. I wanted her to have a special blanket to hold her in) Once he made the trek picking up all the necessities, we settled down to a nice dinner, each of us sitting on one side of the hospital tray table on wheels. I was a little uncomfortable with the cramping through dinner and so we decided to walk to the lobby and pick up some ice cream. The hospital café recently started stocking Ben & Jerry’s so we grabbed a pint of peanut butter cup, with full intentions of snuggling together in that one person hospital bed, chomping on ice cream and watching House of Cards. By the time we got upstairs to my room and I had a few bites, it became too uncomfortable to sit down. Labor had started.

Reading the House of Cards comment, brought me back to my labor- not in a bad way. It’s nice to be able to recount my labor in such a safe space. I don’t often tell my labor story outside the babyloss community because the follow up questions and comments can be rough- I didn’t realize you have a baby! Or How old is your daughter? I know I have every right to chime in, like any mom of a living child would do when something brings up a memory like that. But if a simple remark about how xyz reminds me of my labor then leads to my child’s death, awkwardness inevitably ensues- we all know what this is like. And I don’t want to seem like I’m fishing, looking for sympathy. Honestly, most of the time I simply want to remember and share my story- be a regular mom who can tell these things without consequence. I don’t want the awkwardness, or the pity- in some ways I just want the gentle laughing at how these seemingly random things remind me of childbirth. But it’s often just not the case.

I think of my labor whenever I think of sushi and Ben & Jerry’s peanut butter cup ice cream. I remember eating them and throwing them all up later. I think of my labor when I am reminded of House of Cards or Valentine’s Day. These are my little triggers (delightful triggers in a way) that remind me of that day. A scary day that led to a sad day, but it’s still part of her story, so I take pleasure in remembering it.

Do you have random things or associations that trigger memories? Do you share them?

My 35th Birthday

My birthday was last week. I turned 35.

I used to be all about birthdays.  As someone who chose a career that plays such an integral part in birth-days, and who even started a non profit centered around birthday celebrations, I can say I really did find people’s birthdays very meaningful. It was the one day of the year, where we exclusively celebrate someone’s life- we show our delight and appreciation that this person is in our life and has lived another year. Sure, we should be doing this throughout the year (kind of like Valentine’s Day- we should be celebrating our loved ones every day, not just on the commercial day), but there is some fun in make a big hoopla about someone on their birthday.

Last year I celebrated my birthday in the hospital. It was still a joyous time. I still had some hope- the reality of a dead baby hadn’t hit yet. After Mabel died, I pretty much stopped with the birthday hoopla. My birthday non profit went on hiatus (for other reasons as well). I stopped doing call- being such an intimate part of a baby’s birth-day. I stopped posting cute facebook messages on people’s birthdays. In fact, I barely recognized anyone’s birthday. And for those reading, who did not get the usual birthday love from me this year, I am sorry. I thought of you but could not write the words. The celebration has been sucked out of me.

So this year, my first birthday since Mabel died, I wasn’t particularly excited for my birthday. I wasn’t dreading it- it just simply seemed another day. Chris is away on business, which also took the kabash out of it. I filled the day with work and appointments and had a very nice dinner out with friends. But the reality is, my birthday came and went, seemingly uneventfully, and now I am one day closer to my daughter’s birthday (or death day?). Our birthdays being so close feels like my birthday will always be a reminder of what day is to come next. I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel like truly celebrating knowing what happened a little over week after my 34th birthday.

But it’s ok. Because it’s really just another day.

How have your birthdays been since your loss?