Sunday Synopsis

The Stone– A beautiful description of how grief evolves over time.  It’s there, never leaves, sometimes is heavier and more noticeable, sometimes just simply carrying on beside you.

Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life had lasting impact– wow wow wow.  I wish I had thought of donating organs to research for Mabel.  I had thought a little about donating her organs, but I wondered whether they would be useful due to her Down Syndrome.  Some organs were clearly not donatable- her kidneys were damaged, her lungs so small, her heart formed imperfectly.  But her corneas were likely fine.  Other organs maybe.  I might not have wanted to go through rejection of her organs for donation, but I never thought of donating for research.  Many props to Thomas Gray’s mom who not only thought about and did this for her son, but also is telling the world about it- spreading his legacy and giving options to those pregnant with babies with life limiting conditions.

Meet the very cute baby who was born without a nose– Love the positive image this post promotes about a child with a birth defect, one that makes him look different.

Baby Girl Memorial Scrapbook– Love this babyloss focused scrap book.  A way to give us a chance to make something for our babies without the pain of sorting through all the living children memorabilia

When grief becomes a disorder– I mull over this in my mind a lot- where do you draw the line at complicated grief? When someone is grieving too long or too much? We are constantly affirmed that no one can tell us how to grieve, but I feel like, here they are.  At the same time, I also believe some people could benefit from medication.  Not everyone, of course.  And I don’t think that we should medicate all grief- make people happy and forget about their loss.  But thats not what most medications do.  As someone who has benefitted from medication (but also has had a pre-existing anxiety disorder), I think meds helped me in some ways and also delayed some of my grieving process in others.  Is grief a disorder? yes and no.  It requires attention and care like other disorders, but there is no fixing it either.

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What’s it like to deliver babies?

“Do you deliver babies too?”  I nodded and gave a quiet “yes.”  It’s a hard question to answer these days.  Yes, it’s part of my job.  No, I am not doing right at this moment.  Yes, I do want to someday.  No, I don’t know when I’ll be ready.

“Does that mean you could deliver my baby?”

“You have a one in five chance, it’ll be me” I told her.  It was my standard line- there are five of us midwives who do call and though on occasion our docs end up being the one catching their babies, we midwives attend almost all of the vaginal deliveries.

“What’s it like?” she asked.  “To deliver babies?”

I paused.  I haven’t been at anyone’s birth except my own since December.  What’s it like now?  I have no idea what it’s like to be present at one of the most intimate, life changing, joyous moments of someone’s life.  What it’s like to hold a warm squirming, crying baby up and place that baby on her mother’s abdomen, presuming that’s where she’ll stay until the mom is ready to let her be weighed.  What it’s like to hold a baby that will likely live.  I don’t know what it’s like to do that without being reminded of how none of those things were true with my baby.  My best guess is that delivering a baby now would be painful, heartbreaking and soul shattering.  Handing a woman the baby she will likely take home will be grief inducing.  Just the thought of it, the mere writing of these words causes my throat to clench and my heart to beat more wildly.  I have to breathe deeply to calm myself down.

Up to 5% of women experience PTSD after childbirth with a much larger percentage experiencing some symptoms.  Traumatic birth is the most common precipitator of PTSD in these women.  What defines traumatic birth?  Some definitions are obvious- an emergency c-section, problems with the baby, feeling violated- and some might be less obvious.  Some women can feel traumatized while their providers could think everything were perfectly.  My birth was beautiful and traumatic at the same time.  I found what beauty I could in it, but I did not want to actually birth her.  My baby was whisked away from me a moment after birth.  My baby died.  Whether or not I have PTSD is unimportant to me- but I definitely have some symptoms- avoiding, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance at times, detachment at other times.  Right now, the idea of returning to attending births honestly feels like reliving the nightmare part of my experience.

I do want to do births…eventually.  It is the most amazing thing to be the first hands to welcome a baby into the world and to be a part of that intimate life changing moment for a family.  I want to help make births positive, not traumatic experiences, for women.  That is my goal.  For now I am on the schedule to return to births in September.  I am unsure if I will be ready.  If I’m not, I hope I can make it work with my job.  But in the long run, in the future, I really do want to return to birth, when it’s less traumatic for me.  Because it is truly amazing.

“What’s it like?” she asked.  “To deliver babies?”

“It’s the coolest thing in the world.”

Finding kinship in the exam room

After I’m done addressing whatever gynecological problem she came in for, she said, “I have to ask you one more question.  It’s personal.” My assistant left and she asked, “Your baby, what happened?”

She had read the sign posted at the front desk.  It wasn’t the question I was expecting.  When a patient tells me they have a personal question, I prepare myself to address things like concerns about how their vagina looks or issues with sex, so this question was a pleasant departure.  I was happy to answer.  I began with her Down Syndrome diagnosis and our decision to continue.  I explained the low fluid and what it meant for her kidneys and lungs.  I told of her birth at thirty-six weeks and her death six hours later from lungs that were just too small.

She listened patiently, attentively and when I was done she told her own story.  The story of her boys, identical twins, who had something called Fragile X.  There wasn’t a term for the genetic disease that causes mental retardation when they were born; it wasn’t until they were twenty-seven that their sister heard about a study that gave their condition a name.  The family soon learned that many of them were carriers of the trait and some even had trait-related symptoms.

I had asked earlier in the visit if she was in a relationship.  It was how I eased into the next question ascertaining whether she was sexually active, a question I wanted address in a respectful way to the woman in her eighties sitting in front of me.  She told me she had been widowed two years before.  Now when talking of her sons, she said one of them died a few months before her husband.  He had been to camp not long before he died.  It was a camp he loved and came home proudly telling stories of his accomplishments.  After he died a counselor for that adult camp wrote her and told her of how her son would make everybody laugh.  Her eyes glowed behind a brim of tears as she told me this.

She lost her husband and her son in the same year and she told me of both during her visit.  I could see that both deaths caused her sadness, but it was the telling of the story of her son that brought her emotions to the surface.

Whether it be a new mom in her thirties or a woman in her eighties who was gifted decades with her child, whether that child was the picture of health and taken suddenly or she was sick with a poor prognosis, this woman was living proof that losing a child under any circumstance is a complicated and long lasting grief.

I often worry that sharing Mabel’s Down Syndrome diagnosis will change people’s sympathy.  That somehow people will value her less because she was given an extra chromosome.  That they think I won’t be as sad because she wasn’t “perfect.”  No one has actually said these things or even given me the impression that they think such thoughts, but I have already prepared my response.  I was ready to love her even more because of her Down Syndrome.  A part of me felt proud that I would raise a child with special needs because I was going to blow up so many stereotypes by showing the world what she could do and how loveable she would be.  I didn’t realize at the time that she didn’t need to live to do just that.  I wish she were here so that she could witness how far she is reaching.

In the examine room, Mabel allowed this woman to share the story of her son.  To let her tell one person how wonderful it was to raise a child with special needs.  To give her the opportunity to comfort another bereaved mother.  To affirm for both herself and for me that no mother should have to bury her child.