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.

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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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There’s nothing in there.

“You got anything in there?”

A hand laid on my belly, with a knowing smile.

“Any more babies?”

Since when is my fertility anyone else’s business?  I know that these comments were either well intentioned or just causal banter, but their intention still hurt.  The askers know about Mabel, which in my mind should have made them more sensitive.

I have held on to some of the baby weight.  I could make excuses for why- but they’re irrelevant.  Either you’re calling me chubby (insult) or you’re assuming I can just have babies whenever I want (ignorance). Either way, the comments make me feel like a failure. I’m failing at losing weight and I’m failing at getting pregnant.  I’m only 10lbs overweight but my abs are non existent thanks to two babies in a short time.  Though since I have only one visible baby, I feel like my body is a mismatch. I also would love to be pregnant- but I don’t think it’s going to come easy.  And since I’m still nursing, my body hasn’t given any signs that it’s ready for another pregnancy.

Hearing these comments makes me realize people want another one for me (so do I), but it feels like expectation, pressure.  It’s the reason that I didn’t tell anyone about being pregnant with Felix until 12 weeks- I didn’t want to disappoint them if I miscarried.  I know I have no control over it- but my disappointment was going to be enough.  I couldn’t handle anyone else’s.  The same applies here.  I worry that I won’t be able to have anymore- I’ve learned there are no guarantees- and my own self imposed pressure is more than I can handle.  Please don’t give me anyone else’s.

“No.”

“There’s nothing in there.”

“I wish.”

Radio Silence

Well, the day came and went. It’s now 369. In a way no different from day 365 and yet in a way very different. The day was symbolic, of course, and to borrow a term from my pilot brother, I have been radio silent since as I recovered from and sorted through my emotions.

I spent the day doing not too much- sat on the couch, took Muppet to the dog park and did some light cleaning. I took out Mabel’s box- or boxes, the bereavement box we got sent home from the hospital with, the box of pregnancy related things I had kept, the box of cards and what nots I had saved. I got a little teary eyed looking at her outfit- the pair of pants she didn’t even wear because she was too small. They had pockets.  FullSizeRender_2

Her hat still had strands of blond hair in it- which made me smile because the lock they cut for keepsake looks brown. I opened up the tiny blood pressure cuff and held it to my face- I swear I could just catch the scent of her.

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I packed it all back up and organized it the way I want, keeping her bereavement box in our bedroom and putting some of the other stuff away in a closet.

We visited her grave and brought a balloon- Chris unknowingly bought a Hello Kitty one, but we figured she’d like it.  By the time we got to the cemetery, one of the letters fell off and so it read “Happy Birthday abel.”

The evening we had a few friends over- which turned into a few more- and had dinner and cake.

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Singing Happy Birthday to my dead daughter actually didn’t feel so good, but it seemed like the logical thing to do. We watched her video and my friends got teary eyed, while mine remained dry. I realized I don’t like to cry real tears in front of people. I was reminded of how in the immediate days after her death, with family filling the house, I would sneak up to my room to cry unwitnessed.

My tears came the night before, triggered into a meltdown when one of my midwives messaged me about how on the eve of her kids’ birthdays she often thinks about what she had been doing way back when, and how hard it must be for me to do that. The message was sweet and needed, opening up the flood gates. I didn’t have a good cry again until I crawled into bed on Sunday, crying about some of the disappointments from the day- the people I didn’t hear from. Crying about how my life and relationships had changed so much in ways that I felt I so sad about. Crying about how my daughter was dead-how I have a dead child.

I’ve spent the next few days sorting through it all- trying to focus on all the kindnesses, the so many kindnesses that came with the day and not be consumed by the sadness of disappointments (some of which I’ve since decided were justified, some of which were not).

So in that vein, I want to share with you all some of the many Random Acts of Kindness. There are too many to even list, many I don’t even know about and not enough words to thank those who have done them.

  • Donations to children’s museums- in CT, in RI
  • Cupcakes to my care team- the practice I work for, the midwives who cared for me, the MFM docs who cared for me, Labor and Birth, the NICU
  • "we wanted to thank those who so beautifully cared for her and for her family while she was here (the amazing midwives of [the group that cared for her], everyone on Labor & Birth, the NICU staff, the MFMs who were involved and the group Meg works with.) They will be eating birthday Karate Carrot cupcakes."

    “we wanted to thank those who so beautifully cared for her and for her family while she was here (the amazing midwives of [the group that cared for her], everyone on Labor & Birth, the NICU staff, the MFMs who were involved and the group Meg works with.) They will be eating birthday Karate Carrot cupcakes.”

  • Flowers at Mabel’s grave
  • play dough too!

    play dough too!

  • Carrot soup
  • Books that showed up as gifts (including the one on the right that came from unknown sender)
  • did any of you send the Help Thanks Wow book?  it came without a sender...

    did any of you send the Help Thanks Wow book? it came without a sender…

  • Gifts for children’s hospital in Boston and Indianapolis
  • Shoveling neighbors snow in Massachusetts and Connecticut
  • cards! so many cards!
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  • Donation to help migrant workers and their families in Florida
  • Diapers and kids treats donated to a homeless family in North Carolina
  • Donation to a Down Syndrome organization in Virginia
  • A children’s book donated to my town’s library
  • Letting people go ahead in the airport line
  • Buying ice cream for the kids at the next table
  • Dinner buying for a cancer survivor
  • Baking carrot cake for a friend
  • Coffee bought for people in line behind the buyers
  • A big tip left for waitress, a big tip left for a bartender who is fostering a baby with Down Syndrome born addicted to heroin
  • A donation given to a homeless man in a wheelchair
  • A donation to the Perinatal Mental Health task force in LA
  • Water bottles given out to strangers in LA on a very hot day (hard to conceive in chilly new England)
  • A carrot hat given to me
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  • Presents donated to a local shelter including a carrot stuffy
  • Donation to a high school lunar rover team in CT
  • Handmade carrot wreath for my door
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  • Letters from Thai high school students
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Disappointment

When I graduated college in California, I moved to the Washington DC area to live with several college friends. I imagined myself finding a job in a non-profit or a government agency involving healthcare. After a couple months of searching and interviewing in my brand new cranberry colored pinstripe skirt-suit (yup, I was hip) I found the job industry harder to break into than I thought it would, even with my shiny new Stanford degree. While my roommates started their more prestigious jobs at local papers, on the hill and in think tanks, I finally found work as a medical assistant in an OBGYN office. It wasn’t the glamorous job I had pictured, but I knew it would give me the experience I needed before applying to midwifery school.

I didn’t meet many people through work- those that I did had different lifestyles than me; they were older or had families. My job was also in the suburbs, not far from the house we lived in. While my roommates commuted into the city and stayed for happy hours with their new friends, I went to work early and often got out at 3:30p only to find myself home alone. So I started looking for ways to meet new people and make friends. I answered an ad on craigslist looking for women to join their indoor soccer league. I wrote tentatively, ensuring that the league was casual and disclosing that I hadn’t played soccer in eight years. Didn’t matter, he wrote, they needed women.

So I showed up, thinking I came prepared in my athletic shorts and sneakers, only to find out that the league was a bit more competitive than I had hoped. In my naivete, I didn’t even think to bring shin guards. Luckily a teammate had an extra pair and I was able to buy some socks there, allowing me to play with the regulation necessities. I was the warm body in female form that permitted them the gender balance for play.

I took a defensive position and found myself trying to makeup for my lack of skill with effort. I ran hard and fast, trying to beat other players to the ball, though I was rarely successful. The first time a ball actually rolled towards me, out in the open, I ran to it, pulled my leg back and swung hard, happy to have my chance to contribute.

I missed.

I also proceeded to basically score a goal for the other team, when the ball ricocheted awkwardly off my thigh, angling itself past my goalie and into the net. I was mortified. Yet, at the end of the game, I was asked to come back again- despite my ineptitude they needed me to be eligible for play. I left the game feeling embarrassed about my performance and walking tentatively because in all the hard effort I had put forth, I think I pulled muscles in both my thighs. I could barely maneuver the clutch to get myself home. I called my parents, as most young adults do when they don’t know how to fix something, and asked how to make my legs feel better. They suggested calling a family friend I grew up with who was a physical therapist. I told her what I had done and how I was worried I wouldn’t be able to work the next day because I could barely walk. She instructed me on the schedule of icing and rest that helped heal my sore muscles and put my in my job the next morning.

When I was recently relaying this story to some friends, I told them how I went back the next week to play again. They were both surprised after such an embarrassing show I had made of myself and the near injury I had caused to my legs. “I couldn’t disappoint them. They needed me,” I explained.

I don’t like to disappoint.

I recently did some soul searching and came to the realization that I’m not ready to do call- to deliver babies. I’ve had the conversation with work, asking to be taken off the call schedule…indefinitely. I do plan on going back to birth, I just need more time to figure out how much time I need. I am extremely fortunate that they are willing to accommodate me in this request.

Admitting that I’m not ready for birth six months after my baby died feels like a disappointment. I’m disappointing my practice partners- they’ll have to work more because of me. I’m disappointing my patients- the ones who were hoping I’d be there for their births will have someone else. I’m disappointing my nursing and midwifery colleagues who have tried so hard to bolster me up with comments like “You’re such a good midwife, you have to do birth,” and “It’ll be hard, but you’re so strong, I know you can do it.” I appreciate their efforts to build my confidence, but what they don’t realize is that I don’t need my confidence boosted. I just need time. These remarks meant to help me actually make me feel worse, because now I feel like I’m disappointing them- I’m not a good enough midwife or strong enough to get past the death of my daughter. I’m disappointing my friends who say they can’t picture me as anyone but a midwife, it’s such an integral part of my identity.

I’m not leaving midwifery and I hope to be back at birth- sooner rather than later- but I have to take care of me first. I will write more about the “why” behind my inability to face call right now, but that’s for another day. I know you all will tell me to not worry about it, to be gentle with myself, to know that I have to be good to myself before I can be a good midwife (and thank you in advance for such kind and supportive comments), but regardless of all the things I can tell myself, of the things you can tell me, I still feel like I’m disappointing everyone.

Do you ever feel disappointed in yourself?  Why?