Mommy friends

I wrote this back in September, but never published.  Better late than never!

Over the summer I joined a stroller boot camp. We met once or twice a week in a park in my town and an instructor led us in a mix of cardio and strength training. Everyone had a stroller with one or two kids and the exercises often involved the stroller or a song. Even when the exercise had nothing to do with the stroller, it was a place where a crying baby is met with knowing glances and understanding.

I did lots of bootcamp classes when I was pregnant with Mabel and continued after she died into my pregnancy with Felix.  I was able to return to a few before they changed their pricing and class structure making it no longer feasible for me to stay a member. Plus with a kids who didnt sleep, my fatigue was making it very hard to find the time or motivation to make it a regular thing.

When I learned of the stroller boot camp- I was thrilled. I didn’t have to worry about childcare. There was a class that met on my day off, so I didnt have to choose between exercise and sleep or worry about childcare.  I thought that since it was in my own town maybe I could even make some mommy friends!

The first class was fine- it was a little weird because since Felix had a fever I showed up sans baby and stroller.  During our warm up we would circle up and introduce ourselves while we lunged and squatted.  The instructor was very nice and super chatty.  A pregnant woman was there who was about 35 weeks and pushing a stroller with a toddler.  She was talking with the instructor about how she hoped this exercise would help her go early.  I chimed in “I ran a road race when I was 37 weeks with my second and he came that night, so you never know!” It’s a fun fact that I hoped would start some conversation. It was well received and talked a tiny bit more until it was time for a new exercise.

The next class we were all lined up after the warm up for an exercise behind the strollers. As we worked, the instructor stood in front of us asking questions, engaging with different people in the group. “How long have you lived in this town?”… “what made you move here?”… then she looked at me. “Who’s watching your older child, Meghan?”

I was caught a bit off guard and I must have shown it in my face because before I could formulate an answer, the instructor felt she had to explain. “You said last week that Felix was your second… so is you older child in day care or at home or….?

It was weird being asked that question, but not unmanageable. I was trying to think of how to best answer without making it awkward. It was also weird to be asked that question with so many people listening.

Finally I said simply, “she died.”

I was ready for the usual response- the i’m so sorry- and honestly was kind of shocked when I didn’t get it.

I got nothing.

The instructor literally was looking directly at me when I responded and she quickly turned away from me and asked another of the women in the class a question.

Nothing.

No acknowledgement, No awkward response. No well meaning but painful platitude. Nothing.

I think it was the worst possible response I have ever gotten. I know that she didn’t know what to do or say and I understand that it was not at all the answer she was expecting. I don’t think it was even in the realm of possibilities for her.  A part of me felt sorry for her- sorry that I couldn’t give her a warning, that she was forced to deal with the unexpected response in front of an audience.

But I was also a little frustrated and mad.  By not acknowledging what I had said gave me important impression: Talking about my dead daughter was not welcome here. I understand that the group is made up of moms and no one wants to have to think of how it would feel to lose one of their babies, but it’s my reality.  I can’t talk about so many of the common mom things without at least referencing the fact that I gave birth to another child.  It is interwoven with my every day existence. It is one of the things that defines me- it’s just as important that people know that I am a midwife as it is for them to know I am the mother of two children.

From that class on I accepted that I was not there to make mommy friends, I was there to get exercise.  The fact that the interaction was witnessed by most of the class also gave the class the impression that my dead daughter shouldn’t be talked about. But how can I make friends if people don’t know about Mabel? Argh. Another loss- the loss of “normal” parenting and friend making.

I was able to make a connection with one woman towards the end of the classes. She and I used the same midwives and those who choose the midwives I go to tend to be a self selecting group of people- likeminded in many ways.  Once I learned that I (perhaps a little biasedly) liked her instantly. We talked for a bit about birth and our midwives; it was nice.  What normal friend making must be like. Sadly it was in the second to last class and so nothing more ever grew from there.  I suppose it was good practice.

How do you make new friends after loss?

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Day 22: Self Care

I work four days a week.  When I was working “full time” as a midwife, I would work on average about 60 hours a week.  The plan was when I had kids to drop one day in the office, making me “part time” at 50+ hours a week. Some of that time I was on call for births, meaning I might spend the shift in the hospital awake for 24 hours, or I might spend a good portion at home in my bed.  After Mabel died, I eased myself back into work.  My goal was to work myself up to that same “part time” schedule so I could have that extra day off for myself, to work on my grief.  After a few months into work, I realized that the goal of returning to call so soon was unrealistic and so now I work four office days.  My practice was kind enough to allow me this adjustment and Chris and I decided our finances could handle the decreased salary that accompanied.

Wednesday is my day off each week and I use the day to take care of myself.  Today I photo-documented the things that fill my day.

I spend some quality time with my pup, who gives me something to care for and love, who reminds me that I am needed.

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I had lunch with a friend, who shared her precious cache of chocolate with me.

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I exercised, indulging in an episode of Scandal while I hit up the elliptical.

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I sat on this couch for a hour, pouring out my soul and working through my anger with my therapist.

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I mulled over some thoughts and took a quick nap as I received an acupuncture treatment.

 

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A friend came over and we dressed the pup up.  She seemed to enjoy it!

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Another friend came over for dinner and we had a glass of wine!

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I ended my night with another babyloss mom, enjoying teat and hot chocolate, laughing about things in ways only the babyloss know.

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#CaptureYourGrief

 

Day 10: Support

My grief journey started well before Mabel was born.  I grieved the original vision I had of a typical baby when I learned she had Down Syndrome.  I grieved the potential risk of miscarriage and stillbirth that came with that diagnosis.  I began grieving the death of my child when we learned it was a real possibility at 27 weeks.  My grief wander high and low as I crept week by week, my baby still alive inside me and then hit hit full force in the days, weeks and months after she was born and died shortly after.

“Down Syndrome children are born without malice,” one of them told me and I began to celebrate the new vision of the child I was going to have.

“You need to meet with this doctor,” another told me, encouraging me to seek out a well respected neonatologist on the medical ethics board.  With that meeting I began to plan how to best help my baby.

She didn’t put me on bedrest, like many would have done, simply because no one knew what to do to help my baby.  “Exercise,” she said, “is good.”  She gave me a little sanity.

She came with cabbage leaves and breast pads to soothe the raging milk that kept reminding me there was no baby.  She put me on a sitz bath, reminding me that my body needed to be cared for too.

“Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children,” she cried unabashedly, sitting in my bed with me in the days after.

My OB team- my midwives, my doctor- was and still is a huge support for me.  It’s national Midwifery Week.  So it’s well timed that today I thank my midwives (and my M.D., my Midwife Doctor).

#CaptureYourGrief

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Sharing too much

She was hemming and hawing over whether to take a particular medication in pregnancy. My opinion was that she would benefit greatly. Sure, everything has its risks, but women (and also some other providers) err on the “conservative” side recommending avoidance of all medications in pregnancy. Women and babies sometimes miss out on some valuable benefits. I’ve seen it done when discussing exercise. “No you can’t do crossfit,” “don’t let your heart rate go above 140,” and “if you don’t exercise now, you don’t want to start in pregnancy.” Baloney. None of these recommendations are evidence based and they do a disservice to moms and babies. Exercise has so so any benefits. I often want to share with my patients what I did in pregnancy, leading by example. I’ll make a quick offhand comment but quickly divert so there are not further questions. I would hate for them to probe too far and learn my baby died.

As I talked to this woman on the phone, I sensed she needed more assurance that the med would be okay. We had already gone over the risks and benefits, but she was still hesitant. Finally I said, “Listen, I was on a very similar med all through pregnancy. I only tell you this because I want you to know I wouldn’t recommend something I wouldn’t do myself.”

I hear the relief in her voice. Correct me if I’m wrong, but sometimes patients want our personal opinions. She began to seriously consider.

“Can I ask you one more question, if it’s not too personal?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“Did you breastfeed on the med?”

Sh*t. Just when I thought I had done the right amount of sharing, it backfired.

“My baby died shortly after birth- nothing to do with the med, so I couldn’t breastfeed. But had she lived I certainly would have. No doubt.”

Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

I was reminded of this experience while reading C is for Crocodile’s post . How badly I want to maintain membership in this group- the “I’ve been pregnant too” club, as well as the “pregnant making hard choices” club. They are silent clubs, like most of ours are, so I have to allude. But by announcing my membership, I sometimes inadvertently have to share that I also belong to the babyloss club- something that sometimes feels right, but sometimes feel unprofessional. Here, it didn’t feel so good. I didn’t cry- I’ve become quite good at saying “my baby died.” It just felt crummy that my contribution, my commaraderie with this woman, suddenly became tainted. It’s as if it nullified my membership.

 

Has this happened to you? Have you had a time when you felt you shared too much? What happened?

My Massages

I love massages. I’m kind of a glutton for them, actually. I used to go to a small Chinese herbal medicine shop that did massages in the back room. As sketchy as it sounds, it was, but they did give good massages for cheap, as long as you didn’t mind missing out on the luxuries of a spa. When I moved out of the city, I gave up my massages for a bit, but two years ago I found myself with a gift card to Massage Envy. After a massage, I signed up for a membership, enjoying a monthly massage for just under $50. Hard to beat. The only down side was finding the right massage therapist. Each time I tried someone knew- the first had hands that were just too cold. The second didn’t apply nearly enough pressure. The third didn’t avoid certain areas like I had asked her (I don’t like my arms and legs massaged. Stick mostly to the back, lady). So when I finally found Jean, a woman who used to work in a chiropractor’s office, I was thrilled when she applied good pressure, had warm hands and followed my requests. I continued to see Jean until the day I told her that I was pregnant. Working for a corporation (Massage Envy is a chain), she wasn’t certified in prenatal massage so wasn’t allowed to see me anymore. I was heartbroken. I continued my monthly massages with Anthony, a guy who seemed skilled enough but he was no Jean. On my kind days I would chalk his too light pressure and ineffective techniques up to the prenatal aspect- he was overly cautious. I stuck with it because I needed to relax (it was a difficult pregnancy- worried that my baby would die, and all) and because I planned to see Jean postpartum.

My husband understands the joy I can get in massage- he will frequently rub my back and my neck and tolerates my monthly indulgence. For Valentine’s Day he had arranged for a massage therapist to come to the hospital to give me a massage. He was going to tell me about it on the day itself and the massage was scheduled for a few days later. Labor and childbirth interrupted that plan, but the masseuse was kind enough to make a special exception and do a postpartum one in my house a week after we were discharged. She knew the circumstances and was appropriate when I told her I might cry during it. I did.

I returned to Massage Envy the month after and got to see Jean again. I few weeks later, I received a phone call telling me she was on leave, indefinitely. No more Jean. A friend of mine who also was a regular suggested I try her massage therapist, Nick.

I warmed up to Nick; he was no Jean, but he was good enough. He remembered I didn’t like my legs or arms massaged and he had a good personality. When I first saw him, he said “I see you just had a baby?” When I nodded he said “Congratulations!” and that was all. He often tried to talk a bit during the massage- I know my friend is quite chatty with him- but I wasn’t not much of a talker, especially during those early grieving months. I was always polite back.

One time, after a particularly hard day, I had been crying in the car before I went in for my massage. I was still quite emotional and quite sniffly from the tears. He noticed my runny nose and asked if I was sick. I answered truthfully- no. “Allergies?” he went on. I do technically have allergies, so I felt like I wasn’t lying when I nodded. I had to stop in the middle of the massage a few times to blow my nose.

He remembered the next time I saw him, noting that my allergies seemed better.

The next few massages passed uneventfully. Last week, I went again, eager for him to work out some stress spots in my back. After my recent encounter with a patient, I was feeling more empowered to let people I see regularly know that my baby died. When Nick was chatty, I tried to be talkative back to him. We had talked a little about exercise because I think I strained a muscle lifting at bootcamp, and he mentioned he had gone running that morning and felt awesome afterwards. I told him that I had been struggling with running after childbirth, because of the effects of pregnancy on my pelvis.

I purposely mentioned my pregnancy to try to lure him into asking about my baby. A simple, “how old is she?” or “is she sleeping?” or any reference would have opened the door to me telling him that she died, so I wouldn’t be lying there month after month with my secret.

My efforts were not rewarded. He didn’t ask and I couldn’t bring it up out of nowhere.

So for now, he will continue to think I carry the stress and fatigue of a new mom in my back and the stress and fatigue of a newly bereaved mom will be my continued secret.

 

Do you have an indulgences to temporarily take you away from your grief?

Has something similar happened to you, where you wish you could blurt it out?

Battle scars

I used to be a runner. I’ve written about it here, talking about how running became hard for me physically and emotionally at the end of pregnancy. I was proud of how far along I was when I went for my last run – 31 weeks. I would go for a run (ok, ok a very slow jog), usually before work 3-5 times per week, getting my 3 miles done in 35 minutes or so.

When I was hospitalized at 34 weeks, I had to be on the monitor 23 hours a day and wasn’t supposed to leave the hospital, so I was limited in my exercise ability. I settled for a mini-bootcamp with an exercise band and medicine ball I had gotten as gifts.

After Mabel was born, I knew I needed exercise. We commonly tell patients, no real exercise until 6 weeks postpartum. I used to tell my patients that they could do some light exercise, like walking, when their bleeding stopped. I did not take my own advice. I was doing yoga at 10 days postpartum and back at bootcamp (with modifications and accompanied by my midwife) at 2.5 weeks. I will now counsel patients differently.

But even before I started back at bootcamp, I would walk. Chris and I would hit up the local “rail trail” (and old railroad track converted into a paved path frequented by walkers and cyclists). It was winter and our area had been hit by an enormous amount of snowfall, so rather than brave the sidewalk-less streets in our country-living town, we would bundle up and head to the rail trail nearby. Our town plowed a mile and a half of it in the winter, so it was a safe place to walk and get fresh air. At first the walking was slow going, but as the days progressed, I could do more faster. I was limited mostly by my pelvis. There is a bone- the symphasis pubis- in the front part of the pelvis (the pubic bone in more common terms) that has a joint in it. In pregnancy, the body makes a hormone called relaxin, which, as its name implies, relaxes the joints in the body. Its main target is the pelvis, loosening the hinges to make more room for a baby to pass through. Many pregnant women speak of loose joints that sometimes can be painful and that’s due to the relaxin, which works on all the joints- not just the pelvis.

My body made plenty of relaxin. As pregnancy progressed, I would be sore after a run. I’d feel it in my pelvis, my symphasis mostly. I remember vowing the day after the Thanksgiving turkey trot we ran that I was done running- my pelvis ached! I’d need a little assistance getting off the couch and climbing stairs would smart. I’d ice, stretch and see the chiropractor, but nothing really helped. So eventually I gave up running and moved on to bootcamp. After Mabel was born and we were walking I felt that familiar burning, lingering pain in my symphasis. I wasn’t worried; it can take time to heal. I eventually worked myself up from walking to interval jogging to my usual three-mile stint at a slow pace. Week after week I’d keep at it, slow and steady as I regained my stamina. Though I gave it time, my pelvis seemed stationary in its healing process. I continued the stretching, ice and the chiropractor but found myself running less and going to bootcamp more. I think I’ve run once in the past two months.

I finally made an appointment with physical therapy to try to get some help, but part of me realizes that my jogging days might be over. I am well past a reasonable recovery time and have come to accept that this might be one of my battle scars. I was fortunate to never get a stretchmark in pregnancy- the only few I have developed on my breasts during the rapid and impressive engorgement I experienced a few days after birth. The shape of them have changed too. Other than that, I have few physical reminders that my body once bore a baby.

Part of me hates the loss of running due to my invisible battle wound on my pelvis, but part of me thinks of it fondly. Just like the milk that came in so insistently after Mabel was born, my painful pelvis is a reminder that though there is no baby, there was a baby.

What about you- what are your battle scars? Are they public or invisible? How do you feel about them?

 

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Today is a special day, a little girl named Calla was born two years ago today. I’ve never met her.  I didn’t know her mom or her dad or her two big brothers when she was born.  I only know them now because Calla Pearl was born sleeping.  Though I wish that weren’t the case and she were a lively two year old sapping her mom’s energy, I am grateful that I have met Calla’s mom and her family.  Today I tried to picture what I think she would have looked like as a two year old.  I base my vision on the precious photo her mom showed me and how her two older brothers look.  But I know she is and ever will be the baby born too soon and too silent.  I think of Calla being a friend to Mabel, showing her how to be a baby separated from her mother, in the way Calla’s mom is helping show me how to be a mother separated from her baby.

Happy Birthday, Calla Pearl.

My Alter Ego

I was shoving my water bottle and purse in one of the cubbyholes at bootcamp when a tall woman approached me.

“Are you Mallory?” she asked.

I had been asked many questions I didn’t know how to answer right away, but this one was a new one. Before I blogged here, I would on rare occasion guest blog at SemiProper. I have had the pleasure of attending Roo during the birth of all three of her children and I have been fortunate to benefit from a friendship that grew beyond the exam room. She has seen my debut as the Naked Cowboy and I have joined her in listening to her husband rock out at our local coffee shop. She blogs about all sorts of random stuff, but some of my (totally unbiased) favorites are her public service messages like, promoting pap smears and breast exams. I’ll chime every now and then from the midwife perspective.  She’s even linked me up here (*warning for the babyloss- that last link has birth/newborn stuff, but you’ll also see me at work*) and I know some of you found me through her (hi and thanks for coming).

Anyhoo, when she first started, she had pseudonyms for all the main characters in her life- nicknames for her kids and husband. When she wrote about me, she asked if I wanted my real name used or a nickname. I didn’t want to miss out on a cool alter ego, so I begged for a cool new moniker. After a brief joke about calling me Bertha (get in?), she dubbed me Mallory, a name I had once told her I really liked. Though she dropped the pseudonyms for her family, I am still Mallory to her readers.

So when this woman questioned me before bootcamp, I was at a loss for words. I figured she was an SemiProper reader

“Well, er… sort of,” I stumbled. “Actually I’m Meghan. But I, uh, sometimes go by Mallory… online.” I sounded like someone who lived a second life as an avatar.

I explained how I went by Mallory on Roo’s blog and told her about the pseudonyms.

She told me about how she read my blog and it was helpful to her because she had recently had a baby who had some health concerns.

I left the interaction feeling both amazed (look at me, I was recognized! I’m a celebrity!) and frustrated with myself for being awkward and not asking about her baby.

Then this morning I had my chance. In bootcamp we often have to pair up or make small groups to rotate through the intervals together. Today we had to make groups of three. I found myself next to the tall woman with the sick baby. It took half of the work out for me to get the words out.

“How’s your baby?” I asked.

She told me and asked how I was. I gave a little shrug “you know…” I didn’t say I just hit the six month mark and it’s harder than I thought it would be. I didn’t thank her for asking. I didn’t say anything I should have.

Again my reaction was mixed. I was pleased I was able to ask about someone else’s baby. This was kind of a huge deal for me, a real milestone. There are so many feelings I run from – baby showers, kids with friends, holding newborns. I was proud I faced one little one head on… Baby steps…. But I was frustrated I wasn’t able open up and be a real person either.  Still not the old me.  Someday I’ll be the Meghan or even the Mallory I want to be.