A complicated holiday

The holidays are upon us again.  I’m both looking forward to them and not.  I’m looking forward to be at this big family event with a living baby.  Two years ago I was at Thanksgiving, pregnant with a child that we knew had Down Syndrome, but did not yet know had failing kidneys. Though I was at the point in my pregnancy where I was trying to celebrate, I did so cautiously.  I was still in the second trimester, when the risk of loss was 20%.  I treaded lightly.  I was among family, some of whom where pregnant with healthy babies, and I was secretly (or not so secretly) envious, wishing I could simply just be pregnant.  It was a complicated holiday.

Last year was my first Thanksgiving without Mabel.  I longed for the year before when I could still hope, even if cautiously, for a take home baby.  Those were easier days.  On this next family gathering, I was well acquainted with the new life of child loss and I did not like it.  I did not like attending holidays without my daughter.  It felt empty and and wrong.  I even held within me a little secret- I was newly pregnant but this small developing life inside me was known only to me and my husband. The hope of this new baby was not enough to lighten my heavy heart- and it shouldn’t have been. A new baby did not negate the loss of my daughter. It was a complicated holiday.

And now this Thanksgiving, my second Mabel-less turkey day.  This year I bring with me, my son, a warm squishy body to fill my once empty, aching arms.  That hope of a new baby has turned into the reality of one.  He is my protection- a shield against some of the sorrow that is bound to creep in.  He is also my light- he has brought me so much joy and I am excited to share him with the family.  Because he is here with me, I have begun to enjoy things again- but cautiously. I would hate for people to think that because he is here I am no longer sad, no longer long for my first baby.  So still, it will be a complicated holiday.

May Thanksgiving be gentle to you.

I’ve always wanted a big family

I sat across from her in the exam room. She was there with her partner and the youngest of her two children, a toddler. She had no clue when her last period was, but based on some recent negative pregnancy tests and now positive, I knew she was in early days. I had congratulated her when I entered the room and she welcomed my words with a smile.

“So were you guys trying or was this a surprise?”

I ask pretty much all my patients this, especially at these kind of visits- one we call “confirm pregnancy” appointments. It’s a quick early visit, to establish with our test that a woman is pregnant and to see if they need an early ultrasound. Plus we are able to start some education and answer questions before the typical initial pregnancy appointment at 8-10 weeks. I ask this question because sometimes people come to this visit to discuss options- I’m trying to see if I need to discuss termination or just plow forward with all the excitement of a new pregnancy. I’m also trying to assess her emotional needs- does she have support? What are her worries?

“Oh, it was a surprise!” She said with a laugh.

“So were using any birth control recently then? Pills? Condoms…?” I ask this to help assess her pregnancy dating. Recent pill use can affect timing of ovulation and thus pregnancy due dates.

“No…” A typical answer that always makes me laugh internally. In my world if you’re not contracepting, you are actively trying to get pregnant.

“But you seem happy about things?”

“Oh yes! I’ve always wanted a big family!”

I looked at her, in her twenties now pregnant with her third child. No history of loss. Smiling, happy, accepting and expecting that things of course would work out.

I’ve always wanted a big family. In the beginning of our relationship, Chris and I discussed how many kids we wanted. He wanted two. I wanted five. He came from a family of two kids; I came from a family of five. No wonders there. Because I got married and would be starting a family later in life, I knew that five was unlikely- we sort of agreed on three (though he would sometimes would argue for two still). When Mabel was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, I became firm in my belief I wanted three kids. We needed to ensure she had siblings who would care for her when Chris and I were no longer able to or weren’t around.

I now laugh at myself- even then- at the naivete of those thoughts. As if we have some sort of control of how many kids we get to bring home (I recognize in a way we do- with the medical marvels of birth control and all…). I didn’t realize that when I was wanting three kids I should have been hoping for three living children. Silly me!

I recently posted about grieving parenthood but I’m also grieving the loss of my future family dreams. If I’m lucky enough to get a take home baby- I no there are no guarantees that I’ll be lucky enough to get another. In another world I thought being an only child seemed like a cruel thing. But I wasn’t thinking about the fact that parents might not have had a choice. My childhood was defined by my large family- I want a semblance of that for any future child I might be lucky enough to have. But I feel like asking for more than one living child is greedy. Just give me one, please. In addition to grieving active parenting, I’m grieving parenting a large family- and the innocence in that statement I heard in the office… “I’ve always wanted a big family!”

How have your visions of your future family changed after loss?

I’m not a total Grinch

I’m just not into Christmas this year. Thanksgiving is the big holiday in our family and there was a lot of emotional build up for me beforehand and very emotional during the holiday. I was relieved when it was over. Christmas, I feel less stress, less pressure. We told our families that this year we would be having a nice quiet Christmas at home- just me, Chris and the puppy. We’d still do gifts and everything for everyone, but I knew I wouldn’t really be in the mood for festivities. I can’t even seem to bring my self to get a tree. We had a super nice offer to cut down our own from a friend’s property. She warned us, it would likely be a Charlie Brown type tree, which seemed very fitting. Plus, she herself is a babyloss mom, so it seemed like the perfect solution. Yet I still could not seem to get my act together to do it. I would have not even thought about a tree had it not been for some beautiful ornaments that friends and family had given us in memory of Mabel. Instead, we decided to give our year round houseplant, Igor some Mabel festiveness.

I promise, Igor is not as sad as he looks.

I promise, Igor is not as sad as he looks.

I’m not a total Grinch. I don’t even care that others are having baby’s first Christmas or celebrating with their complete families. I could be bitter if I let myself, but I think I’m ok. I think I’m just simply sad that my family is one less this year. I bought presents happily for others and celebrated an early virtual Christmas with some far away family.

I also decided to donate in memory of Mabel this holiday. As I mentioned before, I can’t seem to do the more traditional “buy a gift for my own baby and donate it” that a lot of other babyloss parents do. Still too painful to shop for a 10 month old baby. So instead, I was inspired by another babyloss friend who felt similarly and adopted a senior citizen. I was a bit late in the game and there wasn’t really a similar program around me, so I cold called a local nursing home and asked if I could donate some small presents and what their residents might like or need. After talking I learned that a lot of the men in their home get neglected when it comes to donations and so I agreed to make some gift bags for them, with needed supplies. I assembled ten gift bags with male body wash, cologne, lotion, tissues and socks. I put them in festive bags and attached a little note:

“Merry Christmas! A gift for you in memory of Mabel, a beloved baby who lived for six precious hours on February 15, 2014”

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So I’m not a total Grinch. I’m just doing Christmas my way.

How are you doing Christmas this year?

Sunday Synopsis

Five ways to help those remembering Babyloss this holiday season– I really like this article- it’s short, it’s sweet and it’s to the point.  Having survive one holiday and bracing myself for the next, I can already appreciate somethings my family has done (especially #2- something I was worried about, but worked out just fine).  I would also add that holidays may be a time you’re seeing people for the first time since loss (especially if it’s year one)- I’d want them to know saying something is better than saying nothing at all (it’s in the vein of #5).  Even in a large group, it could be easy to avoid the bereaved parents, so simply saying hello and letting them know you’ve been thinking of them is an easy way to do so.  I had a cousin do just that at thanksgiving- and it was a pleasant surprise.

Darkness and Light– this really got me thinking about the contrast and and honestly the seasons- how now that winter is approaching its peak darkness, how that may affect our grief (not the total intention of the article).  Winter is my grieving season and early darkness doesn’t help.

Twelve Days of Christmas- Have you been following?  All the posts are great reads during this prelude to the holidays and some have spoken to me veery intensely.

This compassionate dog… Ok, i know this isn’t related to grief, but it’s about compassion.  Wouldn’t you want a friend to wake you up from a nightmare?

 

Alumnae Magazine

Back in July I received an email from my class rep from my alumni magazine. At the end of each magazine, there are class notes, where people write in and tell a tidbit about themselves. It’s organized by year and every month it’s the first section I turn to, to see if I recognize any names. I’ve never written in myself. I weird felt- like I had one chance to do so, because otherwise who wants to be reading the same names over and over. The paragraphs are filled with my overachieving classmates and their marriages, their children, their lawyer or doctor jobs, their start ups, their amazing trips around the world. In the midsts of all the humble brags I love finding morsels about people doing less typical things. I am mostly annoyed by what I read, yet still am drawn to it.

This summer an email appeared in my inbox aimed at those of us who lived in our freshman dorm. It was a smart tactic- I certainly gave it more thought since I was asked rather than just volunteering info.

What are you up to these days?  Whatever you want to share is welcome. Although family and work news is always great, I (and your fellow ’02ers) would also enjoy hearing about hobbies, travel, get-togethers with other ’02ers, and commentary on 30-something life. It doesn’t have to be written in third-person or otherwise edited/print-ready either; that will be done by me and a series of copy editors following me, so feel free to hit reply and send me a quick note!

When I first read it, I thought “Hah! Family and work is what 30-something life is often about!” It is for me, at least. The request came at just the right time. I spoke to Chris and he was supportive so I replied:

I am currently living in Connecticut and working in the New Haven area as a nurse-midwife.  This year my husband and I welcomed our first child, Mabel. We knew she would be born sick, but we remained hopeful.  She lived for six precious hours after birth.  Lately I spend my free time blogging about my grief in hopes of advocating for others who have also experienced baby loss and hoping to increase awareness for bereaved parents.  

My class rep responded so appropriately with the right kind of “I’m so sorry” and asking if my blog was public so she could read it.   She said they don’t usually publish websites, but she’ll see if the editors would in this case.

So this month I opened up my magazine and found my name in bold among the wedding and baby announcements of my doctor and lawyer classmates. I was four months younger in my grief when I wrote it, just starting to feel the desire to speak up- really speak up- about my grief. I was nervous, thinking I’d be perceived as a Debbie downer or attention seeker. At the same time, I was angry at the injustice of the social pressure I felt to not share about the birth of my daughter which was followed quickly by her death. I had the same right to share baby with my classmates too! So now, with many months of speaking up under my belt, I’m so glad I to took the risk.

Have you taken any risks that paid off? Any that didn’t?

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Day 21: Relationships

Dear new baby loss friends: I do not know what I would have done never having met you. The ones who comment on my blog, the ones reading, the ones who show up in support group, the ones I email almost daily. How would I have survived if you weren’t here in the muddy trenches with me? I’m sorry you are here, but I’m grateful if we both had to be here, we could be here together.

Dear new non baby loss friends: Wow, you have surprised me in the most kind way. Some of you are new- reading and supporting me through this blog. Some of you are old acquaintances who have reached out and been an unexpected but totally welcome bit of support.

Dear friends and family who have stuck around: Thank you for not giving up on me. I know I am not easy to be with, not as fun or engaging. I know you sometimes are at a loss for what to do or say, and that’s ok. The fact that you are still here with me is all I need.

Dear friends and family who have dropped off. I’m mad at you. I feel abandoned despite my pleas to you to keep pushing me. I know I’m not easy, but I had higher hopes. I still hope you will find your way back to me. I’m sorry I can’t be the one to reach out. I need you, but my feelings are hurt.

Dear toxic people in my life: good riddance. Burying my child has given me the liberty and confidence to eliminate you and surround myself with only kind, compassionate support.

Dear Mabel: I love you. I miss you. I wish you were here.

#CaptureYourGrief

photo taken while with some acquaintances who delved into my troubles with me and came out as friends

photo taken while with some acquaintances who delved into my troubles with me and came out as friends

 

Grieving expectations

I came home and Chris was in the middle of watching an episode of Walking Dead. We watched the first two seasons together, but then I somehow fell off- sometimes the intensity of the show got me a little too worked up. When we first started watching it, I couldn’t watch it when it was dark out of alone, that’s how much it creeped me out. Now Chris is a season and a half ahead of me, which is okay because we each have our own shows we watch when the other is not there. Having exhausted Friday night Lights early into my grief, I now am captivated by Scandal. I watch while on the elliptical.

This night I was working late, doing some evening hours in my office. When I came home he was in the middle of the episode, so we watched the rest together. There was a scene with two women and a baby. One asked the other “were there children?” trying to ascertain if she lost any family in the zombie outbreak. She nodded and then turned away from the woman who was holding the baby. A few moments later, after a messy spit up, the first woman practically thrusted the baby into the second woman’s reluctant arms so she could clean up. She held the baby at bay at first, but then brought her closer and cuddled her in a pool of tears. The first woman came back to witness the second woman’s grief and healing.

The scene angered me. I should be pleased that the show recognized the difficulty in baby loss and how a babyloss mother might feel in the presence of a small child- and I am pleased. I’m angered because I feel like that’s what’s expected of me. Of course, holding babies will be hard, but I should do it, have a good cry and then all will be well. I’ll hold babies again, no problem.

I think it tapped into feelings of guilt and shame I have about not wanting to hold babies. Technically I did hold one, but there are other babies I feel I need to hold (and if I dig deep emotionally, I want to want to hold them- does that make sense? Is that too many “wants?”). Family babies. The holidays are fast approaching and they are causing me so much anxiety. Holidays when I was supposed to have my baby. Holidays where there will be other family babies. This scene tapped right into my anxiety and self-consciousness around what is expected of me. Just hold the baby. Have a good cry. Have your emotional meltdown- you’ll feel better after. I imagine them thinking. (who is “them?” everyone! Family, friends, colleagues, everyone.) Well, I don’t want to. I’m not ready.

I am constantly told that there is no right way to grieve. But then why do I feel like I’m doing wrong after watching that scene?

Do you feel like you’re not living up to grieving expectations?

Who needs a baby shower?

This past weekend was supposed to be my baby shower.  It was going to be a really cool baby shower- a bit non-traditional.  It would be an evening shower at a local vintage clothing shop, with dress up games.  Unique.  Fun.  Totally me.

 

When we were first diagnosed with ologohydramnios, I had Chris put away all the baby stuff (what a sweet man).  I told my sister and my cousin not to send out invites for the shower.  Then two weeks later, after one ultrasound where the doctor said the lungs “didn’t look hypoplastic,” I started feeling a little more optimistic.  There was a moment or two that I thought maybe I could still have a shower?  Maybe?

 

After all our research and plan-making, it became clear to me that I didn’t think a baby shower was a good idea.  I can’t even look at baby stuff right now without a pit in my stomach.  I am so sad I’m not having a baby shower.  A shower makes my pregnancy real and a time for celebration.  Not having one makes me feel like my pregnancy is not valid or nonexistent even. It hurts.  Its my choice not to have one, but I hope people also recognize that I’m still pregnant and this baby is real.

 

My sister, who lives in California, was flying in anyways for a combo work-week in NYC and what was to be my baby shower this weekend.  Though no baby shower was on the agenda, she came up for the weekend anyways.  And she and my cousin reclaimed the day and took me to the spa instead.  If I couldn’t have a baby shower, the spa was truly the next best thing.

 

I felt truly spoiled- four treatments (pedicure, massage, facial, makeup) and lunch.  We spent the day sitting around in our bathrobes.  I seemed like I was busting out of my bathrobe, while my sister sat comfortably in hers.  I figured I am just more pregnant than she is (she’s due two months after me).  After my massage therapist tracked down a larger robe for me and we reassembled, we discovered that I had been in a regular bathrobe and my sister was in a 4XL.  Hah!

 

This is a very gracious thank you to the both of them.  My sister, pregnant herself, has been super supportive.  She calls when she knows I have ultrasounds.  She’s heard me cry over my fears- including ones from the beginning that seem small now.  She was very sensitive when telling me she was pregnant.  She told me in a way that allowed me to be happy for her and recognize that our experiences would be different. And that it might be hard for me at times because she is growing a healthy baby (thank goodness) and I am not.  I can not express how appreciative I was of simply how she told me.

 

My cousin, too, has been a big source of support.  From the beginning she has been unafraid to talk about whatever is happening with my pregnancy.  Some people hear Down Syndrome and don’t quite know what to say.  With the new diagnoses of oligohydramnios, kidney problems and potential lung problems, people are at a loss of how to respond.  Many try to give words of encouragement, which are so very well intentioned but often fall flat.  My cousin asks questions- which is helpful.  I usually just want to talk about things, to explain how hard this all is.  And she can take a step back when I’m sick of talking.  She has also been my backup ultrasound buddy.  My husband works an hour away from our ultrasounds, so coming to them all often entails taking a half day off of work.  We try to work around his schedule but with weekly ultrasounds in addition to meetings with specialists, sometimes it’s just not doable.  And I refuse to go to ultrasounds alone- just in case I get more bad news.  That’s where my cousin comes in.  She came for a follow-up ultrasound for the clubbed feet.  She was there at the ultrasound when the oligohydramnios was first discovered and came with me to the hospital while my husband drove to meet us.  She came with me last week and listened to me cry on the sidewalk afterwards.   She also lets me shower at her house after bootcamp in the morning (its my latest exercise/anxiety release. And I wouldn’t be able to do it if she didn’t live so close and let me mooch her hot water). Plus she brings me ice cream (the good kind) whenever there is a new complication (did I mention how much I like ice cream?)

 

So ladies, thank you.