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.

 

 

Day 13: Season

It was a very snowy winter.  We had bought a snow blower in preparation and got good use out of it.  It seemed like the snow came pouring down every time I was admitted to the hospital.

We had bought a king sized bed- my dream!  I had always wanted one and when we moved into our house with big bedrooms and were expecting a new little person to share time in bed with us, the expense suddenly seemed less frivolous.  I had passed the two major ultrasounds, in my mind, the anatomy scan and the heart ultrasound, so I figured we were safe.  The king sized bed was one our first major baby purchases (from which we would benefit as well).  It was due to be delivered on sunday.  The thursday before I had my ultrasound which showed low fluid and i was hastily admitted to the hospital.  We spent that weekend safely tucked into the hospital room as the snow piled up on the roads.  We had to ask a friend to pull out our snow blower and plow our driveway so the bed delivery truck could make it in.

In the time off my work had graciously given me to adjust to Mabel’s devastatingly poor prognosis, I visited my family for the holidays.  My parents and brothers were up at our family ski house in New Hampshire.  While the Chris and the boys hit the slopes, I waddled around on snowshoes with my mother.  As the snow fell around me, I listened to the babble of the stream beside the trail and took some deep breaths.  It was the first time in those first treacherous weeks that I could really breathe.

Snowshoeing around Christmas.

Snowshoeing in New Hampshire.

When I was admitted again in February, the snow storms continued.  A major one hit on my birthday.  My parents had come down for the day and we were celebrating by getting some lunch from the carts.  In front of our hospital, dozens of food carts from local restaurants set up to cater to the hospital and university staff that seek them out ravenously every lunch time.  They make a killing selling $5 meals of every different kind of ethnic food- chinese, thai, ethiopian, italian, vietnamese, gourmet cheese, sushi, salads, bengali, mediterranean.  I was excited to bypass the hospital menu to get some good eats.  Chris and my dad went down in the heavy snow to seek out which carts braved the weather.  We had two choices- thai and thai.

The next day I used the 45 minutes I was allotted of the monitor to get some fresh, but frigid, air in the Healing Garden at our hospital- an our door space for admitted patients and visitors to step outside.  I never bought a maternity coat- just shoved my bump into the jackets I had.

A quick trip to the Healing Garden to take in all the snow.

A quick trip to the Healing Garden to take in all the snow.

When labor started, it had snowed recently and since Chris was spending his nights with me, our house upkeep was totally neglected.  I asked Chris to stop at home on his way from work to get the special blanket we had ordered for Mabel.  We hadn’t plowed the driveway from the most recent storms and so Chris had to wade through thigh deep snow up to our house to get it.  Mabel was born on a cold winter morning the next day.  Before being discharged, we had to ask our friends to snow blow our driveway again, so we could get home easily.

The snow remained on the ground during the next week as we planned her serviced.  We buried Mabel under a blanket of snow, white and pure.

THe Cemetery: We buried her under a blanker of snow.

The Cemetery: We buried her under a blanker of snow.

What season do I associate with my child?

Winter. Snowy snowy winter.
#CaptureYourGrief

 

Puppies & Rainbows vs Doom & Gloom

I arrived at work and my first patient was early, already in an exam room waiting for me.  I put down my things and quickly went to see her. Afterwards I took a minute and reviewed my schedule for the rest of the day- something I usually do first thing, but I didn’t want to keep my patient waiting.  I saw that my next patient was coming in for a procedure.  Our new scheduling system told me only that and I was curious what procedure, so I opened the chart and discovered I’d be inserting an IUD (intrauterine device- a form of long acting birth control).  I also saw that she was eight weeks postpartum.  By the time I figured this out, I had already seen her walk past my office, toting a baby carrier, following my assistant.

I can do this, I thought.  Compartmentalize.

Even when I ask to see gyns only, some of my gyns are pregnant.  Even when I ask to see no postpartum, some of my patients are postpartum.  It’s the nature of our business; there is a lot of overlap.

I saw the patient, did my initial spiel of risks/benefits.  I had to leave the room to look something up before getting started on the procedure and while I sat at my desk for that minute, I burst into tears.  I had just sat across from this woman, living the life I was supposed to live, her eight-week baby making noises just feet from me.  She was the me that I was not, the me I wanted to be, the me with the take home baby.  It took all my energy to stay focused on the woman and not look at the baby.  I did not coo.  I was not cheery.  I probably appeared annoyed and grumpy to the patient.   Little did she know…

But how am I supposed to be when I was faced with a newborn before I was ready to be?  And to have to act professionally.  In an ideal world I would just say, have her reschedule- but that’s not fair to the patient.  If I’m at work, my goal is to do what’s best for the woman I care for, which means my own mental well-being may be sacrificed.  I knew this coming back- just the mere act of returning to work personified it.

I survived.  I know this is a lesson in You Will Go On 101.  But as this spot-on article says… so what?  I survived but I’m still sad.  Sadder than I was before I saw that woman with her baby.  I survived, but my baby’s still dead.

There were moments of reprieve too.  I think I’ve made it clear that my life is not all puppies and rainbows.  But it’s not all doom and gloom too.  I recognize the good moments.

“When do you turn forty?” I asked one patient trying to figure out if I should order a mammogram this year or next year. “In February,” she responded.  My ears perked up- February is my birth month.  And Mabel’s.  I couldn’t help myself.  “Oh, when in February?”  “The 15th,” she says.  “That’s my daughter’s birthday!”  I said smiling and that was that.  There was no pause trying to figure out whether to use the present or past tense.  The sentence just spilled out of my mouth.  No follow up question, which I was actually glad about.  I don’t want people to think I’m fishing- purposely trying to get people to ask about my daughter.  But I also want those moments of normal mommyhood.  To feel what it would have been like for a split second, if she had lived.

And my final patient of the day was one that I was close to, someone I enjoyed.  When I entered the room, I could tell instantly she had read the sign.  She looked at me with sad eyes and asked if it was ok if she could give me a hug.  We spent the next few minutes talking about my daughter.  She asked what had happened, if it was ok for her to ask.  I told her that I love talking about my daughter.  I told her about how we knew she had Down Syndrome early on, the relief that came with the first essentially normal ultrasounds, the despair following the oligohydramnios diagnosis, the kidney problems, the lung problems and her short life.  God, I love telling her story.  The lovely woman cried for me and for Mabel.  She told me I looked like I was doing well, with almost surprise in her voice.  So I told her how I had cried earlier that day.  I have my moments.  As our time talking about me was wrapping up, she ended with a usually cringe-worthy saying.  She said “I don’t know if you are religious at all, but everything happens for a reason.  God has a plan…”  and a few other words that would make other fellow grievers gasp.  BUT it was ok.  She had proven herself- she was kind and compassionate.  I think those words were going to help her find some peace regarding my daughter’s death.  I didn’t correct her, nor did I agree with her.  I just smiled and returned the attention to her- to help her with her visit.