Parenting a dead child

On Wednesday I went to see Mabel. It was July 15, exactly seventeen months after she died. In the first year after her death I would visit her grave every week- almost always on the weekend, bearing flowers as a gift. Some days, especially early on I would spend a fair amount of time there. I started reading her a book. I’d sit and journal when the weather was nice. I’d always say the same things “I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here” and sing the lines of the wook well known in our community “I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Going once a week was both a comfort and a stress. I had to see my baby-gave me a sense of purpose especially on those long empty weekends, let me feel like I was mothering her in a way. Though I’d sometimes feel stress if I had a full weekend and had to figure out time to visit and time to pick up flowers. Mostly though, it was a comforting routine.

I told myself that once her first birthday came around, I’d give myself a break- go when felt like it. I’m a creature of habit, though, with high expectations of myself so I also silently promised I’d go at least once a month. I’d go on the 15th bearing my usual flowers. And I do. The script is still same. The same emotions bubble up, a bit fuzzier around the edges, but still there.

I have mixed feelings on my routine. I love going and if it’s been a while I start to feel a gnawing- some anxiety even- an emptiness I have to fill with a visit. I seem overall satisfied with the once a month schedule. But at the same time I feel guilty. I should want to go more. I shouldn’t have to have a schedule, a day to remind me to visit. Honestly, I think about visiting a lot. The cemetery is five minutes from my house- a quick detour on the way home from work or errands. Yet, I don’t visit as often as I think of visiting. In the past few months my life got very busy and full- at times very stressful. An extra visit to the cemetery felt like one more thing to add on to a packed schedule. And I didn’t want to rush the visits- I wanted to give her time, be genuine with her.

At times I feel like a bad mom. I mentally gave myself permission to not visit weekly to help me with stress, but in some ways it also gave me stress. I know that the number of visits doesn’t not validate my mom status or quantify my love and grief for her- but its complicated. It’s hard parenting a dead child and still remain in the world of the living.

How often do you “visit” your child? Has that changed over time?

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Mother’s Day, take two

A long overdue post, but one still on my mind.

This Mother’s Day was different- gentler perhaps. I won’t deny that the growing life inside me has helped ease it, but truthfully, this Mother’s Day was still all about Mabel in my mind. She is the only child I have born, the one that has concretely, if not silently, made me a mother. Time too has eased the pain. Last year, Mother’s Day was still so fresh, less than three months after Mabel’s death, I wanted the freedom to sit and sulk all day. I was so afraid it would hurt. And last year it did hurt, but there was also a lot of beauty in it. I received a lot of love from so many people that the build up to the day was worse than the actual day itself.

This year, perhaps because of such a surprisingly good day last year, there was less build up. I panicked a bit thinking that no one would quite remember, but also knew it wouldn’t be as bad as if they hadn’t remembered the first year. My standing as a mother was no longer debatable in my mind. I think I was worried that Chris would forget.

Hah! I woke to him calling my name. At first I was a little annoyed- why was he waking me up on a day to sleep in? “What?” I croaked groggily, not hiding my grumpiness. I rolled over to see that he placed a tray next to me- breakfast in bed!

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And later he surprised me with an even better gift- he hired our wedding photographer to come take photos during our shower the next week, with a quick sneak away maternity photo shoot.

The gift might seem all about the baby I’m currently carrying, but it was all about Mabel, really. When we learned she had Down Syndrome, I was stricken by the fear that I would lose her through miscarriage or stillbirth, a 12-20% chance. I was terrified that photos of me pregnant would cause me pain later on. The fear deepened when we learned of her likely life limiting birth defects. I rarely let myself in front of a camera. It wasn’t until I had her and then lost her, that I realized how much I valued the few photos that showed my belly pregnant with Mabel. Those photos were part of the proof that she existed. That she was here. So a maternity photo shoot- something I might have thought was too cheesy for my liking otherwise- was actually the most thoughtful gift and tribute to Mabel. That man, my husband. ❤

I spent the day a bit like any other- happy to have a free day to clean, run errands and get my life together. An important part of the day was visiting Mabel- that little sweet thing that gave the day meaning. When we arrived at her tombstone, I was surprised to see that someone had planted some flowers for her.

Mabel's flowers

Mabel’s flowers

Oddly, I think it was a random act of kindness. There were some freshly planted flowers of the same variety and color along a grave one row up.

The grave with the same flowers

The grave with the same flowers

Unless someone I know takes claim for such a lovely deed, I envision the caregiver of that other adorned grave, looking over at Mabel’s stone, reading her name, her solitary date and seeing the engraving of her tiny footprints and deciding that she too needed a little special gift on that day. Maybe they even thought of the mother of that baby and how hard Mother’s Day must be for any woman who has had to bury her child.

How was this Mother’s Day for you?

Day 25: Mother Earth

The prompt said to plant something, as an act of remembrance, allowing our children’s memory to grow over time.  But it’s October where I live, which translates into a cool New England autumn- not exactly planting season.  I have planted a garden in my backyard, a little plot that bears her name, filled will colorful flowers by our white fence.  I dug up, tilled and planted a veggie garden in my grief, another piece of land that will forever remind me of my daughter.

Since it’s saturday- our usual Mabel’s visiting day- when I picked up some flowers on the way home from work, I grabbed two bouquets.  When we arrived at the cemetery, we placed the colorful bunch of mini roses by Mabel’s grave and then wandered around the cemetery with the other bouquet- this one an orange one, the color of carrots.  We sought out headstones with specific dates- short intervals, or sometimes just one date.  Often it was one name carved in a stone meant for three that caught our eyes.  We were looking for children.  When we found such tombstones, we placed a stem of roses- a gift from Mabel to them.  Though it may not be planting anything, we remembered them today- acknowledging their short lives, giving them a gift from mother earth, letting them know that they are remembered.

#CaptureYourGrief

Mabel's roses

Mabel’s roses

One name on a headstone meant for three.  Her parents outlived her.

One name on a headstone meant for three. Her parents outlived her.

So many kids, so young

So many kids, so young

I know this child... sort of.  I say her name every day when I counsel patients about cord blood banking.  Her parents started a nonprofit in her name to benefit those who need stem cells

I know this child… sort of. I say her name every day when I counsel patients about cord blood banking. Her parents started a nonprofit in her name to benefit those who need stem cells

Mabel's neighbor, a three day old baby.  Sad that she's here too, but grateful Mabel has company.

Mabel’s neighbor, a three day old baby. Sad that she’s here too, but grateful Mabel has company.

The kids graves often stand apart for all their beautiful decorations

The kids graves often stand apart for all their beautiful decorations

A child clearly very remembered by friends and family.  Thought she could use one more person thinking of her

A child clearly very remembered by friends and family. Thought she could use one more person thinking of her

This one stood out- Mabel too had congenital heart defects, though it was her kidney/lung combo that limited her life.

This one stood out- Mabel too had congenital heart defects, though it was her kidney/lung combo that limited her life.

Only one date on this stone, like Mabel's.

Only one date on this stone, like Mabel’s.

3GoodThings

In the grief books I’ve been reading, in the babyloss online magazines I subscribe to and on many of the babyloss blogs I follow, I often see the theme of gratitude come through. Being grateful can help a person move through grief, to take it by the hand and walk side by side with it, rather than be smothered, motionless in the corner. Gratitude doesn’t make grief go away; it helps make life go on. I am in no way grateful for my baby dying, but her death has made me look at the world a little differently. I felt this way even in pregnancy when my baby was given a likely fatal diagnosis and wrote about it here. Sometimes now my grief can feel all encompassing and I forget all about gratitude.

In August, I was inspired by Leigh’s post on her blog, I nominated myself for the #3GoodThings challenge and followed through on facebook. For five days, I posted about 3 things that I was grateful for. After 5 days, I decided I needed to do more, so I extended to 2 weeks. The result:  (p.s. Day 4 is my favorite, I think)

 

in an attempt, to foster happiness I’m going to try this. I’m not really one for this kind of thing, but this one makes sense.

Every day I will find and post three good things about my day. I am tagging three people in hopes they will do it with me (please). Three friends, three different networks. And they can tag three people, spreading the happiness.

Gratitude helps create happiness.

 

#3GoodThings Day 1

1. It’s friday and I don’t have to work for the next three days
2. my husband cleaned up the kitchen
3. the comments my professor on my online writing course gave me regarding my homework made me feel good.

 

#3GoodThings Day 2
1. I caught up on a bunch of email and found someone sent me some pretty awesome photos (looking at you, caitlin)

Mabel 1
2. Found out my town is totally cool. Hung out at a local cafe listening to the sweet sounds of John Ciambriello with Michelle and Roo
3. my blog got mentioned here!http://en.blog.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/grief-roundup/ It may be a sad subject but it is a good thing for the community to be recognized

 

#3GoodThings Day 3
1. Swimming followed by milkshakes. Today was summer

photo 3 (5)
2. Beautifying my house with flower filled window boxes and planters on the front steps

photo 1 (13)
3. Chocolate cake and left over peanut butter pie with good friends ( Scott &Sabina) and winning a few games of the Sneaky Snacky Squirrel with their kiddos.

 

#3GoodThings Day 4:
1. After a morning of starting of wrong (waking up too early, forgotten shoes for bootcamp, running over a curb), I had a really nice lunch catching up with a friend at Bar taco which was amazing! Baja fish, duck and pork belly tacos!
2. Got chocolate chocolate chip ice cream with chocolate sprinkles with Abby.
3. while walking out of the ice cream shop, a chubby little girl with brown pigtails was standing on the old fashioned scale by the door. “I weigh 15 inches!” she announced proudly. I held the door for her as I left and looked down, seeing for the first time that she had Down Syndrome. My heart smiled.

 

#3GoodThings Day 5
struggling today. some days it’s easier to find the good things
1. chocolate bundt cake. I made this, inspired by a recent bundt baker friend Eleni, and ate two pieces today. two.
2. i remembered my sneakers for bootcamp.
3. i sat on my patio, eating homemade meatballs by Chris and enjoyed my backyard. i love my backyard.

 

#3GoodThings Day 6
1. saw a dog riding a motorcycle. he was wearing goggles.

photo (21)
2. i bonded with a two year old in the office today. after blowing up a rubber glove balloon, playing with giant q-tips and a round of peek-a-boo behind the curtain, he didn’t want to leave. I put him down next to his mom and said good bye and he just raised his arms up at me with those sad little kid eyes that said “don’t leave me>” he also had a mohawk
3. green pizza truck + gelato + ocean views= a nice hello/goodbye party for the a big staff change over at work

 

#3GoodThings Day 7
1. Had a too quick lunch with a friend Amanda, a lunch that was a brief respite from the craziness of my work day. In the middle of the lunch I told her, “This is one of my GoodThings today
2. Got a great big hug from a great big Doodle, who smiled up at me while her doodle daughter watched.

photo 2 (12) photo 1 (14)
3. DuckTales, woo-oo! Watched Huey Dewey and Louie team up with Uncle Scrooge to beat the Beagle Boys. And was reminded that Gummi Bears was the best cartoon of my childhood.

 

#3GoodThings Day 8
1. Sleeping in with the help of my air conditioner (I’d be a hot mess with out it)
2. local brewery tasting with some new friends
3. Bacon s’mores.

 

#3GoodThings Day 9
1. Beached it out today. Ribby Roll and ice cream to boot!

photo (22)
2. Felt some love today, during a challenging milestone.
3. Made stir fry complete with sweet peppers, hot peppers and carrots fresh from our garden.

 

#3GoodThings Day 10
1. I’m grateful for my health
2. I’m grateful I have a supportive partner
3. I’m grateful I had the chance to experience pregnancy
When things are bad, sometimes it’s important to remember the important things.

 

#3GoodThings Day11
1. Spent the day with our new doc observing me to learn the ways of our practice. SHe was enjoyable and so I think she’ll fit right in. But at the end of the day I realized I had someone with more training than me watch everything I do and I didn’t feel self-conscious. I do believe I’ve found myself in my career.
2. dinner made with veggies from the garden. I feel like a farmer.
3. I have good friends.

 

#3GoodThings Day 12
1. I like the rain. Nature’s way of watering my garden. And i just like the rain
2. long lunch with a friend Eliza who listened to me rant and rave a whole bunch
3. i did not work today, and any day not working is a good day. and I end it by sitting on the couch, watching Orange is the New Black, sharing a seasalt caramel chocolate tart with the handsomest man around, Chris

 

#3GoodThings Day 13
1. As I fell down through an emotional spiral today, I had several hands reach out to catch me. you know who you are and you are all good things today.
2. Even when I was in the midst of my own spiral (see #1), I was able to still do some good things as a midwife. I”m proud for these small victories.
3. I am fortunate to not have to worry about how I’m going to eat today; i have clothes to keep me warm and air conditioning to keep me cool. I garden “for fun.” I am surrounded by abundance, for which I am grateful.

 

#3GoodThings Day 14
1. I got out of work early today. I heart no-shows
2. headed to VT for some old fashioned fun with good friends.
3. got to visit mabel twice today. stopped by on my way to work but then thanks to #1 I swung back again before #2. she’s my favorite.

and that’s the end of my two week. thank you for humoring me.

 

Overall, it was a GoodThing for me to do. I might do it again sometime.

What are you grateful for? Are some days harder than others to come up with things you are grateful for?

The First Mother’s Day

Dear Mabel,

I survived.  I was dreading this first Mother’s Day because I feared I would be constantly reminded you weren’t here.  I worried people would be patronizing, saying “oh, yeah, you’re still a mother,” as if there were any doubt that I wasn’t.  I thought I’d spend the day under the covers, angry at the world.

You are so loved.  Your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends sent flowers to your grave.  We had left your graveside with a simple bouquet, not twenty-four hours beforehand, and we returned to see bucketsful of bouquets decorating your space.  They knew you’d be sad that you couldn’t be in my arms today.

I received many gifts, reminding me that people were thinking about how hard the day would be without you.  A hand carved wooden carrot.  A butterfly lamp.  A painting of you.  A tomato plant.  A purple lilac bush.  A sign for your garden.  None of these gifts simply said Happy Mother’s Day- they said Happy Mother’s day to Mabel’s mom.

But Mabel, the best gift was http://mabelwashere.tumblr.com/  It’s the story of all the things we would have done together.  You have travelled the world!  East coast, West coast, Midwest, Thailand, Greece, Tehran, Russia.  You have so many friends- more than I do.  You’ve gone to work with them, toured cities and helped them garden.  You’ve lain on the beaches, played with their toys and colored with their kids.  You’ve gone swimming, eaten ice cream and been to Disney.  You’ve run races, played tennis and drank coffee.  You’ve read books, played music and knitted.  You’ve taught classes, went to church, baked cupcakes and watched sunsets.  You’ve entered their calendars, walked on their toes, sat in their tattoos. You are living the life you should have had in the hearts of your friends and family.  All these people helped tell the world that you were real.  You existed.  You were here.

This Mother’s Day, I was not told that I was a mother; I was told what kind of mother I was.  I was worried I’d be reminded you weren’t here, but instead I was reminded of just how here you are.

I love you and miss you.  As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.

Love,

Mom

Watercolor by Mabel's grandmother Butterfyl lamp Lilac tree Hand carved and painted by friends Flowers at Mabel's grave