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.

_______

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.

Another thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving morning.

We are off to our traditional Thanksgiving celebration later today and I have mixed feelings. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday- food, drink, family.  But now, like every holiday, I face the day with a little cloud over my head. The holiday has gotten easier after I lost Mabel- every year I still feel her absence but I can carry it with me and still enjoy the time with family.  This year I anticipate things to be a bit harder.  There are some new babies in the family who will be joining us. I know I have come a long way- I have Felix to fill my arms; I have returned to work caring rather effortlessly for pregnant women and new moms; I am able to really see those babies born at the same time as Mabel as real adorable little people and not simply triggers.

But….

The babies.  I know today I will see lots of cooing and holding warm wriggly little humans, outpourings of love from family. All so very deserved. I think I can safely say I truly understand how precious little babies are. I have taken that into my heart in an even greater way after having Felix.  Understanding what a gift it is to have a living breathing child to hold and watch grow up.  Watching Felix grow from a baby to a toddler occasionally reminds me all that I missed with Mabel.  For the most part, I am so very grateful.  Grateful to have the opportunity to parent a living child.  But I am also still sad- sad to have missed that opportunity with Mabel.

Since Mabel will be my forever baby- my memories of her as a five pound chunker curled on my chest-newer babies can be a reminder of her.  Reminder that she did not come to Thanksgiving, that most of my family never even met her, that she might not seem as real to them as Felix or any new baby entering the family.

I tried to go through some of Felix’s old clothes to bring down to one of these babies- as Felix was gifted many hand me downs.  It was a struggle to part with any of them. I pulled out some- ones that I know had been hand me downs- but most I couldn’t bear to let go of.  Going through the clothes I grew super emotional, realizing how lucky I was to have had a baby to fit in them- holding up newborn, then 0-3 month, then 3-6 month outfits. The ache was so strong for my other baby that only wore two outfits ever.  So I pulled out a few onesies- most of the clothes were the wrong season/size anyways- and that’s what I’ll bring.  I hope they understand why I can’t be more generous.  I need to hold on to the rest- they are a reminder of Mabel, a symbol of how grateful I am to have Felix and a beacon of hope that someday, if I would ever be so lucky again, I might have another baby to wear them.

In the meantime, I pack up the cheesecake, mac n cheese, some eggnog and a few onesie hand me downs in anticipation of our family gathering.  My ears have tiny carrot earrings and my feet have my carrot socks.  I’m wearing a sweater- one that my husband dislikes for its gaudiness- one with Olaf the snowman from Frozen decked in sequins. But his carrot nose is a tribute, literally close to my heart.  I am adorned with my Mabel armor, so that my forever baby can join us this Thanksgiving.

My three P’s of grief survival

This week I had the honor of being the guest speaker at a local hospital’s night of remembrance- an event they put on for those who lost babies. It was a beautiful ceremony, with music, poetry and a touching sand ceremony. Here is my speech:

____

Meghanol is Program Director for Hope After Loss, the Connecticut based non profit that supports the pregnancy and infant loss community. She is also a practicing nurse midwife in the greater New Haven area. But today she is here as Mabel’s mom.

____

I was 27 weeks pregnant with my first child when the doctors told me my baby was going to die. I was thrown into a state of shock and disbelief. I had already had my share of grieving this pregnancy- I survived a threatened miscarriage early on and at 13 weeks an unexpected Down Syndrome diagnosis caused me to grieve the loss of the child I thought I would have and work on accepting the child I was given.

And then at 27 weeks, my baby had no fluid, meaning her kidneys were damaged and lungs would be severely underdeveloped. I was told my baby would be unlikely to survive after birth, let alone pregnancy. Two months later, I gave birth to my daughter, Mabel, a 5 pound 5 ounce feisty little girl, who gifted us six sweet hours with her.
Though I can speak her story now, with a smile of pride, I struggled hard with sorrow and grief from the moment we learned she would be very sick. I was constantly looking for answers on how to do this- how to simply go on. I eventually found my way, and now two and half years later, I want to share three things I have learned help me with my grief. These are my three “P”s of grief survival.

Patience.

Practicing gratitude.

Perspective.

 

Patience

“Do you have kids?” was a question I dreaded from the time I learned my daughter would not survive. I tried out many different responses and I had to be PATIENT with myself as I learned which ones worked.

None living.

I had a daughter.

I had a daughter who died after birth.

Some answers produced a look of horror on the askers face, others were too subtle, resulting in awkward follow up questions and others still shut the conversation down completely.

Finally I settled on:

“I had a daughter but she died.” And following the requisite “I’m so sorry” I learned to say. “Thank you. And thank you for asking. I really like talking about her.”

This response took years of trial and error. Be PATIENT, Meghan. I had to figure out what felt best for me- what made me feel like I was being honest, but also protecting my daughter’s memory and keeping the conversation alive. It was arduous work at times. And just like with my grief, I had to be PATIENT with myself. Sometimes my responses were clumsy and ugly, leaving everyone feeling awkward. But with time I got better. You too will learn how and when and if you share your children with the outside world. The answer might change over time or with your audience. Just be PATIENT.

Practicing Gratitude

Not long after learning about Mabel’s prognosis, I was struck by a quote I saw floating around on facebook.

“The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.”

I had been wallowing in a state of “life is unfair” and couldn’t figure out how to move forward. This phrase gave me some guidance. Instead of focusing on the things others took for granted- healthy pregnancies, being among pregnant women without jealousy, assumption that they would be taking a baby home and I tried to remind myself of the things I was GRATEFUL for- the opportunity to simply be pregnant, my own good health, an amazing OB team, an active baby. It was my first shot at the PRACTICE OF GRATITUDE during an extremely hard time. It didn’t take away the hurt of carrying a dying child, but it helped me find something to cling to while I felt like I was drowning in grief.

Later, after my daughter died, when the sadness started getting overwhelming, I participated in a challenge, forcing myself to find 3 good things every day and sharing my GRATITUDE about them on facebook.

I was even able to take other people’s comments and reframe them under that GRATITUDE lens. Shortly after Mabel died, a very good friend told me of his grandmother’s stillbirth experience- how the baby was rushed away before she could even see him. “At least you got to hold her,” he said to me meant as words of comfort. This was the first of many “at leasts” I heard. It took time, but I was eventually able to reframe such comments. “I’m GRATEFUL you got to hold her,” was what he meant. And I am GRATEFUL.

Perspective

After my daughter died, I felt like there were pregnant women and babies everywhere. I was in Ikea, trying my hardest to be a normal person, when I saw a woman I knew. She had a baby in a carrier on her chest and held a toddler by the hand. It hurt to see someone with everything I ever wanted right in front of me and I felt mad and jealous that other people have it so easy. I could only see her from the PERSPECTIVE of a baby loss mom.

A few months later, I attended my first walk to remember with Hope After Loss. As I worked my way through the crowd, I saw that same woman with her two young children. We were in the same club. I was there to remember my Mabel, and she was there to remember her firstborn, a daughter she lost to stillbirth. I gained greater PERSPECTIVE in that moment. Just like me, many others carry invisible burdens.

So my dear friends, I present to you what I have learned. Be PATIENT with yourself as you learn how to navigate your new normal. The path is not easy, nor one would have chosen, but it belongs to you and your baby. PRACTICE GRATITUDE- of the little things and of the great things. Find what’s good, and it will be a lifeline in your sorrow. Gain PERSPECTIVE. Remember, you are the one in four. Though you are now a member of a club your never wanted to be in, you’ll find the fellow baby loss, once they reveal themselves, among the most compassionate and supportive people you have ever met.

There is nothing that will take away the pain of losing a baby, nothing that will fix your grief… and there shouldn’t be. But there are ways to make the path we walk a little gentler. It is not moving on, leaving grief behind. It is moving forward, learning how to walk side by side with grief. Because we can never forget our babies. They are etched on our hearts, burned in our memory, our constant companions- silent but speaking volumes.

Reblog: What subtle suggestions feel like

Check out this post by Gretchen over at Lost Boys and Bearings.   It’s raw.  It might be hard to read if you are not of the babylost. But there is something that resonates here.

“I know that you’d like to take it all away for me, so that you could see me happy again.  But, I am so incredibly fragile because of what I’ve been through.  Like a burnt match ready to disintegrate at the slightest touch, your words and your opinions about my grief, no matter how subtle, gentle or well intentioned, can crumble me.  It makes me feel so helpless when you seem disappointed about how I’m doing or frustrated that I can’t just focus on joy and gratitude again.  Right now, I am existing and doing what I can to cope.  I am caring for my family and executing the day to day stuff pretty well.  I think that’s actually pretty stellar considering the circumstances.”

http://lostboysandbearings.blogspot.com/2014/12/what-subtle-suggestions-feel-like.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+LostBoysAndBearings+%28Lost%3A+boys+and+bearings%29

Thanksgiving

My Nana died when I was 14. She gave me a suede brown shirt the year before she died. She taught me how to play poker. And she made the best eggs-on-a-raft (a toad in a hole, to others). She also hosted Thanksgiving for years and years. One holiday, the event was big enough that we divided up into two tables. Someone had the bright idea to have a lottery system; rather than dividing up into the sensible kids and adult tables, we all drew numbers, with most landing at the dining room table and a few unlucky souls ending up at the less desirable kitchen table. I scored a seat at the main table, but a great aunt was stuck in the kitchen. As we prepped and got ready for our seats, my dad pleaded and bribed me to swap seats with my elder relative. Little stinker that I was, I stubbornly refused. I must have seemed like an incorrigible kid, but really I just wanted to sit at the same table as my Nana. I would have sat in the kitchen easily if she was seated there too.

When my Nana got sick with cancer, she moved in with her daughter, my aunt, who took over Thanksgiving that year and has since hosted.

Today is a day when we are supposed to be outwardly thankful, announcing our gratitude frequently and publicly. I have spent the past nine months working hard on finding gratitude on a daily basis- today I’m taking a break. It’s not that I’m not grateful-I have so much to be thankful for- health, family, friends, work- but I’m feeling rather melancholy. I woke up thinking of my Nana. I made myself an egg on a raft in her memory.

IMG_5800

Mabel is of course on my mind. This time last year I was pictured attending the next year’s Thanksgiving with a baby. She’d be wearing little leg braces for her clubbed feet and would be still working on eating solid foods. I was optimistic, but realistic. Today, after some debate, I will attend my family’s Thanksgiving. It will be hard, as I go through the motions of living out the next holiday without my baby.

Every action today is a reminder that my baby is not here. I will go be with relatives whose lives have moved on while mine has stood still. I’ve debated skipping to simply avoid the pain, the memories and the reminders- but there are some things I have to face and it’s time. If it’s too much, I’ll simply leave. For now I’ll focus on the good food in my near future. I look forward to the carrots my mom makes every year.

My therapist said it best as we said our goodbyes last week- I hope you have the best Thanksgiving you can.

What is Thanksgiving like for you today?

Day 17: Explore/ Day 18: Gratitude

“That’s really hard,” my colleague sympathized after I told him some of the things I was struggling with, aside from the obvious babyloss.

“Yeah,” I said with tears stinging my eyes. “My life sucks.” Before he could respond, I continued, “No. that’s not true. My life doesn’t suck. I’m just unhappy right now. I have many things I’m grateful for.”

We are told constantly in the grief community that gratitude is an important part of healing. It is an exercise I try to practice often. I tried to find things to appreciate when I was still pregnant with Mabel and learned that she would likely die. I’ve done two weeks of publically finding 3 Good Things about my day. When I sit down and really explore my grief, where I am in the “process,” I am doing okay. I am sad- some days very very sad. I am angry and I am jealous. But I also am realistic.

I listen to audiobooks in the car and lately I have been drawn to memoirs about people who have survived tragedy- struggles far worse than mine, in my mind. A House in the Sky, a book about a journalist who was kidnapped in Somalia and held hostage for over a year and Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed: A Memoir of the Cleveland Kidnappings, the story of Michelle Knight’s eleven years in captivity, surviving rape, beatings and starvation by the hands of her friend’s father. Some would call these books depressing and hard to read; I find them uplifting and grounding. They remind me to be grateful for the simple things: freedom, food, a life free of assault.

I have much to be grateful for. I have a supportive family (even if I don’t always respond to their support). My friends and coworkers are understanding and caring. I have a job, and though it may be very painful at times, I can find moments of fulfillment and in the very least it pays the bills. I have met some of the most compassionate and interesting babyloss moms, online and in person, through my journey and new friendships with some especially kindhearted individuals, who aren’t even in the club, have grown. I don’t want for any of my basics- food, freedom, safety- and I have many luxuries. I have a puppy who sits on my lap and licks my hands in affection. But most of all, I have someone who rubs my back when cry in hysterics, who laughs with me in the good times, who said yes to a baby with special needs, who shed tears when the doctors said she would die, who held my hand as we left the hospital empty-armed, who allows me to take all the time I need as I grieve, who visits her grave with me, who pushes me to be social but doesn’t force me into situations I’m not ready for, who wakes up in the middle of the night to take the puppy out when I’m sick, who is just so handsome. I am grateful for him.

#CaptureYourGrief

photo (33)

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

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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.

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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!

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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?