Jessica’s mom

On mother’s day, I went to visit my daughter.  I took Felix with me, which I don’t often do, simply because it’s a pain in the butt to get him in and out of the car seat.  But since the weather’s warmer and it was a special day, we went together.  It was super cute to see him dance around her headstone, jumping and running in pure toddler fashion. Felix loved playing with the pinwheels I had brought her for Easter.

But the best part was just as I was walking up to her grave, another woman, maybe 10-15 years older than me walked up to the grave in front of hers.  As I held Felix in my arms, I asked “Are you Jessica’s mom?”

I had always felt comforted by the graves in front of and behind Mabel.  Behind her was a woman who died older and I pictured her as a grandma figure for Mabel.  In front of her lie baby Jessica, who lived for 3 days. A playmate for Mabel, someone to show her the ropes, hold her hand. I told Jessica’s mom this.

We talked for several minutes. I learned that Jessica was born at full term, with an infection from which she simply could not recover.  She has two older siblings and two younger siblings.  Jessica’s mom likes to visit her grave alone, as do I.  I shared a bit of Mabel’s story with her- how we knew she would be sick, but we were hopeful. I said how hard it must have been to lose Jessica suddenly, without warning after a full term pregnancy.  She reminisced about the time after she lost Jessica and how her two living children gave her a reason to get out of bed.  I spoke of how hard it was losing my first.  It was validating in a way- losing your first child is a special kind of pain (not that it’s any worse than losing a second, or third…it’s a unique  pain that makes you mother- an invisible one, because the public cannot see the baby that made you a mom).  It’s funny how we both tried to make our losses seem less painful than the other’s- the suddenness of her loss, the pain of me having no living children with mine.  We bonded over how difficult it is to answer how many children we have. I even mentioned how I had wrote about Jessica in this blog.  I asked how old she would be- 17, graduating from high school.  She told me of seeing her nieces and nephews the same age reaching milestones and the pang it leaves in her heart.  Oh, to know I am not the only one! To know it will always hurt a little… even 17 years later…and that’s normal for our babyloss clan.

I wanted to tell her that I sometimes left a flower for baby Jessica, that I often looked at her headstone, that her daughter proximity to my daughter made me feel less alone.  I think she understood without me saying so, as is so common in our clan.

 

Have you bonded with any babyloss strangers?

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?

Radio Silence

Well, the day came and went. It’s now 369. In a way no different from day 365 and yet in a way very different. The day was symbolic, of course, and to borrow a term from my pilot brother, I have been radio silent since as I recovered from and sorted through my emotions.

I spent the day doing not too much- sat on the couch, took Muppet to the dog park and did some light cleaning. I took out Mabel’s box- or boxes, the bereavement box we got sent home from the hospital with, the box of pregnancy related things I had kept, the box of cards and what nots I had saved. I got a little teary eyed looking at her outfit- the pair of pants she didn’t even wear because she was too small. They had pockets.  FullSizeRender_2

Her hat still had strands of blond hair in it- which made me smile because the lock they cut for keepsake looks brown. I opened up the tiny blood pressure cuff and held it to my face- I swear I could just catch the scent of her.

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I packed it all back up and organized it the way I want, keeping her bereavement box in our bedroom and putting some of the other stuff away in a closet.

We visited her grave and brought a balloon- Chris unknowingly bought a Hello Kitty one, but we figured she’d like it.  By the time we got to the cemetery, one of the letters fell off and so it read “Happy Birthday abel.”

The evening we had a few friends over- which turned into a few more- and had dinner and cake.

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Singing Happy Birthday to my dead daughter actually didn’t feel so good, but it seemed like the logical thing to do. We watched her video and my friends got teary eyed, while mine remained dry. I realized I don’t like to cry real tears in front of people. I was reminded of how in the immediate days after her death, with family filling the house, I would sneak up to my room to cry unwitnessed.

My tears came the night before, triggered into a meltdown when one of my midwives messaged me about how on the eve of her kids’ birthdays she often thinks about what she had been doing way back when, and how hard it must be for me to do that. The message was sweet and needed, opening up the flood gates. I didn’t have a good cry again until I crawled into bed on Sunday, crying about some of the disappointments from the day- the people I didn’t hear from. Crying about how my life and relationships had changed so much in ways that I felt I so sad about. Crying about how my daughter was dead-how I have a dead child.

I’ve spent the next few days sorting through it all- trying to focus on all the kindnesses, the so many kindnesses that came with the day and not be consumed by the sadness of disappointments (some of which I’ve since decided were justified, some of which were not).

So in that vein, I want to share with you all some of the many Random Acts of Kindness. There are too many to even list, many I don’t even know about and not enough words to thank those who have done them.

  • Donations to children’s museums- in CT, in RI
  • Cupcakes to my care team- the practice I work for, the midwives who cared for me, the MFM docs who cared for me, Labor and Birth, the NICU
  • "we wanted to thank those who so beautifully cared for her and for her family while she was here (the amazing midwives of [the group that cared for her], everyone on Labor & Birth, the NICU staff, the MFMs who were involved and the group Meg works with.) They will be eating birthday Karate Carrot cupcakes."

    “we wanted to thank those who so beautifully cared for her and for her family while she was here (the amazing midwives of [the group that cared for her], everyone on Labor & Birth, the NICU staff, the MFMs who were involved and the group Meg works with.) They will be eating birthday Karate Carrot cupcakes.”

  • Flowers at Mabel’s grave
  • play dough too!

    play dough too!

  • Carrot soup
  • Books that showed up as gifts (including the one on the right that came from unknown sender)
  • did any of you send the Help Thanks Wow book?  it came without a sender...

    did any of you send the Help Thanks Wow book? it came without a sender…

  • Gifts for children’s hospital in Boston and Indianapolis
  • Shoveling neighbors snow in Massachusetts and Connecticut
  • cards! so many cards!
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  • Donation to help migrant workers and their families in Florida
  • Diapers and kids treats donated to a homeless family in North Carolina
  • Donation to a Down Syndrome organization in Virginia
  • A children’s book donated to my town’s library
  • Letting people go ahead in the airport line
  • Buying ice cream for the kids at the next table
  • Dinner buying for a cancer survivor
  • Baking carrot cake for a friend
  • Coffee bought for people in line behind the buyers
  • A big tip left for waitress, a big tip left for a bartender who is fostering a baby with Down Syndrome born addicted to heroin
  • A donation given to a homeless man in a wheelchair
  • A donation to the Perinatal Mental Health task force in LA
  • Water bottles given out to strangers in LA on a very hot day (hard to conceive in chilly new England)
  • A carrot hat given to me
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  • Presents donated to a local shelter including a carrot stuffy
  • Donation to a high school lunar rover team in CT
  • Handmade carrot wreath for my door
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  • Letters from Thai high school students
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White roses

“Wow! those are beautiful flowers!” exclaimed the lady checking me out at the grocery store.  I too was surprised that such a gorgeous bouquet was sold at my local shop.

“Yeah, I couldn’t help myself,” I admitted.  As I walked by the flower shelf I was immediately drawn to the simply arranged bouquet of white roses.  Perfect for such a little baby, I thought.

“Sometimes you just have to treat yourself,” she responded.

“Oh, they’re for someone else, but I still couldn’t resist.”

How can I help, but indulge my baby?

How do you indulge your lost loved one?

 

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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

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Day 7: Sacred Place

The only place I really feel her.  When her headstone was placed I finally felt at some peace.  I was so proud of the beautiful stone and engraving that I had plans of showing it off in a memorial service around the six month mark.  But that time came and went and I wasn’t ready to reveal.  I’ve been very open with Mabel’s photos and her story; I love sharing her in that way, but I”m strangely protective of her headstone.  I suppose because it’s my sacred place.

When visiting her grave this week, we had found someone had left her bubbles.  It amazes me that someone would look at her grave and place something so simple, but so meaningful.  Thank you.

#CaptureYourGrief

Day 7: Sacred Place

Day 7: Sacred Place