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?



My Massages

I love massages. I’m kind of a glutton for them, actually. I used to go to a small Chinese herbal medicine shop that did massages in the back room. As sketchy as it sounds, it was, but they did give good massages for cheap, as long as you didn’t mind missing out on the luxuries of a spa. When I moved out of the city, I gave up my massages for a bit, but two years ago I found myself with a gift card to Massage Envy. After a massage, I signed up for a membership, enjoying a monthly massage for just under $50. Hard to beat. The only down side was finding the right massage therapist. Each time I tried someone knew- the first had hands that were just too cold. The second didn’t apply nearly enough pressure. The third didn’t avoid certain areas like I had asked her (I don’t like my arms and legs massaged. Stick mostly to the back, lady). So when I finally found Jean, a woman who used to work in a chiropractor’s office, I was thrilled when she applied good pressure, had warm hands and followed my requests. I continued to see Jean until the day I told her that I was pregnant. Working for a corporation (Massage Envy is a chain), she wasn’t certified in prenatal massage so wasn’t allowed to see me anymore. I was heartbroken. I continued my monthly massages with Anthony, a guy who seemed skilled enough but he was no Jean. On my kind days I would chalk his too light pressure and ineffective techniques up to the prenatal aspect- he was overly cautious. I stuck with it because I needed to relax (it was a difficult pregnancy- worried that my baby would die, and all) and because I planned to see Jean postpartum.

My husband understands the joy I can get in massage- he will frequently rub my back and my neck and tolerates my monthly indulgence. For Valentine’s Day he had arranged for a massage therapist to come to the hospital to give me a massage. He was going to tell me about it on the day itself and the massage was scheduled for a few days later. Labor and childbirth interrupted that plan, but the masseuse was kind enough to make a special exception and do a postpartum one in my house a week after we were discharged. She knew the circumstances and was appropriate when I told her I might cry during it. I did.

I returned to Massage Envy the month after and got to see Jean again. I few weeks later, I received a phone call telling me she was on leave, indefinitely. No more Jean. A friend of mine who also was a regular suggested I try her massage therapist, Nick.

I warmed up to Nick; he was no Jean, but he was good enough. He remembered I didn’t like my legs or arms massaged and he had a good personality. When I first saw him, he said “I see you just had a baby?” When I nodded he said “Congratulations!” and that was all. He often tried to talk a bit during the massage- I know my friend is quite chatty with him- but I wasn’t not much of a talker, especially during those early grieving months. I was always polite back.

One time, after a particularly hard day, I had been crying in the car before I went in for my massage. I was still quite emotional and quite sniffly from the tears. He noticed my runny nose and asked if I was sick. I answered truthfully- no. “Allergies?” he went on. I do technically have allergies, so I felt like I wasn’t lying when I nodded. I had to stop in the middle of the massage a few times to blow my nose.

He remembered the next time I saw him, noting that my allergies seemed better.

The next few massages passed uneventfully. Last week, I went again, eager for him to work out some stress spots in my back. After my recent encounter with a patient, I was feeling more empowered to let people I see regularly know that my baby died. When Nick was chatty, I tried to be talkative back to him. We had talked a little about exercise because I think I strained a muscle lifting at bootcamp, and he mentioned he had gone running that morning and felt awesome afterwards. I told him that I had been struggling with running after childbirth, because of the effects of pregnancy on my pelvis.

I purposely mentioned my pregnancy to try to lure him into asking about my baby. A simple, “how old is she?” or “is she sleeping?” or any reference would have opened the door to me telling him that she died, so I wouldn’t be lying there month after month with my secret.

My efforts were not rewarded. He didn’t ask and I couldn’t bring it up out of nowhere.

So for now, he will continue to think I carry the stress and fatigue of a new mom in my back and the stress and fatigue of a newly bereaved mom will be my continued secret.


Do you have an indulgences to temporarily take you away from your grief?

Has something similar happened to you, where you wish you could blurt it out?

What am I so afraid of?

What am I so afraid of?

I am spending the week in North Carolina with my extended family. Nearly thirty of us are gathered for what used to be an annual family reunion and now is a more sporadic get together. This was this trip where I was supposed to be introducing my baby to all her relatives. Instead I am here trying to enjoy myself, despite the fact that my baby died, despite the reminder that this trip was supposed to be different, despite the presence of my newborn nephew.

What am I so afraid of?

My sister suggested that holding him might be the first step in getting over reluctance to hold a baby. I had talked to her about my concern about going back to delivering babies and she was trying to be helpful. The idea of holding a baby isn’t so much a phobia, but there is fear involved.

I’m afraid I’ll be taken back to the last moment I held a baby. I had been holding babies sometimes as frequent as daily because they often cross my path at work. When my coworkers had seen me with a baby on my hip as I talked to his mom, they have commented on how natural I looked. My friends have been amazed at how comfortable I was holding their little babies. But the very last baby I held was my own. She was dead.

I’m afraid holding a baby will bring me back to those moments of holding my dead daughter’s body. I’m afraid the weight of a small body in my arms will open up that place I have sewn up in my chest, the spot where I tucked away the hurt I felt relinquishing my baby. If you want to know what sadness is, listen to the sobs of a mother as she hands over her baby’s body to then nurse, never to hold her again. Ever.  I’m afraid those sobs will spill out and I’ll never be able to tuck them back in again.

Perhaps the weight and warmth will remind me of the few hours she was alive and I’ll be taken back to a brief time when I felt hope before it all came crashing down. I don’t like feeling hope these days because inevitably something happens and I fall. The more I had hoped, the further I fell. Going back to that moment of happiness and hope even for a moment will make returning to reality a hard fall.

I’m afraid my breasts will tingle and leak, the way some women who’ve had babies say theirs do when they hear a newborn. I’m afraid they won’t, proof that my baby didn’t live and I’m not a real mother.

I’m afraid of the rush of love I might feel for my nephew if I let myself and by doing that I am somehow betraying my daughter. I am not supposed to be happy around babies. I have so few things that keep me close to Mabel and right now grief is one of them. Letting that go, even for a moment, feels like I’m letting go of her.

Does my heart ache when I see that baby across the room, when I hear him gurgle and cry? Yes, of course. My heart aches for so many reason. I want my daughter. I want to be able to hold him without any emotional baggage. I want the life my sister has with this baby. I want things to be different.

What am I so afraid of?

I’m afraid I’ll be sad.



“How’s the baby?” she asked all smiles.  The joy in my office was palpable- she was there with her sister, as her support person for her first OB visit.  They both remembered me from her last pregnancy and clearly remembered that I had been pregnant myself not too long ago.  And now they wanted to bring me in and share the joy with them.  How sweet of them to ask; it actually pained me a little to give the truth.  “Oh, my baby died.”  Shock.  Disbelief. Discomfort.  “Oh no, I’m so sorry,” they say, with brows furrowed unknowing what more to do.  “She was sick.  We knew she was sick.”  That made it better somehow.  Sympathetic “oh”s followed making it easier to transition back to the visit at hand.  I did not cry or break down.  I was just mesmerized at how I felt that I had to make them feel better about my baby’s death.  I practically said, “It’s ok that she died because she was sick.”


We were talking of her plans for labor.  “I’m pretty easy going,” she said. “I don’t care if I end up with an epidural or not, a c-section or not, as long as she’s healthy.  I just want a healthy baby, you know?  As long a she’s healthy.”

I don’t know.  I have NO idea what it’s like to simply want a health baby.  It’s not all that matters.  Each time she said healthy, the word stabbed me in the chest.  Of course every one wants a healthy baby.  But now I feel like there’s some sort of ignorance, or even greed to that wish.  Like playing a scratch card- everyone wants  to win $1million, but I’d be happy for $1, as long as I could take that dollar home.

I cut her off with a quick “ Yup.  You’re next appointment is in one week.” And I left the room, exposing my pain with some unintelligible mumbling of certain cuss words under my breath.


I walked into the exam room and I could see the exasperation already on her face.  Young and annoyed to simply be pregnant, she glared at me as if it were all my fault.  I have faced this look before.  Many women are uncomfortable at the end of pregnancy.  They want to know when they’ll be able to sleep again, to be rid of bad heartburn, to shed their newly acquired cankles.  We spend their whole pregnancy talking about one date- their due date.  I explain in the first visit how it’s an estimated due date, give or take two weeks, but that lesson is long forgotten by the time that magic day rolls around.  They are done; they just want to meet the darn kid already, not realizing they are about to trade one set of difficulties for another.

I used to be more sympathetic.  Now as I looked at this young woman giving me a sour face and I want to shake her and scream You don’t know how good you have it!  I don’t smile at her, trying to be her sympathetic ally.  No coddling about understanding how tough it is to be so pregnant.  Gone are the words I use to sweetly remind her how nature works and time will bring her a baby.  Instead I talk robotically about the protocols for induction leaving emotion and compassion crumpled in a heap in the corner of the room.


“Man, labor hurt like H-E- double hockey sticks!”  Her actual use of that phrase almost made me laugh.  Her baby was a few years old, but she still remembered.  “Do you have kids?”

I had a daughter.

“Oh, “ her voice dropped and her face took on an appropriate somberness. “Is that you in the sign?”  I nodded.  “I was reading it in the waiting room.  I’m so sorry for your loss.  She was beautiful.”

I smiled “She was, thank you.  And thank you for reading about her.”  And with just the right amount of pause I add, “ and yeah, labor did hurt like H-E-double hockey sticks.”  No derailment; we are back on the path


If a patient declines genetic testing it is our practice in my group to make sure we document that they wouldn’t terminate for those reasons.

“If you knew you had a baby with Down Syndrome or Trisomy 18, would you consider terminating the pregnancy?”  I hear them say no and write the words in their charts.  Over and over I say these words- several times a day.  How can I not think of Mabel?



Grief, personified

I startle in my sleep feeling her kick in my belly. Phantom kicks they call them. But I know differently. “Hi, baby” I say. As I gave away my newborn daughter, pale and lifeless, to the nurse, another baby started growing in my belly. A seed that quickly grew into a moving, real creature. She does not speak; she is only a baby. She is my sorrow, my grief girl, the feeling left behind to fill the space that was meant for my child. She kicks me in the belly to remind me that even in sleep I can not escape her. She is mine, a part of me.

Sometime I carry her on my back. I’m with friends and as I throw my head back in laughter, my head collides with hers, reminding me she is still there. I suck my in breath, now critical of my easy mirth. How can I laugh with the outline of a dead baby on my back? My grief, she clings to me, the shadow of the child she should have been.

I let her lie on my chest, heavy and suffocating. I recline on the couch, looking at photos of my daughter taken too soon, and remind myself it is only my grief baby, needy and crying out for me. I embrace her for the moment and then tuck her under my arm, moving forward through the day.

Everyday I carry her around my neck. I bring the necklace charms, a carrot and the letter M, up between my lips, speaking with my kisses “I see you, grief. You’re here. I won’t ever let you go.”