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?


Thank you nurses and midwives

This week is a big week in my healthcare world.  It is Nurses’ Appreciation Week and tuesday was International Day of the Midwife.  In honor of both celebrations, I wanted to thank my beloved nurses and midwives.


Dear Nurses,

thank you for bringing some laughter into my triage room as we waited for the maternal fetal medicine doctor to come and give me terrible news.

Thank you for being the protector of my privacy- making sure I was ready for visitors in the midst of emotional turmoil.

Thank you for telling me about the “secret menu” the hospital offers where I can order quesadillas and pork bacon.

Thank you for sitting and chit chatting during my two week stay, keeping me sane and reminding me that things were happening beyond the fetal monitor I was trying not to watch.

Thank you for watching that fetal heart rate monitor so I could have the freedom just to be pregnant, knowing my baby was safe.

Thank you not commenting on how ridiculous i must have looked in in my sleeping outfit- it was just too hot to wear pants even though I knew you’d be coming in to readjust the monitor.

Thank you cheering me along in my in hospital exercise regimen.

Thank you agreeing to be my labor nurse, knowing my case would be emotionally hard and would likely sit in your memory for a long long time.

Thank you for taking photos of Mabel’s birth- not in your job description, but so meaningful to me.

Thank you for watching my baby in my stead, while she was whisked away to the NICU and I got my stitches.

Thank you for repeating everything the neonatologist said, right after he left because I could barely process it all.

Thank you for getting Mabel skin to skin with me for as long as humanely possible.

Thank you for the footprints, in ink and in clay, that turned out amazing, all done while she was on my chest.

Thank you for making sure she wasn’t in pain.

Thank you for taking out her breathing tube, gently, allowing me a first good glimpse of my daughter’s face free from medical equipment.

Thank you for taking photos, during her life and her death and in the after.

Thank you for feeding me, which I needed direly, but was unable to recognize myself.

Thank you for being present but unobtrusive.

Thank you taking her gently when I gave her up that very last time.

Thank you for giving me peace and solitude to sleep and to grieve in the hours after I gave her up.

Thank you for coming to her wake, taking me for walks, bringing me food in the aftermath.

Thank you for being part of it all and keeping her safe, in pregnancy, in labor and in the NICU.


Dear midwives,

Thank you for all the extra care

Thank you each for calling and checking in when we got the news about Mabel’s Down Syndrome.

Thank you for letting me make tons of extra visits to help keep me sane.

Thank you for letting me use my appointments as mini therapy sessions

Thank you listening for a heartbeat first thing, so I knew she was still alive, before doing the rest of the visit

Thank you for having the hard conversations with me- the ones that were hard for me and hard for you.

Thank you for being honest, saying “I don’t know,” when I asked how I was supposed to return to midwifery if my baby died.

Thank you for giving me the few things I had hoped for- skin to skin, Chris cutting the cord and announcing gender (if he could figure it out!).

Thank you coming to meet her in the few hours she lived- so that you are part of the proof that she actually existed.

Thank you for her dress, an outfit given with love and purpose, the only outfit she worse outside her grave.

Thank you for eating wings with me, bringing me cabbage leaves for engorgement and looking at photos in the aftermath, reminding me that you are not only my midwives, but my friends.

Thank you for the donations you made in Mabel’s memory

Thank you for the lilac bush that you gave me because you know purple is my favorite.  It’s beginning to bloom right now.

Thank you for remembering dates- due dates and anniversaries.

Thank you for saying her name, easily and freely, just like she was any old living child.

Thank you for keeping her safe in my womb and alive in memory.






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.




Sunday Synopsis

Why mentioning a Loved One who Has Recently Passed Away Matters–  Yes- please speak the name of our children. yes, at parties.  Yes, even when we seem happy- it will not bring us down.  Only joy knowing that our children are remembered.

WHen I’m asked how many children I have, I always say, “Five, but one died.” I”m glad I”m not the only one.

What I wish more people understood about losing a child–   Yes yes! Especially the one about not fixing us.  I’ve really come to focus on this recently. It’s hard to see us sad and people want to make us happy.  But sometimes when people try to make us happy, they invalidate our feelings of grief.  I may feel jealous of others- but I”m ok with that feeling. I don’t to be reminded to think of others’ burdens- it wont take away my jealousy, it only makes feel like a bad person.  Sometimes food intentions hurt.

Beloved fist bumping Bruins fan is running for cancer group’s man of the year-  You know what I love about this? Liam is presented simply as a child with leukemia. He is a sick child first; his Down Syndrome is only a detail. Leukemia is more common in children with Down Syndrome, so why not make him the Man of the Year!

It’s none of your business how many kids I”m having-  Oh man, this hit home. As if we have full control over how many kids we’re having.  I’m having as many kids as my body and mind will let me- but sadly that is not as many as I wanted- because one of my children will always be missing.

Grief Support Groups: Positives and Negatives- I go to a babyloss support group- overall it’s been super helpful, though there was one group meeting that didn’t go so well- some new people, one of which led the conversation into dark angry places that were not therapeutic.  But overall I’m a big fan of the right support group.

Things never to say to couples without children– “From a well-intentioned friend, family planning questions can hurt or offend a childless couple. When in doubt, respect a couple’s current family without prescribing decisions for their future. ‪#‎BabyTalk‬” from george takei’s fbpage



Grief exposed

It was the end of my day and I walked my last patient up to the front desk. “She needs an appointment in 4 weeks,” I told my secretary.   As she searched the schedule, the patient tapped me gently on the arm.

“And how’s your little one?” she asked, continuing some of the friendly banter we had started in the exam room. She remembered that I had been pregnant the last time I saw her.

I am so prepared for this question. I’ve answered it time and time again. I’ve come to terms with the fact that people will ask- a lot of people, because I have a lot of patients who saw me pregnant. Probably hundreds of them. Some know what happened and some don’t. I no longer get emotional or shut down when asked. I have my go-to words that fill the once awkward space the question leaves.

But this time was different. I had an audience. I am usually asked about my baby when it’s just me and the patient in the exam room. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked in front of others who know and here I was, with the patient, sweetly asking in about my daughter with my front desk staff there to witness. I felt self-conscious.

“I have sad news about the baby. She died last year,” I told the patient. She was kind- gave me a quick hug and expressed genuine condolences. And then I quickly moved on and brought the conversation back to the future appointment for the patient.

It was a little different than what I usually do in privacy with the patient. If it’s someone like this patient I usually give a little more space for them to react and leave room for conversation if it happens. I think it helps me and it helps the patient. But this time I felt almost embarrassed that my staff had to watch this awkward interaction, perhaps thinking about how awful it must be to get this question over and over. Part of me is glad they witnessed- people getting a little window into the ongoing grief I have, but another part of me is so very shy about it. I can open up about the raw grief I have more easily in the privacy of an exam room, but not while being watched.

Have you had this question asked in a group setting? How have you reacted?


A patients grief for her dad

I was reviewing her medical history and when we went over her family history, she told me that her father had died last year.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I replied.

She told me how his birthday just passed and the anniversary of his death was coming up. I asked if she did anything for the birthday or was planning anything for the anniversary. She peered at me with a look of surprise- like she never thought about doing something in remembrance.

“It’s just been so hard, losing my dad…” she started. She was young- younger than me by ten years at least, which meant her dad died young. She mentioned how her live-in-boyfriend didn’t quite understand, especially now that it’s been so long. She shrugged her shoulders, brushing it off a bit.

I looked at her in the eyes, trying to drum up all the compassion I could. “There is no timeline on grief,” I spoke the words I have read over and over again on blogs and articles and have tried to convince myself are true. “You will be sad forever. He was your dad. It’ll change over time, but you can always be sad. I’ve learned a lot about grief over the last year and one thing I know is that you grieve how and for as long as you need to.”

Her eyes got a little wet and she gave a small smile.

“Thank you.”

Have you been able to comfort someone in their grief?


Sunday Synopsis

Listening to the screams of a bereaved mother–  We are not always easy to be with in our grief.  Our sorrow is uncomfortable.  Our moans of sadness are hard to hear.  But it is our right.

My right to be a mother- an honest mom speaks out.   Postpartum depression after miscarriage is real.

Annie Lennox: Son’s death Changed my Life.  We don’t often hear of celebrities who have experienced babyloss, so I am struck when I hear of one.  As sad as I am to hear there are more of us in the club, I am thankful that those with star power can speak out and bring more of a face, more attention to babyloss.

TTC After Loss: The Negatives: Whew! this one is right on if you’ve ever tried to conceive after loss.  The hope that comes with the idea of another baby (not a replacement one, as we all know) can seem so uplifting.  But we have to remember that with trying to conceive comes disappointment for some or many.  Trying to conceive after babyloss can be miserable.  miserable.

The unique grief of mothers without living children.  I found this article so accurate.  I especially appreciate the part about a rainbow not making it better- that not everyone gets a rainbow.  We need more help and support learning how to cope without or despite a rainbow.

What it means to hold space-Who holds space for you?

A grieving mom’s request A Short, concise, well written article, which sums up some of my requests.  How about you? (thanks to LosingBennyBear for sharing!)