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?

Letting myself have fun

A year ago I spent a friend’s birth trying to bowl with my very pregnant belly. It was one of the last hurrahs before going into the hospital. Chris and I joked around, standing back to back, me 32 weeks pregnant with Mabel, he with a bowling ball under his shirt. I bowled terribly, blaming the offset in my balance. Overall, I had fun.

This year that same friend’s birth rolled around and we found ourselves at the same bowling alley, reliving the same birthday celebration. With the holidays often interrupting many of our social schedules, it was nice to be among the larger group of friends again. As I sat down and put on my bowling shoes, with plates of every kind of fried food sitting before me, I decided I was going to have fun. Being in celebratory situations have often been difficult after my child died. Can I have fun? Will people think I am over Mabel? If I have fun, will I be forsaking her? As I pledged on one of babylossmamma’s posts, I am trying to let myself have fun, without too much guilt. It is a fine balance because I still worry that people will think I’m fine, I’m “healed” (I have another whole post in the making about what I think of that word), that I’ve moved on. My therapist asks me, what am I afraid will happen? The best answer I can come up with is that my support will go away. I still need lots of it. I struggle with anger, sadness, jealousy, hurt on a daily basis and need people to recognize that and cut me some slack sometimes. For the most part they have. I hope that can continue.

And of course, Mabel still came up that night amidst all the fun. A friend brought his girlfriend- someone I’ve simply met before but didn’t get to know. She was simply a ball full of pleasantness. Sweet and interested. We made lots of small talk. Since I was bowling remarkably well, I felt the need for her to understand it was a fluke- that last year, I was terrible. I blamed it on being big and pregnant, but secretly I’m usually not very good. We talked about where we were from, went to school, etc. And then she asked innocently, “so how many kids do you have?” My stomach dropped- but for such a different reason than it used to when asked this question. My baby died and I can say that now. I just felt so bad for her that I was about to drop this bomb on her, turning this lighthearted conversation into something inevitably sad.

“I had a baby last year and she died after birth. So none living at the moment.” I smile din the best way that I could- trying to show that yes, I’m sad, but I’m not going to go to pieces right at this moment.

She did all the right things, reaching out, touching my arm, saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

She was then at a loss for words and so as I often do, I tried to fill the space.

“It’s ok…. Wait, no, it’s not ok that she died, but it’s ok that you asked. Thank you.”

And then it was my turn to bowl. So despite all my fun, Mabel was still there, present and with me.

Do you let yourself have fun? Without guilt? How does it turn out?

Grieving expectations

I came home and Chris was in the middle of watching an episode of Walking Dead. We watched the first two seasons together, but then I somehow fell off- sometimes the intensity of the show got me a little too worked up. When we first started watching it, I couldn’t watch it when it was dark out of alone, that’s how much it creeped me out. Now Chris is a season and a half ahead of me, which is okay because we each have our own shows we watch when the other is not there. Having exhausted Friday night Lights early into my grief, I now am captivated by Scandal. I watch while on the elliptical.

This night I was working late, doing some evening hours in my office. When I came home he was in the middle of the episode, so we watched the rest together. There was a scene with two women and a baby. One asked the other “were there children?” trying to ascertain if she lost any family in the zombie outbreak. She nodded and then turned away from the woman who was holding the baby. A few moments later, after a messy spit up, the first woman practically thrusted the baby into the second woman’s reluctant arms so she could clean up. She held the baby at bay at first, but then brought her closer and cuddled her in a pool of tears. The first woman came back to witness the second woman’s grief and healing.

The scene angered me. I should be pleased that the show recognized the difficulty in baby loss and how a babyloss mother might feel in the presence of a small child- and I am pleased. I’m angered because I feel like that’s what’s expected of me. Of course, holding babies will be hard, but I should do it, have a good cry and then all will be well. I’ll hold babies again, no problem.

I think it tapped into feelings of guilt and shame I have about not wanting to hold babies. Technically I did hold one, but there are other babies I feel I need to hold (and if I dig deep emotionally, I want to want to hold them- does that make sense? Is that too many “wants?”). Family babies. The holidays are fast approaching and they are causing me so much anxiety. Holidays when I was supposed to have my baby. Holidays where there will be other family babies. This scene tapped right into my anxiety and self-consciousness around what is expected of me. Just hold the baby. Have a good cry. Have your emotional meltdown- you’ll feel better after. I imagine them thinking. (who is “them?” everyone! Family, friends, colleagues, everyone.) Well, I don’t want to. I’m not ready.

I am constantly told that there is no right way to grieve. But then why do I feel like I’m doing wrong after watching that scene?

Do you feel like you’re not living up to grieving expectations?

Grieving Guilt

I’m feeling guilty.  This week has been full of ups and downs for me.  Days I thought would be bad were ok.  Days I thought would be ok were bad.  Monday, my first day at home without Chris had potential to be bad. It was the first day.  My original plans with a friend got canceled due to a sick kid.  But two other friends came through and filled my day.  I survived.  Tuesday, all went as scheduled- I returned to bootcamp, but early and on little sleep.  It was fine. Spent the afternoon with a friend on the couch mostly.  The time spent was lovely but at the end I lost it because I couldn’t imagine spending so much time on the couch for the next six weeks.  The thought of it just felt so awful.  I know I could be doing things- house projects, volunteering, shopping- things.  But I have zero motivation at this point.  It’s an accomplishment for me to run an errand.  Going to the grocery store for milk and eggs caused me a surprising amount of anxiety.  So I’m in this awful catch 22- I hate spending so much time on the couch watching TV but I cant seem to get myself to do anything but that.  I cried to Chris when he came home, about how I hate being home.  I hate it.  The feeling of why I hate it is hard to put in words.  Maybe I hate being with all this grief?  I cried all through the evening. I was mush.  Wednesday was better.  Yoga and brunch with some friends, my therapist and an open afternoon, which I filled with some little things around the house (watering plants! Folding my clothes!) and some TV.   When Chris got home, I got teary again, but this time for a different reason.  I didn’t cry as much that day as I did the day before.  I had felt ok in the afternoon.  And I felt guilty about it.

 

My baby died two and a half weeks ago and I had an ok afternoon alone?  It doesn’t feel right.  I know there is no prescribed way I am supposed to feel, but I felt somehow I was being untrue to Mabel.  I distracted too much. I didn’t think about her enough.  Earlier that day I talked to my therapist about similar feelings.  I’ve been invited out to dinner with some newer people tomorrow night and I don’t know what to do.  In my normal life, I would hop at the chance.  There is a part of me in this new life of mine that really wants to go.  But another part of me thinks it’s totally inappropriate.  Who goes out to dinner within weeks of their baby’s death?  There will be people I don’t know and if they knew that I was out after such a tragedy, what would they think?  Plus I am so not fun right now.  My therapist says I should go.  She disagrees that it’s inappropriate.  Chris thinks it’s ok too.  My therapist says not to worry about being fun- that I should fake it until I make it.  If I do that enough, eventually I will feel fun.

 

I ‘m afraid of appearing too “ok.”  I’m afraid if people think I’m doing ok that they’ll think I’m done.  That Mabel is behind me now.  They’ll have different expectations of me.  They’ll stop asking and calling and visiting.  I’m afraid if they see me too happy, there will be this sigh of relief that they don’t have to worry about me anymore.  And if I’m happy they wont want to mention her because they thing it’ll make me sad.  But these moments are just that- moments.  I still am sad- even when I’m happy, if that makes any sense at all.  Much more of my time is spent thinking, “how am I going to get through this?”  I’m not done.  Mabel is not behind me- I don’t think she ever will.

 

The mention of my child’s name may bring tears to my eyes, but it never fails to bring music to my ears.  If you are really my friend, let me hear the beautiful music of her name.  It soothes my broken heart and sings to my soul.

Work

I watched a documentary about some of the richest kids in the world and one of them was going off about how he hates when people he meets asks what he does for work- he would rather talk about something more substantial.  It’s a question that comes up a lot when meeting new people- what do you do for work?  The rich kid hated that question because he doesn’t work.  I feel very differently. What I do for work is tied closely with who I am.  I am a midwife.  My job is part of my lifestyle.  I work weekends and nights and holidays. I go 24 hours without sleep.  I become emotionally involved with patients.  I overall enjoy what I do. I may not like the hours, but I wouldn’t work them if the job wasn’t rewarding.  Work is part of me.

 

When this latest set of complications hit, I wondered how I could work. Facing pregnant women everyday, envying their situations.  Simply interacting with many people everyday who might ask about my pregnancy.  People said not to worry about work.  But giving it up seemed like giving up on a part of me.  I knew that returning to work would be painful.  But being out of work was painful too.

 

I returned to work on Monday.  This week is mostly just administrative things.  Our practice recently transitioned from paper charting to electronic medical records.  We are still transitioning- it takes about a year to be fully electronic.  And so, lucky for me, there’s some somewhat mindless work- imputing patient’s medical histories and readying their charts for upcoming visits.  It’s the holidays and so staff are on vacation, which means I can play the role of triage nurse/provider, answering patient phone calls and responding to results.  It’s a small luxury I feel like I can provide for my practice.

 

Things I was worried about:

Guilt.  Like I said, it s holiday week (read: fewer days to see patients) and staff is on vacation (read: fewer providers to see patients).  People are double and triple booked.  Knowing that I can physically see patients but am not emotionally ready is hard.  I feel guilty.  It’s self imposed, I know.  Work has been great and supportive- it’s just hard to see my coworkers work even harder because of me.

Patient interactions.  On my first day I had two phone calls with patients who knew I had been out and wanted to know how I was feeling or how the pregnancy was going.  I stumbled through awkwardly- a quick “fine” seemed to suffice, but the whole interaction was unlike me.  Usually I’m much more effusive and chatty, which is why these patients asked in the first place.  So it all felt wrong and weird. But its something I will have to get used to.  I saw a patient today- I was helping out.  It was supposed to be a quick injection visit, which turned into a check infection visit.  Which just meant more face time with the patient.  And appropriately she asked about my pregnancy.

 

“Are you having a boy or a girl?”

Quick smile “I don’t know”

“Wow! You’re big for not knowing!”  she said eying my belly. Clearly she thought I was less than twenty weeks and hadn’t had my ultrasound.

“I’m 30 weeks. I could know, I just chose not to.   We’ll find out when the baby is born.”

 

She was young, 21 years old and had a baby earlier this year, so she was familiar with how pregnancy and finding out the gender works.  To me it was kind of funny that she didn’t even consider someone wouldn’t want to know the gender in advance.

 

Now that I’ve spent a week in the office, I feel more acclimated and I think I’m ready to start seeing patients.  Next week I’ll feel more useful.  I’m not filling up my schedule until we have a better plan in place (it’s hard on everyone to schedule then cancel then reschedule patients) and right now it’s unclear at what point I go back into the hospital (if at all) for monitoring and to stay until delivery.  I’m hoping to make that plan Wednesday, after my next ultrasound and an appointment with the neonatologist.

 

In the meantime, I passed my glucose test! No gestational diabetes for me.  Since I feel like I haven’t “passed” many tests in pregnancy so far, I was worried I wasn’t going to again.  And having gestational diabetes would add another component to what kind of monitoring we’d do- making it all even more complicated.  But finally, some good news!  My midwife says I can eat a cupcake to celebrate!