Lunch date

They sat at the table next to us.  We were on a lunch date, me and Chris.  They were on a lunch date, mom and daughter.  Mom had the brussels sprout salad, daughter had the fried calamari, scrunching her face at the pieces with tentacles.  “Is that octopus?” she asked.  They both had fish for the main course. We left before they ordered dessert.  “Sociology,” the mom said. “No, he texted me! He said psychology!” The daughter corrected.  She was in high school. They had an easy banter between them, not “best friends” but clearly mom and daughter.

I know Mabel and I would never had had such a lunch date, nor easy banter with big words like sociology or psychology.  She would never had lightheartedly mentioned texting.  Yet I was envious of them.  In a different world, fifteen years from now, I could have been taking Mabel out for our own kind of lunch date. She would have been so proud to be out with her mom in a fancy restaurant, ordering from a grown up menu.  She would likely have squealed at the tentacled pieces of calamari and ordered the fried food over the vegetables.

An unexpected reminder of what will not be.

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Is Mabel a real person?

“Is Mabel a real person?” the woman behind the counter asked. I had called a week before to order a custom cake. I picked out a decadent flavor and frosting combo. The only things I said was that I wanted it to say “Happy Birthday, Mabel” and for it to have carrot decorations on it.

When this woman, who I could tell was the decorator, asked if she was real, I was yet again taken aback about how to answer.

“She was,” I answered quickly with a half smile.

In the car, I relayed this exchange to Chris. A strange question, we decided. I must have said something when ordering that was a little out of the usual. Perhaps they thought I was ordering a cake for a rabbit?

“I wish I had answered differently,” I told him. “I wish I had said, “Yes, Mabel’s my daughter.” But instead I said what I said, leaving them thinking that Mabel was some 85 year-old grandmother who passed away, and isn’t it sweet that we still remember.

There’s a first time for every question. Right now I can answer “how’s the baby?” and “Do you have kids” very easily, with responses that leave me satisfied. In the beginning these questions would cause my heart to race, my face to get hot and tears to well and I’d stumble over an inadequate answer. With time I learned the replies to such inquiries that left me feeling true to my daughter. If I’m ever asked again, that strange, hear-swirling question “Is Mabel a real person?” I’ll be better prepared.

The question did come at an interesting time. It’s been a full year since she was a “real” person. Sometimes I wonder, did it all really happen? Was she really here? Here I am, 21 months out from that positive pregnancy test, eight full months of pregnancy later- the discomforts, the kicks, the ultrasounds that proved there was really a baby and yet, no gurgling baby to show for it all. It feels so unreal. My life in many ways is the same- go to work, come home, care for just myself and Chris. There are many ways I remind myself that things are different- the work changes (still not attending births), the photos that line my house of a child I once held, the stretch marks on my breasts- but I am still thrown a bit when asked “Do you have kids?” Because even though I know I am a mom in a sense, I know I had a daughter, I still feel a bit like an imposter, like I made the whole thing up.

Do you ever feel that way?

Grieving parenthood

As I slowly continue to work my way through this article, I keep finding little points, where I’m nodding my head. “Yes, yes.” I say in my head as I read. It’s incredibly validating. One section keeps reverberating through my head. For some of us, we lost our first pregnancies, which in addition to mourning the loss of our child, we are also mourning the loss of transition into parenthood. Into a new stage of life.

 Especially when it is the first pregnancy or when there are multiple pregnancy losses, there may be developmental interference rather than progression. Internal stagnation is common. Women and their partners experiencing pregnancy loss often talk of not getting on with their life goals, plans, and dreams. They feel stuck, off track, as if they are running in place as life is passing them by. Erikson’s landmark delineation of the eight stages of human development emphasizes the crucial role of generativity, serving as mentor to the next generation, which is typically, though not inevitably, realized in parenthoood.104 A qualitative study of the elderly suggested that lingering grief for their pregnancies of decades ago, and perinatal losses, may be related to their not having any grandchildren, failing to take one’s place in the generational hierarchy.

And that grief is real too.

Many of the usual responses to perinatal loss, such as visualizing or hearing a baby, wishing to have another baby as soon as possible, and feeling intense pain and envy when exposed to other babies, may sometimes be based less on grieving the death of their particular child than on confronting the painful frustration of not being able to parent.

This last line especially speaks to me. I don’t have to justify how sad I am about losing Mabel- losing her as a person. But I want to scream that I am also so sad … SO SAD… that I lost the opportunity to parent. Just like the article says, it hurts watching others with babies, not just because the babies make me think of Mabel, but also watching others parent their children in a way I don’t get to do! I’m so angry about the unfairness of that. I don’t get to see if I can comfort my crying baby, if I’ll struggle with breastfeeding, if I’ll be miserable and sleep deprived. I don’t get to see if I even enjoy parenting. I simply want the opportunity to do so and I have such little control over it.

I know I’m still a mother, a parent- I don’t need reassurance with that. I just wish I could have the chance to be a more traditional mother and parent in an active may, not simply tending a grave and making sure my baby’s name is not forgotten. I am not only grieving my daughter, but I am also grieving the loss of parenthood.

Do you feel this loss as well?

I need to stop talking about the furnance

I made small talk as she ran the credit card.

“Weather’s turned cold, huh!” she said.

“Yeah, and our furnace is broken, so we’ve been without heat for the past few days.” I replied, trying to be friendly.

“Oh no! That’s awful.”

“Yeah, We’re surviving. We have space heaters. It’s the no hot water that’s tough.”

“Oh, no. Do you have kids?”

Ugh.

“None living,” I said quietly, the upbeat tone of companionship gone from my voice, and quickly changed the subject.

 

“Brr, it’s cold in here!” the phlebotomist apologized.

“It’s ok, it feels good! We’ve been without heat for five days!” again making small talk as she busied herself with getting the vials ready.

“Oh no! Do you have kids?”

“None living,” I replied, with that now familiar quietness in my voice, knowing that the conversation was about to die.

 

So much for small talk.

 

I can’t seem to simply just say no. These are the kind of people I should say no to- the ones I wont see again, who don’t need to know about the beautiful baby I brought into the world and said good bye to a few hours later. I should save her story for people who will respond well. But I just can’t. I know we all struggle when asked this question, and I’ve loved reading how people respond. I’ve really respected those who respond “no” or don’t count their one less baby when talking with strangers and sharing their story with closer people. It seems like the right thing to do, though apparently I just can’t- or at least not yet. Perhaps if I had kids, it would be easier to answer. “Do you have kids?” yes, and maybe the follow up of how many would not come. But being a childless mother- there is no simple answer to “do you have kids?” and my conversations over the past couple days have shown me just how pervasive the question is, even in conversations that have nothing to do with family!

 

Ugh.

singsong baby voice

She sat across from me in my office.  Clearly excited about another pregnancy, but also distracted by her one year old.  She used that baby voice- the kind that is singsong, the rises and falls of her tone easily grabbing the attention of her toddler. My questions interrupted her playful talk.

“Any family history of thalassemia? sickle cell? congenital heart defects? Down Syndrome?”

She answered easily without taking her eyes of her son who was exploring the bookshelf, then the chair, then the picture frame.  I was very attentive to their interactions, ones that would solicit coos and oohs from most people, but from her perspective I likely seemed immune.
All I could think was- my baby died.  I will never develop that singsong voice with my baby. She’ll never explore a doctors office like he was.  This child was three months older than what Mabel would have been and he was developmentally age appropriate.  He did not wear leg braces to correct clubbed feet or have any marks from heart surgery or kidney dialysis.  I realize that the pairing of this mother and her healthy child would never have been like that of me and my sick one, had she lived. I grieve not only the child she would have been, but also the child I  know she wouldn’t have been.  I was jealous of this mother and her seemingly easy parenting.  It was hard not to think it was being flaunted in my face, though I do recognize she had no idea the pain it was causing me- and I didn’t expect her to.  She was just doing what she should be doing, mothering.
Where have you seen pain in day to day interactions?

Sunday Synopsis

Two Friends with Down Syndrome Kickstarter: This is beyond awesome!  Try not to fall in love with these kids, I dare you!  The best part is what you’re gifted when you pledge.

Our Mommy Problem. This article was posted by another blog I follow and felt the urge to comment.  Part of me wanted to be bitter and say, “at least people recognize you as a mom!” but I knew that wasn’t fair or productive.  I was compelled to comment, though and so I wrote something else.  I’d be curious what some of you moms think- those with living children and those without.   Here’s my comment: “think this article was well written- I appreciated how it seemed to tackle an issue that many women face (how to integrate the mom identity into her other identities and not let it take over) without being whiny (I have no patience for whiny). To throw another perspective in the boat- I adore being addressed as mom. It is a part of my identity that people don’t see because i don’t have a living child to prove it. But being called “mom” or better yet “Mabel’s mom” is like Christmas to me. And I know of many people who would do anything for that title but life circumstance hasn’t given them the chance. I comment not in any way to say that women shouldn’t complain about being called mom by certain people- the comment in the bar about mommies night out irked me too!- but I wouldn’t want people to stop using the term either- I’m sure the woman with a child after years of infertility might still glow at even an insensitive use of the term. I think this article has made me more mindful of how I use the moniker mom.”  

Who Has it Worse? This hit home hard for me.  No one has said it out loud so much, but I often feel like people think it’s easier to know ahead of time.  This article does a good job of saying it’s not.  It’s not easier to know and it’s not easier to not know.  Both are hard.  Both suck.

Have you read anything that has really hit home this week?  Any thoughts on these articles?

 

Day 29: Reflect

I not only posted my #CapturingYourGrief here on my blog, but I also posted on facebook- much shorter versions of what I wrote here.  It was fun trying to sum up each post in a few lines, but I also felt it was a little risky.  Here on my blog,the people who read are choosing to do so, for the most part- understanding that they are going to read a post about grief and babyloss.  When people friended me on facebook they didn’t necessarily sign up for a daily post about babyloss.  I was terrified of being viewed as wah-wah- someone who is throwing herself a pity party, seeking for attention (babylossmamma wrote about it well here).  But I also wanted to take advantage of this month and use it as a time to educate my family, my friends and my coworkers what babyloss looks like.  Yes, it’s been 8 months, but I’m still sad. Sad in new and different ways, sad in ugly ways, sad in ways I”m not particularly proud of.

I also felt vulnerable, posting all these inner feelings- what if no one liked them, what if no one commented.  How many “likes” would I need to feel heard?  If the likes died off as the month progressed was I turning into the wah-wah I feared I’d become?

I’m glad I have posted more publicly on facebook.  I got the support I needed- I had people reach out to me, when perhaps they wouldn’t have otherwise.  I knew people were reading because they’d pick up on little things, like correcting me, commenting “you ARE a mom” when I used “was” in my post.  And as I had brunch with a nurse colleague from the hospital today, she congratulated me on my posts and the good work they were doing in educating our peers.  I was once a midwife quite unfamiliar with the grief of babyloss and would have been thankful to be so informed; my hope is my friends, those in the field, can take what I’ve shared and help guide them in caring for others who have suffered babyloss.

And had I not shared on facebook, I wouldn’t have had brunch today with said friend and would not have received these gifts (at least not today..perhaps some other day). I am thankful for that.

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