I’m no expert.

“Oh that’s a baby baby!” the stranger said in the parking lot. He was walking by the car with his kids in tow as I pulled Felix out of his car seat,
“How old?” he asked.
“three weeks,” I replied.
“Is he your first?”
“My second.”
“Oh, you’re an expert, then!” The whole exchange took place in the few seconds that passed as he walked by my car, but his parting remark stung just a bit.
No. I’m no expert. My first baby died. I should be an expert but I’m not.
I’m realizing that there may be few interactions involving my son that will be without the subtext of Mabel.

How has your loss pervaded common interactions in everyday life?

Not faking it

At the dog park, a tall man stood next to me dressed in fatigues.  Because the dog park is such a friendly place, we chatted and I learned about his dog- name, breed, age, rescue.  He told me how he was a supply officer for the army- things like that come up when dogs are prancing on you with muddy paws and we talk about what we wear to the dog park.  We exchanged tricks we were working on with our pooches.
He was laughing a bit one time when I scolded my pup “Muppet, off!” I shouted as she jumped excitedly on a new human arrival to the park.
“I love that name Muppet! it suits her.” he chuckled.
“Sure does, ” I replied.
“I have a 17 month old at home and she just is getting into the Muppets.  WE put them on the tv and her face just lights up.”  He laughs at the image in his head and tries to imitate her expression.
I gave a weak smile.  I’m not proud of not really faking it then, but I just wasn’t in the mood.  Being at the dog park, I feel a little like a parent.  THat’s how we refer to each other- Muppet’s mom, Rosie’s dad, etc.  We don’t actually learn each others names.  We talk in ways I imagine parents of living children talking.   So we he brought a real live child into the conversation, reminding me that my bay was a furbaby, not the toddler kind she would have been, I kind of shut down. I hope I didn’t seem rude
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I was at the lunch table at work, happily chatting away with my staff.  I don’t always get a lunch break- let alone a lunch break that I can enjoy with my coworkers.  I’m often sitting at my desk eating as I chart or grabbing bites between patients and phone calls if it was a really busy day.  As I ate we small talked, I heard a secretary give a little squeal outside the lunch room.
“Look who I found in the lobby!” she sang.
Behind her was a man holding a 8 month old baby.  The son and husband of a coworker who was pregnant when I was and had her baby a few months after me.  She got to bring her baby home.
She has been very tactful around me- as most of my staff has.  I’m very grateful for that.  They also didn’t come into the lunchroom.  Those who wanted to see the baby got up and went out.  I sat and finished my lunch and scrolled through facebook.
Again, not proud of not faking it.
I know in both these circumstances I didn’t do or say anything especially rude, but it was my lack of response that was a response in itself.  I hope I didn’t seem rude.
Have you had any situations like this, where you felt your inaction made a statement?

I’ve always wanted a big family

I sat across from her in the exam room. She was there with her partner and the youngest of her two children, a toddler. She had no clue when her last period was, but based on some recent negative pregnancy tests and now positive, I knew she was in early days. I had congratulated her when I entered the room and she welcomed my words with a smile.

“So were you guys trying or was this a surprise?”

I ask pretty much all my patients this, especially at these kind of visits- one we call “confirm pregnancy” appointments. It’s a quick early visit, to establish with our test that a woman is pregnant and to see if they need an early ultrasound. Plus we are able to start some education and answer questions before the typical initial pregnancy appointment at 8-10 weeks. I ask this question because sometimes people come to this visit to discuss options- I’m trying to see if I need to discuss termination or just plow forward with all the excitement of a new pregnancy. I’m also trying to assess her emotional needs- does she have support? What are her worries?

“Oh, it was a surprise!” She said with a laugh.

“So were using any birth control recently then? Pills? Condoms…?” I ask this to help assess her pregnancy dating. Recent pill use can affect timing of ovulation and thus pregnancy due dates.

“No…” A typical answer that always makes me laugh internally. In my world if you’re not contracepting, you are actively trying to get pregnant.

“But you seem happy about things?”

“Oh yes! I’ve always wanted a big family!”

I looked at her, in her twenties now pregnant with her third child. No history of loss. Smiling, happy, accepting and expecting that things of course would work out.

I’ve always wanted a big family. In the beginning of our relationship, Chris and I discussed how many kids we wanted. He wanted two. I wanted five. He came from a family of two kids; I came from a family of five. No wonders there. Because I got married and would be starting a family later in life, I knew that five was unlikely- we sort of agreed on three (though he would sometimes would argue for two still). When Mabel was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, I became firm in my belief I wanted three kids. We needed to ensure she had siblings who would care for her when Chris and I were no longer able to or weren’t around.

I now laugh at myself- even then- at the naivete of those thoughts. As if we have some sort of control of how many kids we get to bring home (I recognize in a way we do- with the medical marvels of birth control and all…). I didn’t realize that when I was wanting three kids I should have been hoping for three living children. Silly me!

I recently posted about grieving parenthood but I’m also grieving the loss of my future family dreams. If I’m lucky enough to get a take home baby- I no there are no guarantees that I’ll be lucky enough to get another. In another world I thought being an only child seemed like a cruel thing. But I wasn’t thinking about the fact that parents might not have had a choice. My childhood was defined by my large family- I want a semblance of that for any future child I might be lucky enough to have. But I feel like asking for more than one living child is greedy. Just give me one, please. In addition to grieving active parenting, I’m grieving parenting a large family- and the innocence in that statement I heard in the office… “I’ve always wanted a big family!”

How have your visions of your future family changed after loss?

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?

Good Parenting

I watched the mother parent her child. She was great. She answered my questions through the visit while still keeping her one year old quiet and engaged at the same time.

I brought that baby into the world one year ago. In the before, I would coo and oooh and ahh at the child. “Remember me?” I’d ask the kid, smiling at my own joke. “Or maybe you remember these?” I’d stick out my hands in my baby-catching position towards the child. That would usually get her mother laughing.

But now, in the after, I gave the quickest, faintest of smiles toward the baby and focused my attention on her mother. The baby became restless, strapped into her stroller and her mother was bound to the exam table. So I worked my magic, blowing up a blue exam glove into a balloon, as I continued to listen to my patient. I handed the glove balloon to the child without ever losing eye contact with the mom. I bought us another few minutes.

During the exam, the mother took over and effortlessly kept her child occupied. They counted the fingers on the exam glove.

“One, five!” the little girl shouted.

“Almost…” her mother said laughing quietly. “Can you say ‘two?’”

“Blpppth!”

It was a beautiful interaction watching the mom, such a natural teacher. She didn’t use a baby voice or play it up for my benefit. I was impressed that such a young baby even knew that five was a number. I watched and listened surreptitiously as I did the pap smear.

After the exam was over, the patient looked at her little girl and said to the baby, “she delivered you.“ She said it kind of sadly, in a way that made me realize I was in some way disappointing her. She wanted the before Meghan- the one who coos and cracks jokes about being at the baby’s very first birthday party.

Oh, how I wanted to tell her that I know I delivered her daughter! And she had grown up into such a beautiful toddler, the kind that should be in a diaper commercial. She seemed smart and I think that’s because her mother was teaching her so well. She was a good mom.

I wanted to tell her that watching her parent so well caused my chest to ache. That it impressed me, but also brought me sadness. I saw in her mother-child duo, what I had lost: The chance to parent well. Or the chance to even parent poorly. The chance to parent my baby at all! Many of us in the babyloss community have our gripes when we see people who are parenting poorly in our eyes- those who yell harshly at their kids, those doing drugs in pregnancy, those who show no appreciation for what they have. The injustice that they get to parent live children stings us all.

But seeing good parenting has its own sting for me. I want to be that parent! Sadly, all mothering is some sort of trigger for me. All kids are reminders. Newborns remind me of the Mabel that I knew. Six month olds remind me of the Mabel that should be now. Older children remind me of the Mabel that will never be. Mothers remind me of the mother I don’t get to be.