I made a lady cry

Yesterday I took Muppet and Felix out for a walk. We have a path in our town (that connects to several nearby towns) converted from a railroad track to a walking path- perfect for a stroll, a bike ride or a jog. I went there frequently after Mabel died because they plowed two legs of it in the winter, so it was one of the few places I could get out and get some fresh air safely. I met many friends there for walks as the air warmed. I remember my achey pelvis after the first few walks. It’s also a place where I would eventually take Muppet when we first got her. I guess it’s a place where I take my babies- whether they be dead and I take them in memory or whther they be furbabies. Yesterday I took my first living baby along with my furbaby.

We had a nice walk, with some interaction based mainly around muppet. She’s such stinkin’ cute puppy, its hard for her not to attract attention. I kept Felix well covered by a blanket over the stroller so no one would really see him and spread their germy germs to his fragile immune system. As we neared the end of our walk, a friendly woman walking alone approached and asked politely if she could pet my dog. She got right down on the ground with Muppet and gave her all sorts of puppy-loving. Muppet makes friends easily and loves just about anyone who will pet her.

After a few minutes of pets and belly rubs, she asked, again politely, if she could see the baby. I lifted the blanket and she was just awed by his small size.

“Yeah, he’s 10 days old. This is our first trip out.”

“My, look at you- a baby AND a puppy!! Wow! Is he your first?” she asked innocently.

“My second,” I answered with a smile.

“So does he have a brother or sister at home?” It often amazes me how many ways this question can be worded but my answer can be very different depending on the wording. So far I try to answer honestly and answer the question how its asked- though I’ve learned sometimes it makes me feel like I’m lying by omission- but it seems the right way for now. The same question can be phrased in many ways- is your first a boy or a girl? How old is your first? Do you have a son or a daughter? How many kids do you have? So many variations Presented with the question worded this way by the woman on the path, I felt the need to explain.

“He had a sister, but she died last year.”

The friendly, almost unctuous smile quickly melted into a deep expression of sorrow. Tears immediately filled her eyes and she began to cry a bit in front of me.

“Oh, I am so so sorry,” she said- and her empathy was genuine. She seemed at a loss for words for a bit and kept muttering apologies over and over. I smiled in a way that I hoped appeared gracious and resisted the urge to comfort her with “it’s ok,” when we all know its not ok at all.

“Thank you” I said softly in a tone trying to comfort her.

“It…just …makes you…think about…what’s important. The things we stress about…Oh gosh,” she stammered through tears.

I was kind of in awe about this woman’s outward display of emotion. She exuded joy with my puppy and now sadness hearing about Mabel. In some ways it seemed a bit over the top from a stranger, but in other ways it seemed so genuine.

I decided to comfort her a bit with words that I have already learned seem to make people feel better.

“Yes, so we are especially grateful for him.”

We soon parted ways, but I was reminded of the many times I was asked in pregnancy about whether it was my first or not. Some of those innocent conversations led to the admission that my first baby died. Awkwardness still followed, like it did before I was visibly pregnant, but my large belly and now the little human in front of me gave me an out. I can now comment on how fortunate/grateful/happy I am to have Felix.

This is all true- but a part of me cringes saying this as well. It implies a happy ending, that I’m no longer sad because I have a new baby (not true); that I’m less sad now that I have a new baby (both true and not true). The idea that having another baby makes everything better. When my only child died, I was so hopeful for another, thinking it would make things easier- and I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. But it doesn’t change the fact that my baby died. I didn’t know when or if I’d get pregnant and if I’d stay pregnant and if that baby would be free of life limiting birth defects. What I needed to know then was that I’d be okay no matter what happened- whether I was fortunate to have a rainbow or not. We all know that not every story ends in a rainbow, and I feel like I want the world to know that too.

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The same question over and over.

We stood in the middle of the dog park watching our dogs romp and run.  She commented on how cute Muppet was- not an unusual thing.  Muppet is surprisingly well loved among the regulars at the dog park.  I guess not too surprising- she’s a lover of people and dogs alike.  Playful, soft to the touch, recognizable.  Even a quasi-celebrity after she survived a near attack by another dog, which was photo documented on the park’s facebook page.  Muppet was doing her typical zoomies around the park, trying to get other dogs to engage in a game of chase.

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“Is this your first?” she asked me, nodding at my big belly.

“My second,” I smiled politely.

“Oh good!” she said, relieved, as she watched my puppy and her boundlesss energy.

I didn’t think much of the comment until  not a few minutes later, in a different spot, I had basically the same conversation with another woman.

“Oh, good,” she commented when learning this was not my first baby.

Perhaps I’m over-analyzing but, do they feel better about my crazy energetic puppy because she is supposedly used to having another kid in the home?  What if I told them there was no other child in the home?  I wasn’t angry, just perplexed about their responses.   I know, I’m extremely sensitive in general to that seemingly harmless question.  But what do you think they meant by their responses?

Earlier that day I was at bootcamp and was paired up with a woman I had seen before but don’t think I’d even spoken with.  After introducing ourselves, she asked it this was my first. I shook my head with a small smile.

“What else do you have at home- boys, girls?”  she asked pleasantly.

I relied on my standard response. “I had a daughter,” I said simply.  Usually that’s the end of the conversation- I often think people either don’t pick up on the past tense or do, but don’t know how to respond.  Or perhaps because I don’t elaborate, they think I’m unfriendly.  But this woman surprised me.

“So you have this one and your angel in heaven?”  My face lit up with a mixture of surprise and happiness.  She not only got the reference but actually acknowledged it!  It doesn’t matter that I don’t envision Mabel that way; it just matters that she understood the meaning behind those four words.  She understood that I was trying to tell her that I had a baby and she died -in a gentle way- to give her an out, killing the conversation.  But she made my day by really hearing what I said and not being afraid to respond.

I looked at her and gave her a real smile, nodding and saying “yes.” This time I was the one who didn’t know how to respond.  I tried to convey in my eyes and grin, how grateful I was for her simple comment.

By the end of the class she offered to give me a baby carrier she was trying to give to a good home.  It was almost like having a mommy friend.  So that’s what it feels like!

It certainly beats the “make sure they go to bed at the same time!” piece of advice I was given by a fellow bootcamper, after she asked it it was my first.  People so very much want to relate to you when you’re pregnant.  I didn’t have the heart to tell this other woman that my daughter was eternally sleeping, so I I just nodded and tried to seem receptive to her advice.  Really I was just speechless- I often look back at these moments and wonder how I would have felt if I responded differently.  I am proud that I can reflect on these interactions thinking about how  would have felt and not necessarily pondering how I would have made the other person feel by announcing my daughter’s death.   Clearly I still have concerns, or it would simply roll off my tongue- “my first child died.”  But instead I’m subtler, hinting, without being ether obvious or lying.  In the moment I might still be protecting others from the horror that is child death, but now I can analyze the interaction later really just wondering if I had the best response for me. 

How have your responses to these type of questions changed over time?  Are you able to think of yourself as the most important person in the conversation? Do you still struggle worrying about how others feel when mentioning your loss?

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A white lie

I lied….sort of.

Chris did the Best Buddies ride up in Cape Cod- a 100 mile bike ride to fundraise for the organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities- people like Mabel or who Mabel would have been. And so Chris rode in memory of Mabel. Turns out it’s good training for him, as he’s doing a half iron man next weekend (who is this guy??).

Our plans were a bit interrupted. We originally planned to spend the night before at my parents house, which is 20 minutes from the race start, but Muppet decided to eat one of Chris’s inhalers the day before and had to spend a night at the vet for monitoring. So Chris got up at the crack of dawn (before dawn actually- at 330am) to make it up to Boston to check in and ride at 7am. I stayed behind to retrieve the silly, but stable puppy and drove to meet him at the finish line on Cape Cod. We spent that night at my parents’ house instead of the one before. As we walked the puppy outside that evening, we ran into a neighborhood couple. My parents live in a community of town houses along the water, with a nice walking path right outside their doorstep. Neighborhood people often walk along there and this couple was very friendly. The man introduced himself and was quite chatty, in a way that made me wish my dad was with us because I’m sure they would have gotten along quite well (my parents were in Florida at a family funeral- one I would have attended had I not been grounded by my midwives due to my late gestation and history of preterm birth).

After the appropriate petting and cooing at the puppy, he amiably commented on my protruding belly. “Congratulations, I see!”

“Thank you,” I smiled softly (can one smile softly? I think so). I’m still working on accepting congratulations gracefully.

“Is it your first?”

“No, my second.”

“Oh boy, you’ll have some sibling rivalry, then, huh?”

“Mmm hmm.” I lied.

“We have two daughters five years apart. They warned us the older one might regress. I thought, no way- not at five. But they were right!”

I smiled politely at his story trying not to betray my reeling mind and pounding heart. I was still thinking about the subtle accession I had made with my simple “Mmm hmm.” He thought my first child was alive and I didn’t correct him. It wasn’t an outright lie- but it felt like one. I couldn’t do it though, not with this man, who I would likely never see again. I don’t think I’ll ever deny Mabel’s existence, but for the first time I denied her death. This protruding belly is an announcement to the world, something that people happily comment freely on, a public billboard inviting strangers to ask usually harmless, friendly questions.

I know this is a common conundrum among us. I’ve read so many of your posts in how you respond and yet I’m still caught off guard at my own response this time.

So tell me again, how do you respond to strangers?

A memorial day BBQ

I went to a BBQ this weekend at a friend’s. It was great- I needed some friend time, since Chris was away visiting his brother for the weekend and had lots of unused burgers and sausages that needed to be eaten. I debated bringing Muppet with me- I had asked my friend if I could, because it was an outdoor affair and I felt like I hadn’t spent enough time with her that day. But she can be a handful and I wasn’t sure I wanted the responsibility of watching her every move or causing trouble at someone else’s house (she is still a puppy and gets into all sorts of puppy mischief). In the end, I’m glad I did.

The BBQ was small- a couple generations- friends and some of their parents. I liked the mix of it. Muppet was a hit among the parents, which made me feel good. I needed the down time sitting in a chair with friends. Food was delish- extra so, because someone else cooked it! And a couple hours into the party, some friends came with their five week old newborn. I knew they were coming- the host had given me a heads up (which I so very appreciated) and so I tried to mentally prepare. I’ve been trying to face some situations more head on, less avoidance, though my feelings are still the same in these scenarios as they were a year ago- I can just control my emotions more. And I recognize I can’t avoid forever. I still think my feelings are valid, but now that it’s been over a year, I know that others might not understand why it hurts to see newbors or kids Mabel’s age.

It’s harder with friends and family, actually. Stranger babies are easier to see and forget, but I care about my friends and family- I care about their babies. So seeing them is actually harder, balancing my care and my sorrow.

IT was how I expected- there was no dangling the baby in front of my face, pretending that I had never buried my own baby. They were subtle, but they were also new parents, proud of the baby they had made. The older generation was smitten, practically arguing over whose turn it was to hold the baby. They asked questions to the new mom about sleeping and when she was returning to work.

I sat politely through it, my heart aching because I couldn’t help but think about how I didn’t get that with Mabel. How badly I wanted that simple interaction, those simple questions. How maddeningly unfair it was that I had a baby but didn’t get todo any of the normal baby/new mommy stuff. It felt like it never happened, which hurts even more! I wasn’t angry at the new family, I was simply jealous and reminded of the hurt. It really hurt. I felt so so cheated.

I think one friend might have recognized this a little- she pulled me into conversation when everyone else’s talk started to focus on the baby. I was so grateful for that, whether she did so knowingly or not. So we talked about non-baby things, while I reached down and petted my puppy, happy she was there with me.

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I stayed for more than enough time after, but was the first to leave, tired from a busy day and too much emotion.

Have you felt cheated lately?

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?

March of Dimes

I was a bit nervous as I approached the park. Chris was called into work last minute on a Sunday, so it was just me and Muppet. I had never done the March of Dimes before. Strange, I suppose, when you think of my line of work. One would think that I might be a yearly walker, especially because the labor and birth unit at my hospital puts together a team annually. Honestly I probably wouldn’t have gone this year either, with my walk attention and fundraising efforts elsewhere, but the L&B team decided to walk this year in memory of Mabel. I was so touched. They had shirts made- orange for my karate carrot- with her name and a little carrot on the back.

Even though it was an honor to have my daughter the focus of their team efforts, I was still nervous because it was the March of Dimes. My first thought is of all the preemies who make it out of the NICU- the success stories.   The “sung” heroes- the poster children for why giving to the March of Dimes matters. See what your money can do, it saved this baby’s life. My baby was one of the unsung heroes- one who never saw outside the wires and beeping of a NICU room. But she was her own success. We knew she might not (likely not) graduate from the NICU, but we got what we had hoped for. When we were told our baby had a likely life limiting diagnosis, my hopes for her changed. Once hoping she would simply be a high functioning child with Down Syndrome who needed no surgery, the preterm oligohydramnios diagnosis changed my hopes- I hoped that she would survive pregnancy so I could meet her in person; I hoped she wouldn’t suffer; I hoped her case would be clear, so we wouldn’t have to make any extremely difficult decisions; I hoped she wouldn’t die alone. My hopes were met- she lived, which was her own making! Mabel’s NICU team helped with the other hopes- giving her pain medication so she wouldn’t suffer and keeping us informed about her prognosis so we could make those “simple” difficult decisions. The NICU couldn’t save her- her body wasn’t meant for this world with its current technology- but it gave us control, comfort and memories. Though Mabel didn’t survive, she is still a poster child for the NICU- exactly why people should donate to the March of Dimes, so that some day, a baby like Mabel would have a chance.

Did any of you participate in the March of Dimes? Or other walks/fundraisers/awareness events?

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Play Date

I was at the dog park with Muppet and she was having her usual blissful time running around with the other dogs. The snow has begun to melt creating a large muddy patch at the park, which of course tends to draw all the dogs. Muppets fur soaks its all up and she gets crazy dirty, loving every minute. This day she found a couple of puppies that she played so well with. Coco was a brown and white dog (I am terrible at remembering breeds) just a few months older than Muppet and about the same size. They romped happily giving chase and play biting.

Dog parks are friendly places. Conversation seems to flow easily between puppy parents.

“Which one is yours?”

“What’s his name?”

“How old?”

“Where do you get her groomed?”

We exchange advice on boots for the snow, where to get a cheap light up collar, where there is a do-it-yourself dog bathing station near by.

On this day, Coco’s mom and I struck up conversation. She seemed about 15 years older than me and very friendly. She spoke with an accent and I soon learned she was from Columbia. She told me how she met her husband, an American, while she was vacationing here and ended up moving here for him.

“Our puppies get along so well!” she said. “If you ever want, we have a fenced in yard and live down the street. You can come over with Muppet and they can play!”

She told me how she works, but her mother is at home with Coco during the day.

“but she doesn’t speak English,” she warned.

“Esta bien. Hablo espanol!”

Her eyes widened and she smiled! “That’s great! She would love you! Even if you speak just a little Spanish.” She wanted to know what I did and I explained I was a midwife (“una partera o comodroma” I said when she wasn’t familiar with the English word. “pero en la hospital,” explaining that here midwives practice a little differently). I joked about how my obstetrical and gyn spanish was much better than general conversational Spanish, so hopefully her mother wouldn’t mind if I talked about vaginas! She laughed.

I left the dog park with her name and number to later arrange a puppy playdate. I thought, is this what parents with living children do? Would I be making similar playdates for Mabel, had she lived? Or not because she would have been sick?