G3

In the OBGYN world we describe a woman’s pregnancy history in terms of G’s and P’s.  There is an alpha numeric code that tells the story- “GTPAL.”

G stands for gravida. It’s the number of times a woman has physically been pregnant.

T is for term- the number of term pregnancies a woman has had.  Any baby born at 37weeks or after counts here.

P is for preterm births, those babies born after 20 weeks but before 37 weeks.

A is for abortion. This is a medical term, not a political one.  Medically we call any end of pregnancy before 20 weeks an abortion.  It may be spontaneous, aka a miscarriage. It may be elective, aka a termination.  A also includes ectopic pregnancies.

L is for living children.  No further explanation needed.

To make it even more confusing we shorten the the GTPAL to G_P_ _ _ _.  In this instance G still stands for gravida and P stands for para- para meaning the number of births (term or preterm). It might be better to explain by example:

A woman who has had one term living child with no other pregnancies would be a G1P1001 versus a woman who has had one living preterm child would be a G1P0101 versus a woman who has had one miscarriage and no other pregnancies would be a G1P0010.

It can be used to describe a pregnant woman too.  My friend who is pregnant for the first time is expecting twins.  She is currently a G1P0000.  When she has the babies, if she has them at term (fingers crossed) she would be a G1P1002.

Make sense?

So why does this matter?

As of late, I have recently added a new G to my history.

After Mabel I became a G1P0100.

After Felix I became a G2P1101.

I am now a G3P1111.

My loss story continues.  I’m having a very early miscarriage.  So early I barely became attached. But it has still stolen the breath out of me.  Did I take five pregnancy tests just to be sure? Did I figure out my due date? Sure did. Think about maternity leave? Toss around baby names in my mind? Imagine telling Felix he’d be a big brother? Dream of a living sibling for me son? Did I get excited? You bet. So when it turned out to be just a shadow of a pregnancy, a whisper of something I’ve been wanting and trying for since Felix was born, I grieved. I am still grieving. I feel broken in so many ways, untrusting of my body, unsure of my ability to be happy.  I know I will find my way out of this darkness- I have crawled out of deeper holes.  But in the meantime, I will mourn my little whisper…

 

 

Bravery

Sometimes I need to be reminded that I’ve done some hard things. I have survived. I am brave. I am brave because….

I hung up the phone, the news of a Down Syndrome diagnosis for my baby still ringing fresh in my ears. I took a deep breath, basked in a moment of acceptance and relief, and then continued on my day, keeping my personal life and professional life separate. I continued seeing my patients that day, all pregnant with healthy babies, all while holding my news secret.

I said yes.  Yes to a baby with special needs.

I walked into the CT Down Syndrome Congress annual conference, scared but trying to keep an open mind to learn all I could about what life is like parenting a child with Down Syndrome.

I left the hospital with a likely life limiting diagnosis for my baby, choosing minimal fetal monitoring until the baby had any hope of survival, knowing that I was choosing to preserve my fertility over heroic measures for a baby that would likely die, knowing that I might forever struggle with guilt if she was stillborn before the set date we were willing to intervene.

I told the doctors to take out the vent and held my baby as she died.

I held my lifeless baby.

I handed my baby to the nurse, never to hold her again.

I left the hospital empty handed.

I continued to live life.

I went to my first support group, though I cried tears of fear in the hallway before going in.

I went back to work and told hundreds of people, “my baby died,” and continued to care for them with a smile.

I chose a new career path.

I talk about my baby to strangers, to try to break the silence.

I try to ask for what I need.

I had had another baby despite crippling anxiety that I might lose him too.

I’ve been to baby showers.

I’ve held babies.

I write about my feelings here, for all to see.

Why are you brave?

Damned if I do….

October 2013- that was the last I had seen her.  I knew because that was the date on the last note I had written.

You had a baby! Congratulations!

Thank you, I smiled warmly.

So much has happened since I was here last!

Yes- a lot has happened. The emphasis in my words hinted at a hidden story…

Well now you really know what it’s like, huh? she jested, referencing my my former life as a midwife who hadn’t given birth, who didn’t have kids yet.

My heart beat a little faster and my head spun a little- it was the shadow of a feeling I used to know very well, in the early days.  I used to tense up- heart racing, palms sweating, chest tightening- when someone would ask “How’s the baby?” or “Do you have kids?” It’s a feeling of fear, grief, sadness, anger all mixed up, when asked a question I wasn’t quite sure how to answer.  It was a feeling of anticipation- wondering how the other person would react, how to tell of my daughter without making the situation overly awkward.

Now the situation has changed. The tense feeling has softened.  She didn’t ask if he was my first.  There was no question to respond to.  It was all assumption.  The only way she could know the whole story was if I volunteered the information, something I have yet to master in a way that feels good. I wanted to say. I sure do! Two kids since I’ve seen you last! But doing so would only lead to follow up questions- how old is your first... I’d share that she had died and the requisite polite words or unhelpful platitudes would come. And it would feel like I’m fishing for sympathy.

I chose the path of least resistance-maybe not an outright lie but a lie of omission almost. It didn’t feel great.

Not telling the whole story felt wrong, telling the whole story felt wrong.  Damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

what do you do?

 

Same question, different reactions….

I feel like my posts about Mabel lately are somewhat repetitive.  They all center around the seemingly inevitable question of “is he your first?” I write about it because I’m finding that the question leads to so many different outcomes.

I awkwardly made my way into the shop door, pushing the stroller with one hand carrying a bag and the carseat base with the other.  As I waited in the office of the autobody shop, I cooed at Felix and made silly faces.  The shop owner asked “Is he your first?”
“My second ,” I said with a smile that I like to think comes off as peaceful.
“Oh yeah? How old’s your first.”
“She would have been almost two, but she died.” My tone was calm and warm.
“Oh, I”m sorry.” He should have stopped there, but sometimes people just don’t know when to shut up. “So he’s really you first?”
No, stupid, I just told you.  He is my SECOND. My first baby- my daughter- my Mabel- she died.  Her death does not negate her existence. If your mother died, it doesn’t mean you never had a mother.  
“He is my first living child.”
ugh.
I sat on the floor of an apartment we rent out as a handyman made a repair on the door.  He had done some work for me in the past- a couple things over the past few years, so I had seen him very sporadically.  He helped with a messy bathroom repair a bit over two years ago- it was messy in the literal sense as well as the figurative sense- with lots of fighting with the upstairs unit owner whose toilet overflowed causing water damage in my unit’s bathroom.  The owner had given me a hard time and finally quite nastily snapped at me “I’m having ankle surgery in a few days, I don”t have time for this!”  At the time I was newly pregnant with Mabel, but we thought I was miscarrying and I so badly wanted to snap back “Well I’m miscarrying a very wanted baby and I don’t have time for you!”  But I didn’t.  This handyman was doing the work on the bathroom and so he is intertwined in my memory of that time.
When I was letting him in the door, he say me juggling to hold Felix and find my keys in my pocket and offered to hold the baby. I let him easily. We chitchatted a bit as he made the easy repair.  He was asking about Felix and to continue to small talk I asked if he had kids- a question I ask with nervousness, reminded of how hard that question has been for me.  But I asked because I was totally prepared for an answer about dead children.  I could handle it.
“No,” he said ” And it’s too late for that.  I dont want to be a grandfather to any kids-” suggesting he thought he was too old . His parents had him in their 40s and he would want to be a younger father.  I sensed a bit of sadness in him, though I wasn’t in a position to address it.
“And he’s your first, right?”
“My second,” again that peaceful smile crossed my lips.
“Oh I didn’t know you had another!  How old?”
“She would have been almost two, but she died last year.”
“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry.  I’m sorry I asked!”
“Thank you- and it’s ok.  I like talking about her.”
“Well I bet she would have made a really awesome big sister.”
I smiled at that.  The first time I heard those words.  My heart swelled. “Yes. Yes she would.”

I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t do it.

We were out to brunch at our local spot.  I had Felix dressed in one of my favorite outfits. “Little brother” the onesie read.  I have three shirts that say this telling phrase.  One from a long distance friend who hold Mabel close in her heart.  Another from a kind patient. A third I bought, unable to resist.  He’s outgrown two of them and the third he practically busting the seams, but I’m reluctant to let it go.  I proudly dressed him in it that morning.

The waitress cooed at him and he flirted back.  “Little brother!” she read his shirt. “Where’s your sister?” she continued and looked at me.

I sat with a dumb smile plastered to my face- mouth partially open, waiting for the words to come.

I couldn’t do it.

She’s dead. She died. She’s gone.  I couldn’t find the right words.  I’ve said it dozen of times; I’ve gotten quite good at it, actually.  But in the bustle and noise of the restaurant, with the smiling waitress making fast chit chat, I just couldn’t do it.

Whether she sensed my hesitation or assumed I didn’t hear, she moved on to the next bit of chatter.

I couldn’t do it.  I’m sorry, my baby, I didn’t know how to tell her about you.  I’m sorry, Mabel.

A complicated holiday

The holidays are upon us again.  I’m both looking forward to them and not.  I’m looking forward to be at this big family event with a living baby.  Two years ago I was at Thanksgiving, pregnant with a child that we knew had Down Syndrome, but did not yet know had failing kidneys. Though I was at the point in my pregnancy where I was trying to celebrate, I did so cautiously.  I was still in the second trimester, when the risk of loss was 20%.  I treaded lightly.  I was among family, some of whom where pregnant with healthy babies, and I was secretly (or not so secretly) envious, wishing I could simply just be pregnant.  It was a complicated holiday.

Last year was my first Thanksgiving without Mabel.  I longed for the year before when I could still hope, even if cautiously, for a take home baby.  Those were easier days.  On this next family gathering, I was well acquainted with the new life of child loss and I did not like it.  I did not like attending holidays without my daughter.  It felt empty and and wrong.  I even held within me a little secret- I was newly pregnant but this small developing life inside me was known only to me and my husband. The hope of this new baby was not enough to lighten my heavy heart- and it shouldn’t have been. A new baby did not negate the loss of my daughter. It was a complicated holiday.

And now this Thanksgiving, my second Mabel-less turkey day.  This year I bring with me, my son, a warm squishy body to fill my once empty, aching arms.  That hope of a new baby has turned into the reality of one.  He is my protection- a shield against some of the sorrow that is bound to creep in.  He is also my light- he has brought me so much joy and I am excited to share him with the family.  Because he is here with me, I have begun to enjoy things again- but cautiously. I would hate for people to think that because he is here I am no longer sad, no longer long for my first baby.  So still, it will be a complicated holiday.

May Thanksgiving be gentle to you.

at the dog park

At the dog park, we watch our dogs run around and play together.  We refer to each other in relation to our pets.  “I’m Muppet’s mom.” and “Oliver’s mom brought dog toys.”  We swap names of groomers, complain about those who don’t clean up after their dogs and laugh our dogs romp around.  Occasionally, the conversation turns to life outside of our dogs.  Bringing Felix to the park often invites this kind of conversation.  Today, I had the same question, but different conversations.

_____

“He’s been cranky all day, which is not easy when I work from home!” I shared when someone asked about the little guyI was wearing in the baby bjorn.

“What do you do for work?”

I explained about my two jobs- I work part time as a midwife and part time for a non profit. Usually people, especially other women, pounce on the midwifery as an area of interest.  But this time it was different.

“What non profit?”

“Hope After Loss- we support the pregnancy and infant loss community. We run support groups, do outreach and give financial support for burial and cremation.”

“Oh….” the light hearted tone of the conversation had changed.  A beat later, the lightness returned as she changed the subject. “How was your labor with him?” she asked, nodding toward Felix.

“Hah! That’s a story!”

“Oh, was it long?”

“Oh no, it was super quick,” I said as I gave her the breakdown of how after a fifteen minute labor he was born into my hands over the toilet.

“Wow! And he’s you’re first!?” she said questioningly.

“My second, that’s why he came so fast.”

“How old’s your first?”

“She would have been 20 months…” I could see the confusion in her face as she tried to understand the past tense.  “But she died.”

Her face fell as she struggled to comprehend. “Oh I”m so sorry… She lived for 20 months?”

“No, she lived for six hours.”

“I’m so sorry,” she repeated, looking distressed.

“Thank you.  I like talking about her,” I reassured her.  Then followed a short conversation about my daughter.  It felt good to be open and honest.

As we wrapped up the details of Mabel’s birth and death, she looked at Felix in the baby carrier and said “at least you have him now.”  Looking for the silver lining in the death of a baby.

I kissed my son on his head and said “Yes, I am so grateful to have him.  But I miss his sister still.”

________

“Is he your first?”

“My second.”

“Oh, well then you know what you’re in for!” she said with a smile.

“Nope.  No I don’t.” Except I didn’t say that.  I thought it.  I thought about saying it, especially after the previous conversation I had. But I didn’t.  There’s just a split second I have to make the decision, whether I tell her.  I spent that split second thinking and not speaking and the moment was over.  Sometimes I wonder what the conversation would have been like had I spoke.  It’s just so much easier to answer direct questions rather than volunteering the information.

June 22, 2015

A few warnings… 

  • *potential trigger* This is Felix’s birth story
  • It’ll probably take you longer to read my birth story than it took for the actual birth story to happen. I didn’t want to forget a thing.  
  • I don’t skimp on details, gross or not.  Take heed if you’re squeamish.

I first started feeling contractions in the late afternoon/early evening. They didn’t faze me because I had very similar contractions the previous weekend and they went away. Plus I was early- 36 weeks and 6 days. This baby had no issues, s/he would likely come closer to the due date. I had already discussed a plan with my midwives. I really preferred not to be induced, plus I had no medical indication for induction, but I knew my anxiety would start skyrocketing as we approached my due date. I also knew that birth doesn’t always go as planned (a lesson learned by my patients and with Mabel) and so I didn’t have many specific wishes on my list when it came to labor and birth this time. I knew these things:

  1. I didn’t want to go past 41 weeks (and there’s medical reason to be induced then)
  2. I wanted my midwives to sweep my membranes starting at 39 weeks, and they agreed. I had two appointments scheduled back to back to do so (and I was going to have my midwife friends I work with give it a go too! I knew I’d be wiling to have practically anyone get their fingers up and in there if it got things started naturally)
  3. I wanted the gas! I wanted to try to avoid the epidural this time. I had one with Mabel, which I still have mixed feelings about. As a midwife, I had some expectations of myself- believing I could have had a drug free childbirth. And under different circumstances I probably could have. I console myself, reminding me that birthing a child that would likely die changes everything. Expectations go out the window. BUT this time, expecting a child that would live, I hoped to avoid it- to prove to myself that I could do it. I’d accept nitrous oxide because to me it felt like a minor intervention- and it was NEW at our hospital. I frankly wanted to know what it felt like so I could tell people. I made it clear to anyone who would listen- I wanted the gas! I even had the consent form in my purse so there would be no delays!

And that’s about it. Seemed reasonable. I also thought this labor would be longer than Mabel’s. My midwives warned me it would likely be fast, because Mabel was fast for a first baby. But I thought otherwise- this was going to be a bigger baby, likely 8-10lbs if I went to my due date and I thought the size would make the labor longer (ignoring the general obstetric knowledge that second babies usually come FAST).

So when I started contracting, I thought little of it. They weren’t painful- I called them pressure contractions. I felt them in my butt as pressure that was somewhat uncomfortable but not debilitating. I was still able to function- walk and talk. I went grocery shopping, cooked and ate dinner, watched tv. Chris said occasionally I’d shift and make a small groan for a second but he wasn’t concerned either. At one point while watching tv, I downloaded an app to time them. They seemed regular and I was just curious how frequently they were coming. After hitting the button a bunch of times I looked at the app and saw they were basically 2 minutes apart. And then I stopped timing. When I relayed this story to a friend, she asked “why did you stop???” Because the timing of the contractions wasn’t going to make me call my midwives- I needed to be in pain as well. When they became painful- unbearable- that’s when I’d call. I also knew if I called them at that point (regular but just pressure), we would all agree that I was either dehydrated from the earlier road race (likely) or at most was in early labor and I should drink water and call when I was in pain. So I was my own midwife and drank water- and a glass of wine (a well known obstetric trick to stop contractions). After a second episode on Netflix, I decided I was ready for bed.

I fell asleep with the help of unisom (what I would usually take after a day of intense exercise- because the bone pain would be so uncomfortable I needed some help to sleep somewhat through the night.) I dropped into sleep pretty easily, woke an hour later to pee and fell back asleep again. It is also well know that you don’t sleep through labor- so I knew I wasn’t in real labor yet.

I remember waking up at one point with an intense pressure contraction in my butt- intense enough to put my on my hands and knees and breathe through it. Though when it was over, I fell right back asleep. It happened a second time (how many minutes later? I have no idea- I didn’t even open my eyes to look at the clock to time them) and this time Chris heard me and asked if I was ok.

“Yup. I’m fine. Go back to sleep”

And so he rolled over was snoozing pretty quickly. After it was done, I did the same.

The third time it happened I felt a little pop and small gush of fluid.

I was instantly brought back to when I first noticed bloody show with Mabel. At the time I cried “I’m not ready!” I had such similar feelings this time, though this time for some different reasons- I had a bunch of work deadlines July 1, which was over a week away and so I truly wasn’t ready. We hadn’t installed the carseat or packed a hospital bag. And in truth, though sometimes I would admit to wanting to hang up my pregnant belly for a few hours, I wasn’t done being pregnant. I loved having a big belly and being publically pregnant. I was so busy with my two jobs that I hadn’t mindfully spent time bonding with the baby or nesting.

I stood up out of bed and said to Chris, “I think my water just broke.” Not having had the experience with Mabel since she had no fluid, I still was hoping the little pop and little gush was just discharge or something. But then I felt a huge gush while standing up. “Yup. It did, “ I affirmed.

Chris jumped out of bed. “Ok! What do we do?”

“Nothing,” I said blandly, “we wait for labor,” knowing that since I was GBS negative, the water seemed clear and I wasn’t in pain, my midwives would say call in the morning or when I’m contracting up a storm. (That’s essentially what is stated in their written directions- so I wasn’t taking too many liberties with myself, just simply following the instructions). “wait- what time is it? That’s important.”

“1:45” Chris said, looking at the clock.

Before I waddled into the bathroom to clean myself up, I looked at Chris and said somewhat sadly, “I’m not ready.”

“It’ll be ok,” he reassured me.

While in the bathroom, I shouted to Chris “Remind me to change my top! I don’t want to go to the hospital in this bra.” I was wearing a old sports bra and wanted a newer one, frankly, to look nicer in those laboring and immediate post birth photos I imagined. I always thing of the green striped sports bra as Mabel’s because it’s in all the photos I have with us together. I even thought that might be the one I wanted to wear.

But a moment later I was forgetting all about what I was wearing. As I stood over the toilet, the first real contraction hit like a brick.

It. Was. Blinding.

With Mabel, I had early labor that quickly morphed into active labor within two hours. There was a rev-up period, where each contraction got a bit stronger and stronger. This time was different. This contraction was off the charts.

I’m going to need an epidural. I thought. I knew I had SO MANY more contractions to go and if they were that bad, I would need real pain relief. As it began to subside, I started sweating profusely- so much so that the floor was getting wet and slippery. Chris grabbed me a fan and plugged it in and then retrieved some ice packs for my neck and forehead.

After it left, I sat back down on the toilet, emptying myself- figuring my active bowel was part of the start of labor. I felt nauseous so Chris found me a trash can to vomit in, remembering how I threw up all the sushi and ice cream we ate before I went into labor with Mabel.

After what felt like seconds later, another contractions hit. I stood to withstand the pain, letting moans rise up from somewhere deep inside me. Chris says I’m noisy in labor and he’s right. At the peak of the contraction, I literally thought I’d pass out from the pain. As it began to leave I thought:

I want to call my midwives! This pain is so bad! But I can’t call my midwives. I’ve only had two contractions. No one calls after two contractions. Especially not a midwife.

The third contraction hit and the room was a blur.

How am I going to get into the car? I can’t even move. How will I survive the thirty minute drive to the hospital? I was thinking how I still had hours to go before birth. It seemed impossible.

As the fourth contraction peaked and released, I looked at Chris and grunted “Call! Midwives!” I was done. This was just too much! I put embarrassment aside and called my midwives after ten minutes of labor.

When Chris got the answering service, the operator asked what was happening. I heard him say calmly, “My wife broker her water,” and I quickly interrupted him, yelling.

“no- I’m in LABOR!”

I knew that getting the message about water breaking might not seem urgent, but labor would get a quicker call back. Luckily, the operator just transferred him directly to my midwife- the same one who delivered Mabel, in fact. Chris put her on speaker.

“What’s happening?” she asked.

“Well, Meghan’s broke her water, “ Chris started to tell the midwife the details about the timing and how my contractions started just after.

I interrupted again with the next contraction.

“I’m puuuushing and I feel the head!” I had reached between my legs and felt the hard tip of a baby’s head and found myself involuntarily grunting and bearing down.

“Chris, you need to call 911,” my midwife instructed him. Apparently this was only the second time ever in her career she instructed a patient to do so. She had him keep her on speak and he went to the bedroom to grab his phone and dial emergency services. While he was walking back to the bathroom, I called out.

“Chris!!!”

I felt the head coming. I had two thoughts as the pressure of the head pushed against my skin. First I wondered if I should get in the bathtub- would it be easier/cleaner to deliver the baby there? I didn’t take into account the fact that I had been physically unable to move an inch due to the pain. The second thought I had was which way I should flex the head. As midwives, when we deliver babies, we often put a little pressure on the head in one direction to flex it- making the diameter of the head a tiny bit smaller and hopefully reducing tearing. I put my hand on the head as it crowned- trying to flex it (in retrospect- I was flexing it the wrong way! Hah!)

Chris heard my call and rushed in juggling the two phones trying to get 911 on speaker.

“What can I do?” he asked me.

In a voice I didn’t recognize as my own I said to him “CATCH! BABY!”

And with that final word, I felt a slippery wet little being slip from me as my skin tore. As I stood over the toilet, unmoved from when I first entered the bathroom, I instinctively put one hand between my legs from the front and one from the back, like I was dribbling a basketball between them, and caught my baby as he slipped from me.

“Eh! Eh!!” my baby squeaked, announcing his safe arrival.

“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” I laughed, unbelieving that the pain was over and I actually had a live, squirming baby in my arms- one that breathed!

Chris handed me a towel and I wrapped the baby in it as I sat back on the toilet, still in shock. I suddenly had a realization and I held my baby away from me, looking down.

“It’s a boy!” I said, laughing again. My instincts were right the whole time.

“What’s his name?” my midwife chimed in.

“Felix. Felix Odom,” we told her.

Chris asked what else we should be doing.

“Nothing! He’s crying which is a good sign. And I’m sure Meghan is holding him skin to skin.”

I looked at Chris, eyes wide, and quickly brought my baby to my chest. I had been holding him away, mesmerized at his little body and boyhood, that I forgot abut the first thing we do after birth. I held him skin to skin after hearing my midwife’s words and Chris brought me a dry towel to keep him warm.

Moments later we heard a female voice calling, “Hello?” from downstairs. At some point Chris had run down and unlocked the front door, as instructed by the 911 operator.

“We’re up here,” Chris shouted and we were shortly joined by Gretchen, one of our local town cops. At first I thought she was an EMT- her uniform looked more like that of an EMT than a police officer. It wasn’t until later that I learned she was an officer.

The EMTs soon followed and began telling me what would happen next.

“Well, first we’ll cut the cord and then you have this thing called your placenta…”

My midwife was still on speaker phone on the counter right by my ear. “Meghan,” she instructed softly, “tell them you’re a midwife.”

I hesitated, worried what everyone there would think- this midwife trying to have a homebirth on her own.

I looked up at the EMTs and officer and said sheepishly, “I’m a midwife. But I didn’t mean for this to happen!” I explained how I wanted the gas- our hospital recently instituted nitrous oxide (or laughing gas) as a method of pain relief (those who watch Call the Midwife might be familiar with “gas and air”). I reaaaallly wanted to know what it felt like and be able to tell my patients and colleagues. I had even procured the consent form ahead of time and was carrying it around in my purse so I could have it as soon as possible in the birthing room.

I then took the lead in my bathroom-birthing room. The EMTs handed the cord clamps to the cop who was closest to me and I showed her where to place them as I milked the cord. “I’d like my husband to cut the cord,” I instructed. The EMTs handed a scalpel to chris, letting him know which was the sharp end, much to his chagrin. And with a little swipe of the scalpel, my son became his own entity. I was able to lift him up (his cord was short and so I couldn’t lift him too high until then) and really see him.

As I held him, the EMTs were bustling in the hall- doing I don’t know what- and I made small talk with the cop.

“Is he your first?” she asked

“My second.”

And then she asked a question that made me respect her even more. “Oh, where is your first?” A good police officer, ensuring the safety of everyone!

“She died last year.”

She relayed the appropriate “I’m sorry” and I said the first of many “And so we are so lucky to have him”s

Soon enough I realized my placenta was ready to come- I felt the telltale signs: gushes of blood, cord lengthening, pressure. I looked at the cop and said,

“I’m ready to deliver my placenta now. Can you help?”

I saw a glimpse of panic and excitement in her eyes, but she said okay in her calm, officerly way. I explained that I was going to stand up and push and have her catch the afterbirth, but we needed something for her to catch it in. I asked for a chucks pad, but the paramedics were insistent on a bowl. I found this humorous as the traditional way to catch a placenta is in a bowl. I was even symbolically given a “placenta bowl” when I went off to integration in midwifery school. So after the paramedics became intimately acquainted with my kitchen cabinets, a bowl appeared (funnily not the midwifery school placenta bowl”, and the police officer caught my placenta in a chucks pad, as I requested and then it was put into the bowl. Everyone was happy.

The paramedics then helped me into a chair contraption to carry me down stairs and on my front step they transferred me onto a stretcher. Wrapped in a sheet, I was loaded into the ambulance to be transferred to the hospital.

As I sat on the stretcher, my baby boy skin to skin in my arms, I realized that I was still wearing that ratty sports bra. It was the only thing I didn’t want to wear to the hospital and lo and behold it turned out to be the ONLY thing I actually wore to the hospital.

In the ambulance, I reminded them to take me to my preferred hospital, since it was 20 minutes farther than the closest one and where my midwife would be waiting. The paramedic reached for IV supplies and I stopped him.

“Is that for an IV?” I asked. Once he nodded, I said, “I’m going to respectfully decline, thank you.” My midwife’s last words on the phone to me were to remind them to take me to the right hospital and that I could refuse an IV if I wanted. Her patient population often forgoes an IV in labor because there isn’t really a reason for one unless there is a medical need (like pain medication, Pitocin, high risk issues, etc). Both of us chuckled later, thinking how I probably shouldn’t have refused, being that I was known to be anemic and had a precipitous (ie extremely fast) birth, both are good reasons for an IV because of risk of hemorrhage. Luckily, I was stable, and also happy that I was IV free.

Upon arriving at the hospital, I was greeted with familiar faces, those of nurses I have worked with for years, despite not having delivered babies for a year and a half. I saw the look on the face of my nurse, a sarcastically funny woman who I had seen grow from a new nurse to one in charge.

“Meg…” she began, calling me by my shortened name that a few people use.

“I didn’t mean to!” I cut her off. “I really didn’t! I was asleep! I woke up and 15 minutes later he was here!” I knew that my story would cause much of my community to think I waited too long- tried to do most labor at home and then it got too late. “I wanted the gas!” I told her.

As my midwife examined me, I told her and the nurse the whole story. I was supposed to have an appointment with that midwife two days later. I told her I had the consent form for nitrous oxide in my purse and was going to give it to her at my next visit. As my midwife put in some stitches, she offered me gas for pain relief, but I declined. I had wanted to see what it did for labor and now that my baby was here I didn’t want to be affected. I opted for the traditional lidocaine. I had a bigger tear than with Mabel, unsurprising because of Felix’s fast entry into the world and his weight. At the hospital we learned, weighing in at 7lbs 3oz, he was almost 2 pounds bigger than Mabel.

As the repair was under way, I asked my nurse which other nurses were on the floor. She told me and when I heard one name, I lit up. “Is she busy? Can you tell her to come by and say hi?”

When I was put all back together, the second nurse popped her head into the room, beaming. We laughed together as I told her the story. And then we took a photo, me, Felix and her. I felt warmed that Felix could meet Mabel’s nurse.

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?

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.