so I’m not perfect…

I was out for a run with Muppet and came across a lemonade stand- some neighborhood kids raising money for cancer. I was running by at just the right time, with several families approaching the stand. When the kids asked if I wanted lemonade, I regretfully said I didn’t have any money, but I’ll try to come back when I was done with my run.  Just as I was about to take off, I saw you there. My smile brightened with recognition- a fellow professional in my field and a someone who chose my practice for care.  You have a son a few years older than Felix and I was reminded seeing you there that you live in my town! Since I”m not attending births and you work in a different practice, I haven’t seen you in a while- in the past I crossed paths with other OB professionals on the labor floor, a place I don’t often visit these days. Seeing you with your son, gave me pause. We should be friends, I thought.

I stopped and chatted with you, saying hi to your husband and letting your son pet Muppet.  I learned your son had some developmental delays, something I hadn’t known before.  I straight up blurted out- “I need local mommy friends,” a truth so prevalent lately. I find it a little hard to make mommy friends easily… something I’ll elaborate in another post…but since you’re in my professional community, I’m pretty sure you know my story. You know I’ve lost a baby.

You given me your number and tell me how you have a good group of local moms who get together every now and then. You warn me that the moment you say you’re in the OB field, everyone likes to tell you their birth story.  I laugh in total understanding. You roll your eyes and we talk briefly about yours- how you tried so very very hard for a vaginal birth but it just wasn’t in the cards despite everyone’s best efforts. I could see how frustrated you could get hearing other’s stories especially when you felt frustrated with your own. It’s like hearing how someone has a beautiful birth when yours was traumatic. It hurts a little.

And then I blurted out something I wish I hadn’t.  “Well did you hear about Felix’s birth story? How I didn’t make it to the hospital?” You smiled and laughed a little, telling me how you read it in the paper.

I realized shortly after I said it, that I did exactly what you had just said was hard. I told you my birth story. I’m sorry.

I wanted to tell you, that I often blurt out Felix’s story because I can’t so very easily with Mabel’s because no one likes a story that ends with a baby dying. Blurting out his story makes me feel a bit like a normal person. I wanted to tell you that Felix’s birth story is a tribute to Mabel, because there is no way he would have come so fast had he not been my second child. I wanted to tell you that when I learned your son had some delays, I felt a small kinship with you because Mabel would have had delays too and I imagine parenting a child with special needs is especially hard, but it’s just what you do, isn’t it? I wanted to tell you I shared Felix’s story with you because I assumed you knew about Mabel.

In that brief exchange we had, I am reminded that I am not perfect and sometimes says things I wish I hadn’t. It was a good reminder that others do the same and to give them a little leeway.

Have you ever said something you regretted? Do you hold yourself to a high standard of always saying the right thing?

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My Massages

I love massages. I’m kind of a glutton for them, actually. I used to go to a small Chinese herbal medicine shop that did massages in the back room. As sketchy as it sounds, it was, but they did give good massages for cheap, as long as you didn’t mind missing out on the luxuries of a spa. When I moved out of the city, I gave up my massages for a bit, but two years ago I found myself with a gift card to Massage Envy. After a massage, I signed up for a membership, enjoying a monthly massage for just under $50. Hard to beat. The only down side was finding the right massage therapist. Each time I tried someone knew- the first had hands that were just too cold. The second didn’t apply nearly enough pressure. The third didn’t avoid certain areas like I had asked her (I don’t like my arms and legs massaged. Stick mostly to the back, lady). So when I finally found Jean, a woman who used to work in a chiropractor’s office, I was thrilled when she applied good pressure, had warm hands and followed my requests. I continued to see Jean until the day I told her that I was pregnant. Working for a corporation (Massage Envy is a chain), she wasn’t certified in prenatal massage so wasn’t allowed to see me anymore. I was heartbroken. I continued my monthly massages with Anthony, a guy who seemed skilled enough but he was no Jean. On my kind days I would chalk his too light pressure and ineffective techniques up to the prenatal aspect- he was overly cautious. I stuck with it because I needed to relax (it was a difficult pregnancy- worried that my baby would die, and all) and because I planned to see Jean postpartum.

My husband understands the joy I can get in massage- he will frequently rub my back and my neck and tolerates my monthly indulgence. For Valentine’s Day he had arranged for a massage therapist to come to the hospital to give me a massage. He was going to tell me about it on the day itself and the massage was scheduled for a few days later. Labor and childbirth interrupted that plan, but the masseuse was kind enough to make a special exception and do a postpartum one in my house a week after we were discharged. She knew the circumstances and was appropriate when I told her I might cry during it. I did.

I returned to Massage Envy the month after and got to see Jean again. I few weeks later, I received a phone call telling me she was on leave, indefinitely. No more Jean. A friend of mine who also was a regular suggested I try her massage therapist, Nick.

I warmed up to Nick; he was no Jean, but he was good enough. He remembered I didn’t like my legs or arms massaged and he had a good personality. When I first saw him, he said “I see you just had a baby?” When I nodded he said “Congratulations!” and that was all. He often tried to talk a bit during the massage- I know my friend is quite chatty with him- but I wasn’t not much of a talker, especially during those early grieving months. I was always polite back.

One time, after a particularly hard day, I had been crying in the car before I went in for my massage. I was still quite emotional and quite sniffly from the tears. He noticed my runny nose and asked if I was sick. I answered truthfully- no. “Allergies?” he went on. I do technically have allergies, so I felt like I wasn’t lying when I nodded. I had to stop in the middle of the massage a few times to blow my nose.

He remembered the next time I saw him, noting that my allergies seemed better.

The next few massages passed uneventfully. Last week, I went again, eager for him to work out some stress spots in my back. After my recent encounter with a patient, I was feeling more empowered to let people I see regularly know that my baby died. When Nick was chatty, I tried to be talkative back to him. We had talked a little about exercise because I think I strained a muscle lifting at bootcamp, and he mentioned he had gone running that morning and felt awesome afterwards. I told him that I had been struggling with running after childbirth, because of the effects of pregnancy on my pelvis.

I purposely mentioned my pregnancy to try to lure him into asking about my baby. A simple, “how old is she?” or “is she sleeping?” or any reference would have opened the door to me telling him that she died, so I wouldn’t be lying there month after month with my secret.

My efforts were not rewarded. He didn’t ask and I couldn’t bring it up out of nowhere.

So for now, he will continue to think I carry the stress and fatigue of a new mom in my back and the stress and fatigue of a newly bereaved mom will be my continued secret.

 

Do you have an indulgences to temporarily take you away from your grief?

Has something similar happened to you, where you wish you could blurt it out?

Battle scars

I used to be a runner. I’ve written about it here, talking about how running became hard for me physically and emotionally at the end of pregnancy. I was proud of how far along I was when I went for my last run – 31 weeks. I would go for a run (ok, ok a very slow jog), usually before work 3-5 times per week, getting my 3 miles done in 35 minutes or so.

When I was hospitalized at 34 weeks, I had to be on the monitor 23 hours a day and wasn’t supposed to leave the hospital, so I was limited in my exercise ability. I settled for a mini-bootcamp with an exercise band and medicine ball I had gotten as gifts.

After Mabel was born, I knew I needed exercise. We commonly tell patients, no real exercise until 6 weeks postpartum. I used to tell my patients that they could do some light exercise, like walking, when their bleeding stopped. I did not take my own advice. I was doing yoga at 10 days postpartum and back at bootcamp (with modifications and accompanied by my midwife) at 2.5 weeks. I will now counsel patients differently.

But even before I started back at bootcamp, I would walk. Chris and I would hit up the local “rail trail” (and old railroad track converted into a paved path frequented by walkers and cyclists). It was winter and our area had been hit by an enormous amount of snowfall, so rather than brave the sidewalk-less streets in our country-living town, we would bundle up and head to the rail trail nearby. Our town plowed a mile and a half of it in the winter, so it was a safe place to walk and get fresh air. At first the walking was slow going, but as the days progressed, I could do more faster. I was limited mostly by my pelvis. There is a bone- the symphasis pubis- in the front part of the pelvis (the pubic bone in more common terms) that has a joint in it. In pregnancy, the body makes a hormone called relaxin, which, as its name implies, relaxes the joints in the body. Its main target is the pelvis, loosening the hinges to make more room for a baby to pass through. Many pregnant women speak of loose joints that sometimes can be painful and that’s due to the relaxin, which works on all the joints- not just the pelvis.

My body made plenty of relaxin. As pregnancy progressed, I would be sore after a run. I’d feel it in my pelvis, my symphasis mostly. I remember vowing the day after the Thanksgiving turkey trot we ran that I was done running- my pelvis ached! I’d need a little assistance getting off the couch and climbing stairs would smart. I’d ice, stretch and see the chiropractor, but nothing really helped. So eventually I gave up running and moved on to bootcamp. After Mabel was born and we were walking I felt that familiar burning, lingering pain in my symphasis. I wasn’t worried; it can take time to heal. I eventually worked myself up from walking to interval jogging to my usual three-mile stint at a slow pace. Week after week I’d keep at it, slow and steady as I regained my stamina. Though I gave it time, my pelvis seemed stationary in its healing process. I continued the stretching, ice and the chiropractor but found myself running less and going to bootcamp more. I think I’ve run once in the past two months.

I finally made an appointment with physical therapy to try to get some help, but part of me realizes that my jogging days might be over. I am well past a reasonable recovery time and have come to accept that this might be one of my battle scars. I was fortunate to never get a stretchmark in pregnancy- the only few I have developed on my breasts during the rapid and impressive engorgement I experienced a few days after birth. The shape of them have changed too. Other than that, I have few physical reminders that my body once bore a baby.

Part of me hates the loss of running due to my invisible battle wound on my pelvis, but part of me thinks of it fondly. Just like the milk that came in so insistently after Mabel was born, my painful pelvis is a reminder that though there is no baby, there was a baby.

What about you- what are your battle scars? Are they public or invisible? How do you feel about them?

 

*************

Today is a special day, a little girl named Calla was born two years ago today. I’ve never met her.  I didn’t know her mom or her dad or her two big brothers when she was born.  I only know them now because Calla Pearl was born sleeping.  Though I wish that weren’t the case and she were a lively two year old sapping her mom’s energy, I am grateful that I have met Calla’s mom and her family.  Today I tried to picture what I think she would have looked like as a two year old.  I base my vision on the precious photo her mom showed me and how her two older brothers look.  But I know she is and ever will be the baby born too soon and too silent.  I think of Calla being a friend to Mabel, showing her how to be a baby separated from her mother, in the way Calla’s mom is helping show me how to be a mother separated from her baby.

Happy Birthday, Calla Pearl.

The Road Race

As we lined up at the starting line, we agreed to meet in front of the ice cream store after the race.  I had already told Chris and our friend that I’m slow.  Last year I had my personal best- I ran the annual five mile road race at my 5-k time.  This year, I was back to some of the goals I had set when I rant he race for the very first time.

A few years ago I took up running, out of laziness.  The extra five minute drive to the gyms sometimes killed my motivation.  Running was simpler: I could do it anytime, anyplace.  So I made a goal, I trained for an annual five-mile race in a nearby town, a distance I had never run before.  So several times a week, I went out and slowly upped my mileage.  Three months later I was ready.

I had three goals for the race: finish without stopping, finish in under an hour and beat Chris.  Chris decided to run the race too, but had only been running twice in the months beforehand.  I had been training several days a week for the past three months and I felt I deserved to be faster!  Race time came and I completed all three goals.  I ran the race a few more times in the following years.  Chris did too, but he became a lot faster.  Last year I ran my personal best- a 9:30mile.

This year, I haven’t been running so much.  I ran regularly while pregnant up to 25 weeks and then became quite uncomfortable.  I ran once more at 28 weeks and again at 31 weeks, but couldn’t do it anymore, partly for physical reasons and partly for emotional reasons.  I resumed “running” at 4 weeks postpartum- intervals of jogging and walking, eventually working myself up to my normal three-mile route.  But I was slow.  Some days I was as slow as I was at 31 weeks pregnant.  I’ve been doing more bootcamp than running, which plays a big role.  And my pelvis still isn’t the same.  It still hurts when I run.

So I ran the race at much slower pace than last year.  And even as I huffed and puffed, surrounded by good people-watching, bands playing on the sidelines and pretty scenery, I could not escape my daily obsession: my baby is dead.  Every step of the way, I was reminded that I was slow because I had been pregnant… but I have no baby.  I tried to push those thoughts aside and focus on running, but I was either constantly passing or being passed by women and men pushing strollers.  I should have been pushing a stroller during this race…. but my baby died.  I thought back to the last race I ran- a turkey trot on Thanksgiving.  I was pregnant then… what do I have to show for it now?  As I took each step I tried to remember what it felt like to run while pregnant.  And then I remembered- a burning pain in my symphasis and an uncomfortable pressure on my tailbone remind me.  Though not as strong as in pregnancy, I still had the similar pelvic pain brought on by running.  My body won’t forget the baby it grew, held and pushed out.  My mind and my body just won’t let go of the memory of Mabel, even for a minute.  I became frustrated at myself – can’t I get through just one thing, without being reminded of what I have lost?

After the race, Chris and I found a tall shady tree to lie under, staring up at the leaves.  I asked Chris what he was thinking about.  “Trees are weird.  They grow green leaves, they fall off and grow back again.”  And then he asked me what I was thinking about “pregnancy,” I responded.  “I asked you because I forget what normal people think about.”

I forget what normal people think about.