Parenting a dead child

On Wednesday I went to see Mabel. It was July 15, exactly seventeen months after she died. In the first year after her death I would visit her grave every week- almost always on the weekend, bearing flowers as a gift. Some days, especially early on I would spend a fair amount of time there. I started reading her a book. I’d sit and journal when the weather was nice. I’d always say the same things “I love you, I miss you, I wish you were here” and sing the lines of the wook well known in our community “I love you forever, I like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.”

Going once a week was both a comfort and a stress. I had to see my baby-gave me a sense of purpose especially on those long empty weekends, let me feel like I was mothering her in a way. Though I’d sometimes feel stress if I had a full weekend and had to figure out time to visit and time to pick up flowers. Mostly though, it was a comforting routine.

I told myself that once her first birthday came around, I’d give myself a break- go when felt like it. I’m a creature of habit, though, with high expectations of myself so I also silently promised I’d go at least once a month. I’d go on the 15th bearing my usual flowers. And I do. The script is still same. The same emotions bubble up, a bit fuzzier around the edges, but still there.

I have mixed feelings on my routine. I love going and if it’s been a while I start to feel a gnawing- some anxiety even- an emptiness I have to fill with a visit. I seem overall satisfied with the once a month schedule. But at the same time I feel guilty. I should want to go more. I shouldn’t have to have a schedule, a day to remind me to visit. Honestly, I think about visiting a lot. The cemetery is five minutes from my house- a quick detour on the way home from work or errands. Yet, I don’t visit as often as I think of visiting. In the past few months my life got very busy and full- at times very stressful. An extra visit to the cemetery felt like one more thing to add on to a packed schedule. And I didn’t want to rush the visits- I wanted to give her time, be genuine with her.

At times I feel like a bad mom. I mentally gave myself permission to not visit weekly to help me with stress, but in some ways it also gave me stress. I know that the number of visits doesn’t not validate my mom status or quantify my love and grief for her- but its complicated. It’s hard parenting a dead child and still remain in the world of the living.

How often do you “visit” your child? Has that changed over time?

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Sunday Synopsis

10 types of disenfranchised grief– though the list addresses miscarriage and abortion, I’m going to argue that babyloss in general should be counted.  Though, in a weird way, I consider myself “lucky” in the babyloss world (hah!), because my daughter technically lived for 6 hours and thus gets some recognition for life, I also feel disenfranchised because few people met her, so she wasn’t real to them. Plus she had birth defects, and I constantly worry that people think she was worth less because of them.  And then there are those who lost babies to stillbirth- the same kind of disenfranchised grief.  And those whose babies lived only inthe NICU.  When it comes down to it, people listen easily when people talking of their parents,  or grandparents dying, but nobody likes to hear about a dead baby.

64 things about grief– do you agree? anything else you’d add to the list?

Grief Gifts Guide– What do you think?  Did you get any gifts like these for the holidays?  Did you get anything else that you would add to the list?

Confessions of a burnt out physician– Though this might not resonate with those non-providers out there, I hope it can help bring some understanding.  I do love so many aspects of my job, but the intense timing of it is not one of them. I’m given 15 minutes to see patients- whether it’s a simple fetal heart rate check or discuss their recent miscarriage.  It’s not a lot of time.  It does force me to put up some barriers and boundaries, which is not how I envisioned practicing when I enrolled in midwifery school.  ah, reality.  I also post this because I know many of you have had difficult experiences with your providers.  This is not an excuse for bad behavior, but perhaps can provide insight into the pressures at work.  I remember a patient being ticked about waiting 45 min for her routine prenatal.  I wanted to tell her, “I’m sorry I’m running late,  but I just spent all that time talking to the patient before you who is carrying a baby that is going to die.” I couldn’t and didn’t, so I simply apologized.  Sometimes the stress of closely packed patients can make some providers even leave the profession.

Experiences which expanded my empathy  I find babyloss has certainly expanded my empathy in many ways.  I am much more sensitive to loss in general, especially at work.   Though, sadly, I also find some situations harder to find empathy as well.  You?

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?