My trail for tears

Our town has a paved walking path, an old railroad track converted into public space. It traverses two other towns right into the nearest city. Walkers, joggers, recreational bikers, dog walkers are common visitors to this path. The trail has become a place of meaning for me. In those first days and weeks after Mabel died, I needed to get out of the house. I needed a little break from the constant and usually comforting presence of family and I needed to see some space outside my bedroom. It was February, the heart of a snowy winter when my baby died, so getting out of the house was not always a simple task. In my suburb, one known for it’s sprawling spaces, it’s orchards and it’s country feel, there are not many sidewalks. The town does plow part of the trail, though. So everyday Chris and I would bundle up and head to the path to go for a walk. At first my pace was slow. I had difficulty with my pelvis during pregnancy- some symphasis pubis dysfunction that interfered with my running- and after childbirth, my pubic bone was very angry. Even the simple act of walking sent pain through my bone. But it was important for me to walk, to exercise, to get outdoors.

path

After Chris went back to work, I often met friends at that path. My pace picked up as the physical healing began, but it was often still painful during those walks. My friends listened to me as I spilled out all my sad and angry thoughts- about the past, the present and the future. They held my hand as women passed by with strollers and baby carriages. I even saw a woman walking with her son who had Down Syndrome. Reminders of what I had lost.

But I continued walking. I eventually was able to jog a little even- something I have since given up, the pelvic recovery too frustrating.

I took Muppet for a walk on the trail for the first time. We have often kept her from dog friendly places for the past two months as we got her updated on her vaccines. But getting the most recent round, I felt more confident about taking her to the path.

IMG_5627

It was a cold day- winter has crept in early here in New England- and I donned a warm jacket, a hat and mittens for the excursion. The path was relatively deserted, save for a few runners and an occasional dog walked like myself. I had walked this path last winter, when it was barren and surrounded by snow, and watched as it transformed into greenery and wildlife reemerged over the spring and summer. On this day, the leaves were brown and mostly fallen from the tree branches, a cold nip in the air. As I walked Muppet the first leg of the path, I couldn’t help but be reminded of those early days and what this trail has meant for me. So many tears I shed here.

Are there certain places that remind you of your grief?

IMG_5626

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.