Radio Silence

Well, the day came and went. It’s now 369. In a way no different from day 365 and yet in a way very different. The day was symbolic, of course, and to borrow a term from my pilot brother, I have been radio silent since as I recovered from and sorted through my emotions.

I spent the day doing not too much- sat on the couch, took Muppet to the dog park and did some light cleaning. I took out Mabel’s box- or boxes, the bereavement box we got sent home from the hospital with, the box of pregnancy related things I had kept, the box of cards and what nots I had saved. I got a little teary eyed looking at her outfit- the pair of pants she didn’t even wear because she was too small. They had pockets.  FullSizeRender_2

Her hat still had strands of blond hair in it- which made me smile because the lock they cut for keepsake looks brown. I opened up the tiny blood pressure cuff and held it to my face- I swear I could just catch the scent of her.

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I packed it all back up and organized it the way I want, keeping her bereavement box in our bedroom and putting some of the other stuff away in a closet.

We visited her grave and brought a balloon- Chris unknowingly bought a Hello Kitty one, but we figured she’d like it.  By the time we got to the cemetery, one of the letters fell off and so it read “Happy Birthday abel.”

The evening we had a few friends over- which turned into a few more- and had dinner and cake.

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Singing Happy Birthday to my dead daughter actually didn’t feel so good, but it seemed like the logical thing to do. We watched her video and my friends got teary eyed, while mine remained dry. I realized I don’t like to cry real tears in front of people. I was reminded of how in the immediate days after her death, with family filling the house, I would sneak up to my room to cry unwitnessed.

My tears came the night before, triggered into a meltdown when one of my midwives messaged me about how on the eve of her kids’ birthdays she often thinks about what she had been doing way back when, and how hard it must be for me to do that. The message was sweet and needed, opening up the flood gates. I didn’t have a good cry again until I crawled into bed on Sunday, crying about some of the disappointments from the day- the people I didn’t hear from. Crying about how my life and relationships had changed so much in ways that I felt I so sad about. Crying about how my daughter was dead-how I have a dead child.

I’ve spent the next few days sorting through it all- trying to focus on all the kindnesses, the so many kindnesses that came with the day and not be consumed by the sadness of disappointments (some of which I’ve since decided were justified, some of which were not).

So in that vein, I want to share with you all some of the many Random Acts of Kindness. There are too many to even list, many I don’t even know about and not enough words to thank those who have done them.

  • Donations to children’s museums- in CT, in RI
  • Cupcakes to my care team- the practice I work for, the midwives who cared for me, the MFM docs who cared for me, Labor and Birth, the NICU
  • "we wanted to thank those who so beautifully cared for her and for her family while she was here (the amazing midwives of [the group that cared for her], everyone on Labor & Birth, the NICU staff, the MFMs who were involved and the group Meg works with.) They will be eating birthday Karate Carrot cupcakes."

    “we wanted to thank those who so beautifully cared for her and for her family while she was here (the amazing midwives of [the group that cared for her], everyone on Labor & Birth, the NICU staff, the MFMs who were involved and the group Meg works with.) They will be eating birthday Karate Carrot cupcakes.”

  • Flowers at Mabel’s grave
  • play dough too!

    play dough too!

  • Carrot soup
  • Books that showed up as gifts (including the one on the right that came from unknown sender)
  • did any of you send the Help Thanks Wow book?  it came without a sender...

    did any of you send the Help Thanks Wow book? it came without a sender…

  • Gifts for children’s hospital in Boston and Indianapolis
  • Shoveling neighbors snow in Massachusetts and Connecticut
  • cards! so many cards!
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  • Donation to help migrant workers and their families in Florida
  • Diapers and kids treats donated to a homeless family in North Carolina
  • Donation to a Down Syndrome organization in Virginia
  • A children’s book donated to my town’s library
  • Letting people go ahead in the airport line
  • Buying ice cream for the kids at the next table
  • Dinner buying for a cancer survivor
  • Baking carrot cake for a friend
  • Coffee bought for people in line behind the buyers
  • A big tip left for waitress, a big tip left for a bartender who is fostering a baby with Down Syndrome born addicted to heroin
  • A donation given to a homeless man in a wheelchair
  • A donation to the Perinatal Mental Health task force in LA
  • Water bottles given out to strangers in LA on a very hot day (hard to conceive in chilly new England)
  • A carrot hat given to me
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  • Presents donated to a local shelter including a carrot stuffy
  • Donation to a high school lunar rover team in CT
  • Handmade carrot wreath for my door
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  • Letters from Thai high school students
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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?

Birth Scene from my audiobook

I drove into work this morning listening to my audiobook.  I’m not a big fan of driving and so one of the things that makes my thirty minute commute more tolerable is listening to books on cds.  On the day we moved to the house in the suburbs where I live now, the first thing I did once the movers left was head to the library and get a library card.  I was pleased to see they had a huge collection of audiobooks.  When Chris and I went on that trip to the Outerbanks, I was nervous about the long car ride.  I picked up an audiobook that I hoped we would both like- a reporters story about a New Orleans hospital’s struggles without power or transport in the days after Hurricane Katrina.  I was riveted.  Chris slept through the first part but got snagged later on.

This morning I was listening to a memoir (my latest obsession) about a man’s life growing  up on a farm.  He bounces between childhood memories and his current life on the farm he lives on as an adult.  Lo and behold, his wife is pregnant and they have a home birth.  Earlier in the book when he was describing the pregnancy, I fastforwarded.  But today as his wife is in labor, I forced myself to listen.  I am a midwife after all.  I have to do this in real life soon, I needed to start exposing myself.

I sat there in traffic as he described his wife’s contractions, her perseverance, the homebirth midwife attending. When the midwife asked if he wanted to see his baby’s head, moments before birth, I let out a choked sob.

A beautiful moment, ruined by my memories too convoluted with difficult emotions. I can’t help but relive my moments when confronted with these images of childbirth. Simply hearing of this beautiful birth made me grieve my loss of normal birth. The moment- my baby’s head crowning, about to enter this world- was supposed to me my happiest moment. It was and it wasn’t. I was terrified of what would happen next, to finally know after months of uncertainty if any of the hope I held would be realized. It was the moment my baby began to live and the moment she began to die. I could no longer protect her. As I listen to the narrator describe the moment of happiness as his baby is born, I felt taunted. This is what you wanted but did not have.

All this from listening to a birth scene described. What will happen when I am faced with it in real life?

I arrived at work just as the birth scene finished. I wiped away the tears that had fallen, but they continued to drop despite my efforts. I walked up to my building feeling the streaks of saltiness on my cheeks where they dried. By the time I walked through the door, it was over, but the tears stayed close all day, ready to peek out with the slightest provocation.

The Condo Meeting

I hurried out of my car and across the street to my condo building. Sitting outside was my neighbor who was a regular attendee of the condo meetings, so I was a little confused. I was a few minutes late, so I expected everyone to be there already. He looked up from the bench he was sitting on and asked “Isn’t something missing?”

“Oh? Is the meeting at 6:30 not at 6:00” I responded, thinking maybe I got the time wrong.

“No.” he smiled. “Where’s the baby?”

I should have known. The last time I had been at a meeting, I was visibly pregnant. Somehow this detail was lost on me when planning to come to the meeting.

I opened my mouth to speak, but my voice is caught. It has become my signature pause, this awkward hinge in the conversation. What should have been an easy answer oh she’s at home with her father! has become a silence that lasts a beat too long followed by “My baby died.”

The words are easier to say now. The surprise and awkwardness that follows is still painful. I still feel the need to make it better for the other person. “We knew she would be sick.” I said, to somehow make it better and let him know. It’s okay that she died. She wasn’t going to make it anyways. It’s not like I loved her or anything. To his credit, not a single platitude crossed this neighbor’s lips. I don’t remember his exact words, but a genuine “I’m sorry” were some of them. Maybe it was his medical background, a retired radiologist, but knew nothing he could say could make it better. He put that into words and for some reason, this was more comforting than what most people say.   I left him to wait for his sister, the reason he was missing the meeting. “First time in eight years,” he had told me.

When I walked into the basement, I encountered six people siting in metal folding chairs around a long table- our formal condo association meeting. One of my old elderly neighbors saw me and introduced me to the new property manager.   “So you had the baby?” she said after introductions.

“yes.” I said without expanding and took my seat quickly.

A few minutes later a couple entered the room. I had met them once before at the last condo meeting. They had just bought a unit in the building and she was visibly pregnant herself. I knew I was expecting a child with Down Syndrome at the time but had not yet had the oligohydramnios diagnosis. When I asked if she had kids, she had patted her belly saying this was going to be her first. They had not asked the same of me.

The couple entered the room, him with a diaper bag slung over his shoulder, she with a eight month old baby on her hip. Tears stung my eyes. Not again, I thought. Today I hadn’t worked; I’ve been working four days a week, giving me one day off to decompress from the stress of working in obstetrics while trying to process the grief that comes with baby loss. This day off is supposed to be the day free of babies and bellies, a day where I can have my grief in peace. I had already had my one surprise baby encounter at the chiropractor.

They pulled up two more chairs at the place at the table with the most space- right next to me. I found myself taking short breaths again, trying to calm myself. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes again. I reached for my water bottle and started drinking water, a trick I learned years ago from a friend. When I don’t want to cry, swallowing and drinking water can actually help. I felt frozen; I couldn’t leave, but I really wanted to.

A year ago I had to miss an important condo meeting- one where I was needed to reach the minimum number of people to vote on the budget- because I thought I was miscarrying. The condo’s fiscal year was up and I thought we might be voting on budget again. I didn’t want to have to come back here again for a while.   I tried to compose myself, staring at the a crack in the cement wall as I listened to the voices of the other unit owners discuss slippery stairwells and fallen tree branches. The voices were muted by the hiccups and gurgles of baby sitting beside me. I made sure to keep the kid out of my peripheral vision, but couldn’t plug my ears. And I could see another owner, a seemingly all-business type of guy, turning to face the baby and make cooing gestures at him.

After a few more minutes of my eye welling up only to be subdued by sips of water, the woman announced that she was taking the baby up to her unit; the child was hot being there in that stuffy basement. One of the elderly women at the meeting was clearly sad to see the baby go. She offered to hold the baby for the woman and when she politely declined, the elderly woman tried to insist. She was trying to be helpful and I’m sure wanted some cuddle time. There was a little back and forth between her and the mother, the mother explaining again that the baby was hot and they would be going upstairs. I had to hold back the screams of Just let her go! Can’t you see I’m crying! Let the damn kid go upstairs, out of my sight. I wasn’t mad at the mother or the baby or even the elderly neighbor who wouldn’t let her go. None of these people knew the torture it was for me to sit there hearing and seeing what I was not gifted. I was mad at my circumstance- the one where I ended up childless.

Mother and baby left, leaving the rest of us the conduct the remainder of the meeting. I survived and left quickly afterwards. I had hope someone would ask about my baby afterwards, but no one did. The worst part of the whole experience was not being asked about the baby in the beginning, was not having the baby in the room with me. The worst part was being in the room with the baby and no one having any clue what anguish it caused me. The worst part was holding my secret grief.

Good role modeling

The three-story house loomed above me, waiting to swallow me up whole. A wide wooden staircase led to the front door like a path to its mouth. The house was one typical of the Outerbanks, an oversized and luxurious rental occupied on a weekly basis by large families or groups of friends. After nine hours in the car, my legs celebrated the freedom to go up those stairs but my heart was heavy. I had arrived at the family reunion that had been in the works since I was pregnant. It was a trip planned when we thought Mabel would live, when we thought Down Syndrome was her biggest hurdle. Now I was here without my baby, starting the shadow of the vacation that was supposed to be. I didn’t know how it would be interacting with many relatives there who I had not seen since Mabel died. Would they acknowledge her? Would they say something well intentioned but secretly painful? I was especially nervous because there was going to be a two month old in the house and my mind had already imagined many painful scenarios- everyone sitting around passing the baby with oohs and ahhs, no one recognizing the other new family member who couldn’t be there, people giving me a hard time because I’m not as engaging as I once was. Luckily, my mind was more creative than reality.

When I walked through the door, the family was spread out, some seated on the couch in the great room, some around the large dining room table, some I could see through the windows out on the deck. I scanned the area and could see the baby was out on the deck, so I could at least easily make my entrance. As people started noticing our appearance, they came up and gave the typical friendly family welcome- a hug, questions about the drive, offerings of a drink. At first it was how I feared- just the same old family reunion, without anyone saying anything about the life altering events of the past year. When my great aunt saw us, she came up to me and gave me a big hug, saying loudly in front of everyone, “I am so sorry for your loss. And I’m so sorry we couldn’t make it to her services.” I breathed a sigh of relief, the tension in my shoulders releasing into her hug. “Do you have pictures? I would really like to see pictures.” I smiled and mentioned the video I could show her later.

My aunt did me a great service. She easily and quickly acknowledged my Mabel and did it in front of many others who had not yet. It was wonderful role modeling. The matriarch of this family reunion opened the door for others to speak up- and they did. I am so grateful for her kind words upon arrival and for those that followed in her footsteps.

After the initial hellos were said and people went back to the puzzles they were doing and the conversations they were having, I found myself standing in the great room looking out the window. I could see my sister sitting in a deck chair with her back towards me, holding her baby. I just stared. That’s what I should be doing. I don’t get that. The universe has not allowed me to mother a live child. Thoughts raced through my head. I didn’t realize what I was doing until an observant cousin sidled up to me and whispered “We know this is hard. We are here for you.” I was caught off guard, not realizing I was staring and certainly not realizing anyone else saw me doing it. A wave o f emotion hit me at that moment and I turned on my heels, heading back out the door. I needed air. I sat on that large wooden staircase crying until Chris found me.

I sat on the steps, unknowing another cousin was on the deck behind me, witnessing my meltdown, but it was okay. Those seeing my tears saw just how hard it was for me. After a few minutes I pulled it together, re-entered the house and started my week.

Some days are so bad.

I had to take Tylenol my face hurt so bad.  My forehead and sinuses were aching from the crying.  Some days I am amazed at how “good” I’m doing, meaning how I can find satisfaction in parts of my day.  Not happiness, but satisfaction.  I spent the weekend gardening and cleaning like a madwoman while Chris was off at a bachelor party and at the end of each day, I felt satisfied, productive.  I went to work and maybe made it through a day without tears.  And then there are the bad days.

I woke up from a dream that was awful.  I was trapped in a house with a potential killer and was trying to signal to those outside to call 911.  Rescue me.

When I woke up I was having a bad morning, for many reason.  It was bad enough that I didn’t want to get out of bed.  I actually yearned to go back to sleep, even if it meant re-entering that dream.  Somehow that felt more appealing than my reality.  In the book I’m reading right now, the author talks of her brother who developed Bell’s Palsy.  She tries to imagine what it’s like to wake up every day and in the fuzzy haze of near-sleep think everything is normal and then stumbling into the bathroom, seeing half your face paralyzed and reality hitting like a brick.  That is my everyday.  Half my life is paralyzed.

A friend called me at one point during the day and she could hear the pain behind the fake calmness I was trying to put on.  She asked what was going on.  I didn’t want to talk about it, so I simply said, “I have good days and I have bad days.”

Some days are so bad.