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.

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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

 

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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.