Thursday, February 26, 2015

Moving from days to weeks to months

Today is Thursday, and I realized this morning that I am no longer sure how many weeks ago Lydie was born dead.  We have officially moved into counting in months (4 next week).  I'm not sure whether to be relieved by that or not.

When I asked Justin this morning, he who is usually so diligent about 12:14 pm every Thursday, paused.  "Seventeen?" he asked.

That seems right, although I'm not wanting and not willing to look at a calendar and count.  It occurred to me that if it is, in fact 17 weeks, then Lydie has now been gone half the time I carried her.

The math is so fucking weird. 

Lately ever once in a while, I have felt competent at work again.  I say something and realize it was thoughtful and intelligent.  I wonder where the fuck it came from, because I still feel like all I can think about is Lydie.  Even when I sleep.  She is always right there on my mind.  It's all-consuming.  It's exhausting.  But apparently my brain is starting to make room to hold her right there while also saying thoughtful and intelligent things about completely different subjects.  Progress??

We have a problem dad this semester who is known to call and complain about everything relating to his daughter's collegiate experience (helicopter parent, much?).  I've had a few colleagues who have been graciously shielding me from this man, knowing my anxiety is through the roof as it is these days, but the other day, he finally called me.  Luckily, I was in a meeting and my administrative assistant took 45 minutes of his complaining for me.  I told her, "It's a good thing he didn't get me on the phone.  I would have told him, 'Well, my daughter is dead!'" She laughed uncomfortably, but I laughed for real.  The good news is, I think my colleagues will continue to screen phone calls for me. And yes, I think I might really have said that.  What the fuck are you complaining about??

I was changing in the gym the other day when a couple women told their friend she should take Benedryl to dry out her hives.  I almost chimed in, "Yeah, I took Benedryl to help my milk dry up when my daughter died," but then I stopped myself.  Total conversation killer.  

I've started a six week "meditation through grief" workshop.  I've never been someone who can control my mind, and at this point, I'll try anything that might give me a few moments of peace.  Last week, I felt like I was reverting to my bad habit of making grief a competition, especially when a woman explained how her 89-year-old husband died.  I'm sitting there, thinking "my loss is worse, my loss is worse."  And then a woman told about her grandmother, friend, and dog dying, said said when she concentrates on her breathing, all she can think about is how her friend couldn't breathe right before she died.  The facilitator looked perplexed, and said, "But you are not your friend.  You are separate people."  Which made me flip out, thinking, 'Lydie and I were not separate people.  You were supposed to be but you were never given that chance.  How the hell can you breathe when she can't?'  So I wouldn't say that was particularly helpful for me.

I gave it another shot and went again last night.  We were asked how we feel our grief physically.  I talked about how in the first weeks, I felt so physically empty.  And cold, always cold.  I'm not sure if it's because I was still supposed to be pregnant and suddenly I wasn't.  Or because I could not eat.  Or because there was (is) a big gaping hole in my heart.  I don't feel as physically empty anymore, but I still feel like I might vomit when the grief hits me hard.  And I try to take deep breaths when I get overwhelmed, which honestly, happens a lot.  And I carry my stress in my upper-back and shoulders, and I'm pretty sure there were always be tension in those muscles.

Arlene, the one with the 89-year-old husband, talked about how she hasn't cried once since her husband died, how he always wanted to watch sports and now there's no more sports on the tv, how he always wanted carpet in the kitchen and now she finally has linoleum and her floor is much cleaner!  And then she continued on that he was 12 years older than her and she wouldn't recommend marrying a man 12 years older than you and he was becoming more like her dad than her husband and they "didn't even interact in bed anymore."  I can't make this shit up, and I haven't laughed like that in a long time.

There were two new women there, one whose son recently died at two days old and one whose daughter recently died when she was 21 weeks pregnant.  We hugged afterwards and I felt like the old pro, giving them advice about how to make it through the early days, suggesting they come to our support group next week, assuring them yes, it's normal to be thinking about trying for another baby, even so soon after your loss.  Almost four months out and I'm becoming a fucking expert on grief and baby loss.  

I can't decide if it's a relief to no longer count the days, much less the weeks.  I think so?   I know I'll be struggling with Lydie's senseless death for the rest of my life.  I don't think there's any way that this could happen without shaking me to my very core and changing everything I believed to be true about the world.  But I am finding that slowly it is getting easier to function, to parent Ben, to eat, to laugh, to think straight.  I guess they call that progress, and I guess that's something the months are bringing.

Monday, February 23, 2015

"Just wait until you have three"

To preface this anecdote,  I would like to explain that my mom has been a super-Oma since we found out that Lydie's heart stopped beating.  She came the second she heard, and she stayed for the next two weeks.  She took Ben to daycare, made sure I ate, answered the door when friends dropped off food, bought us groceries and tissues, and tucked both Justin and me into bed every night.  And now that we are in a slightly better place and can tuck ourselves into bed, she has been nothing but supportive and loving and caring to me -- and to Justin  -- while she is also deeply grieving the death of her granddaughter.

Sometimes I hear stories of family members that aren't at all supportive after the death of a baby, like my friend's mother-in-law who told her to change her facebook profile photo - a candle with her son's name and the date he died.  My friend's mother-in-law told her it was depressing.   No shit it's depressing, your grandson died.

Stories like this make me ever-so-grateful for my own mother.  Still, one thing my mother struggles with is thinking before she speaks.  (I have also always had this issue, but as I continue to figure out the ways that I have changed since the death of my daughter, I can already tell that I respond more slowly, I talk less and think more, I am quieter and more introverted.)

So on Sunday morning, when Ben grabbed a full coffee mug and dumped coffee all over the table, the floor, him, and me (and this is after he puked on me the night before), and I said, "Never a dull moment!" she responded, "Just wait until you have three."

And I went ballistic.

That's the good news about my family.  We don't hold back.  I don't have to hide my tears, I don't have to pretend something didn't bother me.

Instead I said, "Did you just fucking say that to me?  Do you realize what you just said to me?  What an asinine thing to say to me!"

My mom apologized profusely and ran up the stairs to cry in her room.

Eventually I went up there.

I asked her if she thought I had one or two kids.  Because while I have two children - I will always, always claim Lydie as my daughter - Lydie will never puke on me or spill coffee all over me.  I said to her, "It's a lot more work to take care of a dead baby than a living baby."

I said to her that I want more children, of course I do, but do you know what it will take to have them? Do you understand the fear, the anxiety, the stress?  Do you think you should be flippant about me having three children?  

My mom cried a lot and apologized a lot.  She said she wants so badly to ease the pain for me and she hates that sometimes she says the wrong thing and it hurts me more.  I told her she has got to think before she speaks.  She said no one is trying to say things that hurt me.  I told her I don't care; I don't excuse people's stupid comments because they are trying to help.

I told her this is why I isolate myself.  Because my friend says going to the gym with her two kids makes her evenings more "bearable." When having both your children alive seems pretty fucking bearable to me.  Or my sister complains about spending $25,000 a year on daycare.  You know what's worse than spending $25,000 a year on daycare?  NOT spending $25,000 a year on daycare, when you were planning to, because your daughter died. 

I told her I need my parents' house to be a safe place for me.  And that comments like that do not make it feel very safe. 

I told her I hope she doesn't say things like that to other people.  Because if I've learned anything, it's that we don't often know other people's stories and we don't know how little innocent comments we make, like "How many children do you have?" or "When are you having another?" or "They are going to have kids soon" can send a knife through their heart.

I know my mom loves me.  And Justin and Benjamin and Lydie.  And I'm glad we have an honest enough relationship that I call her on the offhand comment she made.  And I hope it makes her think a little more. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lydia Joanne

The blocks that I made for Lydie's nursery.  They now sit on my dresser.

When I was pregnant with Ben, Justin's favorite girl's name was Emma.  I think it's beautiful, but far too popular.  Always in the top 3, and I didn't want my kid to share her name with others in her class.  I nixed it.  My girl's name was Sydney.  Justin was never on board with it; we already have a dog named Ozzie and he thought naming our entire family after Australia was a little bit much.  I never had to convince him, considering Ben was in fact a boy.  We came to the conclusion of Benjamin pretty quickly and without much debate.  I threw it out there after our 20 week scan showed our baby boy on the way.  Justin asked why I didn't mention the possibility of Benjamin earlier and the truth was, I had dated a Ben (and he was a REALLY bad kisser).  But I had read somewhere that other associations you may have with that name quickly fade when you name your child that name.  And I had always liked the name Benjamin.  Classic.  Strong.  We threw the name around for a while, tried it out, liked it, and by 24 weeks, I was ordering an Etsy print with the name Benjamin on it.  Which we kept hidden, just like his name, until our boy was here, safe and sound.

I like middle names that have meaning, and Benjamin's was easy: his middle name is my family's last name.  I chose to keep my last name, while adding on my husband's when we got married.   And while I didn't care too much if my husband and I shared a last name, I cared about sharing a last name with my children.   But my name is a mouthful,  and while I made that choice, I didn't want to give my children two last names.  Too much for them, I figured, and what happens when my son gets married and her wife wants both names?  Then she is supposed to have three last names?  When does it end?

But Benjamin's middle name felt just right.

It has been important to us not to share our baby's names until they arrived.  We wanted that surprise that came with the birth.  We wanted not to announce "Benjamin is here!" But "our little boy is here and he is named Benjamin."   The gender we had shared, the names we kept as a surprise.

We were careful to not even reveal to others the names we were considering.  Quite frankly, we didn't want others' opinions. People have a way of doing that, telling you they don't like the name, or they knew someone by the name and he was such an an ass! in way they don't do when you say, "This is my son Benjamin."

Justin had started to come around to Sydney by the time I was pregnant with Lydie, but I was over it.

We had two boys' names we both liked, and because I was so sure we were having a boy, I thought we'd just choose between those two.  The middle name seemed tough.  Do we use my family name again?  Or do our kids need their own unique middle names?

Of course, we all know that it was not actually a little brother, but a little sister on the way. 

And we couldn't seem to agree on our baby girl's name, the way we had so quickly agreed on Benjamin.  We threw names around, we tested them out.  We argued about it.  My new favorite, Justin nixed.  His new favorite was okay.

Okay was not good enough for my daughter.

Our daughter remained "the baby" and I wondered how we'd ever agree.

I knew I wanted to use Joanne or Joanna or Johanna.  My mom is Johanna (Yo-han-ah) by birth but gets called Joanne.  And I am named after her.  My sister and brother both have two middle names.  The story goes that I was supposed to have two as well, but the hospital messed up the paperwork and didn't leave a space between the Jo and the Anne, and so instead, my birth certificate reads "Heather JoAnne."  I've always been grateful for that botch-up.

I actually always wanted to use Joanna as a first name, and call her "Jo" or "Joey," but Justin wasn't on board with that one either.

So the middle name it was.  A way to name our girl after her Oma, but kind of after her mama too.

We pored over baby name books at night in bed together, laughing at the ridiculousness of some of the suggestions.   Delisa?   Floy?  Hortencia?

"Margaret?" Justin would throw out.
 "I don't like it," I would reply.
 "But we could call her "Maggie."" Justin would argue.
 "But I don't like Margaret!" I would retaliate.  "A nickname is great, but I still have to like the name!"

And somewhere in there, I stumbled on Lydia.
I kept coming back to Lydia.

There was a book I had on my bookshelves of my middle school classroom, entitled Lyddie. 
That book kept popping into my mind.  Lydia.  Lydie.

A strong, passionate girl as the protagonist.  Go Lyddie.
There was a natural nickname, but I liked both names.  Loved both names, actually.

Classic.  Strong.
Uncommon, without being weird.  
I've never known anyone named Lydia or Lydie. 
It was ranked #96 in the 2013, according to the Social Security website (I always thought Benjamin was a bit too common, being #14).
And yet no one would question how to spell it or mispronounce it.

Justin told me he wasn't sure.
I cried.
I loved thinking of my little girl, Lydie.

We argued.

He came around.
And a few weeks before the worst day of our lives, we agreed: Lydia Joanne.  Lydie.
I loved it.

Benjamin and Lydia.
My Benji Boy and my Lydie Girl.

Lydie Jo.

JKW, HJJW, BJW, and now LJW.  We like the J's.

It's hard to admit this, but the morning I found out that my baby's heart had stopped beating, I actually asked Justin, "Do we still name her Lydia?"

Lydia was meant to be a name for a living child.   For whispering, "I love you, Lydie Girl" in the middle of the night after feeding her.   It was a name meant to be seen on the walls of daycare and to cheer for at soccer games. "Lydie!" was to be yelled up the stairs when our teenager needed to get a move-on.   "Lydia Joanne Welliver," was meant to be read at college graduation, as her dad and I smiled with tears in our eyes.  Lydia J. Welliver was meant to be on resumes, helping our girl find her dream job.  Lydia was meant to be repeated in wedding vows.

I had never, not once, thought about how the name "Lydia Joanne" would look in her obituary.

I never imagined she wouldn't add to the "Lydia" name count, because she'd never be administered a birth certificate, let alone a Social Security number.

That dreadful morning, it took me about 30 seconds to realize that Lydie was still her name, whether or not she was born alive.  30 seconds to realize there could never, ever be another Lydie.  She was Lydie.  Lydie was her.

That morning, I texted two of my best friends, "We lost the baby."

Now? I'd never phrase it that way.  I say, "Lydie died."
Then?
We were waiting until her birth to announce her name.  For the most part, we still referred to her as "the baby" ourselves.  We were waiting for her to be born to morph from "the baby" to "Lydie."

Instead, our announcement went something like this: "Our baby is dead.  And her name is Lydie."

Or maybe it was, "Lydie is here.  And she is dead."

Whatever it was, it was totally fucked up and the very, very opposite of what we imagined all those times we brainstormed names.

Sometimes I feel so sad that we found the perfect, most beautiful name in the world for our daughter that had to die.   Sometimes how much I love her name makes me sad.   Sometimes, and I admit this is fucked up, that I think of her as "Litty" because it sounds the same but isn't as beautiful, and that makes my broken heart hurt a little less. I told you it was fucked up.

I no longer think of her as "the baby."  And sometimes I get annoyed when other people call her my baby.  Because I think that the phrase "lost the baby" minimizes my loss.  My daughter died.  I lost not just my baby, but my toddler, my preschooler, my elementary school kid, my teenager, my 20-something, my 30-something, my middle-aged woman.  I lost my Lydie.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

I am the face of stillbirth

There's a website entitled Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope in which women who have lost their babies can tell their stories.  The purpose is to help women connect through their stories, and to help them not feel as alone in their grief.

The founder Kristin, wrote:

Of all the feelings I experienced after my daughter died, loneliness was by far the hardest. I felt completely and utterly alone. I felt like some sort of freak of nature. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to healthy, normal people like me, I thought.

    But I was wrong. After spending hours and hours scouring the internet for other stories like mine, I realized pregnancy loss is more common than I ever thought, and that it does not discriminate. It affects women of all ages, of all races, of all walks of life. It’s not just something that happens to “other people,” it can happen to anyone. I realized there were so many other nice, normal people like me who had gone through the death of a child. And they were surviving. That realization gave me hope. If they could do it, maybe, just maybe I could survive this too.

Because let's face it, baby loss is rare (and it feels completely isolating so when all your friends are popping out living, breathing babies that grow into living, breathing toddlers), but it is also so terribly common.  To put this into perspective: 1 in 160 pregnancies end in stillbirth.  So if you're pregnant, you might feel pretty comfortable with those odds.  But let's remember that this is about pregnancies, not women.  Most women have more than one pregnancy.  And now let's take 160 of your friends (you do, in fact, have 160 friends.  Just think about Facebook), and put them in a room together.   One of you will have a stillborn baby.  Thinking about that doesn't make you feel as safe anymore, does it?

And that's only stillbirth, which is defined as 20-42 weeks gestation.   Miscarriage?  That's a whole 'nother story.  Oh and there's SIDS too. And bacterial meningitis.  And all the trisomies.  There are far too many reasons that babies die.  Sometimes, there's no reason at all.

So point being, what happened to Lydie is rare.  But not all that rare.  There are so many women out there who are also desperately missing their babies.

And Faces of Loss, Faces of Hope is designed to help them find each other.

Until it became defunct.

Months ago, I stumbled upon this site and was disappointed to see it hadn't been updated in over a year.    But now, a group of women that I've befriended has picked it up and it is now up and running (thanks to all of you!)  Molly let me know to get my story ready to share.

So I sat down to write it.  And just like looking at the photos, I found it was taking me back to a place where I really didn't want to be.

"Can't you just use the first entry from your blog?" my husband asked.

Well, yes.  I could.  But it would need to be changed a bit.  And the problem was, I had such a hard time reading my own story, even though I wrote it, I lived it, it happened to me.  And in the weeks following, I must have reread it a dozen times.   Now, suddenly, I found myself unable to even read our own story.

So, whether my therapist would suggest this or not, I eventually forced myself to.   I sat down, I got out the tissues, I relived my experience and reworked our story for the Faces of Loss website.

You can find me and Lydia featured here.

This is the photo I used for the website:

Lydie and me at 26 weeks.  Little did I know how much I would be missing that bump 8 short weeks later.








Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On fighting with insurance after the death of your daughter.

I keep trying to take deep breaths, to cope with the near-constant anxiety in my life these days.

And then something like this just happens, and my blood is boiling:
My insurance company is denying claims from my hospital stay with Lydie.

You know how those bills are hard enough to swallow as it is?  When your daughter dies, they are much, much harder.

A month or two ago, I told myself to suck it up, pay them, forget about it.
I told myself that it stings, but money is not the real issue here.

And now, Aetna is refusing to reimburse me out of my flexible spending account for the hospital bills.  First they told me that I wasn't employed at that time (um, yes I was, I just was on leave).  Then they asked if I was on maternity leave (to which I responded, "Well, my baby died, so I think it was technically a medical leave.")  This week, they've confirmed my employment but are still refusing to reimburse me with my own damn money. 

It's these things that are so frustrating in everyday life.  I mean, had Lydie lived, I'd still be annoyed about it.  But with Lydie dead?  It is so much worse.

It's why I'm on the phone with the insurance agent in tears.  (And I actually felt all right this morning and made the now-obvious mistake of putting on mascara).
It's why I didn't hold back in telling her that my daughter died and the fact that they are making me call time after time and argue with them does not help my anguish.

I hope they make a note of that in their file, because I have to call them again tomorrow to follow up.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Her photos

On that dreadful Wednesday in November, when we packed for the hospital, we debated taking our  camera.  Do you take your camera to the hospital knowing your baby has already died?  Never contemplated that one before.  We grabbed it, figured we'd have it with us just in case.

Of course, I'm glad we did.  And we also had Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep take professional photos of Lydie.  We have a bunch, though I think we'll always wish we had more.  With baby loss, you always wish you had more.  More hugs, more kisses, more I love yous, more photos.  We'll never have enough.

When we first came home from the hospital with my saggy belly and empty arms, we looked at those photos everyday.  Multiple times a day.  Stared at them.  Memorized them.

And framed them to display all over the house. 

Fast-forward three months, and I.cannot.look.at.them.

I noticed this first in my office, where this photo is framed.



It's one of my favorites, because it wasn't posed...  just Justin and I each holding Lydie's hand.   We couldn't stop crying enough to pose.

The other day, I moved the frame out my direct view.

I noticed that I'm starting to wince when I see these photos.  I noticed that I'm avoiding looking at them.

I have been trying to figure out why.

The ones I'm in, my expression is pure agony, pure pain, pure hell.  I'm holding my daughter wrapped up in her yellow blanket that I made her. but she's barely visible.  Just my pain.

The ones that focus more on Lydie, she looks beat up.  She looks dead.

And all the ones of her perfect hands and perfect feet?  Those hands and feet are so perfect that they remind me of the senselessness of it all.  My perfect, dead baby.  

I'm finding that these photos are taking me back to a place that I don't want to be. 

I haven't yet moved any of the framed photos, but I'm thinking about it.  I'm trying to remind myself that I don't need photos of Lydie around the house to make me think about her.  I haven't stopped thinking about her for one minute.

I talked to my my new counselor about this the other day (another side note: so far, third time seems to be a charm. I'm connecting much better to this counselor).  I told her I struggle with it, because the pictures are causing me so much pain, but I feel guilt over not looking at them.  Who wouldn't want to look at pictures of her own child?

She asked me, "Does not wanting to look at photos of Lydie mean you love Lydie any less?"
Well, no.
Obviously not.

She said I'm in survival mode.  If looking at photos helps me, then I should look at photos.  If looking at photos brings back trauma and pain, then it's okay not to look at photos. 

The other day, I ordered a print of one of my favorite poems: i carry your heart by e.e. cummings.  My best friend Kate read it at Lydie's funeral, and it will always make me think of my daughter.  I plan to frame this print.  I was thinking about a way to frame a page of the book that we read to Lydie too, Wherever You are, My Love Will Find You.  I am trying to convince myself that I can display other things that make me think of Lydie.  Photos are not my only option.


(As a side note: I am so not a tattoo person, but I am contemplating getting a tattoo that reads "i carry your heart."  On my foot perhaps?  I'm so, so, so not a tattoo person.  Up until this point, I never understood how you could want a mark on your body for the rest of your life.)

Other BLMs, what about you?  Do you like looking at photos of your child or does it just hurt more?  Do you have them displayed in your home?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Update on the siblings question. And on being overly sensitive.

So, a while ago, I posted about how Ben's school had chosen him as "Student of the Month" and given me a sheet to answer questions about him.  You know, the usual things, like hobbies (I wrote "chasing garbage trucks, playing with my cousins AJ and Lane, swimming, vacuuming, and being outside"), favorite foods ("hot dogs, raisins, eggs, and any kind of dip"), and siblings.  Ah, siblings.

I chewed (and cried) over this for a while, and finally wrote, "Ben's sister Lydia was stillborn in November 2014.  We love and miss her very much."

And I turned the pictures and the form in.  Three weeks ago.

Every day since then, I look, with anxiety, to see if it's on the wall.

Yesterday, it finally was.



Now, I have a few things to point out here.  One is that we pay A LOT of money each week to send my son to this school.  Another is that I turned this crap in three weeks ago.  Another is that every other Student of the Month board is beautifully done, with the photos matted and cute writing and shapes.  And my son's is done with post-it notes.  (I have become friends with one other mom at Ben's school -- we connected because she lost her twin sons a few years ago.  Ironically, I told her just last weekend that I thought Ben's teacher was lazy.  Case in point.)

Just for comparison value, here's another Student of the Month collage:



But I'm mostly bothered by this:



The language here.  Obviously, the incorrect grammar is a glaring issue to this previous English teacher.  But the biggest problem? Stating that Ben's sister's name WAS Lydia.  Past tense.

Lydia is still her name.  She is still Ben's sister.

Oh, and I intentionally included a picture of Oma Jo and Pop-Pop with ALL their grandchildren at Christmas time.  To represent Lydie in the photo, my mom held Lydie's framed hand and footprints.  This photo was not on the goddamn wall.

Am I being overly sensitive here?

Probably.
But it has been haunting me.
I laid in bed the other night at 3 am, getting increasingly more pissed off about this situation.
I tried to tell myself, after all we've been through, this is NOT something worth my energy.
I asked myself why it is bothering me so much.

So here's my answer, and as always, it's complex:

Sure, I am annoyed by the sheer and obvious laziness of Ben's teacher.  But in a regular situation, would that really bother me that much?
Probably not.  I'd probably joke with my husband about it.

In part, I think it's because I wrestled so much with how to include Lydie, in a tactful and respectful manner, but in a way that also represents that she IS Ben's sister and she IS a part of our family.  I finally settled on a way that I felt good about.  That I felt like acknowledged Lydie without being too in-your-face.

And then his teacher shit all over that. 

In part, I think it's because his teachers never acknowledge our pain or our grief.  They never ask how we're doing.  And in those early days, when I'd drop Ben off in my sweatpants and go back home to cry, they'd shout, "Have a WONDERFUL day!" as I was walking out the door.  I thought this would be a way to remind them, hey, we're still not okay.  Remember the dead baby?

In part, I think it's because all these mothers carrying their infant carriers in one hand and holding their toddler's hand with the other tear me up inside, and they don't even know it.  And don't get me started about my avoidance of the pregnant moms.  They probably think I'm a bitch for looking at the ground or the wall as they walk by instead of making eye contact.  And I want them to know about Lydie too.

So I've done a bit more chewing (and crying) over this.  And this morning, when I dropped off Ben, I asked to speak with his teacher.  I didn't mention the shitty quality of the collage.  I merely started with saying that I recognize that I am being overly sensitive, but it's because Ben's sister died just three months ago and it is still very raw.  But that I would really like the photo with her hand and footprints included because it is very important to us.  And that I would really like her to change some wording on the note about his sister, again, because it's very important to us.  And I handed her my own post-it with what I would like it to say.

The lazy teacher just said, "okay....." but another teacher jumped in, apologized profusely, and said they'd get that fixed right away.

Let's just see how things look at pick-up today. 



Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Trap Door

So many people seem shocked that I went through labor with Lydie and gave birth to her.  The horror of it, right?  But how do they suppose she came out?

Do they think there's a trap door?  Living babies can only exit via vaginal birth or cesarean section.  But dead babies?  Here's the trap door!  Exit this way, please.

Almost two years ago, when I first heard that my cousin and his wife's son was stillborn, I thought, oh there's no way.  You'd have to knock me out and cut me open.  But when it happened to me?  I've had a c-section and I did not want another one.  When I was moved to the recovery room after Ben was born via emergency c-section, he was laying in the bassinet next to me.  I asked my mom to pick him up and hand him to me.  "That might make your incision hurt more," she said.  "I don't care," I responded.  "I need to remember this was worth it."   I did want to have the physical pain and long recovery from a c-section when I didn't even get to bring my baby home.

So the doctors did not, in fact, cut me open, like I imagined that I'd insist.  Instead, my girl gave me the vaginal birth I thought I'd never have. 

In The Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, Elizabeth McCracken writes,
     I would have to go through labor.  I knew that already, the second the doctor had shaken his head and said no.  The baby was dead but he still had to be born.  I knew this because my friend Wendy's sister had lost two late-term children to placenta previa.  Before Wendy explained it, stillbirth was something that happened in black-and-white engravings, in iron beds with nearby pitchers, and it was always a grim surprise.  The baby was born.  The attending physician shook his head.  When Wendy was explaining it to me, I was shocked.  I don't know how I supposed you got a late-term baby out.  
     "That's the worst thing in the world," I said to Wendy when she told me about her sister.
      Now I understand.  Of course it wasn't the worst thing in the world.  The worst thing in the world had already happened.  He was dead.  Everything else was easy.

She's so right.  When the worst thing in the world has already happened, this part is just a small detail.

When I was in labor with Lydie, I was very careful to speak of her "delivery" not her "birth."  How could she be born when she had already died?  Now, I feel differently about that.  Lydie's death just happened to come before her birth.  Which is tragic and horrific.  But she was still born... and not through a trap door.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Shit Lottery

I have been thinking a lot about how some people just get to lead an easier life than others.

Some people are blissfully unaware of how painful life can be.

Some people float through their entire lives without ever feeling their heart shatter into a million little pieces.

For some people, death happens in the right order. They have losses, sure, but it might have been their grandpa when he was 85 years old.  For some people, deaths aren't tragedies.   

Some people make the decision that they are ready to have kids, and 9 or 10 months later, a baby is born.  To them, it's a simple process.

I realized soon after Lydie's death that it's not going to be an easy life.
My blissfulness has been shattered, and it will never, ever return.

I don't know why tragedy strikes the ones it does, while others get to skate through their entire lives unscathed. 

I don't know why, when I've never won any kind of drawing or lottery in my life, I won the stillbirth lottery.  I don't know why my daughter had to be the 1 in 160.

I ask "Why me?" a lot, but I know damn well that there will never be an answer. 

And I know I am not alone, that others face tragedy too. 

A couple at support group explained how their daughter died at 9 months old.  They had to make the gut-wrenching decision to stop treating her seizures and instead introduce hospice into their home.  How do you make that kind of decision?

Recently, I was reminded about a friend of a friend in her early 30's whose husband suddenly died recently.  They have a young son, and I bet they planned to have more children.   There's this saying, "When you lose your parent, you lose your past.  When you lose your spouse, you lose your present.  When you lose your child, you lose your future."  It encapsulates the heartbreak of child loss.  However, I think if you lose your husband when you are 33, you probably feel like you lost your future too. 

Another friend's daughter died at full-term.  After struggling with infertility for years, she finally (and thankfully) was able to bring home her second daughter.  They also had a botched adoption right before they were supposed to bring another baby home.  And now?  Her husband has cancer.  She joked that you can measure the quality of your life by how many support groups you belong to.  Dead baby support group?  Check.  For her, cancer support group?  Check.

It seems like when you've had enough shit happen to you, you should get a free pass.

Like my friend from our support group.  Her son Ian lived 15 hours after he was born premature.  And a week before Ian's first birthday, her second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at 10 weeks.   I cried for her when I heard the news.  She deserves so much better than that.  She deserves a free pass.  How can it be that after you held your own child as he died, your odds of miscarriage in a subsequent pregnancy are the same?  Why can't she get a free pass?

And when I heard her news, I cried for me too.  Because when we try for our third child, our odds of miscarriage are the same.
Not to mention, our odds of stillbirth?  They shoot up.  With Lydie, I had no risk-factors.  Now I have a huge risk-factor: previous stillbirth.

I recently read about a woman whose first child was stillborn and whose second child lived only a few hours.  Their deaths were unrelated.

That woman really deserved a free pass.

It's another reminder that tragedy doesn't discriminate.  It doesn't choose to skip you once you've already had your tragedy.

Which I think helps to explain the anxiety that has crept into my life since Lydia died.  The many people who have told me "this will be the worst thing that ever happens to you" cannot foresee my future.  I now know that I'm not immune to tragedy.  And when one of the people you love most has been snatched from you without warning, it's hard not to worry about what will happen next.

C.S. Lewis wrote, "No one ever told me grief feels so like fear."

As jealous as I am of the people who do not know what tragedy feels like, including all these mothers walking into daycare, holding their toddler's hand on their right side and carrying their infant carrier on their left side, I know that I am not alone in my suffering.  

I can't turn off the "Why me?"
I do know, however, that maybe I should ask instead, "Why not me?"
What made me believe that I was invincible to this?
What made me think I'd be one of the lucky ones?


* And as a side note, after I wrote this blogpost, I read this article about anxiety and PTSD after a stillbirth.  I nodded my head the entire time.  The author writes, "a common thread among moms within the stillbirth community is the persistent, debilitating anxiety that settles in after the loss.... the suddenness of our loss shook me to the core. How could this happen when I was doing everything right? I was doing everything I was told to do. I mean, I was even drinking herbal sludge every morning to give him the best start. How was this outcome even possible? And, since I now knew it was not just possible but my heartbreaking reality every morning, I wondered, what else will go wrong?"

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Lydie in the Post

Today, Lydie is in the news again.  The Washington Post.

This is challenging for me, to share my girl and our story so publicly, to make myself so vulnerable.  But I am determined to help break the silence that surrounds stillbirth, so here it is.

Lydie in the Post 

We love you, Lydie.


Monday, February 9, 2015

Get through the Day

I used to be a fairly ambitious person.  Now, my daily goal is this: Get through the day.

Which sometimes means closing my office door so I don't hear all the happy chatter that absolutely drives me nuts these days.  Sometimes that means closing my office door so I can cry.  Sometimes that crying takes place in the bathroom and sometimes it takes place while running around the track.  (Or, as I covered last week, sometimes it takes place in the middle of the kitchen floor with my son on my lap.)  Sometimes it means not crying at all, just feeling unbelievably empty.  Sometimes it means pouring myself a glass of wine as soon as I get home.

Soon after I returned to work, I wrote goals for myself.  These would be laughable to the old Heather, but this is what I aim for everyday.  Sometimes I do it better than other times:
- get out of bed
- hug your son
- make it through work
- go hug your son
- be present for your husband and your son
- try to eat
- cut yourself some slack

Today isn't going so well, even though I hoped it would be a better week.  So again, I'm telling myself, get through the day.

One day, I hope I can be ambitious again.  Today, I hope to get through the day.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Story hour

Sometimes I want to be all analytical on this blog.  Other times I just want to use this forum to say:  I can't get a freaking break.  Look what my son just pulled off his bookshelf and brought to me to read.

I cannot remember seeing this book before and have no idea where we got it.
For the record, story hour was done as soon as Benji brought me this one.  I have a feeling later I will be pulling it from his room to hide in Lydie's room, with many other things that hurt my heart. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

Three Month Stillbirthday

Today, at 12:14 pm, 3 months exactly since my little girl entered this world still, I stopped running on the track and stepped outside onto the snow in my shorts and t-shirt.

I looked up at the sky and I talked to my girl.

I told her that I love her.  And that I miss her.  And that this life has been really hard without her.  I asked her to help me figure out how to continue to be her mama, even though she's not here.

And then I stepped back on to the track and kept putting one foot in front of the other.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

A rough week

This week has been particularly hard.

I learned on Sunday that my sister is taking her kids to Florida this week.  She didn't even have the decency to tell me herself.  She sent me this card yesterday telling me that Lydie's death is making her appreciate her life and her kids more, so she wants to have these experiences with them.

So not only does she have a living son and daughter, but because my daughter died, she is taking them to fucking Disney World. 

The rational side of my brain can make sense of this.  The emotional side is so angry at her.  And lately, my emotions are winning out.

Yesterday, my mom texted me a photo of her holding a beer and a pretzel with my sister at the Cleveland Hofbrauhaus and it made me burst into tears.  I do not understand how they can go out and have fun right now.  It makes me feel so completely alone in my grief.

So much, that when I couldn't stop crying while running around the track, I had to go sit on a toilet in a bathroom stall.  I had to wait until the people around me cleared out to let out my gut-wrenching sobs.

When I texted Justin to vent to him, he reminded me that it was Wednesday.  I found out that my daughter had died on a Wednesday.   It marked 13 weeks.  I hate Wednesdays. 

Justin seems to measure time by Thursdays, the day Lydie was "born."  For me, I mark Wednesdays, the day that my world came crashing down.  And to top it off, today is also the 5th, which marks three months since the dreadful day I found out she died.

Which makes tomorrow the 6th, three whole months since her silent birth.  Others have told me that anniversaries are always hard, and I wasn't sure what to think about that, until I realized this bad week is coinciding with the three month mark.   A whole trimester.  The fourth trimester.  I should be setting a chalkboard next to her, taking her monthly photo.  Remarking about how much she has changed and grown.  Maybe she'd even be rolling over already, like Ben did at 3 months.

Yesterday, I helped interview a candidate who just happened to mention she has three children.  And while everyone else nodded, I felt sick.  How simple this comment was for her.  I felt so jealous.

Later, a friend asked if I had any travel plans for work this spring.  No, I responded.  I was supposed to be on maternity leave.

Between the tears in the bathroom and my office, I looked forward to picking Benji up from daycare all day, thinking my day would greatly improve when my boy ran into my arms and hugged me.   But instead, he threw a tantrum about leaving school.  And considering there was a pregnant woman in his classroom and I could just feel my anxiety rising, I picked him up crying and carried him out.  He fought me as I wrestled him into his car seat, and as we're stuck in traffic and he continued to howl, I yelled "I know!" at him and started crying too.

And then once we got home, Ben opened up the fridge, pulled out a full bottle of lemon juice, and promptly dropped it on the floor, shattering it and spilling lemon juice everywhere.  I yelled "fuck!," dropped to the kitchen floor and wept in a way I haven't in months.  Ben sat down next to me, sobbing.  And eventually I pulled him on to my lap so we sat there sobbing together. 

I wouldn't say that it was my finest moment of parenting.

And in a few minutes, I have to go to a faculty meeting where I'll be surrounded by people I haven't seen since November.  And for each person that says hello to me, I'll have to quickly size up whether they know or not and make the split-second decision of how to respond when they ask, "How are you?"  Meanwhile, a trigger for me has been crowds and sitting in an auditorium with 200 colleagues gives me such anxiety.

I've read that I can allow this experience to make me bitter or make me better.
I know that I can't control what happened to my daughter, but I can control how I choose to live afterwards.

On the good days, I can feel this.  I can feel hopeful and grateful.

But on the bad days - or even the bad weeks - the anger and the fear and the anxiety and the resentment creep in constantly, and I can't control them anymore than I can control anything else. 


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Off-Limits

Target: My favorite store, like most every woman.   But I haven't been able to walk in there since Lydie's heart stopped beating.  I have such a suspicion that Target will be a trigger for me and I will be a mess the whole time I am there.  Not sure I can really explain why.  Because I used to like browsing in the maternity clothes?  And those baby aisles??... don't get me started.  So hopefully this tube of toothpaste lasts a while.  The ironic thing is, I have a son still in diapers and he's going to need some more of those soon.  On a positive note, it's nice to see a zero dollar balance on my Target credit card every month. 

University of Dayton Alumni Magazine: I used to love getting these in the mail and would always flip to the back to see who got married and who had babies.  Now?  They will have to go straight to the recycle.  Unless they want to print an announcement about Lydie, but I'm pretty sure they wouldn't go for that.  No one knows what to do when birth and death happen in the wrong order.  You don't get to acknowledge either events, not in your school's alumni magazine anyway.

Facebook: Before Lydie, I was on Facebook entirely too much.  I was a pro on those kids' buying and selling sites.  I found the best stuff for both Ben and Lydie, always swinging by somewhere on my way home to pick something up and showing off my finds to my sister and my mom.  (And not to brag, but I once sold an item for $7 that Justin picked up from the neighbor's trash.  It was like picking 7 bucks out of the trash!  That's a Chipotle burrito!)   Now?  Got out of those groups the second we got home from the hospital.  The only reason I haven't deactivated my account is that people get a hold of me through messenger.  But that Facebook feed, all those happy people posting photos of their perfect little families?  Living normal lives?  Posting pregnancy announcements or bump photos?  It makes me sick to my stomach.  So I stay off. I even deleted the app from my phone and that is HUGE for me.  I have connected with other BLMs on Instagram so I have been using that a bit more... and I have "unfollowed" countless other people.  Including my own sister.  But that's a story for another day.

Make-up: I never wore much, but I did wear it to work everyday.  And now?  Since Lydie died, I have worn it exactly once: on the day of her memorial.  It hasn't been a cognizant thing: I didn't declare that I was no longer wearing make-up.  Maybe it relates to lacking the motivation to get out of bed every morning.  And to be honest, I just don't really care what I look like.  I also now wear my glasses instead of contacts most of the time.  My eyes get tired from crying all the time.  

The phone: I just can't do it.  Need to talk to me?  Text or email.  Being on the phone causes me a lot of anxiety.  I did not foresee this one.  I did not know that your baby dying could cause you anxiety about the phone.  The worst?  When my office phone rings and I have no idea who is on the other end or what they want.  The few times it has rung since I've been back (luckily we usually stick to email), it has frozen me, causing me to stare at the ringing phone with utter panic. 

Pretty Little Liars on the Elliptical: I ran for the first 22ish weeks of my pregnancy with Lydie.  Ran while pushing Ben in his stroller, that is.  And then I transitioned to the university gym on my lunch break, where I'd watch my guilty pleasure, Pretty Little Liars, on my Nook while getting in my 35 minutes on the Elliptical.  Now?  Cannot.do.it.  The Elliptical or the tv show.  One of the most fucked up parts of the death of a baby is how little your life changes after it.  Sure, I'm sadder and angrier than I've ever been, but my routine looks 100% the same.  Maybe that's why I cling to the little changes.  So now, at noon, you will find me running circles around the track.  See?  My daughter died and my life is different now.

I guess we all have our things.  Justin has not been able to wear the shirt or pants he was wearing the day we found out the Lydie died again.  Me?  I can't even tell you what I was wearing, though they had to be maternity clothes which are now tucked in a bin in the basement.

It's a weird dance to try to predict triggers and stay away from them.  Because some of the triggers are unpredictable or don't always make a lot of sense. 




Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Lifelines. And on being a shitty friend.

On Friday night, Justin and I did our first socializing since Lydia died.  We had our new friends, Renae and Scot, over for dinner and conversation.  Renae and Scot lost their son at 36 weeks in September due to a cord accident.

Last night, I met a new friend, Jill, for dinner.  Jill's son Collin was stillborn four years ago.

Tonight is our support group.

This weekend, we're having Caroline and her parents over for a playdate.  Caroline goes to Ben's daycare.  And she's a rainbow baby.  She has twin brothers, Andrew and William, who came before her.

Christine, whose son was stillborn just 3 weeks ago, would like to meet up for a drink sometime soon, but I just have to figure out when I can fit that in.

Suddenly, looking at my calendar, I've got quite the social life.
And my plans are all with other people who have lost their babies.
That's not to mention the near-constant communication I'm in with Jen, or Cara, or Molly, or a few others.  

These people are my lifelines.

I told my new therapist that I'm nuts.  That I only want to be around people who have lost children.  That I have a really hard time talking to my own friends.  She asked why that is nuts.  I said, well, for one, these friends would do anything for me.  They would do anything they could to take away my pain. They didn't want my daughter to die any more than I did.  But still?  I have a really hard time talking to them. They get to tuck all of their children in at night; they have no idea what this feels like.  Sometimes they say things that piss me off.   Sometimes what they don't say pisses me off.  But maybe I'm just sensitive, maybe I'm just pissed in general, and looking for places to direct that.  Regardless, I feel like a really shitty friend.  But I don't have it in me right now to be a good one.   I just can't ask about what's going on in their lives right now.  I can't hear about how normal their lives are.  The normality of everyone else's lives is too much for me.

The therapist said I need to allow myself some grace.

I hope I don't feel this way forever.  I hope there's a day when I can pick up the phone and chat with Kate again.  Or that I can run across the street to Joanna's.  Or head over to Ashley and Nick's for an evening of hanging out with some drinks and our kids.

But today is not that day. 
So I surround myself with all these people who get my pain, who don't lead normal lives, who don't get to tuck in all their children every night.  Who are muddling through the best they can, which sometimes is better than other times. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Perspective

When I was about 30 weeks pregnant with Benjamin, Justin and I attended a childbirth class.  The instructor gave us like 10 cards, reading things like, "induction," and "epidural," and of course, the dreaded "c-section." We were asked to flip over the cards in the order of things we would accept in our birth.  For us, c-section was last.  As we walked out that day, Justin said, "I really hope we don't have a c-section." I laughed, because "we" would never have a c-section, just like "we" weren't pregnant.  But I wasn't worried, I was 31, healthy, and having a fairly easy pregnancy.  I wouldn't need to have a c-section. 

But so much for getting contractions and timing them and all those things we discussed in my childbirth class.  Instead, I reported to the hospital 6 days after my due date to be induced.  It seemed so anti-climatic to report to the hospital, but I was ready for that babe to come out.  (Now that I know that chances of stillbirth increase dramatically after 40 weeks, I wonder how doctors rationally let any woman go past her due date.)  My sister was induced with both of her kids, and I had a sneaking suspicion my whole pregnancy that I would also be induced.

I didn't have a detailed birth plan.  My birth plan was somewhat along the lines of "I want my mom and my husband in the room.  I would like to be as active as I can for as long as I can.  I am going to see how it goes before deciding to have an epidural.  I want the cord to pulsate for a moment after delivery and my husband to cut the cord."  I had read a lot that the more detailed your birth plan, the more likely you were to be disappointed, and I trusted that my doctor was going to make the best decisions for us.

So hour and hours into my labor, there I am, bouncing on a birthing ball, doing my active labor thing, when the nurse comes in and casually mentions that my heart rate monitor must have slipped off the baby, because the heart rate is so low.  Then she realizes that the heart rate monitor is actually accurate, and a slew of nurses and doctors rush in, and who throw me on the bed and toss me around like a rag doll as they try to find a position to stabilize Ben's heart rate.  After a very scary couple of minutes, they find that position.  A doctor with the biggest hands I've ever seen, comes in to place an internal monitor on Ben.  My anxiety has sky-rocketed, so I decide to go ahead and have the epidural to try to relax a bit (and I wasn't allowed to be active anyway).  Fast forward a few hours later, when Ben's heart rate dives again, and the slew of doctors and nurses rushes in again.  They throw me around again, but this time they don't manage to stabilize Ben's heart rate and the next thing I know, I'm thrown on a stretcher as the doctors RUN down the hallway to the operating room. And then, I'm being cut open.  My husband still isn't in the room, and I'm throwing up all over myself.

It was traumatic, to say the least.

And although I wasn't allowed to hold him for quite a while because I couldn't stop shaking, Benjamin was okay.

Later, in the recovery room, a nurse must have heard me talking and she snapped at me, "At least you have a healthy baby!"
I was really pissed that she didn't recognize the trauma, that the fact that my baby survived seemed to negate the horrors of the 22 hours in the hospital before he was born.  Like I wasn't allowed to process what had just happened, because my baby was okay. 

I now wonder if she had delivered a stillborn baby that day.

Because at least we had a healthy baby.

And I know now that there are babies in that very same situation, where the baby's cord gets compressed every time the mother has a contraction, that do not survive.  Where that sprint to the operating room is not quite quick enough.  I know we got lucky with Ben.

So from the beginning with Lydie, we knew I'd have another c-section. My doctor doesn't perform vaginal births after c-section, and although she told me she could refer me to a new doctor, we knew the catastrophic risks to the baby.  We read about uturine rupture, and even though the chances were small, we didn't want to take that chance.  We also knew that attempting a VBAC would be more likely to result in another emergency c-section, and we didn't want any more risk, we didn't want to have any more trauma.

The whole pregnancy, I mourned the fact that I would never have a vaginal delivery.  "It is what it is," I told myself.  "A healthy baby is what matters," I reminded myself.  But still, I was scared.  I was in so much pain after my c-section, and it's hard to mentally psyche yourself up for that level of pain a second time.

This fall, a pregnant coworker and I discovered that we saw the same doctor.  She asked me the story of Ben's birth and I recounted it to her, hoping it didn't terrify her.  "I guess the point is," I told her, "Dr. B is going to do everything she can do to make sure both you and the baby are safe and healthy.  You have to take away too many other expectations."

I ran into her at the doctor's office two weeks later, when I had my full-round Lydia belly, and she had her son in his carrier.  She told me how she did in fact, have to have a c-section.  How her son had to be rushed to NICU, and how he still wouldn't breastfeed, so she pumped and bottle-fed him.  It was traumatic but she remembered how I said, "healthy baby, healthy mom."  And ultimately, whether or not she had to do some extra pumping, that's what she got.  But it was really hard.  I thought, "well, that sounds just awful." And I gave Lydia a couple more love-pats. 

Two weeks after that, she was in the waiting room, when Justin and I walked out, eyes on the ground, after seeing our still daughter on the ultrasound. She told me later she instantly knew something was wrong.  She told me later that our daughter's death helped her put her struggles with her son in perspective.

That's the thing, right?
At the time of Ben's birth, I thought it was unfair that someone minimized our trauma.
Now, I think:  Ben's birth?  The child was living, for God's sake.
Who cares what amount of trauma or pain I had to go through to get him here.
The PTSD I was diagnosed with after Ben's birth? It's nothing compared to the PTSD I have now.

Now, I put things into perspective for every other new mother. (Which I loathe, by the way).

I'm the worst-case scenario.

Actually,  they say fetal demise is the the second-worst outcome in a pregnancy.
The very worst?  Maternal demise.

As someone who would gladly give up my life for my child, I'd disagree with that.
(Although my husband would like to point out here that he's very grateful that I lived through this experience).

Ben's birth was our worst-case scenario in our childbirth cards.  It was even worse than that, because it was 16 hours of labor, and a few scares along the way, resulting in that emergency c-section.

But Lydie's birth?  The childbirth cards didn't even mention that.  They led us to believe that a c-section is the worst thing that could happen.  They didn't have a "fetal demise" card.   They didn't mention that sometimes babies die in the womb for seemingly no reason at all. 

If we're able to try again, do this again?  And we were given cards?  The only two we aren't okay with are "fetal demise" and "maternal demise."  All we want is a living child, it doesn't matter how we get there.

That's perspective for you.

 
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