Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Just stop talking

It's no secret that I've avoided other people since Lydia died.  I remind myself constantly that people have good intentions, that they mean well. Rationally, I know this, and I understand people don't know what to say, although I'm unsure of why they can't just leave it at: "I'm so sorry," without giving me their personal opinions about heaven or God or telling me about how their sister had several miscarriages, but it's okay because then she had three healthy children.

I will people to just stop talking on a regular basis. 

It's getting worse, as this Bowie bump grows.

Yesterday, after walking into a meeting with one coworker who told me all about his new baby at home (I literally said nothing in reply... because what am I going to say?  "Oh really?  That's nice.  My daughter should be 8 months old but instead she's dead, and I wonder about 15 times a day if this baby is dead too."? Nothing seemed like the best option.)  

Less than three minutes later, a colleague who apparently never heard the news said to me, "Heather, weren't you just pregnant a year ago?"  She said it with a laugh. 

"Yes," I responded.  "My daughter died."

That's a real conversation stopper, which sometimes, is just fine by me. 

People seem to think women's pregnancies are fair game for conversation.  That every pregnant woman must want to gush about gender and due dates and tiny little onesies and hear everyone else's stories of labor and breastfeeding.

I avoid eye contact a lot, hoping if I don't look friendly, they will leave me alone.  But inevitably, as I'm washing my hands in the public bathroom, women will ask, "When are you due?"

"Hopefully she'll be here in October," has become my automatic response, and I get a lot of weird looks, considering they were expecting just a date.  You're not getting a date, lady.

The truth is, I don't want to talk about this pregnancy, unless you're willing to acknowledge the complexities of it.    I don't like making small talk about babies, because that is another reminder of all that I'm missing with Lydie and all that I'm terrified we'll never have with Bowie.

And I want to finish washing my hands and rush out of the bathroom before you ask me how many children I have.

My baby bump makes people think I want to sit around and talk about babies.  I don't.  I really, really, really don't.  I don't want to hear about how your daughter is pregnant with her third child or your four-month-old started rolling over or how you know someone who is also high-risk because she had preclampsia last time, but thank God the baby was fine. 

I especially don't want to talk to other pregnant women, to compare pregnancies, to bitch about how tired and sore we are.  You think you've been pregnant forever?  I have been pregnant the majority of the last three years, and I have one living child to show for it.  Don't complain to me about being pregnant.

A couple weeks ago, I was getting my blood drawn for my glucose test, and the lab tech was going on and on, complaining about how expensive pregnancy is.  For real, lady?  I said, "Well, I have lots of appointments because I'm high-risk," and I wanted her to ask me why I am high-risk.  I wanted to shock her, tell her my daughter died suddenly when I was 34 weeks pregnant, make her shut the hell up complaining about the cost of pregnancy.  But instead she just continued about how her husband said they should just have the baby at home so they didn't have hospital bills.  I finally interrupted, "Did she live?"  Huh?  she asked.  "Did your daughter live?"  I repeated.  Well, yeah, she said.  Well, mine died, I told her.  And again, conversation stopper. Thankfully.

Even a sonographer yesterday, who asked how I am holding up, told me she knows how I feel... because she was 39 weeks pregnant when her cousin's baby was stillborn.  And she had very high anxiety the rest of her pregnancy.

Yeah, she actually compared our experiences.

I'm also flabbergasted by how many people who do know our story tell me they know everything will be okay this time.  They just know it.  They are certain Bowie will be arrive alive.  These are people who know essentially nothing about stillbirth or cord accidents or Lydia's death.  And when they talk like that, instead of feeling reassured, I feel angry.  YOU DON'T KNOW.  Considering I don't want my doctors to make me promises - I do not want them from the general public either. 

Then there's all the comments about how I'm "almost there!"  You know who was almost here?  Lydie.  And at 30 weeks pregnant with Bowie, I'm still almost four weeks away from the point we lost Lydie.  Almost there doesn't comfort me.  Instead it makes me paranoid, anxious, scared.  Lydie was almost here.

I sound angry.  And I guess that I am. When I'm having these conversations - multiple times a day - I do a lot of nodding, a lot of keeping my mouth shut.  I wait to bitch to my husband or my closest BLM friends.  But each of these conversations, every one, increases my anxiety.  Makes me miss Lydia more.  Makes me worry about Bowie more.  Reminds me of how unlucky we've been.

I am much more comforted by the few people that acknowledge this pregnancy must be terrifying and I must miss Lydia tremendously and they are keeping our family in their thoughts and prayers and hope for good news for us.  Thank you to those people.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Chasing a Rainbow

So, just as I knew it would, it's getting harder.  At 29 weeks, most pregnant moms are attending their baby shower and gushing over tiny onesies, decorating nurseries, putting together strollers and cribs.  Me?  I'm trying to avoid conversation with strangers about pregnancy and babies, wondering about ten times a day if my baby died, and checking into Labor & Delivery on a regular basis.

I'm trying to manage my anxiety. 

One thing that is helping is carrying around a post-it note with me, tucking it under my yellow notepad at meetings, and recording every time Bowie moves.   I learned this trick from my friend Nora.

When I panic and think "Oh my God, I haven't felt her move in a while!" I look at this post-it.  In which case, it's often been like 15 minutes.  And then I breathe a little easier. (Usually).

I brought a couple post-it notes home to my husband, the math and Excel guy.  And he took it a step further:

That's right, friends, Justin is graphing Bowie's movements everyday.

I think we're both clinging to whatever teensy bit of control we can find.

Because there's not much.

Last week, I started my weekly appointments with the high-risk OB, the MFM.  I'm keeping up with my weekly OB visits, so right now, I have two appointments a week, which is just fine by me.  Justin and I delved back into our research about cord accidents, even speaking with Dr. Collins in Louisiana again, and advocated to our MFM that we want not only a Biophysical Profile but also a Nonstress test.  Although the Biophysical Profile is supposed to be a superior test, our main concern is cord accidents and the best way to see compression of the cord is by decelerations on an NST.

The MFM seemed perplexed about why I would choose an NST over a BPP, but I told him: I actually want BOTH.  He eventually gave in, but I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm cray-cray.

My OB, however, told me she thought this was a good idea.  She told me that last week she was at the hospital when a woman, 29 weeks along, came in because of reduced movement.  They hooked her up for a BPP and her babe passed, 8/8.  They decided to do an NST just to double check, and the baby showed huge decelerations of her heart rate.  Which means one thing: cord compression.  Which means, she's not going anywhere.  She's staying in the hospital on monitoring 24 hours a day.

These stories are hard for me to hear.  Because you know, what if I had recognized decreased movements from Lydie?   What if Lydie had had an NST? 

But it did prove my point.

And my thought is, if I make it to the end of this pregnancy, and my biggest problem is that I had TOO much monitoring (and a live baby), then that's a good problem to have.  That sounds just fine by me.

So Bowie and I have started our frequent testing, and though it does give me some peace of mind in the moment, that's just it.  It's momentary. 

On Monday, Bowie took a while to pass her NST.  They were poking and prodding her, buzzing her, giving me juice.  Looking for more accelerations of her heart rate, looking for more movement. 

Cheers!  Hoping this cranberry juice gets this girl moving.

I stayed calm, mostly because there was a heart beat and because I was in the hospital.  And because babies usually live at 29 weeks.  Finally, Bowie performed for us.

Next she passed her BPP with flying colors.  And the sonographer knows me and our history and even had a good look at the cord without me asking.  And it looks just fine.

Still, the next morning, I couldn't get Bowie to move as I was laying in bed.  Usually she gives me a few kicks first thing which I'm oh-so-grateful for.  And then I realized I hadn't felt her in the night when I got up to pee either.  So I poked and prodded, poked and prodded.  Nothing.  Tried using my cell phone against my belly to wake her up.  Nothing.  Waited anxiously for Justin to get home from his morning run to use the Doppler together (because apparently I have trouble with the volume switch).

And it took a moment longer than usual (in which he started to panic), but there was her heartbeat.  But maybe not as strong as usual?

I started the day feeling very unsettled.
I packed cranberry juice for work.
I drove my own car instead of carpooling.

After far too long, Bowie finally gave me some good kicks.  And kept it up all morning.  But after lunch, she was quiet again.  The post-it looked really light to me.  And I was anxious.

I was anxious all evening.  I was thinking about how this is all on me.  How Justin can't do anything.  How it's my responsibility to get this baby here - alive.

I told myself I'd feel better after kick counts.  But after an hour and a half of laying on the couch, on my left side, drinking ice water, I had exactly ONE kick on my Count the Kicks app. We used the Doppler, and there she was again, faint but there.

But here's the thing: by the time there's no heartbeat, it's too late.

So, at 9:45 pm, Justin pulled Benjamin out of bed and we drove in silence to L&D.

I wasn't as panicked this time.  I thought she was alive.  But I don't know how to trust my instincts anymore.  I can't separate paranoia from something being wrong.  And when I think about the "what if's," I know I'd rather rush to the hospital to be told everything's fine than to look back and think "if only..."

And Bowie was fine.  Flipped her back to us, they figured, so the heartbeat was fainter.  Don't know why she had a quiet day yesterday, but of course, she moved more once she was on the monitor.  Still had to wait for quite a while for her to show the accelerations they need to see.  Apparently she's a low-key girl, which does not seem fair in a pregnancy after loss.  Plus that stupid anterior placenta.  On Monday, on the ultrasound, I watched her wallop the placenta... and I didn't feel a thing.

We got home a bit before midnight, tucked Benjamin back in bed, crawled into bed ourselves.

So that's two trips to L&D now.  I wonder how many more there will be.  Operating on the "better safe than sorry" model, we could be there pretty regularly.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New Blog Design and a Work in Progress

Check out my new blog design, thanks to Franchesca Cox. But don't check it out too thoroughly, because I have lots of work to do here... and will hopefully find the time soon!  So please check back, especially the new sections at the top.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Parenting after Loss

A few weeks ago, I was standing in the kitchen after finally putting Benjamin to bed, and I had the thought, "How did Jen do it?"

My good friend Jen's son Luke died just before his due date. Cord accident.  Six months later, she got pregnant with her rainbow baby, and gratefully, her Bowie was born ALIVE one year to the day before Lydie was meant to be born.  I was thinking about how Jen was pregnant with her Bowie, and didn't have her firstborn to distract her from her anxiety.  I need Ben to help me get through my days, to keep me busy and call me "Mama" and give me hugs and help me live in the moment.  I need him to keep me from completely obsessing about whether my third child is going to live or die. 

Coincidentally, the following day, I heard from Jen, and her email included this snippet, "I was just thinking about how fucking unfair it is that you have to be pregnant AGAIN with a toddler to chase around and take care of... Like, when I was pregnant with Bowie, I was so fucking selfish because WHY NOT? I went out, had massages, slept in...and you had Ben to take care of and THEN lost Lydie and now you're doing it again... and that's just really shitty.

I mean, it's shitty any way you look at it, I guess. But again. You're a fucking badass mama. Remember that."

Well yeah, there's that.  Pregnancy + toddler was exhausting the first time around.  Pregnancy + toddler + grief + being scared shitless is even more exhausting the second time around.

But this badass mama is usually really grateful for her daring, hard-headed, lovable two-year-son.

It should be noted that "parenting after loss" is a whole different ballgame than parenting. While it helps to have a living child to keep you getting up and moving forward, it can be so overwhelming and exhausting to have that someone else completely depend on you when you feel as if you can't even manage yourself.  Grief makes you selfish.  But parenting - good parenting - is of essence, not selfish.

In the early days, it was hard not to watch Ben and see the place his sister should have been.  It was hard to be patient with him when my grief consumed me.  It was hard to watch him hit milestones, knowing his sister will never hit them.

And in addition to the shock and trauma, all my expectations of parenting siblings imploded.  And I was left trying to teach my son about something that I can't even comprehend myself.
Parenting after loss is just hard.

After 9 months, it mostly feels easier now.  I feel like I can be the mom I was to Ben before we lost Lydie.  But I have a strong-willed boy who tests my patience often, and I get frustrated with myself when I get frustrated with him.  Because shouldn't I only be grateful for him, 100% of the time?  How I could I ever lose my temper with him, when I know very well how lucky I am that he's alive?

Selfie with my boy, earlier this summer.
Ben started back to school last week, as I started back to work, and the transition back has been a bit rough on all of us.  He seems to be just fine at school, but he's a wreck at home.  Tantrum after tantrum (and this boy knows how to scream).  He has to do everything by himself ("No, MY do it!") which takes FOR-EV-ER in the morning (and in the evening too, but it's more stressful in the morning rush). Yesterday, it was screaming at the breakfast table for 30 minutes because he wanted more "dip" (syrup) even though he had already squeezed half the bottle on to his pancake and had more than enough dip for his second pancake.  This morning, it was screaming for his green sunglasses which he wouldn't let me grab from him when I dropped him off at school yesterday morning, and of course, didn't manage to come home with us last evening. And then screaming that he wanted to wear his running shoes AND HIS SOCKS even though it's water day at school and he was in his swimsuit.  Which meant I had to carry him (barefoot, mind you) kicking and screaming into his classroom, where he promptly stood up, put on his Crocs, gave me a kiss and said "Love you!"

The kid has really strong opinions. ("Wonder where he got that from?" my husband often asks.)

Often I feel like I have no right to complain about him.  Because you know, he's alive.  I can't stand when other parents complain about their children, because you know, I'd love the opportunity to complain about Lydia.  So I try not to complain about Ben.  

Sometimes I wonder how the hell we would have managed having two living kids in under two years.  Sometimes I wonder how I'd take care of Lydia, when Benjamin consumes all of my energy. Those thoughts make me feel incredibly guilty, as if she's not here because I couldn't hack it. 

Benjamin has also become obsessed with Bowie.  Obsessed.  He now calls me "MomBowie" (without the "and") and wails for us when his dad takes him to the bath ("MomBowie!  MomBowie!  MomBowie!")  Sometimes when we're heading out the door, he asks, "Bowie come too?"  (Yeah, buddy, we'll bring her along this time).   He lifts up my shirt constantly, often in inappropriate places, offering her a bite of his porridge ("oatmeal," for you Americans) and sometimes even his prized "cee-cee" (soother, pacifier).  He seems to think my now-protruding belly button is the portal to talk to her.   He kisses her, blows raspberries on her, and sometimes bites her (of which MomBowie is NOT a fan.)

On his first day of school, when giving him a hug, I said, "I will miss you, Benji!"
His response?  "I miss Bowie."

It's cute.

It's a bit annoying.

And it's scary as hell.

What happens if Bowie doesn't come home?

One of those memories that is forever etched in my mind is when Ben lifted up my shirt the evening I came home from the hospital, after Lydie was born still.  He went to kiss my belly.  And I had to tell him, "The baby isn't there anymore."

There is much talk out there about how to prepare your toddler before bringing home a baby sibling.  There's not much talk about how to un-prepare your toddler when the baby died and didn't actually get to come home.  And so here we are again.  How do you prepare your toddler, when last time you prepared your toddler for what never happened?  And those conversations were some of the most painful you could ever imagine?

Benjamin tells both his sisters that he loves them before he goes to bed.  One sister he kisses in his mama's belly.  Another he looks to the sky.  How are we supposed to help him make sense of that?

Benjamin giving Bowie kisses next to Lydia's tree.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

9 Months of Grief

Today marks 9 months since the horrific day that I learned my daughter's heart had stopped beating.  The silent Doppler, the still heart on the ultrasound, reporting to the hospital and starting labor knowing my daughter was dead.  Basically, the stuff nightmares are made of. 

Nine months ago, my world collapsed.  I got through those initial horrific moments the best I could, although there's always things I will wish I had done differently.  But my grief has changed me in ways that I'm just beginning to recognize now.

I seem to be an introvert now.  I talk less.  I'd rather surround myself with fewer people.  Big groups make me anxious.  I wonder if eventually, the extrovert in me will work itself back to the surface, but I am beginning to think not.  I miss the old me, but I don't think she's coming back.

I was thinking the other day about how I used to have so many friends.  Never the popular girl, but always a whole lot of people I kept in touch with.  I was really good at keeping in touch.  I'd tell each friend from college how our ten other friends are doing.  I'm losing that I know.  It's not important to me anymore, or maybe I just don't have the energy for it.  And while I miss my friends, I more often feel uncomfortable when I am forced to be social.  You want to talk about stillbirth, dead babies, or grief?  I could talk all day.  But small talk still makes me want to scream.  I think of my closest friend, my college roommate, and how much she also lost on November 5th.  Because in a way, she lost me too then.  I know she's scared she's never going to get me back.   I'm just grateful that she continues to hang in there for me, texting and sending brownies and letting me know she's thinking of us, even though I can't seem to respond besides a "thanks."  I think about how many connections I've made to other BLMs and how they hold me up and support me and read my mind and give me perspective and make me laugh and know that doesn't mean I'm "healed."  And I think, well, you still do have a lot of friends, but it sure looks different than it did before.

I think about Lydie all the time.  All the time.  As C.S. Lewis writes, "Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything."  She's engrained in me.  I find I don't even cry that often anymore, it's just a constant ache.  Sometimes it's stabbing; sometimes it's duller.  But it's always there.  She is always there.

Here's what I have realized: I wouldn't wish this on anyone.  Carrying a healthy baby to almost full-term, thinking she is going to be born alive in a few weeks.  Learning she has died inside you, due to an "accident."  The horrors that came at that moment and after.  Starting labor, knowing that your perfect baby has died. Giving birth and hearing only your own screams because your baby is silent.  Holding your dead daughter all afternoon and watching her decompose before your eyes.  Being forced to turn your back on that daughter and leave the hospital without her.  Bleeding for days and days afterwards, with no baby in sight.  Picking up the urn holding your daughter at the funeral home.  Your milk coming in with no baby to feed.  The cruelest joke: Your body didn't know your baby was dead.   Night sweats due to hormone changes.  An empty nursery.  Other babies everywhere

And the never-ending missing, the never-ending grief.

I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

And yet, if given the option, I wouldn't wish it away.  Because, I couldn't wish Lydia away.

If you had asked me in February 2014, right before Lydia was conceived, if I wanted to sign up for all the above, OR just skip that and get pregnant a year later instead, clearly I would have chosen the second option.  Clearly.

And yet, Lydie is my daughter.  A member of our family.

I can't wish her away.  I would never wish her away.  Any more than I'd wish away my living son.

And so instead, I live with my grief.  And my love for her.  And I mother her the best I can, even though she's not here.  I'm still learning what that looks like.

My uncle handed Justin a CD at Lydie's tree dedication a few weeks ago.  "Listen to it when you're alone and have some time," he warned us.  I did.  And in the song "Who you'd be today," by Kenny Chesney, I heard this line, "I wonder: what would you name your babies?"  And it.broke.me.down.

I hadn't wondered that one yet.   I hadn't yet wondered what she'd name her babies.  I've wondered a million other things about Lydie, but not yet that one.

The loss is never-ending.

I usually try not to think about what she would be doing now.   I try not to imagine what our lives should/could/would be like.  It's too painful.  But on Monday, as I went back to work after my summer off, I couldn't help think about how it was supposed to be Lydie's first day of daycare.   Her first day of school.  I took a photo of Ben, looking so grown up, in his running shoes, wearing his backpack.  That picture is supposed to look different.  His sister should have been in it.  Crawling around at his feet.  I went to work and thought about how I should be spending all day worrying about Lydie, wondering how she is doing.

She wasn't supposed to start school until she was 8 months old.  I worked so hard to figure out the details of a long maternity leave.

A long maternity leave that never happened.

And now I'm faced with figuring out details of another maternity leave, when I have no faith, no confidence that my third child will be born alive.  No confidence to make any plans for this child.

I wish I could be one of the people who believes that lightning won't strike twice.  To truly believe it was that it was fluke.  To believe this baby is coming home with us.

The joy of pregnancy has been stolen from me, with so much else.  Joy has been replaced by fear.

I had a doctor's appointment yesterday, and Bowie looked fine.  And then I cried the whole way to work.  Because this shouldn't be the way it is.  I should be breastfeeding my baby and trying to get my two-year-old to pee in the potty one more time before getting out the door.  I shouldn't be pregnant, scared shitless that this baby is going to die too.

Nine months of missing.  A lifetime of missing to go.

Hard to believe it's already been 9 months.

Hard to believe it's only been 9 months.

Love you, Lydie.
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