Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas, when you're always missing one.

Christmas is all about family.  And when you're forever missing one, days like Christmas hurt.  Actually, seasons like Christmas hurt.

Three stockings hang on our mantle.  I think about how Lydie's will be empty on Christmas morning.

3 stockings and Lydie's tree

I hear my old favorite Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas is you," on the radio and I want to hurl. I change the channel, but in the stores, I can't get away from it.

It makes me angry now.  What I want is a moot point.

It's Benjamin's third Christmas and the first one where he has gotten into Santa.  I always thought I'd downplay the Santa thing, the lying to my kid thing.  But I find myself being caught up in the allure of it.  Santa made an early stop at our house to pick up Benji's "cee-cee" (pacifier/soother) and Ben hasn't napped since then.  I am kicking myself for not waiting until he was back at school to do that. In the middle of my maternity leave is not the time for the kid to stop napping.  No naps equal a badly behaved toddler, who if you recall, is already quite "spirited" and a stressed-out mom.

It's our second Christmas without Lydia.  Our second Christmas with one name missing on the presents under the tree.  Justin and I have talked about writing letters to our girl and placing them in her stocking.  It's a nice idea, but I'm not sure what I'd write besides, "I love you.  I miss you.  I wish you were here."

And it's our first Christmas with our rainbow Josephine.  I know she'll make the day brighter for me and my whole family.  I'm so very grateful to have her here, safely in my arms.

I think back to Christmas a year ago, when Lydie should have been less than two weeks old and instead had been dead for 7 weeks.  I cringe.  I am in a much better place now.  The grief is still there, as it will always be, but I am learning how to carry it.   Some days are better than others, but most days, I try to focus on the love.

This year, unlike last, there will be joy on Christmas Day.  But there will also be deep, deep sorrow.  If I've learned anything over the past year, it's how to feel those both at the same time.  In my happiest moments, I'm so deeply missing my daughter.  As Angela Miller explains, "No matter what, you are always missing.  No matter what, my heart will always ache for you.  No matter what, life will only be as good as it can possibly be, minus you." 

I guess like everything in my life now, it's complicated.  Christmas is complicated.  Life is complicated.

Thank you all for your friendship.   I wish all of you a peaceful Christmas surrounded by love.

Friday, December 18, 2015

My Christmas Baby and a(nother) Hospital Visit

One year ago today was Lydie's due date.  December 18th.  My Christmas baby.

It's just her due date, not the day she died, not even the day she would have been born.  If she had lived, it would be passing us by unnoticed today.

But when it feels like you're left with nothing, when the new normal feels like the old normal with a big fucking hole in the middle of it, these milestones and dates become so much more significant.

If it's even possible, I'm missing my girl more than usual today.


Last night, I was feeding a fussy Josephine, who had just had her two-month vaccinations.  It had been tough to watch her get her first shots, wailing each time.  It was tough to know her fussy evening was a result of her not feeling well; it was tough to not be able to soothe my usually calm baby.

Justin and Ben were busy playing, a typical sight for an evening at our house.  And then I heard Ben's fall and his cries.  Also rather typical as Benjamin is pretty rough and tumble and usually bounces back after a hug and a kiss (and sometimes a bandaid).  And then I heard Justin's reaction and knew it wasn't typical afterall.

I rushed over to see a big gash on Ben's forehead, directly above his left eyebrow, and blood oozing everywhere.

This is similar to what happened this summer, when somehow his Aunt Laura (accidentally) nailed him in his face with a kayak on the beach at our cottage.  When I was pregnant with Bowie and terrified and this huge gash in my son's forehead played into all my fears and anxieties... and I was a complete mess.

This time I was more calm.  We all quickly piled in the car for the urgent care.  Checked in, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally got called into triage and were told that yes, Ben needed stitches.  A nurse put numbing ointment and sent us back to the damn waiting room, where we waited and waited and waited.

Ben is planning to give his cee-cee to Santa.
Glad that hadn't happened yet.
Benjamin's name was finally called.  As a nurse held down his head, Justin held down his arms and torso, and I held down his legs, Ben screamed at the top of his lungs.  I cried too.  Four stitches in my boy's face was hard on this Mama's heart.

I know it's hard for any parent to see his or her child in pain.  But I think it feels even harder after losing one.

I just want to fix all their pains.  I want to fix Ben's pain, and Lydie's pain, and Josie's pain.  I don't want my kids to hurt.

During those hours of waiting, when I was feeding Josephine, Ben brought a book over to read to him.  And the first page took my breath away:

What I wouldn't give to hear my Lydia call, "Okay, Mom!"

I want to believe that Lydie is always with us.  I tell that to Ben and Josephine all the time.  But I have my doubts too.

Moments like that help convince me.

As Justin said, it wasn't Sarah or Jennifer or Elizabeth, all common girls' names.  It was Lydia.  Right there in the middle of the urgent care, with a gash in Ben's face.


So now my badass two-year-old son has a scar on his forehead from his last set of stitches and a new set of stitches a quarter inch away.  Awesome.

This mama's heart could use a break.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Cards, written to a family of 5 that looks like a family of 4

I think I've always confused people on how to address cards to our family.  When Justin and I got married, I added his last name to mine, making what is called a "double-barrel" last name.  I explain it as "like it's hyphenated, but without the hyphen."  I didn't want to lose my name, my history, my family.  And adding Justin's last name was not really about Justin.  It was about the children we planned to have.  I wanted to share their name.  To quote my favorite band The Avett Brothers, "Always remember there is nothing worth sharing like the love that lets us share a name."  I wanted to be both, and so I am.

The biggest downside of this name is that no one gets it right.  The first time someone skipped my last name and called me only by Justin's - in a placecard at a wedding, I texted my sister in a fury.  I remember her response: "it's not an insult."

Five years later, I'm no longer insulted.  I know my name is difficult, and I always really appreciate the people who spend the time and energy to get it right.

So it's been interesting to see how my friends address cards to us.  I know it's not easy to write Justin's and my names together.  That's another downside of the double-barrel.

But this is the first year I have thrown Christmas cards in the trash.

It may be tough to know how to address cards to our family, but the ones that make no mention of Lydia are very hurtful to me.

My favorite cards are the ones that come addressed to all of us: Justin, Heather, Ben, Lydie, and Josie, or some variation.  I appreciate those cards so much.  I don't want to recycle even the envelopes, because I just want to stare at all our names in print together.  And it doesn't even bother me that my family name is not included, because even I know when too much is too much.

While I recognize that not everyone feels comfortable addressing a card to someone who has died, I am shocked by cards that make no mention of my middle daughter at all.  They read, "Dear Heather, Justin, Ben, and Josie: Merry Christmas."  I think, are you (fucking) kidding?  Do you know how hard Christmas is for parents whose child died?  (Clearly, the answer is no, they don't.)  Do you know our biggest fear is that people will forget our child?  (And again, apparently not).

I thought I'd feel better after promptly trashing (err, recycling) one of those cards.  But I didn't.   And so soon, I emailed the sender, and explained that Lydia is as much a part of our family as Benjamin and Josephine are and I find it very hurtful when she is not acknowledged.

Let me say that again: Lydia is just as much as part of our family as Benjamin and Josephine.

One friend explained it well and was much nicer than me, when posting on Facebook: "If you're sending a Christmas card and wondering whether to mention our son, please do.  Thoughts of him are always appreciated, ignoring his existence always hurts."

Ignoring her existence hurts.  It really hurts. It always hurts.

And in this season, which is already so difficult for grieving parents (Christmas is about a birth of a baby, for crying out loud) and families who are missing someone so intensely, those Christmas cards can cause so much pain.  I know if you're bothering to mail us a Christmas card, you have good intentions.  I know that.

It's just that a little note included like "Thinking of Lydie" goes a long, long way.  As I said in my last post, a little compassion goes a long way.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

One year, one month, and ten days (and one rainbow baby) later

Many of my triggers have shifted; many are the same.

For example, pregnancy announcements?  Still a trigger.  Especially when they are made after the first trimester and allude to a"safe" time in pregnancy.  You might think that Bowie's safe arrival may have changed that for me, but nope, not at all.  And similarly, pregnant women are still just as difficult.  Much of it is their naivety.  Many of them know all about what happened to Lydie, how we had no warning signs and she was perfectly healthy, and they still seem to believe it would never happen to them (and they are probably right, which is a whole separate issue).  In general, pregnancy announcements and pregnant women make me cringe and make me really, really uncomfortable.   Women who are pregnant after loss hoping their rainbow babies arrive safely excluded, obviously.

I polled a group of baby loss friends this morning; most of them are about five years out from their loss and all have rainbow babies.  I asked them if pregnancy announcements get easier, ever.  The resounding answer was no.

And for the record, a year later, I recognize that people cannot plan their families around my family's tragedy, but a little bit of compassion when making a pregnancy announcement goes a long, long way.

Talks of family planning or "completing the family" can send me into a spiral.   How nice for them.  Our family will never be complete.  Never, ever, ever.  It's an emptiness and a longing that is impossible to describe.

Another big trigger has always been families with their children close together, specifically of the older brother, younger sister variety.  That trigger remains.

I can, however, handle babies better these days.  The first baby I held after Lydie was Josephine, and I haven't held another.  But I can look at them again.  I can walk by the baby aisle in the store.  In fact, I can pick up diapers for my daughter without wanting to cry.  I even enjoy shopping for baby girl's clothes.  I am sure it is helped that my rainbow baby was a girl.  If Bowie was a boy, I think the baby girl's section would still make me cry.

But one-year-olds?  One-year-olds are so difficult to be around.

There's also some new triggers now that Bowie is here safely.

The pregnant woman is even more difficult when she's expecting her third child.  Why?  Because families with three children are a huge trigger for me.  I have three kids, but my three kids will never look like their three kids.  The unfairness of it all slaps me in the face.

My children will never meet each other.  Not in this lifetime.  My son will never know his sister except for all the kisses and raspberries he gave her in my belly.  My daughter will never know her sister, except for the brand new hand-me-downs.

And while "complete families" has always been a trigger, a new addition is sisters.  Sisters are tough. Josephine has a sister, an Irish twin sister.  She'll never have the kind of sister relationship she should have.  She just won't.  Some days I start to feel accepting of that, and then I see sisters out and about, and I hurt for both Lydie and Josie.

Yesterday, I told Justin that I felt I was handling my grief well.  That we're in the days between Lydie's "should be birthday" and her due date and we're approaching our third Christmas with Ben, our second without Lydie, and our first Christmas with Josie, and I still felt like I was generally handling my emotions well.  Which any BLM will tell you brings on a new layer of guilt.  When you don't cry as often anymore?  Guilt.  I must not miss or love my daughter enough; I haven't cried in a week.  Some times I miss the tears.

I feel differently today.  I feel like shit today.  The secondary losses feel huge today.  The worst loss is the loss of Lydie.  But I also miss my old life and the old me. My daughter's death caused this massive ripple effect through my life.  I've held my dead child in my arms, and I will never, ever be the same.

And for the record, Josephine's birth doesn't fix that.  It changes it, for sure, and she has brought so much light back into my life.  She has given me the chance to physically mother a daughter.  But I still ache for her sister.  Every single day.  Hell, every single moment.

I still ache.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Should be Would be Birthday

To quote Pink, "in a parallel universe, where nothing hurts and nothing breaks," today Lydia would turning one.

It should be her first birthday party.  It would be perfect, being a Saturday.

Most pregnant women don't know the date their baby will be born.  I did, or thought I did.  With my c-section scheduled for months and months before that date, there didn't seem to be any doubt about it.  Dr. B gave me the options of December 11th or 12th, and I chose the 12th.  Why?  Because Benjamin's birthday is 4/4 and I thought 4/4 and 12/12 was pretty damn cool.

I never imagined that instead we would be holding her memorial service.

This year, nothing's noted on December 12th on the calendar.  Not Lydie's birthday, not her death day, not even her due date.

Just the day she was supposed to be born.

I actually don't subscribe to this theory.  Not at all.  But I do like seeing Josephine wearing Lydia's name.


This year, Justin was invited to a holiday party that some bigwig at his work throws yearly.  Holiday parties are full of small talk.  Small talk is full of triggers.  And only one or two people would even know about Lydia there.  But even though neither one of us particularly wanted to, we figured we should probably go.

And Oma Jo drove in just for the evening to babysit, since we wouldn't leave Josephine with anyone else.  (Thank you Oma Jo.)

On the ride there, Justin and I discussed how we'd answer the question, "How many kids do you have?"  It was inevitable, and we wanted to be on the same page.

We decided the answer was "three," and when the follow up question of "how old are they?" came, we would reply, "two-and-a-half, would be one, and two months."  If anyone caught on to the subtlety of the "would be," we'd explain more.

But a glass of wine in and I already butchered our response.  Instead of leaving it at "would be one," I added "but she died."

The woman quickly stammered, "I'm so sorry."  And never mentioned it again.

Which honestly, was okay.

The next time we were asked, the man told me I should speak with his wife.  She's a professor.  She teaches nursing.  And a labor and delivery course.

Soon I was chatting with this woman all about Lydia.  There I am describing the moment I found out my daughter was dead in the middle of a cocktail party.  She asked a lot of questions and we had been talking for about thirty minutes, when she said, "Well, sometimes we just don't understand the reason."

"Excuse me?" I asked.

"The reason.  You know, everything happens for a reason."

I started shaking my head profusely.  "No," I said.

"You don't believe everything happens for a reason?" She asked.

"No," I said.  "And you wouldn't either if your child's urn was on your mantle."

We debated it for another minute.   She told me, "Sometimes bad things happen and it takes me ten years to figure out why, but I always do."

I was aghast.  My boyfriend didn't dump me; my child died.  It wasn't just something "bad," it was tragic.

I found Justin and announced this lady made me need more wine.  And when I went to the bathroom upstairs to pump, I called my sister and told her, "You're never going to believe this!"

Last night, I was able to find the humor in the situation.  I just talked with this woman for thirty minutes about my dead daughter, and then she tells me that she died for a reason!?!  Are you fucking kidding me?

Today, I am insulted, and I am also a bit worried that this woman instructs nurses.  I would like that woman to read this article: Everything does not happen for a reason  As Tim Lawrence writes: That's the kind of bullshit that destroys lives.  And it's categorically untrue....  I'm not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive.  This is why all the platitudes and fixes and posturing are so dangerous: in unleashing them upon those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.

Besides that woman, it wasn't a terrible time.  It felt big to be out, without my youngest daughter and with my grief.


Today, Lydie's little sister is two months old.  And today, she smiled at me for the first time.

It's a heavy grief day, but Josephine helps to lighten that load.

Caught one on camera!  Little sister with our Lydie Bear


Sometimes I am surprised how much I can miss someone I never actually got to know.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

This Too Shall Pass

My sister is a reporter, although I usually say "journalist," otherwise people think she's on tv.  (She is, but only once in a while).  She writes a weekly parenting column titled "Multitasking Moms and Dads," and my kids and I are often mentioned.  Back in August 2014, Laura wrote a whole column about how excited she was to be having a niece (feel free to click to read but this one is tough for me now).  In December 2014, she wrote about how that niece died just before she was born.  And this Thanksgiving, she wrote about how she is grateful for both of her nieces.  

Recently, she polled Facebook for fodder for another article: "What advice would you share with other parents?"

"Go to the bathroom before you leave the house.  The kids too," wrote our friend Kati.

"Wine," I responded.

"This too shall pass," wrote my cousin.

Her comment made me tear up.

Here's what I'm realizing: most stages do in fact pass.

But, when your child is dead, and she remains a perfect little baby in your memory, and she will never grow and never change - that will never pass.

My grief?  That will never pass.

The missing person at the Thanksgiving table?  That will never pass.

I wrote something snippy underneath her comment.

Then I went back and deleted it.
Not about you, or your dead baby, I reminded myself.   Not about bereaved parents, I reminded myself.  Most parents don't have a dead child, I reminded myself.  Usually this statement is true, I reminded myself. 

And I also reminded myself, no wonder everyone thinks you're so damn sensitive.  You are!

And my cousin's advice is in fact resonating with me these days.  Because no matter how scared I was that I would never have this, it's actually quite challenging to be home with a toddler and a newborn. (Or maybe she's an infant these days?  How long does the "newborn" stage last?  I digress...)

Josephine doesn't really sleep.  Not at night anyway.  She averages under an hour and fifteen minutes eating sessions, and that includes the middle of the night (and that's start to start!)  Last night she was up every hour.

So I don't really sleep.

And Benjamin?  Let's just say he's a head-strong two-and-a-half year old who has some head-strong two-and-a-half year old tantrums.  And he's still learning how to play by himself and wants his mother to constantly entertain him.

But I also feel like I can't - or shouldn't anyway- complain.

Not after losing one of my kids.  Not after having no tolerance for anyone who complains about their kids.  Not after being so scared for Bowie's life.  Not after meeting so many friends who are struggling to have living children of their own.  Not when this is what I have wanted for so long (of course, what I want is to be home with my three healthy, living children but I think that goes without saying).

Not when these two kids are here.  They are here.

Instead, I am trying to have patience with where we are.  Knowing that one day, Josephine will sleep through the night.  Knowing that one day, Benjamin will wipe his own bum.  And also, Josephine will not stop crying the moment I pick her up and will not fit perfectly into the crook of my arm, and Benjamin will not ask me to rub his back and will not ask questions like "Mom, will you help me do this by myself?"

Because these moments will pass.

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