Monday, April 25, 2016

Compartmentalizing my grief

I have lots of playlists on my Iphone.  They hold names like "Running Girl" and "Summer" and "Sunday morning chill."  And names like "Benjamin," "Bowie," and "Lydie."

Benjamin's is full of kids' songs.  The Wheels on the Bus, We are the Dinosaurs, and the Frozen soundtrack (which I think I might enjoy more than he does).  He often requests the "emergency" song from Thomas on the way to school.

Bowie's is a mix of songs that helped me deal with the anxiety of her pregnancy, like The Lumineers' "Big Parade" with the lyric "lovely girl, won't you stay?  Won't you stay, stay with me?" and Sara Bareilles lyric, "Show me how big your brave is!" I blared that one, often on the way to my many doctor's appointments.  It's been updated since she was born to include two songs entitled Josephine, by the Wallflowers and Brandi Carlile.

And Lydie's.  Lydie's is full of grief songs, with songs like "If I Die Young," with the lyric, "Ain't even gray, but she buries her baby," Godspeed with the lyric "my love will fly to you each night on angel's wings," and Photograph in which Ed Sheeran sings "[love] is the only thing we take with us when we die."  This list is constantly being updated, as I find new songs that make me connect with my first daughter, like the most recent addition of "Cecelia and the Satellite" that includes the lyric "for all the things my hands have held, the best by far is you."

There's a few on Lydie's list that I can't listen to if I'm not prepared.  They can be triggers when I'm caught off guard.  The other day, as I walked back downstairs after responding to Benjamin's bedtime wailing, Justin quickly turned off Pandora.  I realized "November Blue" by the Avett Brothers had been playing.  I would have called it my very favorite song before November 5th, but I haven't been able to listen to it much since then.  "If I told you I loved you, would it change what you see?  If I was staying, would you stay with me?  My heart is dancing to a November tune.  I hope that you hear it, singing songs about you.  I sing songs of sorrow, because you're not around.... November shadows shade November change.  November spells sweet memory, the season blue remains."

I don't play Lydie's playlist when I'm not prepared.

But sometimes, I need my space to grieve.  With Benjamin and Josephine at home, I don't have much time to myself.  And I don't have much time to actively grieve Lydie.  So sometimes, on the way to work, on my 30 minutes to myself on the highway, I intentionally play those songs.  I play Pink's "Beam Me Up," which is sure to bring the tears.  And I sing "There's a whole other conversation going on, in a parallel universe.  Where nothing breaks and nothing hurts.  There's a waltz playing frozen in time, blades of grass on tiny bare feet.  I look at you and you're looking at me... Could you beam me up?"  I sing and I cry.

And then I park my car, wipe my eyes, tell my girl I love her, and head into work.

In the early days, this wouldn't have been possible.  It wouldn't have been possible to pick and choose my moments.

I think this is a good thing, but sometimes I miss the raw grief.

I know that just because I can control my emotions better these days doesn't mean I love my girl any less.  I don't miss her any less.  And I certainly don't think of her any less.  The other day I was wondering if I actually think of her more than I think of my living children.

But it seems I have learned to compartmentalize the grief.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Three positives.

I have had the "oh my God, I'm pregnant" moment three times now.

Almost four years ago, Justin and I started "trying" after I returned from a summer adventure, visiting family and friends in Europe with my mom.  I lost five pounds in three weeks due to all the walking and my mother's lack of a desire for lunch.  My period was late and I was so excited to take a test. Negative.  I waited a few more days.  Negative.  I called my OB (who was Dr. B's colleague at the time, though about to go on maternity leave) who suggested ordered a blood test.  A nurse called and said, verbatim: "You're not pregnant."  I cried.  I saw the very pregnant OB who said I most likely wasn't ovulating due to the weight loss.  She suggested trying to gain some weight and to cut back on my running mileage.  I stopped at the store on the way home for Cheetos and ice cream.  I gained five pounds but the period didn't return, so she started me on progesterone.  Still, no period.  I asked for the next drug, but was told that I needed to take a pregnancy test first.  I laughed at the nurse, told her no way could I be pregnant.  She repeated that I needed to take a pregnancy test.  Justin was in Brazil for work, so I went home and enjoyed a glass of wine.  In the morning, I peed on a stick again, waiting for that negative sign so I could call the doctor's office and say, "Now can I please have the next drug?"

And it was positive.  (And to reiterate, my husband was in South America).

After tossing a Purdue onesie at my husband when he returned home from his trip and getting relentlessly teased that my mom was the first to know I was pregnant (not my fault my husband was out of the country and who wants to tell their husband on the phone that they are pregnant?), I was called into the office for more blood work, to try to figure out how far along I was.

The results came in ridiculously indeterminate: somewhere between four and twelve weeks.
I switched to my very own Dr. B, who wanted to do an ultrasound.

"We're not going to see anything," I told Justin. "It's too early."

But we did see something.  A fully-formed baby.  I was ELEVEN weeks along.

I was pregnant the whole time.

I have no idea the date of that positive test, though it was right before Labor Day.

So, eleven months later, when my period was late, I didn't think much of it.  No doctor (and no googling) had ever been able to explain to me WHY those pregnancy tests came back negative, including the blood test which is supposed to be 100% accurate.  My HCG levels must have been low, even though it was a perfectly healthy pregnancy, but why?  I asked Dr. B if I could expect it to happen again, when I got pregnant again.  She had no idea.

So I kind of laughed at Justin when he suggested I take a test.  "It's not like it means I'm not pregnant if it's negative," I told him, "And it's not like it's going to be positive."

But I still had a test remaining from my tests for Ben (after all, who takes only one pregnancy test?  I bought the three-pack).  So I took it.  And it came back with a book on it, which apparently meant "follow the directions."  Is there an incorrect way to dip a stick in pee?  (And yes, I counted).

A day or two later, I asked my neighbor friend if she might be able to loan me a few of the cheap tests she got on Amazon.  I had ordered my own but was impatient for them to arrive.  With an eyebrow raised, she handed some over.

The next morning, I was pretty sure if I squinted a little, I could see a faint second line.

That was April 15, 2014.  That's when I learned Lydie was on the way.

Gratefully, my husband was in the country this time - just down in the basement, running on the treadmill.  I wrote about our reactions, in a love letter I wrote to Lydie, here.

And my third positive pregnancy test was my rainbow girl, my Josephine.  I had less than a three month break from pregnancy.  I  surprised myself by barely reacting.  I texted my mom and sister and my sister responded, "yaay!" and it pissed me off.  I responded "no yaay,  just a positive test."  Later that week, Justin said something about me being pregnant and I snapped, "I am NOT pregnant!  I just had a positive pregnancy test!"  Woah.

And I don't know the date of that positive pregnancy test either.  Late February or early March 2015?

Those milestones of my pregnancy with Lydie mean more to me now than they do with my living children.  I don't know the date of the positive test with Ben but I do know that he was crawling at six months and walking at ten.  I don't know the date of the positive test with Josie but I know that she cut two bottom teeth last weekend.  I know that Ben's favorite food is pancakes with peanut butter and syrup and I know that Josie doesn't care for rice cereal.  I know how Ben likes to curl up in my lap, with his head on one knee and his legs tucked up underneath him.  I know that he's getting to big to do that, but he keeps trying anyway.  I know how Josie covers my cheek with kisses and how she looks when her eyes flutter as she fights sleep.

I know Ben's hair lightens up with blond streaks in the summer time, but is darkening as he gets older.  I know Josie's hair is looking quite blond.  I know Lydie was born with dark, dark hair like her daddy, but I don't know how it might have changed as she got older.  I know Ben was born with blue eyes that turned brown and I know Josie's have, so far, stayed bright blue.  I don't know what color eyes Lydie had, and I don't know if they would have changed or not.

I know, two years ago today, I learned Lydie was on the way.

I know my life has never been the same since.

I know how much I love her.

And I know how much you can miss someone you never even got to know.

Friday, April 8, 2016


One of my least favorite things that people said often to me in the months following Lydia's death was "I can't imagine."

It was something I would have said if the situation was reversed.  It is something I have said many times before my personal tragedy.

But in this case, to me, what I heard was: Your tragedy is so devastatingly horrific that I don't even want to think about it.

I don't say "I can't imagine" anymore when I hear about other tragedies.  Unfortunately, I can imagine my husband leaving for work and never coming home, or my three-year-old getting cancer, or my almost-6-month-old not waking up in the morning.  Once you've lived through a worst-case scenario, it seems to become easier to imagine other worst case scenarios.

It's why I ask my sister to text me when she's arrived at her friend's house on her long road trip with both of her kids.

It's why when my husband doesn't hear from me sometime in the morning, he starts to send more messages and then panics if I don't answer my phone.

When people still say to me, "I can't imagine," sometimes I would like to respond: please try.

Imagine you're sipping your (half-caff) coffee in the morning before your doctor's appointment and you casually say to your husband, "Can you believe the baby's going to be here in 5 weeks?  I'm going to wash all her clothes this weekend!"

Imagine you drop your son off at daycare and drive the opposite way to your doctor's appointment when you suddenly realize, in a panic, that you're not sure the last time you felt your baby move.  Imagine you tell yourself, just like everyone else tells you, that babies move less at the end and everything is fine.

Imagine your doctor is telling you all about how your daughter's birth will not be traumatic for you, how it will be calm and peaceful, when she is searching for her heartbeat with her Doppler.  Imagine wishing she'd shut up so you could just hear that heartbeat.  Imagine watching her face change when she realizes she's been searching too long.  Imagine that first moment that you know - you know deep in your bones - that there is no heartbeat.  That your baby is dead.  Imagine the instant relief that floods your body when you hear a heartbeat.  Imagine then your doctor says, "That's your heartbeat."  Imagine being led to the ultrasound room, laying down as your doctor puts gel on your big belly, and your daughter's heart floods the screen.  Imagine it's still.  So, so still.  Imagine wanting to scream and cry and yell but having nothing come out.  Imagine just staring at that screen, of that perfect, wanted, loved heart.  Imagine willing it with everything you have to start beating again.  Imagine being told, almost instantly, that there was nothing you did to cause this, and realizing, when I can comprehend what she's telling me, I'm going to think it's my fault.  Imagine waiting by yourself in that ultrasound room while she runs to find another doctor to confirm what you both already know.  Imagine having to phone your husband to tell him your daughter is dead.  Imagine waiting in that room for him for 30 minutes until he can get to you.  Imagine sitting in silence holding your doctor's hand.  Imagine being unable to cry because this just can't be real.  Imagine calling your mom, then your sister, and hearing them scream into the phone.  Imagine handing the phone to your doctor because you just don't know what to tell them.  Imagine finally breaking when your husband rushes through the door with tears streaming down his face.  Imagine being escorted out of your doctor's office, through the waiting room full of pregnant women.

Imagine going home to your quiet house, with the baby swing in the family room.  Imagine walking to your neighbor's house, ringing the door bell and praying she answers so you can say the words out loud: "my baby is dead."  Imagine calling work to tell them you won't be in today because your baby's dead, and you're not sure when you will be in.  Imagine making the decision of when you will go to the hospital to give birth to your dead baby.  Imagine your phone ringing and staring in disbelief as the number of your son's daycare lights up the screen.  Imagine thinking he must be dead too.  Imagine waiting for hours for your family to rush in to be with you.  Imagine them finally arriving, and not being able to hug you very close because your big baby belly is so large.  Imagine your sister helping you pack a hospital bag and wondering if you should bring your camera, because your baby is dead.  Imagine having no idea what you need to take with you to the hospital to give birth to a baby who has died.  Imagine everyone telling you that you should eat, which is laughable, because how could anyone eat right now?  Imagine forcing down half a bagel and topping it off with a glass of wine.  Imagine drinking that wine, thinking I can't believe I'm drinking this while pregnant, but my baby is dead.   My baby is dead, my baby is dead, my baby is dead.  Imagine spending all day staring at your big belly.  Imagine feeling your baby move, but knowing she is dead.

Imagine taking a shower and staring at your big belly that carries your dead child.  Imagine your son getting home from school, climbing onto your lap, and reading to him and your baby, Wherever you go, my love will find you.  Imagine kissing him goodnight and leaving for the hospital to go be induced.

Imagine your husband hitting the curb as he pulls into the parking lot of the hospital, closing your eyes, and hoping it kills you.

Imagine checking into the hospital and having to sit down at the desk, with a bassinet for a live baby sitting right next to you.  Imagine that bassinet breaking you.  Imagine your sobs.  Imagine the nurse putting all the bracelets on you, and leading you down the hallway to the birthing room.  Imagine being asked "Have you fallen recently?" when the nurse takes your stats.  Imagine thinking, they tell me it's not my fault and then they ask if I've fallen recently.  Imagine the nurses hooking you up to IVs.  Imagine them telling you that you can have all sorts of drugs, because they don't need to protect your baby and asking how much pain would you like to feel?  Imagine having no idea if you want to feel everything or nothing.

Imagine your doctor arriving.  Imagine you tell her you are feeling the baby move.  Imagine her asking if you'd like to do an ultrasound, just to be sure.  Imagine doing one last ultrasound and being told your baby's bum is floating in amniotic fluid and pushing against you.  Imagine being told to get some sleep, it may be a while.  Imagine thinking you'll never sleep again.  Imagine your husband and your mom curling up in arm chairs next to your hospital bed.

Imagine the nurses asking if you are ready for your epidural, and looking over at your sleeping husband and mom.  Imagine knowing they will have to leave the room for the epidural, wanting them to sleep a bit longer, and asking to wait.  Imagine later, the anesthesiologist walking in and saying, "I'm so sorry for your loss." Imagine that being the first time you've heard the words.  Imagine weeping while you sit up for your epidural.

Imagine while you're experiencing contractions, the chaplain walks in and asks you if you are going to cremate or bury your child.  Imagine her asking what funeral home you plan to use.  Imagine you have no idea the answer to either of these questions.  Imagine weeping some more.

Imagine the nurse checking how dilated you are.  Imagine you aren't that dilated.  Imagine worrying you will be in labor a long time.

Imagine your father coming to the hospital, standing at the edge of the room, awkwardly.  Imagine he doesn't know what to say to you.  Imagine him asking if it's okay if he leaves.  Imagine that he never holds his granddaughter, because it's too hard for him.

Imagine you suggesting to the nurse she check your dilation again.  Imagine that although it's your first vaginal birth and you're high on all kinds of painkillers, you just know she's coming.  Imagine your doctor, the one who held your hand as you called all your loved ones, isn't there.  Imagine your nurses ask you if you can wait, if she can wait, but you can't wait.  Imagine she's coming now.  Imagine your baby is coming and in walks an insensitive doctor.

Imagine, when you push your child out, you scream, "I'm a terrible mother!"   Imagine you didn't even know you felt that way until you screamed those words.

Imagine how the insensitive doctor announces, before you've even laid eyes on your precious child, "there's something wrong the cord."  Imagine yelling at him to give you your baby.

If you're a parent, do you remember the moment you first laid eyes on your child?  Do you remember the overwhelming feeling of love, how you'd do anything, anything to keep this child safe?  How you've never known love like that before?  Imagine feeling that way, except your child is dead.  She is beautiful and perfect, and she is very, very dead.  Imagine that.

Imagine she died inside you when you did everything right.

Imagine she died inside you, when you would have done anything to keep her safe.  Anything.

Imagine you have one afternoon with your child.  Imagine you're recovering from giving birth and unable to get out of bed, but you have about six hours in your lifetime to hold your child.  Imagine being unable to stop crying as you tell her, over and over again, how much you love her and how sorry you are.  Imagine wanting to take off her hat so you can look at her dark, dark hair but imagine needing that hat to keep her head from becoming misshapen.  Imagine holding her perfect little hand and desperately wishing she would squeeze back.   Imagine thinking of singing to her but being unable to keep your voice from breaking.  Imagine regretting every single day since then that you never sang to your daughter.  Imagine watching your daughter's body decompose in front of you.  Imagine your sister holding her on a pillow because she has started to become harder and harder to hold.  When your sister passes her back, imagine telling your sister you want to hold your daughter not a goddamn pillow.

Imagine your child is perfect.

Imagine your child is dead.

Imagine holding your daughter as your husband reads to her that same special book that now has so much more meaning than you ever would have imagined.  Imagine your mom recording that moment.  Imagine you've never been able to watch it because you're just not sure you could.

Imagine having to kiss your daughter one last time.  Imagine having to place her in a stranger's arms.  Imagine having to turn your back on her.  Imagine getting one last glimpse of her as you're wheeled out of your room.  Imagine leaving the hospital without your baby.  Imagine driving home in silence.  Imagine walking into your home to see that baby swing in the living room.

Imagine your empty nursery.  Imagine the dresser full of clothes.  3 month, 6 month, 9 month, 12 month, 18 month, all the way up to 2T.

Imagine crawling into bed that night with an empty belly.

Imagine what comes next.

Imagine binding your breasts.  Imagine your milk comes in anyway.  Imagine you curl up in the fetal position and sob, sob, sob at that moment.  Imagine your body doesn't know your baby died.     Imagine bleeding for weeks after childbirth, with no baby to take care of.

Imagine a friend comes over a few days later and tells you about her son's baptism.  Imagine you have to take your son to and from school and walk past the infant room. Imagine when another friend emails you to tell you she's pregnant and doesn't even mention your pain or your daughter.  Imagine after 8 weeks, you have to return to work and are expected to be productive.  Imagine half your coworkers act like nothing ever happened.   Imagine how grateful you are to the ones that don't.

Imagine your life now, 17 months later.  Imagine how you cry many mornings on your way to work. Imagine how you light a candle every night, talk to your lost daughter, and wish things were so very different.

Imagine how you relive this everyday.  Multiple times a day.  Some days, ten times a day.  Some days, twenty times a day.

Imagine how much you appreciate your friends and family and coworkers who acknowledge all three of your children.  Who use your child's name.  Who work to honor her with you.  Who recognize your triggers and work to help you manage them.

Imagine you'll live with the trauma and without your child for the rest of your life.

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