Thursday, June 29, 2017

Party of Five, Table for Four

(One-sided) conversation with my four-year-old niece:
"Steph has three kids too...  she has two girls and one boy just like you.... but all her kids are alive."

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It's summer time, which means I'm home with my living children.  Benjamin is particularly defiant these days -  a lot of hitting and just replying "no" when I tell him to do something or to stop doing something and walking straight out of time-out.  (What am I supposed to do with that?)  Josephine's terrible two's are starting early with some throwdown temper tantrums and she likes to just take off running at the swimming pool and the library and various other public places (and damn is she fast). I often remind myself how grateful I am to have this time home with them, even though most of me is like How many hours until Justin will be home?  I think about how I've allowed my career to take a backseat, staying at a job because of the summers off.  And then I think about Lydie and how I don't get to wrap her in a towel when she comes out of the pool shivering, and dammit, I want this time with my crazy-ass children.

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In May, Josie and I flew to Minnesota to spend a few days with one of my closest friends.  Amanda calls me her internet bestie even though we've now visited three times.  There's nothing quite like being with someone who gets it, who doesn't need you to explain something that is not explainable.



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I'm wondering if there will ever be a time in my life that I don't think two things when I hear an announcement of a baby's birth: 1. Why did that baby get to live?  2.  Why did Lydie have to die?

I'm thinking not.

Pregnancy announcements aren't much easier. I think about the odds that this baby will arrive safely, especially once in that make-believe safe zone of the second trimester when women usually make some cutesy announcement.  Stillbirth happens in 1 of 160 pregnancies.  That means that Mom has a 159 out of 160 chance that her baby is going to arrive with a heartbeat.  That number would have made me feel safe.  Hell, that number did make me feel safe.

I hear pregnancy announcements and I'm so damn jealous that they get to have that kind of faith in the universe, that kind of faith in statistics.

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Back when I thought everything happened for a reason, I could handle uncertainty in my life a whole lot better.  I mean, how comforting to feel like things will just unfold the way they are meant to, with some ill-conceived notion of fatalism.  How comforting to tie life up in a pretty package like that.

I miss being that girl, the one that could just say, "Whatever is meant to be will be!" with such optimism.  

It's much harder to go through life believing that bad things happen to good people and life is a clusterfuck and to feel so out of control.

I mean, it's seriously more realistic but it's a helluva lot harder.

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Recently, I decided to find a new counselor.

A fourth counselor.

The first, Justin and I saw four days after Lydie was born.  She stared at us with big bulging eyes while we weeped on her couch, explained to us Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief, told us the likelihood of us getting divorced, then suggested we find a more experienced therapist.  The second we attended faithfully together for weeks but I never really could get past how she wanted me to cut pictures out of magazines to help me deal with the anger.  The third, I visited solo for months.  She diagnosed me with PTSD, decided to put me through EMDR where I relived my most traumatic experiences, then one day told me she didn't think my PTSD was full-blown so we'd just stop right there, which meant I spent hours reliving the trauma but never actually treated it.  I continued with her, pregnant with my Bowie Girl, going on and on about how uncomfortable I felt around other pregnant women, when she told me she herself was pregnant, and we officially broke up when I went back to work for the year and had three doctors' appointment a week to attend, and she went on maternity leave.

So recently, I decided I needed a new counselor.  I had to get a referral, though I really feel like having a dead baby in your file should trump the need for a referral, I found someone on the internet and took the 75 buck leap. I spent an hour talking about my three children, especially Lydia.  I told her I'm having trouble making decisions and my life feels out of my control.  She said, "Well, maybe just try not making any decisions for a while."  

"I think not making a decision is often making a decision," I explained.  "Like we've talked about trying to have another baby.  But if we never decide to try, then eventually we've decided not to," I explained.

She responded, get this: If you are thinking about a third baby, I think you need to talk to your husband about it.  

Fourth, I interrupted.

She glared.  She said nothing.  And that was that.

So let me get this straight: I go to a therapist that specializes in grief and loss, I spend an hour talking my three children, she has the audacity NOT to count Lydia, and her best counsel is to talk with my husband before deciding to get pregnant????  AND I paid $75 for this bullshit?

Somehow, in shock when leaving, I even scheduled the next appointment.

Later, I decided to email to cancel.  And I decided to be honest.  I told her that she didn't count Lydie and that was very hurtful, and that I expect more from someone in her profession.

She responded that she feels I have not worked my way through my grief... and I ACT LIKE LYDIE IS STILL ALIVE.

I received this email this response while in a crowded room of healthcare professionals.  Who were attending the Perinatal Bereavement Conference that I planned. I looked around, at the 75 people in the room, learning about how to best support families facing perinatal loss, and thought, I'm pretty sure I know Lydie's dead.  

The conference was pretty awesome and hopefully very impactful and I like knowing that Lydie is making a difference for so many other people.  I worked not only with Star Legacy but also Lydie and Josies's nurses to plan it -- and that's just pretty damn cool.  I even got to visit with the nurse who held Lydie, singing to her and rocking her, as I said my goodbyes.  I spoke with the home-visit nurse who I went off to when she visited our home after Josephine was born, asking her, why didn't I get a home nurse visit after I gave birth to my stillborn child?  And she heard me, and she's working on it, and she wants to meet with me more so I can help her understand what support these families need.

So yeah, I am pretty sure I know that Lydia is dead, thankyouverymuch.

I decided to give it one more try, and my 5th counselor is a word of difference from #4.  She said she sees me carrying Lydie in a little kangaroo backpack, and though it's a heavy, heavy weight that I can never put down, I am Lydia's carrier. And that only her mother can carry her with such love.

And by the way, dumb therapist #4, my grief will last a lifetime, just like my love.

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We often talk about Lydie and Josie's nurses, who have become close friends, and Benjamin pipes up and says, "My nurses too?"  No, I tell him, I have no idea who was your nurse.

When your baby dies, those details seem so much more significant than when your baby lives.  When your baby dies, they are part of the inner circle, the few that are part of her story, who have physically held her.  Who help you remember.

At the end of the conference, a woman approached me with tears in her eyes.  "I remember you--" she began, then hesitated before continuing.  "I was Benjamin's nurse."  She proceeded to tell me how she cared for Ben and me - a birth that seemed traumatic until my next birth.  She said that she saw me when I came in -  still pregnant but not - with Lydie.  That she wanted to come speak with me, but she was pregnant, and she couldn't.  She told me how much our family has touched her life, and her nursing.

I was thrilled to come home and show my son a picture of his very own nurse, and know that our family's story has become part of her story too.



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Some of our best friends got married a few weeks ago.  It was a crazy weekend, and with Justin in the wedding party, luckily my mom came with us to help with the kids.  I laughed out loud when I saw the seating chart, wondering what that dumb therapist #4 would say.





Take that!

In the meantime, I had awkward encounters with people-who-used-to-be-friends and I was grateful both for the cocktails and the children to help dispel awkwardness.  One previous friend's new wife said to me, "You have two kids?"

"I have three," I responded.

"I only see two," she replied.

No shit.  So do I. 

Standing next to the seating chart, I gestured to it.  "Our middle child, Lydia, died.  Here's her name."

"Why?" she actually asked.

And gratefully, all the cocktails had not yet gone to my head, and I replied, "Well I guess they are good friends who know how important including her is to us. Peace out."  (I did not actually say the "peace out" line but I did walk away).




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