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It’s Never Too Late to Go Back and Grieve

loss, miscarriage, motherhood, stillbirth 3 Comments

overhead view of polaroid photos

I don’t know what it is with me and losing babies when I’m traveling.

Before Aiden, we had a miscarriage at 11 weeks.  We hadn’t told very many people.  I miscarried painfully in Providence, RI on an anniversary trip with my husband.  I bled and cramped in our B&B bed for 3 days, and eventually, on an afternoon outing that I finally mustered the energy for, I passed the baby in the bathroom of a Jamaican restaurant, with the proprietor cursing at me from the other side of the door.  She had told me I couldn’t use the bathroom as I wasn’t a paying customer, and I was desperate but had no idea of how to tell her the truth of what was happening.  She refused to let me in, and I literally side-stepped under the reach of a giant Jamaican “bouncer” who she had called out of the back, and locked myself in the bathroom.  Afterwards, they chased us out, and she screamed at us down the street for a block or two in a thick Jamaican accent.  We hobble-ran our asses down the street as fast as my body would let me.

We both had to sort of pretend that never happened.

I never really let myself grieve the loss of that baby.  I was horribly devastated at first, but we didn’t really talk about it much.  My doctor gave me the go ahead to try again immediately, explaining that I would “super ovulate” and be more likely than ever to get pregnant right after the loss.  It never occurred to me that anything might be wrong, actually wrong.  It was my first loss, and easily chalked up to statistics.  I didn’t feel any distinct sense of hopelessness.

I did super-ovulate and I was pregnant 2 weeks later (with my firstborn, Aiden).  Life went on.

I have to say that except for that awful little blip, the whole thing felt like one pregnancy.  One baby.

At the time.

Now, I think of that baby.  I wish I would have lingered there a little longer.  There was another one before Aiden.  It’s all mixed up together now, all of these memories, just like any memories, and I don’t remember any of it as more than a foggy, distant sensation.  Was I relieved when I got pregnant with Aiden?  Did I still feel sad?  How long until I felt like everything would be fine this time?

And everything was fine that time.  That one time.

I do vaguely remember feeling some sense of relief when the 11 week mark passed with Aiden.  I don’t remember what it felt like up until then.  I waited, mostly, to tell people I was pregnant until the end of the first trimester.  I’ve written about this here, but after the range of experiences I’ve had during pregnancy, I am now a huge advocate for telling whoever you want, whenever you want (and for some this may mean not telling at all, for awhile).  I did this in this last pregnancy and it was life changing.

It seems evident to me that human souls are often full of things that we haven’t ever unpacked.  Memories or trauma from childhood, regret about choices we’ve made, fear of the unknown, the list goes on.  And, more than ever, I believe that we are given opportunities all throughout our lives to go back and figure that shit out.  We may ignore most of these opportunities, but they are always arising.

What did it cost me to move on so quickly, to not allow myself to linger or to grieve?

When we lost Rowan at fullterm, I did go back and unpack.  A bit, anyways.  Suddenly there was not just Aiden but this whole new category of what it meant (and didn’t mean) to be a mother.  Aside from all of the pain and horror of it, there was this new sense of connection to the fragility of life as a whole, and a distinct mingling of my experience with that of others.  In an interesting way, it was also a mingling of this particular experience of loss and pain to other experiences of loss and pain in my own life.  Some were muted in comparison (most) but they all suddenly felt like they had a single, visible thread connecting them.

I felt sad for that first baby.  I felt sad for the 26 year old whose doctor gave an awkward, unfeeling hug to and was told to carry on.  I felt sad for the friends and family who never got to hold the dream of that child with us.  Never got to say goodbye with us.

I still didn’t talk about it, though.  In some ways it was because Rowan was center stage and there was a lot to process.  In other ways I still didn’t fully understand the significance of that first loss.  It was easy to pack it back up and go on ignoring it.

Years later, I would experience another loss at around the same gestational age and it would rock my world.  The first loss had felt, at the time, like the token “statistic”.  Losing Rowan, tragic as it was, felt like a cosmic error but entirely accidental and unprovoked.  This last one, late and unexpected and fully against my intuition, was like a horrible, meditated violation in the night and turned the gentle connecting thread of all these experiences into a heavy tug-of-war rope that I was on the wrong side of.

Now something was wrong.

Now I really had to go back and unpack.

I’m still unpacking, and it feels like every day I am finding another little tidbit, another note stained by cough syrup or sticking obliviously to a pad that has lost it’s backing.  Moving forward with hope and optimism while working on healing old wounds is insanely hard and exhausting work, and it is not usually pretty.

Here are some of the things that I have learned in my own journey of grieving the past.

Let Grief Run it’s Own Course

Sometimes all it takes to go back and process something is a long hike or conversation with a friend, or a single good cry.  Other times, grief is a season – something that you sink into and choose to be present with for however long it takes.  This may depend on what you are processing, your personality, and how unresolved the experience is.  It may also depend on how comfortable you are with sitting in grief.  Be ok with whatever grief is going to ask of you – you may feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit what you are dealing with especially if the experience is in the past.

Letting yourself go back and grieve is usually counter-intuitive because everything in and around us tells us to do the opposite – our culture, our self-defense mechanisms, even our schedules.  We want to move on, we feel like we NEED to move on.  Our people and our lives need us to move on.

The truth is that what we really need is not to move on at all – but to allow ourselves to grieve and to learn to co-exist with this new part of our being that isn’t going anywhere.

Find ways to be present with your grief.  Don’t rush it, but also don’t feel bad when you find yourself easily drawn to other things again.  Trust it.  Your grief knows what you need and knows how to help you through this time.

Don’t Isolate Yourself

We want to feel safe before we can be vulnerable but the scary reality is that we have to be vulnerable first to find safety.  Sadly, sometimes we don’t have a lot of safe people in our lives, but I can tell you that if you do not reach out, you will not get support.  An important part of grieving any kind of loss is avoiding isolation.  While we all need different things during hard times, we do all need support.  We do all need those who love us to show up for us, and a lot of the time they may not know how to do that.

When you are going back to grieve something from the past it’s even harder to reach out – the pain isn’t fresh and understandable to the people around you.  All the more reason you are going to have to choose vulnerability and let people know what you need – they will have absolutely no idea if you don’t let them know.ihadamiscarriage

I am confident that you have more people that want to show up for you than you know.  You may be surprised who does or doesn’t show up – but give them the chance.  Tell them what you need.

I love the work of Dr Jessica Zucker, who started a line of pregnancy loss cards to help people find and offer words of comfort for a subject that is often misunderstood.  The cards are poetic, yet angry and honest.  This isn’t just applicable to pregnancy loss – people often don’t know how to support their loved ones and tools like this can help to open the conversation.

Help Others Grieve

One of the meaningful outcomes of experiencing pain of any kind is the empathy and insight it allows towards others suffering similar (or even radically different) pain.  I am not even remotely suggesting that “it’s all worth it, think of the people you’ll be able to help”, but instead that true comfort can be found in making yourself emotionally available for others in pain.  Not only that, but it can be an extremely therapeutic outlet for processing your own grief.  Reliving experiences from your past and allowing yourself to truly feel the weight and impact of them can be both enhanced and yet made more bearable by the outward posture of sitting with someone else in their pain.  This has been my experience again and again.

Side note: being present for others may not be possible for you at all times, and you may have to protect your heart when you are extra tender.  If you are finding that making yourself available to others who are grieving is continually exhausting instead of life-giving, or if you are doing it just because you think you should, it might be time to take a break and tend your own heart for awhile.  You’ll know when you are ready to reach out again.

 

Community and connection are among our most basic needs… and we can easily become isolated and unsure of what we can reasonably expect from our friends and family.  When that happens, I believe that we lose confidence in what we have to offer as well.  

Pain and suffering of any kind can be an incredibly connecting experience, and we are all capable and deserving of that connection.

We also deserve the space and freedom to go back and grieve the unattended moments in our pasts – the ones where we lacked the desire, ability or awareness to be fully present and fully affected.

For all that it takes from us, for all that gives to us, for all that it makes way for – here is to grief and it’s rightful place in our lives.

When Things Don’t Go Like They Are Supposed To

miscarriage, stillbirth 6 Comments

Three weeks ago I woke up deadflowersto slick dark blood, not a lot but enough.

My husband has been with me through darker times than we ever saw coming.  The crisp hotel sheets are still white, but he knows this wail, the one I can’t hold back.

How do you hope when your body has taught you not to?

I was almost 13 weeks pregnant.  Most of our friends and family knew, an expression of the unconditional vulnerability I had committed to – no, felt called to – during the process of trying again after losing Rowan.  We had to try for a few months, not long, but long for my body.  Then, I got pregnant – immediately after releasing some important things that had been causing me a lot of anxiety.  It all felt so timely, so serendipitous.  All you have to do to have a baby is get rid of stress in your life, people – it’s easy!

Trying to Get Pregnant Can Make You Crazy

pregnancy, stillbirth 5 Comments

DeathtoStock_Creative+Community8Trying to get pregnant can make you crazy.  Trying to get pregnant again after losing a baby could practically be an A&E Intervention episode.

You possess both an insane amount of optimism (you didn’t get to the point of trying again without that) and also a paranoia that understandably, cannot be reasoned with.

You will take more pregnancy tests than is psychiatrically advisable.  You’ll decide to buy them in bulk because that seems like the financially responsible to do.  You will wonder if they are less effective because they cost 90% less than what you can get them at the drugstore for.  But you did buy the best reviewed brand on Amazon so you will mostly ignore that thought.

Why Our Expected Silence In Early Pregnancy May Be Hurting Us

miscarriage, stillbirth 2 Comments

img (1)Your period is late. You wait a few days, playing it cool. Maybe you’ve been planning this — for months or even years, or maybe you were planning for NOT this and your stomach feels like poison and your future like a cage. Maybe you have the best people in your life or maybe you have The. Worst.

After the obligatory “it’s cool, I’ve never been that regular anyways!!!!” few days without any luck, you hold your pee all day at work or wake up at 5:00am to get that magical concentrated urine sample so you can ace the test and only have to pay $22 to have your fortune told instead of $44.

The plus sign/double line/digital readout doesn’t lie (if your pee was deep yellow enough).

From the Beginning (Trying Again After Stillbirth)

pregnancy, stillbirth No Comments

imgYou will build and tear down and rebuild a million times before you decide to have another child after stillbirth.  Most of this constant construction will go unnoticed – you are strong, resilient, brave.

You will be so many different women, so many different mothers… to yourself, to your family, to the world.

You will be like a child yourself; so unsure one moment, so free the next.  Dreams will turn ashen then kaleidoscopic then back again.

Rowan’s Birth Story

childbirth, pregnancy, stillbirth 4 Comments

babyrowanRowan was due on Aiden’s birthday.  I always loved and hated that.  It seemed so perfect that they would be almost exactly 4 years apart, no matter what.  I could also picture inevitably angsty teenage boys shouting “no one ever thinks about ME!!” and slamming doors during birthday week.  We intentionally planned Aiden’s birthday party a couple of weeks early to hopefully avoid the chance of my being in labor at that time.

Ironically, I spent Aiden’s early birthday party and the next couple of days in “prodromal labor”, which we intermittently thought might be the real deal.  Aiden’s birthday/Rowan’s due date came without incident, and we settled in to the notion that we’d have another late baby, and that the boys birthdays would hopefully be separated by a few days.

3 Months – Dreaming of Rowan

stillbirth 5 Comments

I don’t ever dream of Rowan.  I didn’t when I was pregnant either – and during those months, I felt a little alarmed at the seeming lack of subconscious connection to my baby.

Now, I know better.  I mean, I actually wish I would  dream about him – kind of like being a teenager and believing the idea that if your last conscious thought was of your unsuspecting crush, that you would have magical dreams about them all night long.  I do that.  When I say I know better now, I mean that I understand that dreaming of something or not says nothing about where it fits in your soul.

I’ve wondered if maybe it’s a kindness – maybe dreaming of him with us would cause the waking hours to feel even more empty.  And by empty, I don’t mean meaningless – I find lots of meaning in my life.  I mean empty – full of holes and cracks that Rowan was supposed to fill.  I still want to dream of him.

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day

stillbirth 2 Comments

candleI actually didn’t know about this day until this morning, when our dear next door neighbor, who also experienced stillbirth at full term, posted about it on Facebook.  But alas, it turns out we have our own “holiday”, as she put it – a dismal, dreary kind of day that usually includes candlelit walks and I imagine, a fair amount of wine.

I don’t know if a day like today is more for those who have suffered such a loss, or for those who haven’t – a way to help them see, to know.   Some kinds of grief aren’t easily validated in our culture, and people instinctively rush the healing process, moving on for the sake of the world around them.  Many people never know about those around them who have lost a child, or at least never get a chance to acknowledge it.