Sunday, December 30, 2012

Holiday Wishes & Terror

This post is negative, whiney and rather pessimistic. You may want to skip over this one.

The holiday greetings conundrum is an exaggerated version of the usual dead-baby-conversation icebreaker all babylost parents face. When a friend, neighbor or colleague asks how my holiday was I have a choice. I can throw out a customary answer, “Busy; you know how it goes.” Or I can answer honestly, “It’s really difficult. Our son would be at a very fun age this holiday season.” The former discredits my daily experience but allows the social interaction to occur and end without the opposite party feeling uncomfortable. The latter often leaves the other person’s brow furrowed with disconcertment. Usually the other person says something they believe to be sympathetic and sensitive. Usually what they say is actually insensitive and makes me feel worse. 

I would out-and-out regret being honest at all in the first place, but part of me feels as though I am crusading for all bereaved people. That by using the opening in conversation to push my ongoing grief into the spotlight momentarily, I force the unscathed to remember my tragedy and to recognize, even briefly, the agony I continue to live with. Sure I walk away feeling worse because of their ineptitude and insensitivity, but maybe they’ll be more aware with the next bereaved person they confront.

If one more person wishes me a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays I am going to punch them in the face. The random strangers bother me less. It’s the people in my life who ought to know better. Passing in the hall at the office this week a coworker says to me, “Did you have a good Christmas?” “No,” I replied flatly and kept walking. She stopped dead in her tracks, jaw slightly agape. “What?!” “No. It’s really shitty without my 14-month-old son.”

I had similar exchanges with three staff members at the perinatologist’s office the day before. And in all of these brief conversations the other party, lacking any substantive reply always, always responds with a reference to Baby Dragon – “Well you’ll have this little one next Christmas!” This is infuriating. Surely if they took a minute to think first, they wouldn’t say something so stupid. But social pressure insists we wrap up our chat neatly and on a positive note.

We are at 37-weeks. If this kid doesn’t come on it’s own we’ll induce at 39-weeks which means one way or the other we’ll be having a baby in the next couple weeks. And yet the hospital bag is not packed. The car seat is not installed. The baby laundry is not done. Is it denial? Probably a little bit. Part of me is still hesitant to truly believe we are having a baby and that this baby will actually be coming home with us.

I sometimes feel like Charlie Brown. Like I’ll come charging up to kick the football and at the very last second, it is whisked away and I end up flat on my back, hurting with the breath knocked out of me.

I am petrified. We’re at the finish line of this pregnancy and this baby could die any minute. Just -- like -- last -- time. My naivety has been obliterated. I know now, that I cannot protect this baby any more than I could protect A.

Maybe the fear is feeding the denial. If I don’t think about the approaching due date then it isn’t real, right? All of a sudden I am deflated of any self-confidence. I am scared of the pain of labor (even though I dreamed and prayed for it back in the spring when we were trying to get pregnant). I am terrified but I can’t put my finger on exactly what I’m terrified of. I do know that this terror is preventing me from spiritually and emotionally welcoming this child to the outside world. Said emotional and spiritual clamping up is probably affecting my body and preventing labor from starting on its own. I am too scared to welcome this birth with unabated enthusiasm.

The fear is paralyzing. I sit and stare at the to-do-before-Dragon-arrives-list but don’t actually do the things listed. In fact I’ve found it harder and harder to get out of bed each morning – a classic avoidance technique I honed in college. You know the sleep for hours and hours tactic?

And yet as in the darkest days of my grief, time ticks on which means birth is inevitable regardless of my acknowledgement or readiness. 

Stay safe baby Dragon; stay safe.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


I am tired.

I am tired of being pregnant.

I am tired of fighting so hard to advocate for my children.

I am tired of pushing for A’s acknowledgment.

I am tired of feeling so sad.

I am tired of unpredictable moods and emotions.

I am tired of just getting through each day.

I am tired of living in the throes of anxiety.

I am just plain tired.

I wish I could lie down, close my eyes and wake up in two weeks time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Merry Christmas My Son

We were only a couple months out from A’s stillbirth at Christmastime last year. Heavy in the fog of early intense grief, E and I did not do anything specific in his memory. He was included in my extended family’s gift giving which pleased my heart; they made donations in his honor to various bereavement organizations.

Maybe because I am more energetic and clearheaded a year later or maybe because a 14-month-old at Christmas is more engaging than an 8-week-old, E and I decided to shop for our son and whatever we bought for him we’d donate to a local toy drive. We went to a couple different stores because we each had a special gift in mind. I wanted a ride-on, push-able toy. I figure our guy would be practicing out this walking business about now and would utilize a large, sturdy toy on wheels that he could push and thus walk around. E really wanted to get an animal puppet. We had seen them at a local shop before A died and he’s thought about it ever since (he got one for Dragon too).

In addition to those two items, we picked up a few more things. Surely the other holiday shoppers passing us in the aisles wouldn’t have thought anything strange about our conversation because we discussed it as if A was alive and well. 
“Do you think he’d like these magnets?”
“Eh, he’d probably put them directly into his mouth.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Plus it says 3 years + on the box.”
“Which puzzle should we get him? One of these with the knobs or a block puzzle.”
“The knobs.”
“Dinosaurs or farm animals?”
“Umm, Farm.”
“Ooh, the classic Fisher Price corn popper.”
“Hell no. That thing is so noisy and annoying. I don’t want it in my house.”
“Ha ha ha, fair enough.”
Once we brought the toys home I had the strongest urge to lie down with them; to surround myself with these packaged playthings. As though that would somehow make me feel more connected to my son and the little boy he would be right now.

I wanted to take a photo before I dropped them off at the donation center. Perhaps this will become an annual tradition; buying age appropriate gifts for our missing son. As emotionally difficult as it was, I’m very glad we did it and in a way it does make me feel closer to A.

A's final haul

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Weekly Monitoring

We’re at the beginning of the 34th week. A couple weeks ago we started weekly biophysical profiles (BPPs) in addition to regularly scheduled prenatal checkups. It was about that same time that my anxiety really ramped up. If it takes a few minutes for Dragon to give me the first boot during our daily kick count, I immediately think the worst. If I can’t recall baby punches in the wee hours of the morning like usual, I bust out the home Doppler. If Dragon’s movements seem weaker than normal, I assume it’s because the blood supply is slowly being cut off and my child is making its last, feeble attempts to survive. If I feel vigorous activity, I worry that it is the baby trying to disentangle itself from the cord.

So I worry when I don’t feel movement, I worry when I do. These past weeks I’ve been feeling very fearful. While it’s nice to see Dragon via ultrasound each week and have a non-stress test (NST), it does little to allay my concerns. Everything was healthy with A until suddenly he was dead. He passed his NST with flying colors mere days before we discovered he had died. Who is to say baby Dragon won’t die on my way home from the hospital after our weekly BPP or at any given point. Unless I am hooked up 24/7 to a monitor, I will not have peace-of-mind.

I am particularly scared overnight. I’ve read various places that most babies die in utero overnight. Dr. Jane Warland has a theory about borderline low blood pressure and how the fluctuation in maternal daytime blood pressure to resting or sleeping blood pressure could be drastic enough to kill a baby.  I have tracked and calculated my blood pressures and I fall into this borderline category. Last pregnancy I could miraculously sleep through the night without a bathroom break as long as I ceased drinking fluids after dinner. However, this time I am intentionally drinking fluids right up to bedtime to ensure that I am getting up out of bed at least once a night to buoy my blood pressure. Still I often awake in a terror in the morning waiting for a kick or roll to tell me the baby is still alive.

Even fetal hiccups, which many medical professionals claim are a good thing because they indicate baby is practicing ‘breathing,’ scare the hell out of me. Dr. Jason Collins of the Pregnancy Institute has a theory that prolonged or excessive hiccups are a baby’s reflex to try and get up off a compressed cord. Each time I feel the rhythmic thumping of Dragon’s hiccups I drop what I’m doing and note the time. Dr. Collins says a fit of hiccups lasting 10-minutes or more is cause for immediate concern. Even short bouts of hiccups frighten me because, again, I immediately assume the worst.

You can read more about Dr. Collins’ research, which is geared mostly toward the umbilical cord, by downloading his book for free via his website. I have personally spoken to him on the telephone and was impressed by his willingness to take the time and answer questions of a non-paying, non-patient who lives in another state. Supposedly women have called him out of the blue after finding his website, reported current symptoms to him over the phone and he’s occasionally instructed them to report immediately to the hospital. This has, according to him, saved more than one baby.

I recognize that all of this fretting is an illusion, a delusional attempt at control. Just like focusing on all the possible things that could harm this baby is easier for me to grapple with than to face the fact that ultimately I have not control. That despite doing everything right (again), taking additional precautions and going for extra monitoring this baby too could die for no apparent reason and there is nothing I can do to prevent it. 

Note: The wonderful book, They Were Still Born, summarizes both Dr. Warland's and Dr. Collins' research.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Holidays 2012

Last year A was stillborn in mid-October so we’ve already survived all the “first” holidays. Despite having those initial holidays and an entire year under my belt, I am still torn up over the holidays this year. American Thanksgiving was recently and the Christmas onslaught has already begun. Last year A would have been a mushy blob of an infant – approximately 1-month old for Thanksgiving and 2-months old for Christmas. Significant for it being his first and for it being our first as a family. Honestly, I don’t think the kid would have cared one way or other what we did or who was present.

But this year, this year he’d be 13- and 14-months old. We’d be lugging his highchair to various Thanksgiving feasts where he’d practice feeding himself and be intrigued by the texture of the mashed potatoes squishing through his fingers. I’d make E pose for a family photo with all three of us dressed nicely, knowing that A would soon be covered in squash and such. Instead of being the lump of a baby who gets passed around all night, he’d be fidgety and want to get down and play, walk and explore; trying to catch my aunt’s cat. The only baby at the gathering and delighting in all the attention.

Christmas I surely would have bought him more than he needed. Christmas morning I’d try to coax him into opening presents but his sweet 14-month-old mind doesn’t understand the concept and he’s more interested in the flashing lights on the tree, goofing with his Daddy and playing with the colorful discarded wrapping paper. Regardless, E would have the video camera rolling the entire time as we enjoyed a leisurely morning in our PJs. Then off to two separate family get togethers. We’d dress A in some ridiculous toddler-sized sweater vest and corduroys. Again A would be oblivious to the concept of Christmas but would revel in the big group of loving family members gathered and adoring him. My mother and aunts would try to wrestle him into sitting still for photos and try to cajole him into opening presents but he’s far more interested in playing with my cousin’s 3- and 5-year-old even if they dress him up like a princess.

The last quarter of the year has thus far been very intense. It begins with the changing of the seasons, then A’s birthday in October, next Halloween and just as I’m getting back on my feet, Thanksgiving is here and Christmas is around the corner. I feel like I’m waist-deep in the ocean getting knocked down by the powerful waves. Each time I resurface to gasp for air another wave is right on top of me pummeling me downward.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


After A was stillborn, we were fortunate enough to receive outreach from several local support groups and babylost organizations. Through one such organization I befriended a woman whose firstborn child was born still thirteen years ago at 38 weeks from a supposed cord accident, though cause of death was never conclusively decided. She got pregnant soon after her son’s birth and just four days after the first anniversary of his death she gave birth to a living son. She went on to have one more subsequent living son a couple years later.

We really seem to get each other and I have leaned on her a few times so far during this subsequent pregnancy. Her insight is that her son’s birthday is bittersweet. Each year she is sad that her eldest is not here but then a few days later she celebrates her “miracle” baby who wouldn’t exist if his older brother had not died.

I’m not quite to bittersweet yet, although I do feel grateful for Dragon and this new pregnancy even in the midst of my continued angst of missing A. But for me they are two distinct emotional experiences – I feel angry, sorrowful and severe pain because I yearn for my son, and I feel distinctly excited and thankful for this new life kicking me in the ribs. Perhaps with time, like my friend, I too will know how to hold two contrary truths together in my heart simultaneously, to find holidays and special occasions bittersweet.

She tells me that life is wonderful since her second son arrived and that she thinks it will be wonderful for me too one day. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Crisis of Faith

Last year while processing the novel experience of pregnancy and contemplating how this ever-growing baby was going to escape from my body E and I agreed we would try to go the natural route. I am not really a hippie, though some people think I am crunchy and I certainly like to hug trees.

We attended weeks of Brio Birth classes and were surrounded by women whose commitment to an intervention-free experience exceeded mine. I did kegels, pelvic tilts, yoga and squatted whenever I thought about it. We did labor run-throughs practicing relaxation techniques.

I wholeheartedly believed that my body was designed to do this. That for eons, women have been giving birth unassisted by medical technology and given our healthy pregnancy I was a perfect candidate to just allow it happen – hands off. We even considered a homebirth, but decided to stick with our midwives who deliver at the hospital.

The literature I read ingrained the benefits of natural labor. That it may take many, many hours but it gives your baby time to prepare and allows your tissues to stretch. That the squeeze through the birth canal benefits the baby in ways we don’t yet understand. That there is no rush, so allow the placenta to expel on its own. I bought into all of it. The delayed cord clamping, the immediate skin-to-skin contact and suckling, the idea that I’d be less likely to tear if things progressed slowly and there was counter pressure.

I watched the documentaries and listened to the stories of groggy babies after epidurals. Of mothers who died because of complications from medical induction or a C-section. Of mothers who died because their doctor helped pull the placenta out unwittingly leaving a tiny scrap behind which developed into a fatal infection. That fear, coupled with the touted benefits of natural childbirth sealed the deal.

My mother delivered both of her babies without any drugs. E’s mother delivered two-thirds of her the same way – one was even a VBAC.

I trusted that my body and my baby knew how to do this. That they would indicate to me when the time had come. I scoffed at how science could dictate a standard gestation for all human babies; I was willing to go ‘overdue’ if that’s what my body and baby decided. But that’s not what happened. Before I was ever in labor, he died inside my womb and I chose a medical induction to deliver my already dead child. I felt betrayed. Betrayed by my body. Betrayed by my beliefs. Betrayed by the childbirth instructor, book authors and all those who preach the dogma.

Now I stand here in the third trimester making plans for Dragon’s delivery. Obviously the top priority is to get the kid here alive and safe regardless of the details of our birthplan. The midwife and the perinatalogist have recommended induction at 39-weeks if we do not go into labor before then. At this point I agree, but I am still hung up about the medical induction.

You see, the benefits of the natural process are deep rooted and much of me still believes those tenets. Plus, my grief-shaken self-esteem allows the horror stories of medical births gone wrong to grip even stronger. But I do not believe wholeheartedly in either ethos right now. So I am stuck standing in the middle desperate for some place to lay my faith down. I need conviction in one system or another so that I can unsaddle myself of this and all that’s connected to it including my confidence and my courage. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Say His Name

I have heard many bereaved parents express the desire for people to say their babies’ names out loud, to affirm not only their existence but also their uniqueness as individuals. I consider myself in this camp too. Then why is it that I so often forget to say his name when I speak of him?

Last night we were invited to dinner at our friends’ along with another couple who we have never met. Luckily, the other couple were relentless talkers. As obnoxious as that was at times, it also avoided inquiries about my 7-month-pregnant belly…at least until the end of the night.

Throughout dinner the topic changed a handful of times. I tried my best to keep a neutral, engaged look on my face as the newly introduced couple delved into their birth story and the fright of the complications throughout her pregnancy, trips to the hospital a couple times for pre-term labor and her bed rest until their daughter was born healthy at 37-weeks. She spoke of her precipitous labor and the OB group who attended the delivery. I nodded and listened but did not speak up about my own pregnancy and birth experience.

Finally, I played the sober-tired-pregnant-lady card and announced it was time for E and I to head out. At that point the new-to-us husband asked what number baby this was for us. Damn, I thought, we were so close to sneaking out. But, as usual, part of me was relieved someone else brought it up. Because I do want to talk about A and I do want to acknowledge him I just feel awkward bringing up something so devastatingly sad in social situations, especially first meetings.

So I calmly replied this was baby number two. “Oh, so how old is…” he trailed off, his inquisitive face finished the question. “Our son would be one, but he died.” I said.

Next, I resorted to years of social conditioning and yammered a few more unnecessary sentences about how we therefore don’t have any living children at home but we do have a fully stocked nursery. WTF? I wasn’t even making sense. In hindsight I realize this was a reaction to the stifling awkward silence. But really, my rambling made the whole situation more awkward. I should have stated the fact and then shut my trap. There isn’t much more to say after, “Our son would be one, but he died.” Yes there will be an uncomfortable silence as the truth of that statement sinks in; there ought to be!

We left a couple minutes later and although I was relieved to be on our way home, I chastised myself for not saying his name.

As the months have passed, it has become easier for me to state the facts; easier to say the words, “Our son died.” - “Our son was inexplicably stillborn a few days after the due date.” - “Our son died last year, actually.” But so often I unintentionally omit his name. I should say, ““Our son, A, died.” - “Our son, A, was inexplicably stillborn a few days after the due date.” - “Our son died last year, actually. His name is A.” 

I want others to speak of him. I want them to say his name aloud. I need to be the role model and encourage such behavior. By speaking his name I demonstrate to people that it’s ok to talk about him and talk about what happened. So why do I get so flustered that I forget to say his name?

Surely there will be plenty more opportunities like last night to speak of my son. Hopefully with more time and more practice I will be able to confidently sit through the inevitable uncomfortable silence and also remember to include his name in my description.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Halloween Heartache

Halloween is a big deal in my family. As a child growing up we went all out. The house was decorated inside and out, candy was stocked by the front door, a dummy sat stuffed with leaves in the yard and we played spooky music out the windows. We always carved pumpkins as a family. Even as I got older and we no longer needed a chaperone to trick-or-treat my parents would still don costumes to man the front door and pass out candy.

Ever since E and I got together, he has adopted my zeal for the holiday. Each year we brainstorm our costumes and head out to at least one party. He isn’t as enthusiastic about standing near the door handing out candy, but he definitely peeks to see the adorable and clever ghouls and goblins that stop by.

With a due date in mid-October we knew our baby would definitely be here before Halloween. I was ready to share one of my favorite holidays with my child even if he wouldn’t remember it. For me it was about family traditions.

After thinking about it for a while I had decided on a cute costume idea and enlisted my mother. She made an adorable newborn costume from scratch for her first grandchild. She still has this costume at her house but I have a photo of it that I carry on my phone. Looking at it makes me smile with pride, seethe with anger and weep with anguish.

Having just gotten through the tumult of A’s first birthday, I am still staggering to regain my footing. As I had anticipated, Halloween set me back even further; a favorite holiday in his autumnal season.

It is Halloween again and my boy is not here…again.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Birthday Recap

A’s first birthday was last week. Here are some reflections of A’s birthday and the last week of anniversaries. I ended up calling in to work the day before A’s birthday. This was the date last year that we found out he had died.  After being induced that night, A was born late the next morning. Again the flashbacks tormented me and I cried much of the day but it was actually therapeutic. I was relieved to have extra time and space to rock his snowsuit and urn; to sit in the nursery; to face all of the brutal reminders that I actively ignore each day in order to function. I was relieved to be able to fall apart again, even for a short while.

On his actual birthday we laid low and stayed in. E worked but came home for an early lunch. We were together when the clock struck A’s birth time. I spent more time journaling, crying, reading books to A (and Dragon) and rocking in the nursery sobbing. E did not have anything particular that he wanted or needed to do to commemorate the day. In all honesty, I think he was just focused on surviving it himself.

We had previously sent out memorial cards (made from a customizable birth announcement). On the front was his name, three photos and A’s birth stats. On the backside was a brief message from E and I asking that folks join us in remembering our son and to honor his life by performing an act of kindness in A’s name – even an anonymous one. We feel that this spreads the positive impact of his brief life and ensures his spirit lives on. I got much good feedback from our family and friends about the card and the sentiment. Our OB provider even asked if they could hang the card on the wall with all the other (living) birth announcements. I tearfully consented.

For our own act of kindness we are donating a bunch of household goods to a local immigrant assistance organization. I would still like to plant a tree for A. Something that turns brilliantly vibrant this time of year. The hurdle is deciding where to plant it. I don’t want to put in our yard because we will likely outgrow this house in the next few years and I want to be able to visit A’s tree for the rest of my life and have it accessible to his siblings and others for many years. Perhaps one of the local parks or historical sites. One friend even suggested that when we do plant the tree, E and I each write A a letter and bury them with the roots time-capsule-style. I like that.

Additionally, I have started to organize a little memorial for the house. Ever since we brought A’s ashes home he typically hangs out in the bassinet in our bedroom. Obviously we will have to put baby Dragon in the bassinet (assuming all goes well). Besides I have some lovely mementos that I’ve been meaning to display. I’m thinking either the mantle or perhaps a shelf in our room where I can hang the glass locket with his hair, a charm with his name, a photo or two of our sweet boy and of course, his urn.

A few days after A’s actual birthday I noticed a definite shift emotionally. Not that I wasn’t excited about this new pregnancy before, but it feels more tangible now, the excitement more palpable. I am all of a sudden inspired to start taking care of things in anticipation of baby Dragon’s arrival. Mixed in is the motivation to take care of this A memorial project.

It’s almost as if my anguish, dread and resistance leading up to his birthday was all-consuming and now that it is over, space and emotional resources have opened up. I don’t know but it is a nice surprise. A little brightness after a very dark previous month.

The evening of A’s birthday, E and I were on the couch watching the tube and decided it was time to hit the hay. He clicked off the TV and we embraced. He whispered, “We made it through the day.” I half-smiled and replied, “We made it through the year.” It’s still crazy to think it’s been a whole year.

I am still struggling to get back on my feet and Halloween is going to be another major setback. In all fairness, the lead up to A’s birthday was intensely emotional for weeks prior to the actual event. Given the weeks of building to the apex, I imagine it will take a little while to recover. I am trying to be patient with that. I am also holding onto how therapeutic it felt to grieve heavily again. I plan to continue to make time to sit with him, sit with my feelings and face my reality.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A’s First Birthday

I am still stumbling after A’s first birthday earlier this week. Once I get my footing back, I’ll have more to say. In the mean time, here is the letter I wrote to my sweet boy on his birthday. It’s disjointed because it was written spontaneously as the sentiments came to me.

     Happy first birthday My Love. You’d be such a big boy by now. Daddy and I would shake our heads in disbelief while we marveled at how much you’ve grown and how each day we love you more than the last.

     I think we would have a low-key day. I’d bake you a mini-cake. After dinner we’d set that cake on your highchair tray. You’d eye it with curiosity a bit unsure of what it is or what to do with it. Tentatively you’d poke at it with your chubby index finger and eventually dive right in pressing fistfuls to your face. Cake and icing is smeared everywhere. You’re an absolute mess! And Daddy captured it all on video. (Definitely a bath night!)

     Daddy would wait until you were in your crib, down for the night, then he’d pull me close, kiss my forehead and we’d recount your birth story while we expressed our awe and gratitude at your existence and our little family of three.

     A, today the sun I shining brightly, the fall foliage is peaking and it is going to be unseasonably warm. It is an absolutely beautiful, perfect day to be born.

     Twelve months is a sliver of a lifetime but in this past year we would have learned so much about you (and ourselves).

     I want to know what your laugh sounds like.

     I want to know what your favorite foods are.

     I want to know where your tickle spots are.

     I want to know if you like to swim and splash in the water.

     I want to know your personality.

     I want to know your preferred sleep position.

     I want to know if you’d still be nursing (even just at bedtime).

     I want to know what silly face, or voice, or behavior of Daddy’s slays you every time.

     I honestly think I miss you even more now but I know too, that as time has passed my love has also grown. I mean it when I say Daddy and I love you more than words can express.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Anniversary

This past week was the anniversary of our due date with A. As you know, I’ve had an increasingly difficult time as his first birthday approaches, but I hadn’t expected the due date anniversary to be so harrowing.

I went to work like normal but immediately I found myself fighting back tears. All morning my mind kept revisiting that day last year – how coworkers who had bet on my delivering that day in the Baby Pool ribbed me during the day, how after work E accompanied me to our regularly scheduled weekly appointment, how everything checked out perfectly, how we sat just the two (three) of us while doing the non-stress test, how E was intrigued by the monitor and printout, how the paper in the printer ran out but the office didn’t have any more of the special paper in stock, how the midwife looked at the abbreviated printout and explained the graph and how it depicted the desired number of fetal heart accelerations and recoveries, how we discussed with her our desire to wait until labor started naturally emphasizing our faith in my body and the baby to know when the time was right, how I was a little disappointed I didn’t have the energy to go out for dinner that night – I wanted to have a due-date date.

How on that very day exactly one year ago we heard our son’s heart beating for the very last time.

Blinking back tears I tried to focus on my computer screen and work assignments. It was futile. My brain (and whole being) was too dialed-in to my child and my maternal responsibility. Like a repeating movie reel it played the events of the due date and the following day then the next when we finally went out for what we believed was our final nice meal out for a long time, then the following morning when we sat through a long Happiest Baby on the Block class where I felt him moving around inside me, how I was starving and thus cranky by the time the class ended, how we drove to the store to pick up special swaddling blankets, how the next morning I didn’t feel his usual pre-dawn activity but shrugged it off and got busy with final baby preparations, how we took a belly picture which I emailed to family and friends along with photos of the finished nursery, hours later I remarked to E that I hadn’t felt the baby as much as usual and then all that happened next

By noon my chest was tight, my head hurt and I couldn’t focus on work at all. I tried releasing some tears first in the bathroom stall and then in a back abandoned office, but it wasn’t enough to ease the tension. I toyed with the idea of leaving and going home because that’s all I wanted; I just wanted the security and privacy of my home to cry at will.

Ironically, or perhaps not, I am feeling very similar to how I did last fall shortly after A was born. That familiar atmosphere where I don’t want to leave the house, I don’t want to cook, I don’t want to do anything but distract myself enough to get through the day until I can go back to bed and tick off another day on the calendar. Last year at this time I had the world’s permission as a newly bereaved mother to shutter myself in. I had 6-weeks of maternity leave to hibernate. Now I do not have that luxury but it is exactly what I am craving.

A’s actual birthday is in a few days and I have been bracing for that. But the due date really caught me off guard. You’d think after 12 full months of living in Griefland I would learn to expect the unexpected. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Autumn is All Around

Autumn is here in all its glory. The air is crisp. The foliage is changing. Chestnuts litter the ground. It is splendid and it hurts so bad.

Fall is A’s season. We were delighted to have a due date in October because both E and I claim autumn as our favorite season. It is a beautiful time of year to be born.

Each day I awake and am bombarded with fall. It surrounds me – the cool air as I climb out of bed, the view from the windows. This makes it impossible to focus on anything else. My mind keeps jumping back to this time last year. Our excitement and anticipation were building. The final preparations were being ticked off the list. I wished desperately that baby would stay put until after the Happiest Baby on the Block class, which was scheduled for 3 days after the due date. Foolish me didn’t realize it was while sitting in that stupid class that I would feel my son moving for the last time.

The me standing on this side looking back at pre-calamity me cannot believe my naivety. I shake my head in disbelief and pity. Worried about attending a parenting class? Terrified of having an unplanned c-section? Concerned about managing the forthcoming onslaught of visitors to our house to meet our firstborn? Anxious that if baby was born too close to Halloween would it mar the child’s sense of identity by condemning it costume-themed birthday parties for the rest of it’s childhood? How effing shallow. How insignificant. How utterly na├»ve.

And so, like a film reel, these last blissful, ignorant weeks replay in my head. Naturally, I cannot pause the screen when the happiness is shattered. Next come the scenes of devastation and the fallout. Over and over I relive the events of last October in my mind. It is effing torture. But I cannot help it. Autumn surrounds me. It is his season. Each vibrant tree I pass stabs at my heart.

The panic I felt with A’s approaching first birthday has dissipated. Now I can sense a slow tightening around me neck, a gradual suffocating sensation. After several decent weeks of togetherness and functionality the heavy transparent net of languidness and depression is settling down on top of me. I do not want to do anything – not fun stuff, not even eat ice cream. I just want to curl up and wait out the day. From my tenure here in Griefland I know it is futile to fight such against such a force. So I am giving myself over to the lethargy and apathy. Trying not to judge how I feel but accept that it with time it will pass and the heaviness will lighten once again. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Freak Out

I think I mentioned it earlier this year, a coworker of mine had a healthy son in March; born just 5 months after A. Any baby born near A’s birthday stings, but when they’re little boys it hurts even more. Ever since I returned to work 6-weeks postpartum, this particular male coworker has been saccharinely nice to me. Still I avoid him in the office because just the sight of him roils jealously and anger within. Not anger directed at him, just anger over the fact that my child is not here as he should be – you know that little thing that never ceases to piss me off.

Anyway, Tuesday afternoon a half-hour before quitting time, I bid farewell to two clients in the waiting area then turn to head back to my desk and there, in the hallway, smack dab in front of me is that coworker, his wife and their blonde spiky-haired infant son with a gaggle of middle-aged female colleagues swarmed around. I smile and quickly walk past to my desk.

I sit down and can feel my cheeks flush. I’m feeling hot all over like I need to strip off my sweater. I can hear the ladies oohing and ahhing over the baby. I frantically untangle my headphones and turn up the volume. My heart is POUNDING inside my chest. It’s difficult to breath.

I try to distract myself by continuing with work tasks. I am blinking back tears, fighting the inevitable. Check the clock, 15-minutes to go. God, can I hold it together that long? I feel like the need to flee. I just want to get out of here! Perhaps I can talk a walk around the block. But the wife and baby are probably leaving soon too and I could not handle being stuck on the elevator with them. Shit.

I could call my good friend. But where to make that call? I am surely going to burst into tears any second now. The conference room? The floor below? The stairwell? Except the happy family is making their rounds through the office visiting and proudly showing off son. I can’t bear to bump into them again. I am fighting back tears now.

I tug off the headphones and make a beeline for the ladies’ room. My office neighbor is talking with another colleague about how she can’t believe he’s 6-months old. He’s so small!

I muffle my sobs while sitting in the stall. Luckily no one comes in. I grab my cell phone and plan to call my friend from the floor below thinking it will be a bit more private. As soon as I open the bathroom door I can hear coworker’s and wife’s voice in the reception area – they are blocking the stairwell and elevators!

I am legitimately sweating now; heart still pounding; eyes red from crying in the bathroom. Naturally I head in the opposite direction and pop into a deserted office. I crumble to the ground and cry as quietly as I can. I call my friend. She doesn’t answer and I don’t leave a voicemail. I text E and ask if he can pick me up, I can’t face public transportation or a prolonged commute.

I feel trapped. I wish one of my sympathetic colleagues would come tell me when the coast is clear. Kneeling on the floor I continue to cry by myself. Why didn’t I grab more tissues?

Finally the clock strikes five and the suffocating need to escape trumps the possibility of seeing them again so I mop up the best I can the makeup dripping down my face and cautiously head back to my desk.

I see a couple people on the way but avert my still-stinging eyes. Swiftly, I shut down my computer, snatch my stuff and speed walk out of the building to my awaiting knight in shining armor dusty station wagon. I don’t think I’ve ever had a panic attack before and I’m not self-diagnosing, but whatever that shit was, it sucked.

Not one person came to check on me or see how I was doing with the baby visit. Maybe I didn’t really want anyone stopping by because surely I would have devolved into tears but even an email? Some form of acknowledgement? Nothing. Perhaps they were all too enamored with that spiky-haired kid. Maybe it is that I intentionally keep work friends at an arm’s length. Regardless I was a little hurt that not one single person connected two and two – his living son and my dead son; his life busy with growth and development and my life fantasizing about A’s milestones; him parading his adorable son around and me with A's photos tucked away in an envelope at my desk, desperate for someone to ask to see them again, too considerate to frame one.

That right there might be the gist of it. I don't necessarily want outright support from my colleagues (or any non-babylost folks) but I need acknowledgement. Don't try to say the right thing, don't try to make me feel better, don't tell me everything is going to work out. Just acknowledge that my son was here, that his sudden death is god awful and that my life is wrecked. That's all I'm asking.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Crazy Lady

I recently read Elizabeth McCracken’s memoir, An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination.  It recounts her experience of losing her firstborn child to stillbirth and her subsequent pregnancy, which ended with a living baby. There are a couple things where my perspective differs from hers, but much of what she says rings true. Below is a quote from the memoir.

Here is a character from a gothic novel; the woman with the stillborn child. Her hair is matted and black. Ghosts nest in it. Her white nightgown is mottled with book. In her hands is an awful bundle: the corpse she cannot bear to put down. She sings lullabies to it, rocks it in her arms. She says in a pleasant but tremulous voice, "Would you like to see my baby? He’s such a nice little baby. Such a little, little baby. Shh; he’s sleeping."

In the immediate months after A was stillborn I often felt like this gothic novel character. At the time, the image that popped into my head was that of a turn of the century insane asylum patient. The disheveled woman standing alone in the corner, eyes focused on some invisible point, talking quietly to herself, rocking slightly back and forth. Then, unprovoked, she blurts out, falls to the ground, curled into a ball she’s screaming and sobbing, shaking with emotion, unintelligible words break through the wails. She is inconsolable. The staff tries to get her into restraints but she is not present in their world.

The physical, hormonal, emotional and mental need to nurture was near constant in those early months. I often found myself in the fully prepared nursery - clean sheets in the crib, diapers stacked at the changing table, tiny clothes hanging in the closet, home-made mobile quivering from the ceiling. I would hang over the side of the crib, stroke my hand across the flannel-sheeted mattress, thumb the ultra-soft security blanket and cry. I would rest my head directly on the changing pad and just sob. Most times I would grab the fuzzy, hooded snowsuit size 3 months and sit in the family heirloom rocker. I would cradle that piece of clothing as if it was my son. I’d position the hood so that it held the shape of his infant head, running my finger along the side of the hood as if his soft cheek were there. I’d tickle the toes hoping against hope that his strong little feet would materialize inside the fabric. I’d read books to him this way. Or sometimes I just stared down as enamored mother’s do imagining what he’d look like.

Because we did not find out A’s gender until delivery, we did not own a lot of baby clothes. What we did have was all newborn to 3-months size. When I sat down to rock him over the spring and realized that he’d definitely have outgrown the snowsuit I was distraught. It felt like the severing of one of the few connections I had with A. I had personally bought that snowsuit just a couple weeks before he was born. Just he and I out shopping, one of the few articles of baby clothing that wasn’t a gift. I picked it out myself. It was his snowsuit. I couldn’t just go out and pick out another bunting the next size-up. It wouldn’t be his. It wouldn’t be the same. I had to face that my boy was really gone. Accept that’d he would have grown so much by then that I cannot know what he would have looked like.

Surely if any of the neighbors ever saw me alone in the nursery rocking and talking to my phantom baby they’d think I’d lost my last marble.

Even now when I want to push the last remaining co-workers or relatives to look through A’s photos I feel like that gothic character, “Would you like to see my baby? He’s such a nice little baby. Such a little, little baby.” Some of these people probably think it’s lunacy to have pictures of your dead baby and unconscionable to urge others to look.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Not Him

Last year, I started bonding with A when he was literally the size of a lentil - just a ball of cells. I immediately felt connected, began referring to he and I as, “us,” and thought about that gestating baby constantly. This is not the case during my present pregnancy.

One of the hang-ups, is that I am having trouble accepting this new baby because it is not A. Perhaps some of this is normal second pregnancy stuff where a mom questions her capacity to love another child as much as she loves her firstborn. He is the one I fell in love with. He is all I’ve known. He is my heart's desire. But he is gone. Gone, gone, gone.

These two babies, A and Dragon, are inextricably intertwined. If A had lived, I most likely wouldn't be pregnant again so soon and thus Dragon wouldn't exist. Plus A's brief life and inexplicable death have colored this new pregnancy and my outlook as a parent. Surely each baby is different and each child has their own personality, but I don't know A's personality all that well and Dragon and I are just getting acquainted. 

My only other pregnancy and mothering experience is with A. Sometimes my mind slips and I swear I am standing in last year again - pregnant, wearing the same maternity clothes, consciously eating the same healthy foods - but reality comes back into focus and I am destroyed all over again; devastated that this baby in my womb, alive and kicking, is not A. This, of course, is quickly followed by a bout of guilt that I am doing Dragon a disservice.

But, I cannot stroke my growing belly and not want for the child that is missing. I cannot untangle my hope and love for this new child with the despair and anguish associated with my firstborn.

The acknowledgement that this new baby is not him, feels as crushing as when I watched the too-still ultrasound screen last October confirming the unfathomable.

I just want him. Even if Dragon makes it here safely, I'm still going to want A. Even if I go on to have a dozen living children, I will still want A. And my heart is not yet willing to accept that he will forever be absent.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Hypervigilant? Nope, Paranoid.

I have always taken the task of growing another human being as an immense responsibility. Prenatal vitamins and prenatal diet are started before even attempting conception, treasured coffee is forgone and replaced with exercise, stretching, talking to baby, all the things you “should” do to give your child the best start in life. 

With this current pregnancy, I don’t have the resolve I had last year. I chalk it up to being grief weary and also that I just did this. I just abstained from sushi, good cheese, booze and caffeine for nearly a year. I just utilized the full force of self-discipline to think of the growing baby inside me before I even considered my own wants and needs. Always putting baby first.  I am still doing my best to take care of this littlest Dragon, but now I cave and eat processed bread or, gasp, double-stuffed Oreos. Despite my will power being less than last pregnancy, the guilt is just as strong and with a greater sense of consequence.

It isn’t so much that I didn’t know of all the horrible, random ways babies die in utero last year, it was that I didn’t think it could happen to us as long as I did everything right. And I am a real rule-follower. I mean if drug addicts deliver viable infants then my kid would come out a freaking gladiator!

Now fate has struck me down and obliterated all that I believed. So this pregnancy I am hypervigilant but still recognize that it doesn’t guarantee anything. This doesn’t make for much inspiration. Still I am conscientious about everything I put in my mouth, I count the ounces of water I drink each day, I hold my breath as I pass smokers on the sidewalk, I no longer lie on my back. Honestly, it is beyond vigilance. It is paranoia. No joke, I considered asking for an elective cerclage to rule out one more way Dragon could perish. There is a good chance I will not attend company or family holiday gatherings this winter in an attempt to avoid additional exposure to germs. This same logic is scaring me off public transportation as flu season approaches. Everywhere I turn, some evil is lurking waiting to harm my baby and I am the only one who can protect it. But can I really?

Like so many of the BLMs in the blogosphere have expressed, there is this sense that horrible things will happen to us again regardless of anything I do, say or believe. If we were randomly selected to have our perfect, healthy son die inexplicably and without warning then who’s to say E won’t die in a random car accident or that this baby won’t die of any number of vices. We all know there are families out there who have lost more than one child. There are women who have had back-to-back full term losses. There is nothing to believe in.

And yet I cannot just give up completely. It’s as though I walk this fine line between denial and reality. There are days where I deny I am pregnant. Not to the extent that I cease caring for myself or baby, but that I refuse to think about the pregnancy and, in turn, all the things that could go wrong. These days are sprinkled in among lucid days of acknowledging just how much is out of my control and how this tiny being is not the magic salve I desperately seek.

21-weeks today. 18 more to go.