Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Word on Counseling

Years ago I saw a counselor who helped me through a tough transition (or two).  After A died, I went to a grief counselor – someone specifically trained in bereavement and grief. It wasn’t what I needed.

What I need from a counselor is someone who listens well but then offers feedback, not just validation. Someone who gives me suggestions to change my own behaviors. Someone who offers tips on coping or altering outcomes. Counseling isn’t just a place to vent, I am looking to make actual changes – otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting on the couch in the first place!

So after the second visit with the grief counselor, I decided we should break up. I called up my old counselor and have been seeing her ever since. It seems that many people who are considering individual counseling, not just for baby loss but for any reason, give up if they don’t click right away during the first visit, with the first counselor. I’ve been to several counselors over the years before I found my current counselor who I like very much. I try to encourage others who’ve never done it to go two or three times before deciding if it’s no good for them. And then try a different counselor or two or three. Find someone whose personality and approach is compatible with you and your needs. Admittedly, this takes a lot of effort and if you’re seeking the assistance of a counselor, you’re struggling with some aspect of life and may not have extra energy to devote to test-driving various counselors. But it’s definitely worth it. Once you find that person, you’re set for a very long time.

My counselor is not a psychologist. She is a social worker. Titles don’t matter. Compatibility matters. I’m not trying to preach that everyone enroll in counseling. I’m saying from personal experience, I know that counseling can provide guidance that only an unbiased, third party can offer.

Plus, after A died I felt so helpless to make myself feel better that I was willing to try any avenue available: individual counseling, support groups, literature, websites, blogs. I had to do something! I don’t feel the need to attend counseling as often these days, or support group for that matter. But early on those appointments couldn’t come soon enough.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Dichotomies Abound

An extra hour of daylight. The return of the songbirds. Buds on the trees. Unseasonably warm temperatures. Springtime is here with aplomb. At once I feel refreshed, upbeat and optimistic. Then I notice the families out walking, pushing their infant in a stroller. A toddler exploring at the park. A father and his 8-year-old son playing tennis. And all of a sudden the feeble mend on my heart rips open again. I long for A. I want to show him his world, the excitement of Spring. Share irreplaceable experiences and make memories together. I want to be that family at the park, doing nothing extraordinary, just enjoying the day, loving life, getting to know their baby. From reenergized and optimistic to sullen in milliseconds.

Experiencing such a polarity of emotions at the same time – hope, rejuvenation, despair, agony – is confusing, but becoming a defining characteristic of life in Griefland. Right from the very beginning of this god-forbidden journey I’ve been floored by powerful emotions from opposite ends of the spectrum. When A was born I was elated; so thrilled to finally meet our child who we’d been waiting so long for. I was very proud. Simultaneously I felt deep sadness, disbelief and anguish.

After attending support group for the first time, I was encouraged to hear that these families had survived such unthinkable tragedy and had gone on to live fulfilling lives, but in the same breath I was discouraged because their stories, their very existence, attest that this would be with me forever; this unimaginable reality was never going away. In the same vein, after hearing some bereaved mothers speak of the few hours they spent with their infants I felt jealous. I never got to see A alive aside from ultrasounds. Moments later that jealously was countered as I empathized with women who are unable to get pregnant and/or carry to term. On the tail of envy came gratitude, I am thankful for the time I had with A, for the remarkable experience of being pregnant and for the fact that E and I are able to conceive easily.

Four days after the due date is when we found out A had died (see earlier post for details of A's Story). We’ve spoken to various medical professionals - perinatologists, pathologist, midwives – and no one can tell us what happened. No one can explain why A died. The pregnancy was healthy. His autopsy was completely normal. I didn’t have any condition or infection. The cord and placenta were healthy and normal. Concurrently I am outraged and relieved. Outraged that A didn’t have to die. He didn’t have any anomaly or genetic defect that was incompatible with life. He was 100% perfectly healthy. So why the heck did he die? Relieved because I know E and I can produce healthy children.

All of these dichotomies are really trying. Typically, I am a black and white thinker. How can such disparate emotions exist at the same exact time? It’s difficult to get my head around. But I am trying to accept it. Accept the feelings as they come; don’t judge them, don’t over think it. Just accept and go with the flow. Another powerful lesson from A. (Although I’d prefer to stay ignorant if it meant he would be here with us).

Sunday, March 11, 2012


The sun finally broke through in Griefland. It's yet to be seen if this is a brief crack in the clouds or if brighter days are truly in store. Recently, I have felt glimmers of acceptance. Accepting that this happened to us; accepting that this was somehow destined to be and there was nothing I or anyone else could have done to prevent it; accepting that much good will come from A's life and tragic death. These moments are fleeting but god do they raise me up.

They say everything happens for a reason. And while I cannot come up with any justifiable reason that my son died, I have a sense of some greater purpose. That this horrendous tragedy had to occur in order for some bigger good to come about. 

You know, it's like how some of the bereaved mother's who lost their babies years and years ago say things like "I wouldn't have it any other way." This horrified me when I first heard it. But maybe there's a deeper wisdom to it.

I don't know. But hopefully I'll figure it out more down the road. Meanwhile, I apprehensively await the other shoe to drop and depression to descend again. That's the thing with this grief rollercoaster, even when I have a streak of "ok" days and feel a little like my old self, I'm anxious; expecting the storm to come barreling through at any second.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


My mother-in-law, bless her soul, took care of all the arrangements with the funeral home and cremation. She graciously kept A’s urn at her house, safely and lovingly watching over him until we were ready to bring home. It’s been over 4 months since A died and was born. Just this past week we brought his ashes home.

Cupping the tiny urn in the palm of my hand I gave A a tour of his home. The home we joyfully prepared for him.

This is your front porch. Remember how we used to sit in the summer sunshine out here? This is your living room. You surely would have loved snuggling up on our huge couch. This is a spider plant – it doesn’t have any spiders in it; it just looks like a spider. This is a basil plant – can you smell it? This is your dining room. You’ll recall all the delicious memories we had in here! This is Mommy & Daddy’s room. You can come in anytime. We’re always here for you. This is the bathroom where we were going to have such fun at bath time. This is your room. Mommy & Daddy picked out everything here special for you. These are your books and your toys. Whenever you want a story, just ask, we’ll always read to you. This is the kitchen, Daddy’s making dinner right now. Do you smell that? Those are onions! And this is your backyard. In the spring, Mommy will teach you all the names of the different flowers. Daddy will grill up snacks during the summer. And we can all run and play in the yard.

After the tour, we returned to the nursery and I rocked my little boy’s ashes as if it were really him. “You know Love, this is the same chair that your grandma rocked me and your Uncle in when we were babies. And before that, your Papa sat in it when he visited his grandmother’s house. This rocker belonged to your great-great-grandmother. And your dresser is special too. That was Daddy’s dresser when he was a baby. Before that it was your great-aunt’s when she was little. It belonged to your great-grandparents. And now it’s yours my son.”

Finally, as we prepared for bed, E said, “Should we put him in his bassinet tonight?” I replied, “Of course. That’s where he belongs. Snuggled in, right next to our bed.” So I tucked A’s little urn in, wrapped in a flannel sheet and fluffy Sherpa blanket. Bending down to kiss him goodnight.

It was an intensely emotional day. I am so very happy to have A at home with us. We still haven’t decided if we’ll keep his ashes forever or if we’ll spread them somewhere special. But as I’ve learned during my tenure in Griefland, do not rush decisions. With time, we’ll know what the best choice is for us. Until then I am looking forward to more rocking, chatting and storybooks with my little guy. Welcome sweet boy.