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.