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. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Not Ready

I’m sure I’ve written before about wanting to stop the clock. That desire first struck shortly after A’s death. Within hours of leaving the hospital after A’s birth, I couldn’t comprehend how the earth kept rotating, time marched on and other people’s lives continued. Didn’t they know a monumental tragedy had just occurred? Stop the presses. Stop everything!

October, and with it A’s first birthday, is quickly approaching. Again, that familiar, futile desire to stop time hits each time I think of October. I am not ready.

I have an overwhelming urge to dig my heels in; try to buck and throw the forces of time. I want to turn and run the opposite way.

I am not ready for his first birthday. I am not ready for it to be an entire year since he was stillborn. Trying to get at the root of the dread and resistance, my counselor asked me what it signifies for me. I do not have an answer.

It means I’m that much further away from him. I don’t think my whole being has fully accepted that this happened; that this is my reality and already a year has passed. Perhaps the 1-year mark makes it more real, more permanent.

I am feeling good about our plans and ideas for how to spend A’s birthday, but that doesn’t lessen my desire to halt the world from spinning, to buy some more time. I am just not ready for it to be one year.  It is deeper than deciding what to do on the actual day. I wish I could articulate it better, but truthfully, I don’t entirely understand why I feel resistive. Whatever it is, it is a powerful force.